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Third Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, April 19, 2015

The Basis for Christian Fellowship

TEXT: I John 1:1-3

By now, I expect all our members have received a letter from me, announcing my intention to retire as Rector of Light of Christ Anglican Church on December 31, 2015. It is kind of the elephant in the living room, so I will say a few words about that this morning. I want to do so in the context of our reading from I John. Let me read to you again from I John 1:1-3:

That 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— 2 the 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— 3 that 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.

This is about the truth of the Gospel. And it is about our fellowship in that truth.

• “That which was from the beginning, “ Jesus, the Word, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;

• “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands,” Jesus, the Word who became flesh, whom he had seen with his own eyes, and whom he had touched with his hands;

• “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life,” Jesus, the one who promises and delivers eternal life to those who believe in Him.

• “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us;” The reason John proclaims the truth to us is so that we can be in fellowship with him

• and that we can be in fellowship with God. “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Fellowship is something we take for granted. We tend to think of fellowship as our social events and our coffee hours. But it is far more than that. What the world suffers from most is that it is out of fellowship with God. The people of this world are estranged from the God who made us for Himself, that we might be in eternal fellowship with Him. And the mission on which the Father sent His only begotten Son was to restore us to that fellowship. He made that possible through His sacrifice on the cross, and through our believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and giving our lives to Him. The message is simple:

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [Romans 10:8-9]

And what does it mean to be saved? Jesus said it in His prayer on the night before He died: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” (John 17:24) That is the fellowship that God offers us – to be with Him. And the fellowship we have with one another as the family of God is an essential part of that eternal fellowship with God.

That is what John is talking about in this passage this morning. And He is saying that the basis for our fellowship is our agreement in the truth of God. What binds us together is the truth of God. As John says, he proclaims God’s truth so that those who hear and believe can be in fellowship with him, and with God. You cannot have fellowship with God without being united in God’s truth.

God’s truth is two things: it is the Gospel message to which we assent and are saved; and it is God’s expectations for us as His disciples. God’s truth is both what He wants us to know, and what He wants us to do.

God’s truth is what has bound us together in Christian fellowship here at Light of Christ, and at St. Stephen’s before that. Our journey of faith has been informed by our struggles to be clear on what we believe and what we are prepared to do about what we believe. We have studied God’s Word diligently. And we have had a series of discernment periods where we have sought out the Lord’s guidance, so that we can make wise decisions as His disciples—decisions that are in accord with His plans for us:

• What is our mission?

• What is God’s vision for us?

• Where does God want us to worship and do our ministry?

• How does God want us to worship Him?

That is the basis of our fellowship. Being clear on God’s truth and following God’s plan has been essential to our unity.

Jesus has not left us as orphans, groping around in the dark looking for answers. As He promised (John 16:13), He has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.

• He was talking about opening our eyes to the truth of God’s Word, so that we could understand it and believe it.

• He was also talking about opening our eyes to the truth of what God is calling us to do.

Here at Light of Christ, we have learned to call upon the Holy Spirit and ask Him to guide us into all truth.

It has been an adventure. I have to say that Lynne and I would never have come here if we had not felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to leave what we were doing in Northern Virginia and come to the Northern Neck. That was in 1996 – 19 years ago. I came as Priest-in-Charge of both St. Stephen’s, and St. Mary’s Fleeton. I had no plan for how long I would stay. And I had no idea the future would hold. The two congregations grew quickly, and within two years, we brought on an assistant Rector to help lead them. By 2003, both congregations had become able to sustain their own clergy, and I became rector of St. Stephen’s alone.

It was that same year that a priest from Gloucester asked me if he could nominate me to represent the Diocese of Virginia at the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I said, “No.” I had no interest in politics, and I was determined never to get involved in such a thing. But I told him I would pray about it. A few weeks later, I discerned that God was calling me to go to that convention. I got hold of the man and asked if he still wanted to nominate me. He said yes, and I was elected. That 2003 General Convention was the one that opened the floodgates to the great division that has come upon the Episcopal Church, and in quick succession the other mainline Protestant denominations.

What I witnessed and experienced at that General Convention impelled me to become deeply involved in what became a movement for Biblical orthodoxy. Here at this church, we spent the next three years talking, praying, and engaging in congregational discernment about whether we could continue under the spiritual authority of leadership that did not uphold the Bible. We sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And in December 2006, we voted to separate ourselves from the Episcopal Church. As I look back on that, I can see what an upheaval it was. At the time, we just put one foot in front of another, and sought to be faithful Christians.

What followed was five years of painful litigation, which we ultimately lost in the Supreme Court of Virginia. And so, we left the property in Heathsville and moved to where we are now. It wasn’t as if a congregation of 135 people could easily find a home for itself. There were no ready-made churches for us to move into. But, again, attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we had built an abiding friendship with the Pastor and the good people of First Baptist Church, and they offered us a home. It was the same story for the other congregations who sought God’s leading on these matters, and with whom we are now joined in fellowship in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic and the Anglican Church in North America.

We have now been here at First Baptist three years. During that time, we have designed a building, raised funds, and begun construction. In fact, the concrete floor was poured this week, and the framing of the structure has begun. (See aerial photos) Our builder is telling us we ought to be ready to move in by the end of September.

And God is not moving us into this new home just to put a roof over our heads. He has a plan for us,

• a plan for our role in this community,

• and our role in the Christian movement in this nation,

• and our role in the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

The truth of God is both the truth of His Word in the Bible, and the truth of the plans that He has for us. And the better we discern that, the clearer we will be about who we are, and what our purposes are as a church. And without God’s truth, we have no true fellowship.

that 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.

If you look back over the past 12 years, you can see that we have been in almost continuous discernment. During the first 3 years after the 2003 General Convention, we were told over and over that we should all be friends and preserve our unity. We can “agree to disagree,” we were told. But Christians cannot agree to disagree on whether Christ is the only way to the Father and still call themselves one. Jesus prayed to the Father on the night before He died,

that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [John 17:21]

Jesus was praying that we would have an extraordinary unity—unity as He enjoys with the Father. That kind of unity is not friendship; it is not agreeing to disagree; it is not going through the motions. True Christian unity is weaving ourselves together around God’s truth and God’s plan.

During the past four years, we have continued to seek God’s will:

• Build or not build?

• What shall we build?

• What shall we give from our personal resources to make it happen?

• Does God want us to have a new name?

• What is the name He has chosen for us?

We experience these times as transitions, and we feel unsettled. But in God’s Kingdom, these are special times when we are pouring out our hearts to Him and seeking Him. I have been deeply blessed to go through these times with you. And I have had my own time of seeking God’s guidance on when to retire. He was clear with me when the time was not right. And He has been clear with me on the timing now.

I have learned a lot during these 19 years. The biggest lesson I have learned is that God is in control. As Psalm 31:15 says, our times are in God’s hands. We can make all the plans we want. We can make all the decisions we think best. But it is only when we submit to the Holy Spirit and let Him do what He wants with our life that things will work out the right way.

My ministry with you is immensely satisfying, and I will grieve to lay it down. But I am at peace, because I know it is within God’s plan. I hope you are at peace as well. And I hope you join in my prayer that we will continue to seek the Lord’s face with all our hearts, and that we will correctly discern His will for this congregation. I pray that the Vestry and Search Committee will identify just the person whom God has already chosen to be the pastor here, and that God’s vision for the next chapter of this congregation’s life will be your vision.

May God bless the time we have remaining together, that in our love for each other and for the Lord, we will glorify His Name.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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