Notes for a Sermon for St John the Evangelist, December 27, 2015
The Epistle, 1 John 1:1-8 – The Gospel, St. John 19:21-25
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
A. The identity of St. John
1. St. John’s identity. Brother of James, the sons of Zebedee. The tradition is that he wrote John’s Gospel, 1, 2, and 3 John and Revelation. Though some dispute this, the common themes of these writings make a strong for unity of authorship—in my opinion. Died a natural death in AD 90’s.
2. St. John in Ephesus. At the cross, Jesus committed his mother to John’s care. The tradition is that John took Mary to Ephesus with him. Acts describes St. Paul’s work in Ephesus. After Paul’s martyrdom in the late 60’s, John would become the undisputed leader of the Ephesian Christians.
B. St. John and the Incarnation
1. The feast of St. John complements Christmas because St. John emphasizes the Incarnation, God becoming man, in his writings.
a. John 1:1. The Christmas Day Gospel highlight the right doctrine concerning the divinity of Christ: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
b. John also emphasizes the genuine humanity of Christ. From John 1: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Today’s epistle mentions his divinity and highlights the physical humanity: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1).
C. St. John and the Gnostic heresy
1. St. John wrote in opposition to the “gnostic” heresy—from the word for knowledge. Gnostics believed that we are saved by secret knowledge or “gnosis.” Gnostics believed in:
a. The separation of spirit from body; salvation was spiritual; to be saved from the body.
b. That behavior in the body could be disconnected from belief. Rigorist and libertine Gnostics.
2. The epistle can understood fully only against this backdrop.
a. “What we have seen, looked at, touched, handled.” Insistence that Jesus is Incarnate. The connection of this to the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the extension of the Incarnation to us.
b. “If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth.” Insistence that how we live in the body reflects our belief in Jesus.
D. Applying the message of St. John to our lives
1. Believing the physical reality of the Incarnation—not a spiritualized Christ. In the Sacrament, we also see with our eyes and look upon him. Our hands also handle him who is from the beginning.
2. The evidence of our faith: a life of prayer resulting in changed behavior in a community where we experience forgiveness and grace. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn. 1:7).