Summary: John's most basic concern is to give this church confidence again in what they have believed about Jesus. And he reminds them that this message is carried by the church that listens to the Apostles, and it isn't found anywhere else.
Sermon by Rev John Altmann
There are a number of ways that people leave churches, for both good and bad reasons.
A good reason to leave is to be sent out to serve in another place. We've seen that recently with Heather and Adam. They spent two years with us practicing their ministry, trying things out to see what they are good at, and now we've sent them out to Elsternwick and Caulfield. We are being like God in this instance - we are passing on a gift that he has given us, sending Heather and Adam out to St. Mary's. And we've done the same with Garret and Roy and Camille and Andrew who have all served in our children and youth ministries here and gone out from us to serve in other churches. We ought to be proud of this and we ought to strive to keep on doing it.
But another way that people leave churches is to just drift away gradually. They come less and less and they care less and less about God's mission and purposes through the church. This can be not so good on our behalf if they never get a phone call from one of us asking how they are and if something has happened that we don't know about. Often people in this position will have a reason that they feel hurt by St. Thomas'. But as well as listening to this we have to ask them if they still believe in Jesus, God's only son, our Lord, and do they still believe in the importance of God's church?
Here's the reason why clergy usually leave churches.
[cartoon from Chris Morgan - see this sermon on stthomasburwood.org.au]
Another reason why people leave churches is because they think that somewhere else is better. My friend Rhys was telling me about a guy he met last week at the City on a Hill church who said to him: “Hey, I'm really glad I came here, this is such a better church”. He'd left his local Baptist church in Werribee to migrate to City on a Hill. Why was it better? Because, in his mind, it was bigger and louder and the band was better. There's something tragically wrong about this isn't there? The irony was that Werribee Baptist is a good church that is sending people out to train at Ridley College where my friend Rhys teaches theology. So you can see that this guy's opinion didn't really impress Rhys.
And then sometimes people leave churches because they have a fundamental disagreement about belief. In many people's minds this is why people leave churches. “They're always splitting up because they can't agree on anything”. But in fact its one of the least common reasons why people leave a church.
Sadly, the biggest reason, I think, is personal preference: what I think will suit me the best.
I want to convince you this morning that there are basically two categories of people in relation to the church - there are the stickers and the splitters. I want to convince you to be a sticker who is confident that we have everything that we need here to serve God through St. Thomas'!
The reason for John writing this letter was a crisis of confidence amongst people in the church. And this lack of confidence was caused by an influential group of people leaving the church because they had a different understanding of who Jesus is. You can see this in the passage:
Not only did they leave the church but they actively taught a different message about who Jesus was. Later in the letter John refers to those who have separated themselves from the churches loyal to him, saying:
And this group continued to try and influence those remaining in the community that was founded by John, to accept their different teaching:
The effect upon the members of these churches was to undermine their confidence in their church and in the message about Jesus they had originally received.
What is your level of confidence in St. Thomas' like? Do you feel that there are bigger, better churches out there and we are being left behind?
Have you ever had your confidence in something you were good at really severely dented?
I love watching golf on TV and I remember watching Nick Faldo, at that stage one of the greatest players of his day, line up these little 3 foot putts and consistently hit them just right of the hole. He was a world champion and he couldn't hole a 3 foot putt. He just completely lot his confidence and got worse and worse. You could see that sinking feeling in his stomach when he stood over the top of a short putt. In the midst of this, someone convinced him that his technique was wrong and he'd have more success if he crossed his hands over. It helped him briefly, then eventually he just looked even more uncertain of his ability to hole a short putt. For about 5 years he didn't even come close to winning a tournament. Somehow he had to reconnect with what he knew at the beginning and remember what that felt like.