See and Hear

A Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent; Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:5-10, Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16, John 12:20-33

Good morning. It is good to see all the kids here this morning. I know all of you know how special each of you are. Here is a story that reminds me of that.

All moms are on high alert when they bring their newborn baby home. They see and hear everything that is within reach of their baby. When a mom saw her oldest child, J keep edging up to the baby’s room she watched. J welcomed her new brother. Mom hadn’t seen any signs of jealousy or anything like that, but still, new moms watch. J would go to her brother’s room and stand by the door if it was cracked she’d peak in, if not she’d listen. Then one day, when Mom was more relaxed and not keeping the hawk eye alert on, J quietly when in. Mom missed J, automatically looked down the hall and noticed the baby’s room’s door was half open. She quickly went to see what was up. She did not hear anything that alarmed her, so she paused at the door to listen. J was standing by the baby’s crib, one hand, and her forehead on the railing. Quietly she said, please tell me what she looks like, I am beginning to forget what God looks like.

It is interesting to ponder how as we grow up as we learn some things we also lose our ability to see and hear other things; it raises a question about how we grow up (Kubicek).

 In the Gospel this morning we hear that some Greeks ask to see Jesus. It is an indication of their desire to know him. Certainly, through the stories they have heard, they have come to know about Jesus, which has led to them to seek to see Jesus so they may come to know him more fully (Shore). Their request makes no demands, there are no appeals for proof, they just want to be in Jesus’ presence, just as Andrew wanted to follow Jesus after John the Baptist’s witness (John 1:35). People do desire to see and hear Jesus. However, as we grow up, either birthday by birthday, or by education, or through life’s hard taught lessons, that desire seems to be more and more suppressed. We seem to lose the ability to see Jesus, or God, or the Spirit right in front of us. Notice the officials cannot see who Jesus is, and the crowd cannot hear God’s reply to Jesus’ prayer “Glorify your name.” People think it is either thunder or that Jesus has lost his mind and is talking to himself (Kubicek). And while there is a lot of Sunday School material teaching stories about Jesus, the opportunities to learn how to see Jesus, how to hear Jesus, are rare. One commentator wrote that seminaries don’t teach it, creeds don’t mention it, the catechism doesn’t teach it, yet here it is (Kubicek).

I can attest to the truth, that seeing or hearing God/Jesus/Spirit can be a life-changing experience. Thirty or so years ago, I was home alone with our daughters. N was upstairs asleep. H and I were playing Candy Land. It was important to me that she wins, so I was trying to manufacture a win, by making mistakes. I should have known better, H was very smart, and never did miss much, and every time I tried to make a mistake, she saw me and corrected it. Because it was Saturday the TV was on PBS, the kid’s shows were over and an interview with Joseph Campbell was on. I do not know the question. I only know part of the answer

 … there are many paths in life. When you are on the right on you know it. When you are on the wrong on, you know it. And if you ever sell out for money …

My house of cards collapsed, and I heard “Go get ordained.”

A bit of background. As an acolyte serving at the altar was always a special place and time for me, there was a kind of mystical magnetic draw to it. Somewhere in my last year or so in college, in a moment of existential, or identity crisis I sought out a priest. So, it is not a total surprise to hear those words, although it was completely unexpected.

After decades of occasionally pondering I am beginning to see that the only way I would hear the divine voice was to be so focused that all the concerns of the world were blocked out. It was only playing as a child, with a child, that the walls I had built, to protect myself from the world, faded away, and that God’s voice could be heard. As I sought to obey that call, I shared the experience, ~ but with caution. I did not want to over-interpret it. And ~ I was not sure how it would be received. Which tells us something about how such experiences are interpreted in many situations.

Our Lenten sermon themes are lentil soup, and what we sell our Christian birthright for. This morning lentil soup is looking a lot like grown-up expectations and interpretations of the world. We have forgotten how to be little children. Though Esau called it “that red stuff” this morning lentil soup is gray stuff, a mixture of everyday life and light. It is a good thing to have grown up expectations and interpretations of the world. Everyday life in the world is complex and at times dangerous, it takes grownup experience and wisdom to make your way through. At the same time, Jesus’ teaching that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be like little children (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) we have heard is true. It builds on my seminary class Psalm, ~ 131

  1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore. (Psalms 131).

The psalmist shares the way to live in divine hope, which is our soul’s being calm and quiet like a child with its mother.

The ever-alert understanding it takes to get through the day contrast sharply with the calm and quiet of a child with their mother. Lentil soup is an artful mixture of both.

John is challenging the balance of the two. In his day, and in ours, there is a much greater emphasis on ever alert understanding than calm and quiet. Go to the self-help section where ever books are sold and see how many books offer ways to negotiate or manage your life to be successful, compared to how many offer ways to calm and quiet your soul. John does this in sharing the relationship between God and Jesus. John writes that Jesus’ soul is troubled, which is an expression of a grown-up understanding of the situation he is in, he now knows his death is rapidly approaching. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, here, Jesus does not question his purpose.

He is so perfectly united to the Father that, in [John’s] Gospel, he does not struggle to obey the divine will; instead he prays for the Father’s glorification … [he knows] looming tragedy is not the last word (Gaventa and Petersen).

John’s lentil soup is more divine light than human awareness. This morning’s vision of lentil soup is as much about the blend of what is in it, as it is about its ingredients.

We have also been asking what we sell our birthright for. This morning it is an abundant wheat crop. Jesus shares the one-line parable about a wheat seed dying so that it will bear much fruit, which we tend to equate with abundance. Have you ever asked yourself “Does wheat seed produce fruit?” Of course not. So, what is Jesus, through John, saying? Throughout scripture, Jesus uses the phrase “bearing fruit” to describe how a community of his disciples should look and sound. In Jesus’ one-line parable “bearing fruit” is a metaphor meaning to lose one’s life, by leaving ever alert understanding of our self-interest aside, to become part of a community of faith (Shore; O’Day). To hate, or reject, or rebalance one’s life is to follow Jesus as a part of the community of disciples who witness to Jesus after his death, resurrection, and ascension (O’Day). This morning we see the temptation to sell our birthright, of an abundance of fruit in a community of faith, for an abundant wheat crop.

Adjusting the ingredients of a recipe is a challenging thing. It requires knowledge of the ingredients, how they interact, and which flavors complement each other. It is also an art that emerges from a calm and quiet soul. You are not alone in your effort to balance your recipe for lentil soup. You are heirs of Jesus’ invitation to Andrew to “come and see” (John:138) and to Phillip to “follow me” (John 1:43) (Lewis; O’Day). You are heirs of seeing and hearing to know the “swift and varied changes of the world” and the calm and quiet of your soul which together bring you into eternal life in which you know, right here, right now, what God looks like, what God sounds like.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kubicek, Kirk Alan. “This Voice Has Come for Your Sake, Not for Mine, Lent 5.” 18 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Seeing Jesus. 18 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 12:20-33. 18 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

We Need Each Other …

A sermon for: The Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

 

Verna Dozier was respected Episcopal Educator. I once had the pleasure to heard her teach on reading the bible. She teaches that the psalms are a reflection on Old Testament stories, and Acts and letters are reflections on the Gospel stories. Today we will follow that sequence to glean a bit of wisdom from scripture.

Our readings this morning have the common theme of listening for the voice and presence of God, in our lives (Epperly). We will see how Samuel is a model for sharing and hearing and how Psalm 139 is a reflection on that. We will see how Jesus invites would be disciples to come and see is a part of Nathaniel’s story. Finally, we will peek at Paul’s thoughts about intimacy and Spiritual life. Well after finally, we will explore what it means for us.

Samuel is conceived after his mother, Hannah, accused by Eli, the temple priest, of being a drunken spectacle, explains she is praying out of her great anxiety because she is barren (1 Samuel 1:12-18). Eli, crudely and off handily, says “let it be so.” After their son is weaned, Hanna and her husband, Elkanah, take him back to the temple where they offer him as a servant to God, under Eli’s guidance.

Eli’s sons are scoundrels, who abuse their office by disregarding God’s word and taking advantage of the people who came to offer their sacrifices. Their behavior is so bad, the people’s dedication to God diminishes and the word of God is rarely heard.

Samuel is no longer a child, at this point but probably a young man (Birch). Samuel’s calling is a primary element; Eli is also a primary element. Despite his contentious relationship with God, Eli recognizes that God is calling Samuel, and faithfully instructs him how to respond. God calls, and Samuel replies Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). God’s first assignment is for Samuel is to tell Eli that time is up, and the judgment on his family, and priestly lineage, is to be forever, that there will be no survivors; there will be no succors, and there is nothing to do to stop the judgement (Bridgeman; Birch).

Eli recognizes Samuel’s hesitation and encourages him to tell him everything God told Samuel, and he does. Eli’s response is It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him. He holds no grudge against Samuel nor God. This story presents Samuel as a model for accepting God and following God’s instructions (Epperly). But, we should not overlook Eli, who helps Samuel hear and respond to God in faith.

Psalm 139 is a meditation on God’s nearness and intimacy we see in the previous story. The first reflection is that that in spite of our sin, we are accepted by God (Epperly). Eli’s and his son’s lives show us: that there is nothing about us

  • that God does not know
  • that there is no place where God will not be with us, and
  • that the relationship between ourselves and the creator is beyond our understanding (Gaventa and Petersen Psalm).

The palm also reveals an uncertain uncomfortableness about God knowing our deepest secrets. Our intimate relationship with God is wonderful, but it is also a bit unsettling (Harrelson Pslam).

Today’s Gospel story is one of my favorites. I think the phrase “come and see” is the most valuable evangelical tools we have. Only that is not where the Spirit lead me today. Today I am lead to a chain, a fig tree, and Jacob that draw wisdom from this Gospel.

The chain begins with John pointing to Jesus saying “Here is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) to his disciples. The next day it thing happens again only Andrew, and Philip follow Jesus which leads to Jesus invitation to those disciples to “Come and see.” The next link in the chain is that Andrew finds Simon. Then Jesus finds Philip who finds Nathaniel and shares the good news, only Nathaniel wonders aloud “Oh really, from Nazareth? Come on!” Philip replies “Come and see.” Jesus sees Nathaniel and remarks Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel wants to know just how Jesus knows this and Jesus answers I saw you under the fig tree which leads to Nathaniel’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. The chain of invitations to come and see Jesus continues to this day. And it starts not with this story, but the one before as John the Baptist is the witness who reveals the incarnate Jesus (Harrelson – John; O’Day).

Jesus tells Nathaniel he saw him under the fig tree immediately before he makes his confession. Why? What does the fig tree reveal to Nathaniel, that we don’t get? The other times a fig tree appears in the Gospels it is unfruitful, once it is fertilized, the other time Jesus curses it. Fig trees are a little different because they produce figs when they produce leaves, so when you see one with leaves, it has figs. If there are leaves and no figs something has gone wrong with the pollination process (Farr). Also, it is not uncommon people often sit under trees for the shade as they study Torah. Jesus says Nathaniel is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel realizes Jesus knows his knowledge of scripture. He understands the reference to Jacob, who is among the most deceitful of all the characters in the bible (Hoezee; Keener and Walton – John). Nathaniel connects the dots and he realizes that the teachings of Israel need to be pruned, because they are bearing any fruit, and Jesus is here to help (Farr).

Jesus goes on to say that Nathaniel will see angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This is a reference to Jacob’s dream of the ladder with angels going up and down, signifying the unexpected presence of God (Gaventa and Petersen – John). In that dream, God is assuring Jacob that God will stay with him (Hoezee). Jesus is assuring Nathaniel that he will stay with him. The connection between Nathaniel and Jacob raises the possibility of a chain of witnesses, passed down through generations in sacred story, being a stimulus to faith.

The letters to the Corinthians were written responses to the letters from the Corinthians seeking advice and guidance. These verses let us know the church has always struggled with questions of personal intimacy. Paul begins All things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial. Lawful is better understood as permissible and beneficial is a reference to the common good, not to an individual benefit (Harrelson – 1 Corinthians; Sampley). Paul is teaching that our faith puts Spiritual and theological boundaries on how we behave (Kamudzandu). By their baptism, all the Corinthians are a part of Jesus so everything they do effects, Jesus. Since everyone in their community is baptized, they are also part of Jesus, so what anyone does effects everyone because it first effects Jesus. All that is a long way of saying that our personal conduct impacts the whole community (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corinthians). Living within spiritual boundaries is how Paul explains the difference between erotic pleasure, which is beyond the realm of the Spirit, and passionate intimacy, which is within the boundaries of the Spirit (Kamudzandu).

All of this relates to our relationship with each other, our relationship with God, both of which impacts our relationship to the other and with each other. Despite his broken relationship with God, Eli is able to hear God calling Samuel and point him in the right direction. This shows that none of us is so separated from God that we cannot point someone else in the right direction. None of us is so far from God that we cannot hear the divine voice, even if we are simply overhearing it. Samuel’s story also teaches that to do what God asks us to do calls us to speak the truth and speaking the truth can be hard. The Psalmist assures us God knows us, and that is a good thing even if it leaves us a bit uncomfortable. John’s story of Jesus calling his first disciples teaches that our accepting the Jesus story is not complete until we invite someone else to come and see (Harrelson John). It also presents the possibility that someone might believe you (Lewis). In a roundabout way, Paul teaches us that all of us are connected to everyone else. Everything you do effects, someone, you aren’t thinking about. And anything someone else does touches your life Which is why disciplining ourselves to behave within the boundaries of the Spirit matters.

In summary, we need each other.

We need each other’s fragile hearing.

We need each other’s timid truth-telling.

We need each other’s uncomfortable intimate knowledge of ourselves.

We need each other to be links in our intertwined chains of faith.

We need each other because each of us is connected to everyone else in all creation.

We need each other to help each other behave for our common good.

We need each other to share our stories of Word and Sacrament so that each of us will shine in the presence of God/Jesus/Spirits’ Kingdom that is right here, right now.


References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]. 14 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Farr, Curtis. Draw Me a Sheep, Epiphany 2 (B). 14 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:43-51. 14 1 2017.

Kamudzandu, Israel. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. An Epiphany Way of Life. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

 

 

Unexpected Guides, Surprising Directions

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

The Jewish-Samaritan rivalry dates all the way back to the 7th century under Assyrian occupation. Temple was built at Gerazim and became the center of worship in the 4th century under Persian occupation. The Samaritans worship at this Temple, but the Jews believed that worship must be in the Temple in Jerusalem. Although Gerazim was destroyed in 128 BCE, the schism continued at least to Jesus’ day. (Ellingsen, O’Day, Sakenfeld). It is part of the reason that the Jews avoided Samaria. When Jesus leaves Judea and heads back to Galilee, the typical route would be to go around Samaria. Jesus goes through Samaria. It has long been held it was simply a short cut. But if we listen closely we hear that John writes “[Jesus] had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). In truth, it becomes Jesus’ first venture into the rest of the world (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

I hope you have heard the contrast between Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus as you listened to the John’s Gospel story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well. They are many, and they are interesting.

We have been so well (pardon the pun) taught all about the social dynamics between the woman, men, and Jews we overlook the scandal of the well. In the Old Testament, a well is an archetype for marriage  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Moses meets his wife Zipporah at a well in Midian (Exodus 2:21). And Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at this very well (Genesis 29:1) (O’Day). We all know Jesus does not marry. However, the marital implication hints at the depth of intimacy in the story to come.

The encounter begins with Jesus’ polite request for water. The woman asks him Why are you asking me for water? Jesus answers If you knew me, you would ask me and I would give you living water. The term ‘living water’ has two meanings; it can be flowing water like a stream, or it can mean life-giving water. The woman misunderstands what Jesus is saying; sound familiar.

After their convoluted conversation and she asks for the water, that Jesus is really offering, Jesus, asks her about her husband. She says she doesn’t have one, and Jesus goes on to tell her all about her history with men. But note; there is not a single word of judgment; there is not a single word of forgiveness; because there is no need for one. The woman is likely barren, and her husbands have simply divorced and abandoned her. Jesus reveals that he knows all about the tragic story of her life, which she confesses is true. Jesus also knows she has been abandoned, again, and again and again and again. He knows she is lonely. And perhaps in the greatest gift of all, Jesus sees her; a beloved child of God made from the dust of the earth. Jesus values her (Lewis, O’Day, Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). Thus, far their story has progressed from protest to misunderstanding to confession to divine recognition and love (Harrelson).

Now knowing that Jesus is a prophet, the woman risks asking him if the proper place to worship is Gerazim or the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus replies “Gods is seeking those who worship him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) Revealing more of her theological knowledge and understanding, the woman goes on to say I know the Messiah is coming. Jesus replies I am he. (John 4:26).

“I am” is an intentional referral to the revelation of God’s name to Moses (Exod. 3:14) (O’Day).This is Jesus’ first “I am” statement, the first full revelation of who he is, is to a rejected, abandoned woman, in a foreign land (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And in doing so, Jesus encourages her role as a witnessing disciple ~ before she even begins to act. As for the rest of the world, in doing so, Jesus crosses boundaries of gender, and race, and religious traditions (Vena).

This morning’s Gospel story opened with a lonely rejected woman coming to the village well to get water at high noon, hoping to meet no one; and she runs into a Jewish rabbi. She leaves the well having abandoned her water jar, her source of life, to go share her story (Hoezee). In her absence, the disciples arrive.

Jesus’ discussion with the disciples is quite cryptic. The language is all agricultural; you plant, and you wait for the harvest. The Messianic implications are that you wait for the Messiah. Jesus message to the disciples is that the waiting is over. Jesus is prompting his disciples to open their eyes and to see who the harvest is, that is already being gathered; in part, this is a reference to the woman who is in the village sharing her story at that very moment. Here we learn from John, the mission to the rest of the world is not after Jesus’ death or any other marker, the mission for the rest of the world beings right now (O’Day).

As this conversation is going on the woman has gone to town and is telling the villagers everything. She invites them to come and see, which is my favorite evangelical invitation. I suspect to everyone’s surprise they believe her, at least enough to follow her back to the well of life. When they get there, the villagers’ experience with Jesus expands their faith and believe because of their own experience (Vena). They invite him to stay, and that invitation has implications that they are seeking a relationship with Jesus (O’Day). What more could a witness ask for?

The story of Jesus meeting a woman at the well is the story of the making of a disciple. It begins with both the witness’ and the audience’s mutual vulnerability. Jesus risks talking to the woman. The woman risks accepting Jesus’ invitation. It grows as the audience lets go of their or our most precious traditions as we realize they do not nurture our relationship with God (Lewis). Discipleship grows as we as we are released from our fear of overcoming old prejudices and are willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize us (Vena). We see traits of being an effective witness. The woman offers her experiences as they are. When she is, tentative or isn’t certain of the answer, she shares them as that; for example, she asks “Jesus really the Messiah?”; she shares that as it is. Curiously enough, it adds to her credibility. The woman brings the villagers to Jesus, and her job is now done, and her witness decreases, as did John the Baptist’s, as the villagers’ have their own personal experience with Jesus. If we can have our personal experience with Jesus, which we share with others, certainly these villagers can. A witness cannot replace an immediate experience with Jesus; a witness leads others to it. An effective witness knows salvation is offered on God’s terms and often is not in the terms a witness may have preconceived (O’Day).

It is a reasonable Lenten discipline to examine our witness of Jesus. It does not matter what our life’s experience is, whether we have been planted in the best soil or on the rocky path, either way, Jesus will nurture us. It does not matter the depth or certainty of our theological knowledge, and if you are here you have some theological knowledge; even if you don’t know what you know, Jesus will lead you into bearing fruit, which is continuing to do the work of God given to Jesus. It does not matter how long it takes, different fruit and crops mature at different rates. It does not matter how magnificent our story is; it only matters that we know our story, in Jesus’ story, well enough to share it.

Last week I invited us to consider Nicodemus, a leader with rank, education, and influence, to be our Lenten guide. Today I invite us to invite a woman, of unknown birth, without rank and without status, to join our team (Gaventa and Petersen). It seems our Lenten journey seems to be led by unexpected guides, showing us surprising directions to living waters.

References

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 19 3 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 19 3 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 4:5-42. 19 3 2017.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 19 3 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. “Trust in God’s Love, Lent 3(A).” 19 3 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Holy Conversations. 19 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Lent 3 A: Living Water, Living Faith. 15 3 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 4:542. 19 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

 

There he is!

A sermon for Epiphany 2; Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

John has everyone’s attention; the Jewish leaders; and the people’s. He has a group of followers, disciples, people who are committed to his different teachings and expectations. We expect disciples to be dedicated and committed to their teacher or leader. We also expect the teacher or leader to expect their followers to, well, follow.

So, the other day, John is in a town near the Jordan river and has an encounter with Jewish leaders from Jerusalem, who want to know who he is. He says he is not who they think he is. His tell them someone else is coming.

The next day John is walking through town and shouts out “There he is! ‘The Lamb of God.’ The one who will take away the world’s sin!” He shares the story of Jesus’ baptism. It is a testimony to who Jesus is.

A day later John and a couple of his disciples are walking through town. John sees Jesus again and shouts out “There he is again.” The disciples may have made a curious face as John calls this unknown person the Lamb of God, which is a new title. Whatever their faces may have revealed, their action is unexpected. They give up their relationship with John and turn and follow Jesus. It’s almost like someone giving up their loyal following of the Hogs and becoming a fanatic Boll Weevil follower; it is unimaginable.

Jesus notices they are following him, and turns and asks them “What do you want?” They ask him “Where are you staying?” Jesus tells them “Come and see.” They followed Jesus till late in the day. Then Andrew went to find his brother, and tells him about their unusual day; and then claims to have found the Messiah, another new title for Jesus. Simon follows his brother to meet Jesus, who on first sight calls him by name and then renames him, Peter. It is such a simple story. But not really.

To begin with, ‘The Lamb of God’ is a completely new term, it has never heard anywhere before, and is not used anywhere else in the bible (Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a reference to multiple ways God is present to Israel:

  • their liberation from slavery in Egypt
  • the sacrifice of Isaac
  • the Temple cultic sacrificial system and
  • the suffering servants from Isaiah (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson; Boring).

John says Jesus will take away the sin – singular – the sin of the world. Jesus’ purpose in not individual, it is universal. It is not about our specific moral misconduct. It is about the consequences of any action that

  •  creates distance in our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  contributes to alienation and darkness or (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson;
  •  the world’s collective brokenness (Boring; Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

So, this is not about me, or you, or even us. This is about everyone, the entire world, all the cosmos.

Secondly, the conversation between Jesus and John’s two disciples is simple. And not so much so. Jesus asks “What are you looking for?” But, because this is a bible story and because Jesus is asking a question, we know Jesus does not think these two strangers have lost their keys or its 1st century like thing. Jesus is inviting them to share from the depths of their hearts

  •  what are they seeking (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner)
  •  what they are longing for most hope for (Lose) and
  •  what motivates them (West).

The disciples’ answer is another question “Where are you staying?” Now, it is not unusual for a teacher to answer a student’s or follower’s question with a question. It is unusual the other way around. So, we know something is up which is that ‘staying’ is not reference to Jesus’ Inn number. What they want to know is where Jesus abides. (Clavier; Gaventa and Petersen). Later we will hear Jesus say:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15:4.)

and a little later

… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, … (John 15:5)

and just a bit further

and If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

All of which is about our relationship with Jesus, which reflects Jesus’ relationship with God. The disciples want to know about Jesus’ relationship with God (Boring). It also is their way of saying “We want to stay with you.” which really means “We want to follow you (Lose).” “We want to be your disciples.” There are also implications that they are also seeking some stability, some purpose in life (West; Boring).

Jesus’ answer “Come and see.” sounds equally ordinary, but as the question is more than it sounds so is Jesus reply. “Come and see” is an invitation, but an invitation to what (Clavier)? Well, invitations usually have some sort of relationship feature (Lose). Here it is an offer to come to know Jesus through the eyes of faith (Boring).

The structure of the story also teaches us something about Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see.” We know the disciples spend a good deal of the day with Jesus. The next thing that happens is? Well – what does Andrew do? That’s right, He goes and tells his brother, Simon, they have found the messiah. The invitation to come and see Jesus is evangelism (Lose).

And here the story links back to John. John’s witness leads to his disciples becoming Jesus’ disciples (Harrelson). Their story of hearing John’s witness, and moving into Jesus’ presence is not complete until they witness to someone else (Harrelson; Boring). We cannot see it in English, but the form of ‘see’ is a completed past action whose effect continues into the present (Boring). So, just as John’s witness of Jesus’ baptism is not complete until he witnesses to his disciples, and the disciples’ witness is not complete until they witness to someone our witness of their witness, which we experience by reading and hearing scripture, is not complete until we invite someone else to “Come and see.”

A final observation. In the other Gospels, the disciples give up a way of life to follow Jesus. This morning, John’s disciples give up their previous religious commitment as disciples of John to become disciples of Jesus (Boring). Together with the new title of “Lamb of God” this is a reminder for us not to limit God/Jesus/Sprit to our preconceived ideas, and to always be open to new images or metaphors for understanding and experiencing different relationships to the faith community (Boring).

God/Jesus/Spirit does not change; however, the world, the time and space we live in does change (Lewis). This means the nature of our relationships with each other and the universe changes, and so the way others encounter God/Jesus/Spirit will be different, and the way, the language others can receive our witness to our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit changes. Which mean to be open to new expressions of the presence of God is to be faithful to God’s presence right here, right now. It means that you are free to witness, share, your new experience of God/Jesus/Spirit as you dive deep into what in life you are looking for.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Clavier, Anthony. “There Goes a Lamb, Epiphany 2(A).” 15 1 2017. Sermons that Work.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 8 1 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 15 1 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:29-42. 15 1 2017.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.
Lewis, Karoline. Timely Matters. 15 1 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Epiphany 2 A: A Question, Invitation, and Promise. 15 1 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
West, Audrey. Commentary on John 1:2942. 15 1 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.