Sermon Library

Sermon Library

Sun, Apr 19, 2020

Fellowship With Us

This morning we are beginning a new sermon series that will run for the six remaining Sundays in the season of Easter. Just to remind us, back in September we launched our new church vision: Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church - We’re on the Way. As a part of this vision, each year the Session will be choosing a “stop” or ministry focus on the way. This year our stop is to fall in love with Jesus and with all those that Jesus loves. So, a series on the First Letter of John, which has some of the most powerful descriptions in all of scripture of love seemed to be most appropriate. We are calling this series, “Because God First Loved Us.” So, our Second Reading for today comes from the First Letter of John, chapter 1, verses 1-4. If you are familiar with the beginning of the Gospel of John, you will hear some echoes in these opening verses of the letter. Throughout this letter we will find an urgency expressed to those who are believers in Jesus Christ as well as to those who are potentially falling away. Let us hear this Word of God to us today: 1 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— 2 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— 3 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. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Thus begins a story of There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien. And yet, the hobbit in question, one Bilbo Baggins, never intended to go there or anywhere for hobbits do not like adventure. At least not until the wizard Gandalf appeared one morning on his doorstep. Flustered by his encounter with the great wizard, Bilbo invited Gandalf to return the next day for tea. He did not realize that Galdalf would invite thirteen dwarves to also descend upon Bilbo’s hobbit hole. But late in the evening, after the rush of food and drink and serving and cleaning, Bilbo finally found himself sitting on a stool when the dwarves produced instruments and began to play. “The music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill. … And suddenly first one and then another began to sing as they played, deep-throated singing of the dwarves in the deep places of their ancient homes … As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hand and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something … woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves and wear a sword instead of a walking stick. The next morning when this band of dwarves began their journey to their ancestral home, despite some deep reservations, Bilbo Baggins ran from his hobbit-hole under the Hill and joined them. Yes, as Tolkien begins his story, there was something about the words, the music, the song, that changed Bilbo’s life. It drew him in to a vision of what life could be beyond the shire. It joined him to a new community, a new fellowship we might even say, that would share great adventures in the days to come. In the opening verses of the First Letter of John, we find a similar life-transforming word to be shared. 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. Yes, this is life as it was intended to be, as it was meant to be, the fullness of life, a vibrant and engaging life, a life which death tried to corrupt and kill but it could not because this life overcame death itself. This is the declaration of eternal life - not just a future but a vision for here and now that changes everything; that takes on human form and bursts into the present in Jesus Christ. This life draws us into the very heart of God. My friends, this is good news. It is good news indeed! Sharing this new life is what this letter is all about. As scholar NT Wright shares: Those who have seen this life, and have been captured by its beauty and promise, find that they have come to belong to a new kind of family, a “fellowship” as we sometimes say. The word he uses at this point … seems to mean (stretching the word to fit the new reality, as the early Christians often had to do), that there is a kind of life, a quality of life, which is God’s very own life, and which God is now sharing with the people who have heard and seen the life-come-to-life called Jesus. Yes, the intention, the point of this entire letter is so that those who hear the good news, who read the good news, who believe the good news of the life-come-to-life called Jesus might come to share in this fellowship with us. That they, just like Bilbo Baggins and those dwarves, might become a part of a fellowship that travels together in this world and in the world to come. Now, this fellowship that we are invited to join and share is both vertical and horizontal. On the vertical side we are welcomed into the very life of God. God is relational. We know this in the doctrine of the Trinity - one God in three persons - the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a fellowship, an eternal life, a vibrant and engaging life of God in God’s very self. And as we will hear later in this letter, the best way to describe this relationship within God’s very self is … love. Yes, it is love that best expresses the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For example, in the 4th century, the theologian Augustine wrote: “And the Holy Spirit, according to the Holy Scriptures, is neither of the Father alone, nor of the Son alone, but of both; and so intimates to us a mutual love, wherewith the Father and the Son reciprocally love one another" Yes, the Holy Spirit, the love of God, completes the circle of the Trinity. And even more, through the Spirit, the love of God overflows into the world. That love overflowing in Jesus Christ is what the church has seen and handled and known. Can you see how radical a claim this is that we might know this eternal life and love of God here and now. And we are not done yet. This eternal life, this life transforming fellowship here and now has that horizontal component too. Those who have heard and believed are invited into a fellowship with others. Again, think of Bilbo Baggins running to join the band of dwarves for an adventure. This world, these people, this adventure, this life, this community we know as the church is not intrinsic to us. It is foreign and strange and yet, enticing and life-altering. We are drawn into deep and personal relationships with strangers and friends, with family and neighbors. We discover that we are more ourselves when we are together than we could ever be alone. Because this life to which we have been invited is to a community that nourishes and challenges and strengthens and blesses. That is at least part of why this time is so hard. We are unable to join together for this fellowship. How many times in the last few years have you said after coming home from worship on Sunday, “It just makes things better to go to church.” When you say something like that I suspect you are not really talking about sermons or music or prayers. No, in a way we find difficult to put into words, something has happened to us while we were gathered in fellowship with one another. Maybe we just might call it love. Yes, that is at least part of why this time apart is so hard. As scholar Alan Culpepper once wrote, “Where fellowship is only partial, joy can never be complete.” Remember that is the point of this letter: so that we might have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ and with one another. In that fellowship our joy may be complete. Where God’s people are in fellowship with one another, God is in their midst, and joy becomes complete no matter what our circumstances might be. So perhaps more acutely than usual, today we know this longing for fellowship, this longing for a joy that may be complete. Author C.S. Lewis describes joy as a particular kind of longing. In his early years, Lewis was awakened to joy through the music of the German composer Wagner and then the tales of Norse and Celtic mythology. Yet the more music he listened to, the more myths he read, the more he realized that he had accumulated knowledge, but had lost his joy. All his attempts to “recover the old thrill” proved fruitless. But then, when he felt all hope was lost, there arose “the memory of a place and time at which [he] had tasted the lost Joy with unusual fullness.” He writes about remembering that experience: It had been a particular hill walk on a morning of white mist. The other volumes of the [myths I had been reading] had just arrived as a Christmas present from my father, and the thought of all the reading before me, mixed with the coldness and loneliness of the hillside, the drops of moisture on every branch, and the distant murmur of the concealed town, had produced a longing (yet it was also fruition) which had flowed over from the mind and seemed to involve the whole body. That walk I now remembered. … If only such a moment could return! But what I realized was that it had returned – that the remembering of that walk was itself a new experience of just the same kind. Lewis knew joy not through possession of it, but as he remembered the “longing and yet also fruition” which had so captured him on that hillside walk. To remember that moment and to long for it again had somehow, surprisingly, made joy present. My friends, that is the gift of fellowship and joy that we might know even here and now. The longing to be together brings to mind the memories, the feelings, the joys of actually being together. It is not exactly the same. We still miss gathering and yet, even in that longing there is a sense of new connection, new fellowship, new opportunity to reach out to one another. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the love and the joy of God poured out into our lives, into our fellowship, into the world. It is the same desire that Bilbo Baggins felt for the world sung about by the dwarves. It is the same love and desire we feel for God, knowing that one day all will be revealed, all that we have glimpsed in Jesus Christ, will be fulfilled, and the world will know the fullness of God’s great love. My friends, I declare these things to you so that we might have fellowship with God in Jesus Christ our Lord and fellowship with one another. I declare these things to you so that you might be swept up in a great adventure as you awaken to a life that really is life. I declare these things to you so that our joy might be complete. I pray that something within you will awaken and your life will never be the same. Thanks be to God. Let us pray:

Latest Sermons