ST. MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS’ CHURCH, HELENSBURGH
Charity Registered in Scotland SC006468
INTROIT HYMN – 403 Once In royal David’s city
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may walk in the light of your truth and come at last to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Exodus 33: 7 – 11a
The Tent outside the Camp
Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tents. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
PSALM Psalm 117
R. The Lord spoke to him face to face.
Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples. For his lovingkindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever. Alleluiah! R
The Word of Life
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
God Is Light
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
GRADUAL HYMN – 78 Christ is the world’s true light
John 21. 19b – 25
After this Jesus said to Peter, ‘Follow me.’Jesus and the Beloved Disciple Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But 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.
SERMON – Please see attached at end of service sheet
OFFERTORY HYMN – 341 My God, accept my heart this day
COMMUNION HYMN – 28 Among us and before us
PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION
Eternal God, your apostle and evangelist John proclaimed the Christ, your Word made flesh among us. May we who have shared the bread of life remain for ever your children, born according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
RECESSIONAL HYMN – 513 Thou didst leave thy throne
Grace from the eternal Father be with you; grace from the Word made flesh be with you; grace from the spirit of truth be with you; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA amended according to the Revised Common Lectionary in NRSV. Psalm from the Book of Common Worship of the Church of England. Collect, Prayer after Communion and Blessing from Scottish Liturgy 1982 with Propers and Revised Common Lectionary published by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Edinburgh 2006.
Exodus 33: 7 – 11a, Psalm 117, 1 John 1: 1 – 10 and John 21: 19b – end
In all the excitement of Christmas and the special Bible readings that are so familiar every year, it is only occasionally on a Sunday that we light upon one of the other neighbouring special days in the church calendar. Yesterday was St. Stephen’s Day when we think about Stephen, deacon and first martyr. Another significant date falls tomorrow, Holy Innocents day, when we recall that the joyful event of our Saviour’s birth was also associated a short while later with Herod’s killing spree to try to eradicate the royal rival, who meantime had fled to Egypt. We therefore find Christmas followed by an example of the cost of Christian discipleship in Stephen’s death, widespread murder of babies and a family who suddenly became refugees in a foreign land. It reminds us that the Incarnation was disruptive to the world order and brought division and suffering, which Jesus was quite frank about. Where sin is confronted head-on there are bound to be repercussions.
Today, however, we come to St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, and an altogether happier theme. Our psalm points in just those few words to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that endure for ever. The psalm is also addressed to all nations, telling them that God is to be praised. These elements of love and faithfulness apply universally, and this helps us home in on what the Apostle John was expressing when he wrote his gospel and epistles. Another theme lies in our Old Testament reading from Exodus, where we see Moses entering the tent of meeting pitched outside the main encampment. This physical separation of the tent from the people was symbolic of God’s holiness, as was the pillar of cloud descending over the tent to signify God was present with Moses. That separation and exclusivity, and the idea that God was for the Israelites only, was finally broken down when Jesus came to earth with the good news that the barriers had been removed and everyone could come in repentance to become children of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. John too, is interested in the juxtaposition between the holiness and separateness of God with the immediacy and reality of the presence of Jesus. The barrier between heaven and earth is so small in his gospel, as we hear God’s voice from heaven expressing his delight in his Son, and that early reference to Nathanael seeing heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
The Apostle John falls into a very special category. Not only was he one of the first disciples, and part of that group of twelve, but somehow because of his character he became one of Jesus’ closest confidants. In his account of the Last Supper, he refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved; he was present at the Transfiguration and he was one who is mentioned as being at the foot of the cross, and into whose care Jesus entrusted his mother Mary. We are familiar with the expression, ‘seeing is believing’, and John was privileged to have been an eye witness to the entire three years of Jesus’ teaching and miracles. He was able to write his gospel and the epistles with first-hand knowledge of all these incidents. He makes a clear point a week after the Resurrection in the locked room, where Thomas finally sees the risen Lord Jesus, and Jesus gives that wider blessing to succeeding generations who had not seen Jesus and yet would come to faith. We are in that happy and privileged position on this Sunday, two days after celebrating again the birth at Bethlehem that launched the heavenly mission to offer redemption to the world.
Our reading from John’s first epistle takes us straight back into that eyewitness territory; John speaks of things he had seen and touched concerning the word of life, as Jesus embodied that Word, a continuous expression of the father from heaven. John outlines his objective in writing his letter, so that the readers would share in that same fellowship with Father and Son, and enter into eternal life.
I mentioned at the start about the disruption and division that the coming of Jesus brought, which is an inevitable consequence of challenging the power of sin at large in the world. John expresses it in the contrast between light and darkness, doubtless remembering Jesus’ own words in one of his ‘I am’ statements, when he said ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’. This symbol of light representing the holiness of God goes right back to the Exodus from Egypt; a pillar of cloud by day and a column of light by night would guide them and show God’s abiding presence. That presence is, of course, in our minds at this season as we think of the coming of Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’.
In the rest of the passage from John’s first epistle, he develops that idea of light being the opposite of darkness. Darkness is the natural state, while a light source is something deliberate and positive. Light had come into the world, and as John states at the beginning of his gospel, darkness had not overcome it. Jesus had once and for all time conquered darkness in his crucifixion and resurrection. Pentecost had followed after Jesus had ascended back to heaven, and the Holy Spirit had been given as the enduring power of God among his people.
Now the challenge was for the first followers of Jesus to replicate that same holy light in their lives and not to stray into darkness. The true sign of a genuine believer is their desire to follow the light. This starts with the acceptance that our salvation depends solely on the blood of Jesus cleansing us from sin. We have to be realistic as Christians, acknowledging how easy it is to veer off the illuminated path. A danger John seems to have discerned was that some Christians must have been saying they were sinless – maybe misunderstanding the state of their souls as now being exempt from sin. Likewise, with those still misguidedly following the ways of darkness, where Satan can deceive people into thinking sin does not exist, or regard it as an out-of-date myth. The reasoning goes that if sin does not exist, you don’t need salvation. However, this ignores the clearly stated word of God and exposes people walking in darkness to eternal judgement. In either case, John says that they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them, in fact they are making God out to be a liar. John, like other New Testament authors, certainly does not mince his words!
Today is the last Sunday of a year most of us would probably prefer to forget and we have no idea what lies ahead. But through all the uncertainty and adversity of 2020, we have been in the hands of God. Strengthened by our Christian faith, thanking God for his love and faithfulness expressed in Jesus Christ, born for us sinners, we go forward in confidence following the light of the world, who lights our path and makes things plain. We thank God for the Apostle and Evangelist John, who did so much to make the immanence, or closeness of God and heaven, clear to us, and the hope we can have for the future.
Kevin Boak, Lay Reader
[This sermon has been uploaded to the St. Michael and All Angels church website because services have been suspended for the immediate future, owing to Covid-19 restrictions.]