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;.

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Idol to Icon

A sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21,

Exodus 20:2 reads:

2  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
3  you shall have no other gods before me.
4  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, …

and Exodus 34:14 reads:

14  for you shall worship no other god, because the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. … 

and Deuteronomy 4:15-18 reads:

15  Since you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16  so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure—the likeness of male or female, 17  the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.

For reasons I’m hazy on, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary became popular and by the 5th century were plentiful, especially in the Eastern Church. In the latter half 7th and early 8th century the iconoclast controversy broken out; those who minimized the incarnation, or  believed all matter was evil,  and the probable influence of Islam raged against the veneration of icons. Pope Leo III believed such veneration had gotten excessive, and was an obstacle to converting Jews and Moslems, declared all images idols and ordered them destroyed. Persecutions and revolts broke out. Brother against brother, sister against sister, church against church; intrigue, depositions, and assassination eventually greatly contributed to the split of the church into east and west Constantinople and Rome  in the mid-9th century. [i]

So; what do you do, when your wife does business as Angels Icons and Art, producing all sorts of art work, predominately images of angels, written to lead one deeper into God’s presence? Here, today, it’s not much of a concern, but if it were, I think I’d go back to Athens and revisit Paul’s visit to the Areopagus,

 Image

 

Paul is there waiting for Silas and Timothy; they rushed him on ahead, because of the violent crowds in Thessalonica. Paul notices the phenomenal number of idols, that seem to be on every street corner. Paul’s arguing in the synagogue spills  into the streets, where he confronts Epicureans who believe human life exists by natural chance  and Stoics who are hard rationalists. [ii] He is seen as a preacher of foreign divinities, and is considered a ‘babbler’ [iii] Whether it’s an arrest or an invitation you don’t refuse is unclear; no matter  Paul ends up at the Areopagus, to face the intellectual elite of Athens, who will pass judgment on his argument. It is what the elite in Athens do.

Paul demonstrates his intellectual prowess by carefully noting their religious proficiency, revealed in all the objects they worship. He carefully notes the altar to “an unknown god.” Paul uses it to proclaim the creator God who does not need anything human made; who is not, cannot be served by human hands; who gives life to all living things. Borrowing from a Greek poet Paul declares: In him we live and move and have our being. [iv] Paul is insisting that religious practices must reflect humanity’s kinship with God.  The substitution of inanimate materials for a God who is transcendent and animate makes no sense. [v]

Paul then moves to bring his audience into God’s circle noting:  the time of ignorance is over he commands all people to repent … besides its confrontation, it’s a remarkable declaration of the universality of God’s salvation. [vi] If Paul had stopped here, he likely would have been wildly accepted. However, he knows his calling; he knows the audience must go beyond observation to truth that’s known only in revelation, specifically the revelation of Christ’s resurrection, the source of all our assurance. [vii] Some scoff and leave, some want to hear more, and a few come to believe.  Robert Wall explores how Acts might offer contemporary readers a model for engaging the secular intellectuals of our day. [viii]  

I don’t think there is any question. While perhaps there’s a bit more sophistication, Paul’s speech in the Areopagus is what my colleague and others who are a part of Acts8 call an “Elevator Pitch” a memorized speech-let so you will [a]lways be ready to give an accounting of the hope that is within you. [ix] Steve also picks up on Peter’s guidance to do it with gentleness and reverence. He goes on to write: 

… over time, as relationships develop, the Christian hope for the restoration of all things in the Kingdom of God should, ideally, shine through everything you do, especially showing forth in how you handle the difficult moments in life.  And when, eventually, someone notices, and when, eventually, they get up the gumption to ask, then all you have to do is share your story. [x]

I am not biased but I believe Angie’s icons are powerfully written in persuasive, inviting images. At times they are the bright shining that evokes the question.  At times they are her imaged elevator speech.

Like Athens we live in a culture full of idols:

cars,
homes,
highbrow education,
retirement accounts,
hedge funds,
and off shore accounts;

some are ideologies

profit driven capitalism
conservative individualism
liberal collectivism,
theocracies of all sorts;

anything that promises to give life and breath, promises ultimate life offends God, at least that’s what we read in Exodus and Deuteronomy. We also hear lots of legalistic, exclusive impending judgmental doom; lots of fear provoking proclamations about spiritual warfare with Satan and legions of demons. We live in a culture that needs the revelatory truth of our living incarnate God who transforms all humanity, all creation. Our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers on the street need to see and/or hear of salvation that’s not out there somewhere, off in the future, but that God’s kingdom has come to earth as it is in heaven; right here, right now! It doesn’t matter if you share your story: in icons, music, poetry, at the food pantry, or clinic, in charitable fund raising, with an isolated neighbor, or chance elevator pitch the world needs to hear your story, as much as you need to know it well enough to share it.

It is true Exodus, Deuteronomy and other Old Testament writings reveal that God demands all our all, and promises sever consequences if we veer off course. I happen to think the consequences are the results of our actions, not wrath, but I wander.

All these writings also reveal a gracious loving God who keeps steadfast love for the thousandth generation, [xi] they reveal the creator God from whom we live and move and have our being; [xii] the incarnate God from whom salvation flows to all the risen Christ in whose resurrection we have hope the eternal Spirit who journeys with us for all eternity.

 


 

[i] E. L. Cross & E. A. Livingston, Iconoclastic Controversy, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1974
[ii]ROBERT W. WALL,  New Interpreters’ Bible, THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
[iii] William H. Willimon, Interpretation, ACTS A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[iv] Wall, ibid
[v] ibid
[vi] ibid
[vii] Interpretation, ibid
[viii] Wall, ibid
[ix] Steve Pankey, Always be Ready, Draughting Theology, http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/27985378/4509/
[x] ibid
[xi] Exodus 34:7
[xii] Wall, ibid

Despair, recognition, sacrament

A sermon for Easter 3 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

 

It was done, finished. Months of hard work, disparu; weeks of carefully crafted questions, and assiduous listening, kaput; days of creative endeavor vanished; hours of negotiation within the company and with the customer extinct. Walking in the door he noticed unfamiliar workmen, running far too familiar cable. The simple question “What’s going on?” lead to the customer revealing they’d decided his company wasn’t delivering as promised; and they’d moved on. In a week, they’d be returning his company’s system as the contract allowed. He had hoped, everyone had hoped, this would be the break into a heretofore inaccessible market. Not now. It was done, finished. And he does, as I have done, as I expect you have done, when all is lost, he leaves, and heads back down the road, from whence he came. 

And so to the disciples, are heading back down the road from whence they’d come sometime ago. As had so many others, they had hoped this intenerate rabbi would be the longed hoped for, prayed for, messiah, who would drive the Romans out, and reestablish David’s throne. But Friday he was crucified; and now all that’s gone. 

So they are head back down the road. Perhaps they hoped leaving it all behind, and staying away from the places they seen and heard Jesus would mitigate their grief. So far, not so much, their grief was everywhere [i] or at least their experiences kept popping up, and so they talked about everything. Perhaps in time they would return to Jerusalem, perhaps they could follow the psalmist lead and go to the Temple, the home of God on earth, to pray and offer sacrifice that God would hear the distressed cry of his chosen people. [ii] For now, they talked. 

Then there is this stranger with them. He asks what they are talking about, and with some incongruity they wonder where he’s been but recount the last several days including Jesus’ death, and tales of an empty tomb. “Foolish” he replies, and then continues to speak with wisdom they never heard, but rings of truth so vaguely familiar. We’ve no idea how long the conversation goes on. But when the disciples get to where they are going the stranger continues, it’s an act of politeness, you never impose yourself. [iii] In a reciprocating act of hospitality the disciples invite the stranger to stay with them, and to share dinner. At dinner the stranger becomes the host he reaches for the bread: takes it, gives thanks, breaks it, and give it to them. Then nearly simultaneously

      • they recognize Jesus,
      • they wondered why they didn’t on the road as he spoke with such revealing wisdom,
      • Jesus vanishes, and
      • they get up and sprint back to Jerusalem; [iv] covering that dark and dangerous road in a whole new light.

When they get there before customary greetings can be exchanged, before they can say anything, the other disciples blurt out: Jesus appeared to Simon; and in reply they share: He revealed himself to us in the breaking of the bread.

In the opening gambit, I referred to C.S Lewis’ effort to escape grief by staying away from things that remind you of your grief, only to discover grief is everywhere. Fredrick Buechner wrote:

Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred.

There is great hope in knowing that Jesus comes to us on our Emmaus roads, no matter our grief, Jesus is there, Jesus is everywhere.

And there is a lot to be learned about in this story:

      • strength that comes from sharing similar experiences; [v]
      • how divine presence, divine transcendence is always fleeting, always at the edge of our perception; [vi]
      • about the primacy to go, and
      • how all this is made known to those of us who are not first-hand witnesses, which is pretty much everyone not 2000 years old.

But this morning I’m intrigued by the stranger.

From cultures all over the world there are stories of people “entertaining angles unawares.” [vii] In scripture Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and others all are unknowingly in God’s presence, [viii] so the disciples are in good company. This divine stranger theme teaches us that God’s or Jesus’ or the Spirit’s presence is never coerced. Our coming to recognize the divine, our moving from ignorance to knowledge, from unawares to perception, [ix] is always through revelation. [x] Fred Craddock writes:

[It’s] After instruction in Scripture [that’s Jesus talking on the road] and the Lord’s Supper, the two disciples recognize Jesus. Christ [always] appears to disciples, not to unbelievers. [xi]

He continues:

The meal begins with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a stranger [Jesus]  …  it is the presence of Christ at a table opened to a stranger which transforms an ordinary supper into the sacrament.  [xii]

 The psalm speaks about going to the Temple to be in God’s presence. Though it always been an element in scripture, the Emmaus road story tells us we can meet Jesus, we can be in Jesus’ presence anywhere,  any ordinary, or out of the way place, in the guise of any stranger, perhaps every stranger, perhaps anyone.

You are used to hearing me transition from the offering to communion saying:

This is the Lord’s Table; all those so called are welcome to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

In part I am inviting the stranger to table with us, just as the disciples invite the stranger to table with them. But I never know who in the congregation Jesus is. I never know who transforms our simple gathering into a sacrament.

All of this is reshaping my thinking about evangelism just a bit. For while it is about sharing our experience, evangelism is also about hearing the other’s experience of the divine. Such an exchange strengthens, perhaps transforms our relationship with God. Evangelism is about always seeking our risen, living, though transitory Lord and God.

For, we never know who

      • takes us into their heart
      • thanks God for us
      • breaks us away from corruption of worldly ways of death and
      • gives us to a hurting and longing world.

 


 

[i]Scott Hoezee,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Luke 24:13-35
[ii] Author: Doug Bratt , cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19 
[iii] R. ALAN CULPEPPER, The New Interpreter’s Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND EFLECTIONS
[iv] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation,  LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[v] Richard Swanson Luke 24:13-35 Commentary by Richard Swanson – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on Luke 24:13-35, 4/28/2014 
[vi] Culpper, IBID 
[vii] Hebrews 13:2 
[viii] Culpepper, ibid 
[ix] ibid 
[x] Craddock, ibid
[xi] ibid
[xii] ibid

Despised, Outcast, Apostle

A sermon for Lent 3

Exodus 17:1-7, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42, Psalm 95

Living water, domestic abuse, culture and faith wars, evangelism, metaphoric literalism, Christology, discipleship, and salvation; all this is in a story where not a single line is straight forward. Some of the muddle is the characters in the story following Nicodemus’ example, of taking metaphorical, mystical language literally. Some of the muddle is us, following our predecessors’ misinterpretations at best or at worst misogyny – unaccountably detesting women. Some of it emerges from John’s literary manner of telling a very complex story in a mere 37 verses.

I’m really not sure how best to do this, so we are just going to walk through it, and learn what we learn when we get there.

At the beginning, we actually ~ well we have to go all the way to 2nd Kings,  and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. Their descendants become the Samaritans, and Alexander the Great allowed them to build a Temple in Gerizim. [i] That intensified Judah’s, the Southern Kingdom’s dislike for all things Samaritan, because the only proper home for God is the Temple in Jerusalem. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus stops by a well, it is still controversial.

Jesus is headed from Judea to Galilee and to get there he has to go through Samaria; only not really. Many good Jews go around in order to avoid traversing the unclean lands. [ii] Not Jesus. So, he gets to Sychar, and stops at Jacob’s well for a drink. This puts him in line with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Israel’s patriarchs, founding fathers. He asks a woman there for help. No big deal, except

Point 1: Men, especially holy me, do not speak to unknown women.

Point 2: Jews don’t talk to Samaritans.

Point 3: Why is the woman at the well in the heat of the day? Traditionally water is drawn in the morning and evening; and all the women gather to help each other, to socialize and to chat. [iii] [iv] and

Point 4: is the history of men women and wells: the betrothals of Isaac, Jacob and Moses are at wells; and there is Elijah asking the widow Zarephath for water. [v]

The woman seems to know all this and so she asks Jesus why he is asking her for help. Jesus replies if she knew who he was she’d ask him for living water. Normally living water refers to flowing water, which is cleaner, and fresher than well or cistern water. [vi] She misinterprets Jesus reply, and asks for the water so she won’t have to get water from the well again. [vii] Like Theresa [viii]  in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, for all the wrong reasons, she asks Jesus for help, but unlike Nicodemus, she senses he can help. [ix]

Out of the blue Jesus tells her to go get her husband. She tells the truth, which Jesus expands upon revealing her five previous husbands. It may be coincidence, but there are five false gods the Samaritans worship on Mount Gerizim;  but there don’t seem to be any coincidences in this Gospel tale. However;  there are lots of misunderstanding on our parts. Traditionally the woman is considered a harlot, I mean five husbands, and her town rejects her. However, Jesus never condemns her harlotry, and he is not shy of doing so. [x] There are many reasons for her circumstances: she could be widowed, or caught in a unfulfilled Levirate marriage, passed on to a dead husband’s brother, as Tamar [xi] was. She could be divorced, after all- all a man has to do is take his wife into the street and say I divorce you three times and that’s it. [xii] There is a similar story in Saturday’s New York Times. A Jewish man and wife are divorced in civil court; he refuses her divorce in Jewish court, keeping her from getting married again, meanwhile he remarries in civil court. [xiii] The woman by the well could easily be in a cycle of domestic violence.

David Lose thinks all that misses the point.  He doesn’t even think Jesus forgives her, the language isn’t there. Lose thinks Jesus is calling her to life giving faith. [xiv] Lose continues:

…  Jesus has “seen” her. He has seen her plight of dependence, not immorality. He has recognized her, spoken with her, offered her something of incomparable worth. He has seen her — she exists for him, has worth, value, [and] significance … [this is the] part of the story that witnesses to her transformation. [xv]

There is a little book I read as a junior in college that posits we cannot see ourselves directly; we see ourselves as we see others see us. [xvi] Jesus sees the woman differently and now the woman begins to see herself differently, as worthy.

The woman’s emerging sense of self, her observation of Jesus’ knowledge, a prophetic trait, allows her to ask Jesus the big cultural, religious question of the day: Who’s right, those of us who worship on Mount Gerizim, or the Jews who worship in Jerusalem? Jesus’ answer is complex. He says salvation comes from the Jews, indicating the Samaritans cannot write-off Jewish salvation tradition, remember Jesus is a Jew. But then he says it doesn’t matter because God is spirit, and true worshipers will worship God in spirit. The woman recognizes the eschatological the end of things shift in Jesus’ answer, and tells him  I know the Messiah is coming. Jesus says: I am, evoking God’s name given to Moses. True worship is no longer shaped by proper location, or proper lineage, but by the character of God. [xvii]

At this point we have two interruptions. The disciples return from grocery shopping. And the woman leaves them and returns to town. The disciples first. They offer him food. He says he has food. They make the error of the times, and misunderstand, and start wondering where he got it from. Jesus’ reference to food is about how his ministry, to do God’s will, sustains him. John’s inference is, you cannot speak about Jesus identity without speaking about his ministry. [xviii]

While all this is going on, the woman is in town sharing her experience with folks who heretofore don’t speak to her. She dares to ask if he could be the messiah. She is not sure, but doesn’t have to be, she, as Jesus invited Andrew earlier, simply invites them to come and see. At this point the scene is reminiscent of Matthew’s version of the hemorrhaging woman, who by healing is restored to relationship in her community.[xix]   We know the well woman’s relationship with the town’s folk is restored, because they do what she asks, they come to see Jesus.

It is not in John’s story, but I envision Jesus being in the middle of his remarks about the harvest, when the crowd from town shows up. So his remark: Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. is a reference to the approaching crowd. This cast the disciples as the reapers, meaning the sower is the woman, that the disciples a moment ago at a minimum queried him about, if they didn’t dismiss her altogether. At the end of tale, the town’s people invite Jesus to stay with them. The implication is they want to be in relationship with Jesus. The results are: they come to deeper belief, which you’ll recall means have faith in, as the woman’s witness is replaced by their own experience of Jesus. [xx]

A couple of closing observations: The woman is conceivably the first apostle, the first person “sent” to proclaim Jesus as the messiah. Jesus reveals that God’s salvation is offered on God’s terms, not ours, and is available to anyone who accepts it. Just like the Jews and the Samaritans in the story, we are preoccupied with protecting boundaries between the choose, and the unclean. And it is a boundary we and the whole church are called to cross every day. [xxi] It may look like racial distinction, or a class, educational or wealth distinction but they are boundaries of our own making and we are obligated to cross them, to obliterate them every day. 

Finally, David Lose observes that in leaving her water jug behind the woman leaves behind all that burdens of her life enabling her to share what God is doing for her. He wonders: What is holding us back? What burdens do we need to allow God to take away from us? [xxii] At the end of her reflections Gail O’Day writes:

Jesus does not come to the well looking for a woman to be his bride, but for a witness who will recognize the Messiah and bring the despised people to him. [xxiii]

At the end of it all we don’t have a story of sin and forgiveness; we have a story of freedom, discipleship and evangelism, sharing God’s story in our story. In so much as our Lenten discipline is to reorient our lives to God, perhaps a despised woman, of an outcast people, offers a model of being stewards of Jesus’ ministry to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near, and inviting others to come and see.

 

 

[i][i] Gerald Sloyan, INTERPRETATION A Bible Commentary  for Teaching & Preaching , JOHN  A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING   James Luther Mays, Editor  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor   Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor , John Knox Press  ATLANTA 1988
[ii] Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 4:5-42,  Observations, and Questions to Consider, 3/23/2014
[iii] GAIL R. O’DAY , THE GOSPEL OF JOHN   INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS  Abingdon 2002
[iv] Rev. Charles Hoffacker, Sermons that Work, episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/03/06/3-lent-a-2014/ 3 Lent (A) – 2014  March 23, 2014 Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42
[v] O”day, ibid
[vi] Hoffacker, ibid
[vii] Robert Hoch, Working Preacher, WP  John 3/17/2014 John 4:5-42 Commentary by Robert Hoch – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL) http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1984 1/3 RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index   Commentary on John 4:5-42  
[viii] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076327/
[ix] O’Day, ibid,
[x] Hoch, ibid, O’ Day, ibid
[xi] Genesis 38
[xii] O’Day, ibid; Hoezee , ibid; Hoch, ibid
[xiii] Jennifer Medina http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/us/a-wedding-amid-cries-of-unfinished-business-from-a-marriage.html?_r=0
[xiv] David Lose, Working Preacher, Leaving It All Behind – Working Preacher – Craft of Preaching http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3111 1/5  Craft of Preaching Dear Working Preacher   Insights, ideas and inspiration by David Lose related to the coming week’s lectionary texts.    Leaving It All Behind Monday, March 17, 2014 9:59 AM
[xv] Lose
[xvi] I believe it is Eric From’s, “Looking Glass Self”, but can not confirm the source
[xvii] O’Day, ibid.
xviii] O’Day
[xix] Matthew 9:22
[xx] O’day, ibid
[xxi] O’day
[xxii] Lose, ibid
[xxiii] Oday, ibid

More than gray hair

The other day I had both my passport, issued nearly ten years ago, and my driver’s license, issued a few months ago, out side by side. I was caught off guard by how different my pictures were. I saw far less hair, far grayer hair.  Perhaps that is why verse 18 of  psalm 71 appointed for today’s daily office:

And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come.

resonated with me so much.  Actually I like the NKJ version better

18  Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.

because it sounds more challenging, i.e. to share the story of God not just with my generation, but the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and the ones to come after that. As a boomer that includes: two previous generations: the GI’s and the Silent, and three that follow: Gen X, Millennials (or Y), the New Silent (or Generation Z), and we should be on the cusp of the next one to come. (I hadn’t realized there were so many.)

My last two blogs have been grounded in language and misunderstanding.  Currently evangelism spans six, maybe seven generations. That is six or seven different language and experience sets, and more when you include cultural differences of the many heritage backgrounds of everyone that is to come.  It’s quite a challenge to be flexible in our story telling.  On the other hand this is not a new challenge; scripture has migrated from spoken to written; from Hebrew to Greek, to Latin, to the vulgar languages (the language of the people).  It occurs to me if we should look for gleanings from translators as we seek proclaim the story of God’s active presence in history to an ever increasing mixture of peoples.

Of course there is the reality that no matter good our story telling is; it much more likely to be the way we live, the way we treat each other, the way we treat others, especially those on the margins, that will get people’s attention. And there we have work to do.

Confusion abounds

Last February was the Creationism Vs. Evolution Debate featuring Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Not long after that I hear our bishop say the most notable thing of the debate was each proponent inarticulately trying to use the other’s language to prove his point. Last week we read as Nicodemus misinterprets Jesus because he hears mystical language literally. This week we read the same confusion only more so. The woman at the well misunderstands Jesus’ ‘living water’ twice. The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ reference to food they “do not know about.” Last night I watched Bill Maher’s brutal review of Noah which is actually a brutish critique of Christian belief. (You can watch it on U-Tube, be forewarned).

The gleaning I am drawing from his rant is that when mystical language of faith is taken as literal language huge confusion occurs. As people of faith we must know our language, including its faith and mystical elements. If we do not, and if we attempt to defend Christian faith against such critiques, we will come off like Ham and Nye, inarticulate.

The reading from John also reveals a faithful approach to such criticism. The woman at the well returns to town, and shares with everyone her experience with Jesus at the well, and wonders, out loud, if he is the messiah. In short she simply invites them to come and see. They did, and they came to believe. Rather than argue, perhaps we should simply invite those who do not see to come and see, and leave the rest to the transforming power of the Spirit.

A sermon for Epiphany 7

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48, Psalm 119:33-40

 Please listen to the beginning of 3 minutes and 44 seconds. [count to 30 seconds] Your ears are fine.

The speaker on my tablet is fine. John Cage’s composition is written for any instrument, or group of instruments, not to be played. Cage believed any sound is music. Since we are enveloped by sound all the time, we are surrounded by music all the time. Much of ambient sound/music that surrounds us we unconsciously block out unless forced to hear. I learned about Cage and 3 Minutes and 44 Seconds in an interview by Terry Gross of Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer. [i] Cox also mentions that when we really are in absolute silence, we can hear our brain working, perhaps trying to hear. Interesting.  Among the other intriguing things I heard, was the sound of a starter’s pistol fired in a huge WWII era oil storage tank. The loud BANG echoed for 30 seconds. Next was the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber designed to absorb reverberations; it sounds like [quite] “putt”. The contrast in sounds demonstrates how context changes how we hear. It gets better. There are such things as whispering galleries; in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, you can whisper into the wall, the sound travels around the dome and your friend on the other side can hear the wall whisper to them. Cox went on; most cathedrals are built like reverberating caverns, sound echoes a lot; therefore most people tend to speak quietly; which he believes contributes to our sense of reverence when we are in cathedrals. [ii] Once again, interesting.

It is Cox’s observation about cathedrals that got my attention; because cathedrals are like Temples, and Paul writes to the church in Corinth that they are God’s temple that God’s Spirit dwells in them. The connection goes: cathedrals affect how people perceive sound in them; cathedrals are like temples, we are temples, how do we affect how people perceive God’s Spirit in us? When God whispers to us, do those on the other side hear God’s voice? When we speak, or act, or fail to speak out or act, do people see, or hear, or not, God’s voice, God’s presence? Are we a reverberating cavern? a whispering wall? or an anechoic chamber?

Although differing in specifics, in concept this is a very old question. You may know Leviticus is cited in arguments about sexuality. You may not know much more, and it doesn’t help that this is the only time we read from Leviticus in our 3 year Lectionary cycle. So, briefly, Leviticus describes worship, records the founding history of Priests, and defines ordinances and sacrifices about maintaining and restoring purity. [iii] In short Leviticus attempts to teach people to affect the way others perceive God’s presence. Or as Scott Hoezee puts it:

If God lives at the center of your life, what difference does that make? What does God’s presence affect?

His answer: from Leviticus is everything! [iv] We do believe God is present in us, why else are we here? In Genesis, scripture also tells us God is present to everyone. [v] Leviticus reminds us … that simply affects everything, starting with the dignity of every person we meet and our solemn privilege as God’s children to affirm that dignity in all we do. [vi]

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues its similar message. This morning we heard the last two of Jesus’ thesis-antithesis arguments. He tells us to love our enemies, after all God’s causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the evil on the righteous and unrighteous; God makes no distinction, neither should we. Jesus also says we are to be perfect like God is perfect. That’s a bit much, especially for me; so I was glad to read ‘perfect’ from teleos refers to something that has grownup, that is mature, is ripe. [vii] [viii] We are to have fully mature relationships with each other, making no distinction between ourselves or others.

You may agree with all this and still wonder what the real world applications are. Friday’s New York Times columnist David Brook’s opinion column was on Arthur Brooks. [ix] A. Brooks is a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, probably the most important think tank on the American right. [x] D. Brooks hooked me with [He is an] … ardent defender[s] of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

I’m deducing that A. Brooks would agree with using the teachings of Leviticus and Matthew, of all scripture, as morals terms from which public policy is developed. I’ve said it before and it bears saying again, our Constitution bars the state from establishing a church, it does not bar people from using scriptural morality as grounds for decision and policy making.

Let’s apply all this to Arkansas. If you’ve been reading the papers you will know the Arkansas Legislature has been debating whether or not to continue funding the Public Option Insurance plan they adopted last year. According to Leviticus, Matthew, Jesus and A. Brooks, this is not a debate based on polls; it is not an economic question, though it has economic components, it is not an issue of political ideology, big government or little government, it is a temple question, how does this decision as silence, whisper or echo reflect the presence of God we know to dwell in us? And just to fill out the scriptural influence, in Romans [xi] Paul writes governments are established by God, whether they know it or not, for the benefit of God’s people. As to the argument that the public sector can and should address such social problems, A. Brooks notes:

… if you took the entire $40 billion that Americans donate to human service organizations annually, it would be enough money to give each person who receives federal food assistance only $847 per year. [xii]

It doesn’t take much math to figure out, that will not get the job done.

I do not know what the political, economic and actuarial answer to providing health care for all Arkansans is. I do know God does not make any distinctions between us, and neither should we. I do know that as the temple of God it is our calling as a whispering wall or echoing chasm, to demand our leaders make public policy from the mature moral ground revealed to us in Leviticus, Mathew and Paul. If we don’t, our presence is silent, ‘putt’ if we do, it will echo through all the nations.

 


[i] Terry Gross,  npr.org http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/one-mans-quest-to-find-the-sonic-wonders-of-the-world, Fresh Air, One Man’s Quest To Find The ‘Sonic Wonders Of The World’
[ii] ibid
[iii] Matthew George Easton, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iv] Scott Hoezee,  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
[v] Genesis 1:27
[vi] Hoezee, ibid
[vii] Hoezee, Matthew 5:38-48, ibid
[viii] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org – Craft of Preaching, The Revolution Starts Here, Tuesday, February 18, 2014
[ix] David Brooks, Capitalism for the Masses, New York Times, 2/21/2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
[x] ibid
[xi] Romans 13: ff
[xii] D. Brooks, ibid