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Sermon for Sunday 8 April 2018

FIRST READING Acts 4:32-35

32Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

PSALM Psalm 148

1 Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise God in the heights. 2 Praise the LORD, all you angels; sing praise, all you hosts of heaven. 3 Praise the LORD, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars. 4 Praise the LORD, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, who commanded, and they were created, 6 who made them stand fast forever and ever, giving them a law which shall not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps; 8 fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing God’s will; 9 mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars; 10 wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds; 11 sovereigns of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; 12 young men and maidens, old and young together. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven. 14 The LORD has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near the LORD. Hallelujah!

SECOND READING 1 John 1:1–2:2

Chapter 1 1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But 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 cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Chapter 2 1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

GOSPEL John 20:19-31

The holy gospel according to St. John the 20th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.

19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

One of the customs we observe, during almost every worship service, is the passing of the peace. This is a time to greet each other, to share a blessing with each other and to reconnect with your fellow brother and sister in Christ. As part of that greeting, most will extend a hand of fellowship, or shake hands, which is an ancient form of greeting. By way of reminder for many of you, the custom of shaking hands originated in primitive times.
Centuries ago, when men carried their weapons in their right hands, a man would extend his empty right hand to take the hand of the other person; this meant that they were coming in peace. Over the centuries this act of shaking hands, which prevents either man from holding his sword or weapon, evolved into a traditional greeting in western society. It shows that neither party wants to be enemies, but rather they desire friendship and fellowship.
Every day, by a simple gesture, we take for granted that people are expressing a universal desire for friendship and fellowship, and it’s more than just a want, it’s a need. God created us, from the beginning, to be in fellowship not only with Him, but with each other as well. And the best place to find both friendship and fellowship is in the church. Now we all know that the primary purpose that we gather in church is to worship the Lord. We come each week to learn and grow as Christians and this is important. But there is another side to worship. The other side of worship is fellowship. John tells us in our epistle reading that Jesus Christ came, He died, He was buried, and He was raised from the dead, not only to save us, but “that you also may have fellowship with us.” (v.3)
We live today not only in a digitalized world, but a depersonalized society. It’s an automated nation where you have to remember your zip code to purchase fuel at the gas pumps, your area code when giving your phone number and your social security number for income tax filing purposes; in many ways we’re known as much by a number, as we are by our names. It seems that anytime we call a business, we no longer get a live voice, but you get voice mail, or an answering machine. As a matter of fact, it’s become so bad, that some businesses are advertising that you not only reach customer service, but you get a live and even American representative when you call. These businesses have recognized that there has never been a greater need for fellowship in the history of mankind than there is right now. This is one of the reasons Easter is so important in the church; it’s important because real fellowship is one aspect of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the reasons we can have true fellowship is because Jesus Christ is risen and Jesus Christ is real. The only reason we’re here today, and the only reason we’ll be back here next Sunday, is because Jesus Christ is a risen Lord who is a real person. John tells us that Jesus is not only the reason we can have fellowship, He is the only way you can truly have fellowship. One of the reasons I say this, is because Jesus is real in eternity. St. John writes in the very first verse, “That which was from the beginning…” This is of course an affirmation of what he said in the first chapter of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Now here in 1 John 1:1, he refers to Jesus as “that which was from the beginning.” Now take a moment and put those two things together. In John 1:1 he said, Jesus was in the beginning; here he says Jesus was from the beginning. In other words, Jesus was present before the creation, and Jesus was present during the creation, and Jesus is present after the creation. What John is affirming is that Jesus is eternal and we too affirm this in the second article of the Nicene Creed when we say, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through Him all things were made. Through our confessions and Creeds, we affirm what John has taught, that there never was a time when Jesus was not, nor is there a time when He will not be. Jesus was and is co-equal, co-eternal, and co-existent with God the Father.
He was pre-existent before creation, He is post-existent after creation, He is permanently existent throughout creation. In the beginning, from the beginning, before the beginning, and after the beginning, Jesus has always been. But He’s also real in human experience. John also tells us in the first verse, “…which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life.” John is saying that Jesus isn’t some fairy tale. He’s not some mythological figure. He’s not some comic book or amusement park character like Superman or Mickey Mouse. And in His incarnation, He became flesh and blood, skin and bones, muscle and sinew. In His birth, He willingly became just like you and just like me. But accepting this has created a problem for some.
For some, they can’t accept Jesus’ divinity; they say if He is truly a man, then He cannot God. Others attack Jesus’ humanity and say if He is God, then He cannot be fully human. It’s interesting that John wrote the gospel to prove Jesus is fully divine, and then turned right around and devotes the first part of his epistle to prove that Jesus is fully human. That’s why John speaks, first of all, of Jesus being someone “which we have heard.” The verb he uses here is in the present tense, which simply means that something took place in the past and continues into the present. What he literally said was, “Jesus is that which we have heard and still hear.”
Yes, we can still hear Jesus’ voice even today. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice.” He said again in Rev. 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice I will open the door and come in to him.” Now we may not always hear Jesus speak with our ears, but we do hear Jesus in our heart. He speaks to us in a variety of ways, through the preaching, the Sacraments, Sunday school lessons, Bible Study, through devotions, in prayer and even through each other. Regardless of the medium, it’s still Jesus who is speaking.
John goes on next to describe Jesus as the one “we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon.” (v.1) That is, Jesus was not an optical illusion, nor was He an hallucination. He could be seen with the naked eye. The Greek word for “looked upon” is theaomai, which is the root word for theater, it means to scrutinize or investigate. What John said was, “I saw Jesus just like you would see a movie or a theatrical production. I am an eye witness.” He then goes on to describe Jesus as one “our hands have handled.” John said I have seen Him, I have heard Him, and I have touched Him, and I am telling you He is real. John was a first-hand, eye-witness, to Jesus. But John goes even further; Jesus is also real in expression.
“The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—”(v.2) The word manifest means “to reveal something previously unknown.” God knew that the only way anybody can ever know Him is if He reveals Himself to others. Jesus is God’s full, final, revelation of God the Father Himself. Because of Jesus we can know God in a personal way, and therefore have fellowship with one another.
There is a blessing that comes from having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ that’s summed up in that word fellowship. First, there is the horizontal blessing. “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us.” (v.3a) One of the most beautiful words in the New Testament is that word “fellowship.”
It’s a word that’s used a lot by both Christian and non-Christian alike, but it’s often misused and misunderstood. For example, whenever we talk about fellowship, we automatically think of a social activity. It seems like even in the church, fellowship is always linked with “food and fun.” We associate fellowship with a place. Almost every church calls the place where people gather for meals and dining—The Fellowship Hall. But when you think about it, every hallway and room in a church can be considered a fellowship hall.
The word fellowship is the Greek word koinonia, which means “to share in common.” And the central thing we share in common, that allows us to enjoy fellowship with one another, is Jesus. When we were baptized, we were born again into the family of God. When we live our lives for God, when we gather together for worship, prayer or study, we remain a part of His family and we enjoy fellowship with one another. One of the wonderful things of being a Christian is that a Christian life never has to be a lonely life.
As a matter of fact, the picture of the church in the New Testament is always one of a life that is lived in relationship to others. Paul describes the church as a body that has many members (1 Cor. 12:12); Jesus tells us, “I am the vine you are the branches” (John 15:5); as a temple that has many stones (1 Cor 3:16); as a family that has many children (Eph. 1:5.) God has no “only” children. We have been grafted in so that we can have fellowship with God and with other Christians. But not everyone gets this. There are still too many “lone ranger” Christians. These are the people who simply “attend” church. They never really get to know anyone; they never really get rooted into the life of the church.
They never take the opportunity to make friends nor do they take part in fellowship activities. These are the people who simply come and go and when they leave you feel like saying, “Who was that masked man?” We really don’t know them, and they really don’t know us, even though they’ve been coming to church for years. It’s sad because that’s part of the joy of the Christian life, relating to one another and having others relate to us as the family of God.
During World War II the Japanese conducted experiments to find the most effective type of punishment to get information from prisoners. They found that solitary confinement was by far and away the most effective type of punishment. After a few days of solitary confinement, practically everybody would break down and tell everything that they knew. That’s why we need fellowship. Because without it, we become easy prey for temptation, easy prey for discouragement, easy prey for the attacks of the world and the attacks of the devil. But there’s also a vertical blessing.
St. John writes, “And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (v.3b) This fellowship is not only with one another, but it’s also with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. But there’s something really important to see here. The Bible says we can have no fellowship with God without Jesus Christ (Jon 17:21.) The Bible tells us that we cannot know God without Jesus Christ (John 14:9.) The Bible says we cannot worship God unless we worship Jesus Christ, (Matt. 28:17) and our fellowship is with Him.
So, it goes without saying, or at least it should, that we cannot have fellowship with someone unless we have a relationship with someone. We cannot have fellowship with someone we do not know. We cannot have fellowship with God without a relationship to God. And we cannot have a relationship with God unless we have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:9, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Now let me put this all together; fellowship has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension. Vertically, we’re to fellowship with the Father; horizontally we’re to fellowship with the family. Now we cannot have fellowship with the family if we do not have a relationship with the Father, because that’s what makes us a part of the family. And we cannot have fellowship with the Father if we don’t have a relationship with the Son. Therefore, if we want to have fellowship with the family, we must have a relationship with the Son, which in turn gives us a relationship to the Father, which then puts us in fellowship with the Father, so we can then have fellowship with the family. The point is, it all goes back to a relationship with Jesus. He is both the basis of fellowship and ultimately the blessing of fellowship.
“And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (v.4) The word full literally means “to be filled completely full.” John said, “I want you to have total joy; joy that is totally full, not one-fourth full, not one-half full, but fully full!” Walk through an airport sometime, or down a city street, and look at the faces of people and see how much joy there is. Society today has more entertainments, more amusements, more places to go to, more stuff to read, more things to do than ever before in history; yet joy is at an all-time low. The psalmist explains the problem in Ps. 16:11: “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” If we want joy, we need fellowship, and we need to right kind of fellowship. We need fellowship with the Savior and fellowship with the saints. There’s little joy in lone ranger Christianity.
Anytime someone is determined to never get involved in church, to never get involved in Bible studies or Sunday school, to never get involved in the Ladies group or with the youth, then how can you can build Christian relationships and have fellowship and friendship? Without building Christian relationships, you will never know the fullness of joy in your Christian life that God intended for you to know. You see, fellowship brings enrichment. There’s so much we can learn from one another, and so much we can pass on to one another. There’s two more things to consider.
First, fellowship brings encouragement. Eccl. 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.” Second, fellowship also brings enjoyment. Some of you may have heard the old saying that pleasures shared are pleasures doubled, just as sorrows shared are sorrows halved. It’s more fun to laugh when others laugh with you, and it’s easier to cry when others cry with you.
Reader’s Digest, years ago, had an article entitled “What Good is a Tree?” That article explained that when the roots of trees touch, there’s a substance that’s released that reduces the competition between the trees. It’s a fungus that helps link roots of different trees, even of dissimilar species. A whole forest can therefore be linked together. If one tree has access to water, another has access to nutrients, and a third has access to sunlight, those trees will have the means to share with one another and support one another. Well, we all have the same root.
We are rooted to Jesus Christ. But we need to branch out and touch one another, fellowship with one another, spend time with one another, relate to one another, get to know one another, and encourage one another, so that we can be all for God that God wants us to be. I’m sure you remember the story of a pastor who once visited a very difficult man who always said he was a Christian, but he never saw the need to go to church, and that it wasn’t necessary to go to church to be a Christian.
During this visit, the pastor didn’t argue with him, but simply leaned forward, took a pair of tongs, and reaching into the fire that was burning in the fireplace; picked out a glowing coal and set it down all by itself. As the two men watched it in silence, the heat and the light grew dimmer and cooler until finally that glowing ember had turned black and cold. Again, without saying anything the pastor put the coal back and soon it was once again glowing with the others. The preacher put his hand on the shoulder of that man and just made one statement before he left. Whether your heart is hot or cold, depends upon whether or not you’ll get into the fire with the other embers.
Billy Graham once said, “Church goers are like coals in a fire. When they cling together they keep the flame glowing. When they separate they die out.” Fellowship is the other side of worship. We need both sides if we’re going to experience the full joy of the resurrected Jesus.

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