Pastor Sherry’s Message for April 11, 2021

Scriptures: Acts 4:32-35; Ps 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2

            In the early 2000’s, the denomination into which I had been ordained jettisoned Scripture as its foundation.  Those of us who were faithful to the Bible were horrified and decided to meet together—at a large church in Plano, Texas–in an attempt to discern what to do.  As it turned out, the response to the meeting grew so sizeable that they had to move it to the Civic Center in Dallas! At that time, I was serving a large church in Philadelphia.  The Bishop there was a heretic.  He could not say the words of the Creeds because he no longer believed in them.  He would not pray the Lord’s Prayer.  I began to dodge his clergy meetings because he wanted to end each with a celebration of communion to both God and “the goddess.”  YIKES!  This sounded like idolatry to me.   Others went along with it, but I could not.  I realized quickly that my “orthodox beliefs” isolated and marginalized me in that diocese.

Thankfully, my particular parish was Biblically conservative.  They were great folks and I loved serving them.  My boss, however, had by then become both emotionally and spiritually abusive of me.  Knowing the nonbelieving Bishop would like nothing better than to discredit him, I realized I could not look to the Bishop for help.  Here too, in the church I was serving, I felt isolated and alone among the four clergy.

When I expressed a desire to attend the Plano Meeting, my boss wouldn’t permit me to go.  Due to the deterioration in our relationship, I had expected this response.  He changed his mind, however, when I shared with him an email from one of my female seminary professors, urging all ordained women to attend.  Since he had already made plane and hotel reservations for a large contingent from our staff, it was now too late for me to join in with them.  They flew to Dallas with connections through Atlanta; while I made my own arrangements, connecting through Chicago, O’Hare.  Once again, I was feeling lonely and marginalized.

As God would have it, however, there were 2 male pastors aboard whom I got to talk with on our O’Hare layover.  I’d never met them before but I quickly recognized they, too, had been feeling as isolated and alone as I had.

We spent time in the aisle encouraging each other.  When the crew began boarding the connecting passengers, I noticed a significant number of folks in collars.  I watched, amazed, as they poured in. It turned out that many students and faculty I knew from my seminary in Pittsburgh were all on that flight! As they sought their seats, we greeted one another with joy and hugs!  They appeared to be as happy to see me as I was to see them!  I felt like I had come in out of the desert.  I began to weep, realizing how much I had missed the kind of community I had experienced with them in the past.

Even though I was on my way with them to Dallas, I felt like I had come home. I knew in my heart that these were my people.  This was true Christian fellowship!  We were united in our love for Jesus, our love for each other, and our respect and reverence for God’s Holy Word.

This kind of Koinonia or Christian fellowship is the point of our Scripture readings today:

Acts 4:32-35 In these few, short verses, Dr. Luke shares that the post-Resurrection, post-Ascension disciples were operating at a high spiritual levelThey met together daily, speaking of Jesus boldly and openly.  Amazingly—just like the folks I encountered on that Chicago plane–(v.32), All the believers were one in heart and mind.  They were united in their belief that Jesus is Messiah.  And they were determined to tell others the Good News of Salvation.

Additionally—and this is truly amazing—they shared their financial resources with each other, so no one was needy.  Dr. J. Vernon McGee says this probably didn’t last long.  He believes the 1st century Church quickly devolved into normal human selfishness.  But remember, they were initially filled with the Holy Spirit and with great joy.  If I had had much money I would have shared it with those on that plane that day—or at the conference in the 3 days that followed.  We all felt in the grip of something greater than ourselves!  Our prayers, Bible studies led by Rev. Dr. J.I. Packer, and corporate worship–and the unforgettable testimonies we heard–were just sublime!  Like those early disciples, I was just so happy to be there and to be included.

Additionally—and this is truly amazing—they shared their financial resources with each other, so no one was needy.  Dr. J. Vernon McGee says this probably didn’t last long.  He believes the 1st century Church quickly devolved into normal human selfishness.  But remember, they were initially filled with the Holy Spirit and with great joy.  If I had had much money I would have shared it with those on that plane that day—or at the conference in the 3 days that followed.  We all felt in the grip of something greater than ourselves!  Our prayers, Bible studies led by Rev. Dr. J.I. Packer, and corporate worship–and the unforgettable testimonies we heard–were just sublime!  Like those early disciples, I was just so happy to be there and to be included.

Psalm 133 was written by King David.  It is often referred to as a “Song of Brotherhood.”  David compares true, God-centered fellowship to abundant oil and to life-giving water. The precious oil that anointed the first High Priest, Aaron, setting him apart for ministry at his ordination ceremony, flowed extravagantly down his head to his beard, spilling over his collar.  To our modern ears, this sounds like a mess.  But the point is that the oil of blessing was extravagant.  Similarly, the water that begins as dew on the highest mountain peak in Israel, and then eventually flows down to the Jordan River, brings life-preserving moisture to an arid land.  God, through King David, is saying that Christian fellowship can and should be abundant and life-giving.

The 1st heresy arose out of Gnosticism, in about 67AD, just after the death of Paul.  It derived from Greek philosophy (the predominant belief system of the Roman world).  Anything spirit was considered good;but matter/the body/the material world were all thought to be bad.  So they reasoned that Jesus could not have been fully human.  For God, Spirit, Divinity to dwell within a human body was to them unthinkable. This belief left them in a terrible dilemma:  Christianity says Jesus was fully God and fully man.  But they didn’t believe God could or would tolerate being a person.  John is writing to tell the church congregations of the day that this Greek philosophy was an error, a heresy!

The Church stands firm in its belief that Jesus Christ was both fully man and fully God.  In verses 1-2, John reminds us he was an eye-witnessàThat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  He is both asserting Jesus’ humanity and referencing the beginning of his GospelàIn the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  John is making it very clear that Jesus was/is God (divine); and that Jesus was really human—after all, John and the others saw Him, heard Him, looked upon and touched Him.

John was also determined to show us how to enjoy true fellowship with God (and with our fellow believers).   Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God through His death and resurrection.  But because we are sinners, or as AA says, “we are all bozos on the bus,” we are going to break relationship with Him and with others from time to time.  We do what we know we shouldn’t.  And we fail to do what we know we should. So, what’s going to get us back into right relationship with God?

John begins to tell us how in verse 5-7 God is light.  In Him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with Him [the Father] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  God knows we are going to succumb to the enticements of the world, our flesh, and the devil, from time to time.  But here is the antidote to sin: Honesty and ForgivenessàWe need to honestly take stock of our sins; v.8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  It’s a good practice to daily make a list of where we have fallen short of the glory of God; then check it twice.  AA calls this the 4th stepàWe make a searching and fearless moral inventory.  We bring our sins into the Light of Christ.

Then, v.9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.  Folks, this is great, Good News! When we fall out of fellowship with God, we just need to quietly and privately tell God we are sorry for having offended Him.

And what happens when we do?  (1) He forgives us!  (2.) Then He purifies us!

So then, John, ever the Pastor says in Chapter 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.   There is no sin any of us has committed that is too great to be forgiven!  Additionally, John goes on to remind us, we have an Advocate at the throne of the Father in Heaven.

Like a great defense attorney, Jesus Himself pleads our case.  He took our sinfulness at the Cross upon Himself and traded us His righteousness.  Thanks to Jesus, the Father sees us through the lens of Christ.

So how do we live into Christian Fellowship?  We recognize our great need for it. 

If you don’t have it, you can feel spiritually dry, isolated, and marginalized and even depressed.  The church I served in Philly was a wonderful body of believers; but because of my abusive boss and unbelieving Bishop, I felt alone, like I was wilting there.  The plane trip from O’Hare and the Plano Meeting helped me realize the importance of true Christian fellowship to my spiritual and emotional health.

But if you have it, you know you are loved and that you belong to a community of like-minded persons. These people are glad to see you! These folks miss you when you are absent from them, and you miss them as well.

I think we can all thank God for the fellowship we enjoy here at WUMC!  This is a body of believers who loves Jesus and who loves one another.  Let’s hold onto this and continue to live this out.  Thanks be to God for drawing us into koinonia through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Alleluia, alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s