Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass St John the Evangelist 2015

Exodus 33.7-11a
1 John 1
John 21.19b-25

St John the Evangelist normally draws a bit of a short straw. The fourth Gospel bears his name, but unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, he doesn’t have a year of his own to read through him Sunday by Sunday. Instead we only hear extracts here and there. And his feast day, two days after Christmas, tends to get a bit overlooked. So it’s good that this year he falls on a Sunday and we can give him some attention.
John’s Gospel is distinctively different from the other three. As we heard on Christmas Day, he begins his story not with biographical details about Jesus but with grand theology and deep cosmic meaning: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
So from the beginning of his Gospel John announces one of his grand themes: union with God in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “the Father and I are one”, and he has become human so that human beings can come to share in that same Divine life. 
And this union with God is founded in love: the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ. It is to John that we owe the best known verse in the whole Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.
We enter into that life, we come to dwell in the love of God, by being disciples of Jesus. By believing him, loving him, following him. He, in his person, is the Way to the Father, the Truth and the Life. It is in a living relationship with our living Lord that we come to know God and enter eternal life.
Of course, John does turn to the details of Jesus’ life, and they are important. If we are to become children of God then the love of God must be really rooted in this real world, in the actual human life of Jesus of Nazareth. “What was from the beginning”, as the first letter of John says, is also “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.”
And this is offered to all. John is clear that anyone can become a disciple and enter into the life of God in Jesus. He depicts a community of disciples that is very egalitarian: what matters is the love you have for Jesus, not any status or authority you may have. When authority is given it is authority to serve, exemplified by the washing of feet at the last supper, an episode that only John recounts. The promise of the Spirit, who will lead the disciples into all truth, the living water welling up in the heart of each, is made equally to all.
John includes among the disciples not only women, in a very patriarchal society, but also non-Jews such as Samaritans and Greeks, and all are called equally into the life of God in Jesus.
This is not to say that John discounts the need for authority in the church altogether. But authority is always given to serve. It is John who tells us about Peter’s threefold confession of love after the resurrection, and Jesus’ command to him to feed his sheep and tend his flock. But what matters for Peter is not any status he might claim but the question that Jesus asks him, “do you love me?”
“Do you love me?” Anyone who loves Jesus can be his disciple and receive eternal life. Perhaps this is one reason why John does not name himself anywhere in his own Gospel, but refers to himself only as “the disciple”. Because anyone can be a disciple. By calling himself “the disciple” John invites us to read ourselves into his Gospel as disciples, following Jesus, growing in his love, listening to his teaching, being rooted in him in the eternal life of the Father.
In John’s account of the Last Supper Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him just as he abides in the Father. This is eternal life. And it is John who tells us of the Promise of the Eucharist at Capernaum: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Now it’s a curious thing that John doesn’t tell us about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper itself, as the other gospels do. But many episodes in John mirror each other in symmetrical pairs, reflecting and developing their meaning. The Last Supper and the Promise of the Eucharist are joined in a pair by the teaching about abiding in Jesus.
The Eucharist is an essential part of John’s story, so essential that at Capernaum John tells of the division and rejection it will cause. It is by feeding on Jesus in the Eucharist that the community of disciples will be drawn together in him into the life of God, abiding in him, and giving themselves in service to one another.
Well the last verse of John’s Gospel tells us that “there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”. And there could be no end, too, to the sermons that could be preached on them!
But here are three of the many things that John has to offer us on his feast day:
Firstly, God is love and wants us to share his life in Jesus. This is why Jesus came, so that we could become children of God, abiding in him and so sharing the eternal life of the Father. This is the true light that has come into this darkened world, our great good news and our abiding hope.
Secondly, Jesus gives us the Eucharist to be the means by which we feed on him and abide in him. By sharing in this holy meal we become what we receive, the Body of Christ, the community of his disciples rooted and abiding in him.
Thirdly, anyone can become his disciple. All are called equally into the life of grace, which is entirely his gift. Worldly distinctions of status and authority have to be entirely set aside. The Spirit is given to all. And if this results in some Christians or churches having different styles and emphases and gifts, don’t worry about it. Jesus says to us, as he said to Peter, “what is that to you? Follow me!”
And all of these are rooted in and flow from the great truth that we celebrate at this season: that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, sharing our humanity so that we might share his divinity. 

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