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[Sermon] Finding Joy in Fellowship

Pastor Hector Garfias Toledo + July 7, 2024

Love Fits Week 1 - Fitting into Love’s Embrace: Joy Completes Our Faith

Note: due to a technical glitch the first few minutes of the sermon were not recorded.

In his sermon for the first week of the Love Fits worship series, Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo delves into the significance of 1 John, highlighting the importance of fellowship, confession, and living in the light. He draws connections between the letters of John and the central message of experiencing joy through God's love. Join us in exploring how our faith community can overcome division and embrace the fullness of God's joy.

Sermon Transcript

From automatically generated captions, lightly edited for readability by Chat GPT

These readings---2 John and 3 John---are important because they, first of all, help us to identify the writer of these letters that many scholars do not agree on who he or she was. So, they have called it the Elder, and that's how it's referred to in these letters: the Elder. The Elder wrote these letters, as you can see in Second and Third John, the reading that we have today. First John is what is called a sermon. It's not a letter, but it's a sermon. First John is a sermon that was written in response to what was happening in the church, which you can find in chapters two and—I mean in letters—Two and Three of John. It's a little complicated because John is always complicated, but let me try to simplify.

So, First John is a sermon that was written to churches, to congregations, that were in a crisis. What was the crisis? In Second John, you will find out that the Elder, the writer, was writing to warn the church not to receive those who were called the deceivers, those who did not recognize Jesus as the King or the Messiah. In third John, the Elder is encouraging another church to receive those who are bringing the teaching and the message that the disciples, the apostles, had received, and not to be like one of the members in that church who was rejecting all those who came with the good news and the message of Jesus. He was creating division in the church.

The Elder is using two important ways to explain his sermon. These tools are: one is called amplification. That means that the author is focusing on three major themes: life, love, and truth. And then he starts—or the author, the Elder, starts explaining, goes bigger, moves to the next theme, and goes bigger and bigger and bigger, amplifying the themes and helping the readers or the hearers to understand the main three themes that the Elder wants to convey to the congregation. And lastly, he also—or the Elder uses what we call contrast. So, there are also some themes that you will read in these letters that are important. He talks about light, good, and love, but because it's contrast, then we talk about light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. And in the end, the Elder comes to the conclusion that God is light and love.

So, that's in a nutshell what is happening with these three letters. I don't expect you to repeat it now, but I want to give you a context of what is happening here to understand. So, but your homework, go back home and read what—what letters of John two and three so that you understand the first letter of John.

So, let's now reflect a little bit on the message of what we read today, what we heard today. It is important for the Elder that we hear that the disciples have seen, heard, and touched the Lord Jesus. The message that they are bringing is not just a philosophical reflection. This is the experience of having Jesus with them. This is what we call the Incarnation. This is his intention, to tell us that God has an intimate relationship that shapes and forms the identity of the community of the church in this Incarnation. You remember in the Gospel according to John, it begins in chapter 1, verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God." Also, you can see some allusions to that in the first chapter of First John. But also, and this is something that one of our dear brothers loves very much, going back to the Book of Genesis, right? John, going "in the beginning," right? It starts "in the beginning." "In the beginning, when God created everything." But also, Proverbs chapter 8. So, the author is taking us back to the source of the identity of who we are as a community of faith.

This is not so much about you and me being part of an organization that has done things in the same way forever and that we need just to keep doing it because we have done it since at least I joined that congregation. The author is reminding us that the essence, the source, the roots of the congregation, of the community of faith, is God, God's love, God's creative love that gives life. And because of that, we are attached to that God of grace and love.

I have mentioned to you many times this work of Gabor Mate, this doctor who talks about attachment and the importance of the parental bonding in the early ages of a child. This bonding that shapes the child's character and cultivates the emotional balance that will help a child to relate to others. We are connected intimately in different levels of life. We are interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent as a community of faith. And the author of this letter is trying to re-center these people who, in the congregations, are experiencing a crisis of division, a crisis of rejection, a crisis of judgment, a crisis of rejecting others because they are not like they are. But at the same time, to identify the messages that others may bring that conflict with the message that Jesus was bringing to them. And to be honest with you, this is the struggle of almost every church that I know, including this congregation, including the congregations that I have served in the past, including the congregation that I was shepherding or guiding when I was working with congregations in another chapter in my life.

Members of those communities had chosen the works of darkness, the desire for power because they were experiencing emptiness. Gabor Mate says that when a child does not have the opportunity to bond with a parent, with mother or father, or the community, it creates an emptiness in their hearts. That when the child grows and becomes an adult, it becomes an emptiness in his or her heart. And the way to fill that emptiness is by trying to get power, and they get addicted to power. And I believe that the author is warning us about that. When a congregation, in the midst of conflict, in the midst of disorientation, in the midst of challenges, starts focusing on the things that every member or the congregation as a whole wants, we forget the essence and the root of who we are as a congregation because we start focusing on what I need and what I want. And if I don't want it, then I'm out of here. If it is not the way that I am used to, I'm not going to participate. If the person who comes doesn't think like me, they shouldn't be here.

And the author is saying you need to remember that the root, that the essence of who you are and whose you are, is rooted in the forgiveness and in the healing and in the life-giving presence of the Lord in the midst of you and in each one of you. The author is helping the congregations to re-center themselves, to remember that binding relationships liberate, but personal autonomy enslaves. You are free, you are forgiven, you are embraced. Live, give out who I call you to be, says the Lord. Because when you hear this message, says the author, you can have koinonia, fellowship, and participation in the life of the body of Christ. Fellowship and participation in those who see Jesus as the center of their lives.

You may remember that when we receive members here at the congregation, here at Trinity, we use a liturgy that is clear about that. That we are not living in this world, this Disney fantasy, that whoever joins this congregation is going to be happy ever after, that everything will be smiles and it will be like the end of these traditional movies that we saw. We want to be realistic that Jesus is bringing each one of us who is hurt, each one of us who is sometimes disoriented, each one of us who probably had a difficult experience in another church, persons who are not familiar with the church, persons who are very familiar with the church, persons who have lived their entire life and another half in the church. But we know that we are humans and we fail. So, in the liturgy, when we are asking the members of the congregation if they are willing to join the congregation, we read this paragraph that says, "We also acknowledge that we will fail you. This congregation will both embrace and resist change. Sometimes we will disagree and make mistakes. So we ask that on this side of this appointment, you promise to stick around for the healing that surely comes. Because if you go before the listening and the mending, you will miss the holy thing about being the church: the dying and the rising, the forgiving and the living." And the question is for everyone who is present in that rite, "Do you desire to become members of this congregation, investing in the future of this shared mission and ministry?" And the answer that we are willing to share is, "We choose the fullness of this community."

The fullness of this community, we share and declare this message, says the author, so that your joy may be complete. And the word complete in Greek means full to the brim, abundant. And that is what we as a congregation are called to yearn for. That the joy, the grace, the mercy, and the healing will fill the emptiness that this life creates in our hearts, so that you and I may be able to share and, more than anything else, be bold and willing to practice forgiveness, to walk the walk, the talk, and to witness the one who we have seen and heard and touched. We live in the promise of God. In Jesus, we see, we hear, and we touch in the bonding relationships. In the puzzle, we have a piece that is central. In the puzzle of our lives and our faith, this piece that is central is the love of God. And it is around that love that our entire lives and ministry as a church grow. And as David tells us, when all these pieces start coming together, we start feeling the joy of knowing that we are part of a bigger and amazing picture that God has created. And for that, my siblings in Christ, we thank God.


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