Second Sunday After Epiphany: The Gospel Passage – Hearing about Jesus with fresh wonder

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”(John 1:29 – 34)

John – either the author of the gospel of John or John the Baptist is testifying and witnessing to the Jesus whose story we will be following again this year. This time with the focus of new converts coming to faith. That does not mean us oldsters can turn away and sit out the year. No, no, I am not going to let you do that beloved reader!

It is good to hear the enthusiasm of those who are newly coming to faith. Have you ever considered John the Baptist as newly coming to faith? Neither have I. It is an interesting idea and concept. But if you listen to the enthusiasm of John the Baptist (or the author of the gospel of John) you will hear an awe and coming to knowledge. Imagine for a moment meeting the person who have been extolling and preaching about. It must have been amazing and overwhelming to John to come face to face with the Son of Man and the Son of God who had been impelled to preach about. So, stop, and appreciate John’s vigor and enthusiasm.

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” (Verses 35 – 42)

This is also the passing of the focus from John the Baptist to Jesus. From this point on Jesus takes center stage in the gospel of John. But that is not the thought I want to leave you with. In our modern day parlance, these two disciples are just “hanging out” with Jesus. And these two invite a third, Simon, who will become a major figure in the ministry of Jesus. First, as an example of “not quite getting” what Jesus is about; and then as “a rock” that the future church will be modeled after.

We are setting out on a marvelous journey – again, for most of us. But let us journey as if we have all the freshness and enthusiasm of the young in faith. For each day has the potential to be a new day in following God and Jesus Christ. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Knowing what it means when it says . . . (The Gospel Passage)

To recap from last week, the RCL includes verse 35 this week . . .

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

In addition, remember that the writer of the gospel of John profiles Jesus’ spiritual side, and uses spiritual imagery and allusions. Not illusions, which are false; but allusions that function as metaphors portraying the character of Jesus. I will explain as we go along.

“Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Verses 41-42)

“The Jews” – by which the writer of the gospel of John sometimes means the people who were around at the time and other times means the Temple rulers, Pharisees and Sadducees and the like – understood in a vague what Jesus meant. That Jesus came down from heaven and is claiming a special identity and characteristics. What Jesus meant is that he is the means by which faith and salvation comes to the world.

But the writer (of the gospel of John) does not have Jesus explain his meaning, but has him further antagonize “the Jews.”

“Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (Verses 43-47)

Jesus tells them not to complain about these truths he is saying. And that he and God work together in teaching humankind what they ought to know. And the implications of this work start in this world but reach into the world to come.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Verses 48-51)

Taken literally, this sounds kind of weird. If one has heard biblical theology such as this for most of their adult life, you get to understand what it means to have the “Bread of Life” and that the “Bread is Jesus’ flesh”. But to those who are unaware of what this means, it sounds gruesome. And many of the early Christians were misunderstood because of it. But the writer (of you know what) forges ahead having Jesus give all sorts of speeches and lectures. I am not being critical or saying it was wrong. My point is that much of the book of John, and many other parts of the bible are not easily understood by those who do not have an understanding of such matters.

I cannot think of a time in my life that I did not have a foundational understanding of what was meant in the gospels when the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was being talked about. I encourage you, beloved reader, to think back to when you were forming your understanding about what was meant by faith and biblical language. We read such things, and understand them seamlessly, moving from literal to figurative and back to literal. We are more cognizant about faith matters than we have awareness of. It is good to remember that once in a while.

May you, beloved reader, enjoy and grow because of the time you spend reading scripture. Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – The Metaphor of Snakes ( and other metaphors) is raised again (The Gospel Passage)

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:14-21)

Back on Tuesday of this week I said we would look for where snakes as a metaphor might appear again. But I’m guessing you didn’t that I would be here, in the well-known John 3:16 verse, that is preceded by the verse about snakes. Just as the Hebrews in the desert needed to believe in the healing power of the raised up image of the snake, just as we need to believe in Jesus as God’s Son. But we often think about Jesus coming into the world and focus on the believing in Jesus that we forget to pair that action with Jesus being “lifted”, meaning crucified. But that is one of the end focuses of the season of Lent.

The gospel of John is rich in spiritual images, symbolism and metaphors. The snake being lifted up as Jesus was. God sending Jesus into the world. And Jesus as light coming into the world, and the unbelievers as people love darkness rather than light; and wanting to hide their evil deeds in darkness rather than exposing their lives to the light. A caution though – one can put too much emphasis on light versus darkness. It is not an issue of dark colors versus light colors, but seeing clearly versus hiding away so that one is not discovered and one’s deeds are not discovered.

I like metaphors very much; used well they illustrate complex issues and spark our imaginations. But metaphors, no matter how well composed, are not absolutes. We use metaphors to help us understand, but once we understand we need to set aside the metaphor and use what the true and deepest meaning is.

It is my hope and prayer this Lenten season that your faith, beloved reader, will deepen and grow bringing clearer understandings to your Christian and spiritual life. Selah!

Jesus, whom God is the Father of; or, Jesus who is God. Which?

“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
(John 14:9 )

With this passage, I am thinking back to what I wrote on Dec 18th. The scripture from that day was from John 12:46-47, and it seemed at odds from this passage – until I read further on to verse 10: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. “ This indeed does echo the early passage in John 12.

I had asked, back on Dec 18th, how much emphasis we should give to Jesus’ statements of being an emissary of God the Father as contrasted to other statements in the other gospels where Jesus says that he and God are as one. I could, I suppose, do a comparative search of the gospels to measure the variations in Jesus’ statements in regard to his relationship with God. But I am not sure that would be helpful, or illuminating.

The gospels present aspects of Jesus that came out of the writer’s interactions and perceptions of Jesus. Just as no one person is identical to another, the four gospels do not present precisely matching accounts. There is, however, a common source for much of the stories and actions of Jesus, but each gospel writer adds enough of his/her own commentary and flair in each of the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (Distinctiveness of each of these three gospels is a topic for another time. ) The fourth gospel, the gospel of John was most probably not draw from that common source. In this gospel the spirituality of Jesus and the spiritual nature of his ministry are important emphasis. Tying this spirituality and Jesus’ spiritual nature to God validates Jesus’ ministry and gives credence to Jesus’ words. But these two passages from John, while basing Jesus in God’s nature, do not link Jesus to the divinity of God.

It is an amazing thing for a man (or woman) to walk so closely with God. So closely that God is the inspiration for all of one’s actions. But there seems to be a hesitancy to say the Jesus IS God. At least that is my perception.

It is an uncomfortable thing, at my age, to re-examine beliefs that one thought were absolute. Even more so to realize that one does not want to change beliefs. I believe, seeker, that in some what that can be explained only by the divine nature of God, that Jesus was both son of God AND God incarnate. Like a part of the whole, that for a time was separate and then came back together. It is the way my faith makes sense to me.

So there it is. May you seeker know your own faith so fully and clearly that it is unshakable even during the most shaky of times. Selah!

Believe in . . . Who?

“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. “ ( John 12: 46-47 )

These two verse come further along in the passage from yesterday. There was much dialogue and discussion in these verses, and would tend to interpret Jesus saying “I came not to judge . . . to save” as meaning that Jesus was not trying to criticize his listeners but to have them understand who he was and what he was about. But in the verses that follow these, Jesus does say there will be judgment but not by him; “But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”

You may be wondering seeker, as I wonder, how do we understand this (meaning, Jesus as directed by God) in comparison to other passages in other gospels/portions of scripture that say God and Jesus are the image of each other, and if you know one you know the other?

Deeply ingrained in much Mennonite theology is the concept of the Triune God – God creator/Christ redeemer/Holy Spirit – as three aspects of the same God. So that the God who was Jesus is the same God who was Creator who is the same God who comes to us as Spirit. I guess that might just as hard to fathom.

It seems elemental that before someone goes proclaiming, that one would know who one is proclaiming about. Perhaps I am making more of this than needs to be made. Perhaps I am just running afoul of the different way the gospels “remember” Jesus. But still, it would be good to consider and reflect on who, of all the aspects and images of God and Christ there are, we believe in.

May you seeker think deeply and thoroughly on the God you believe in, and you may then speak of that God to all who will hear and listen. Selah!

The Last of the Lasts

“This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” ( John 6: 40 )

This is Friday. That may not mean much to you, but it seems to me that it was just Monday a few days ago. In fact, truth be told, I am writing this Tuesday night because I write a few days ahead; that is probably why it seems that Monday was just recently. So, for me, the day you are reading this is the last day of the work week. And come Friday night I am raised up to the weekend.

But I do not think that is what Christ/the writer of the gospel of John means. What is meant is the last day meaning the end of this world and the beginning of the world to come directly under God’s rule. It could be this Friday. Or the Friday after that. Or the Friday after that.

Back on Wed (Dec 14th) I talked about being stopped short at how easy it would be in a busy day to believe on God and be saved. Well, if the last day will be today . . . . no time like the present! But if it is next Friday, those who do not yet believe have time. Maybe.

The point is seeker, we might never know when our “last day” might be, and when the raising up will happen. Now, I am pretty joyful Friday nights, looking forward to two days off. But come Monday morning it is back to the same old grind. I would hate to think that when the “eternal weekend” comes, I would miss out. So I have already – years and years ago – gotten my place reserved to be raised on the last day according to God. And I check in . . . OFTEN . . . so that God knows I have not stopped believing . . . although God being God, the Divine already knows.

I earnestly pray seeker that you have professed your belief in God, and that at that very last, ultimately last day, you will be raised up. Selah!

Testimony received, and testimony disbelieved

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. “ ( John 3:11 )

When I started thinking about this verse, the first thing that came to mind was April 1st – April Fool’s Day. I realize that it is Dec 2, 6 months and a day away. But still, I think of April Fool’s Day! When our children were young, they would say the most outrageous things on April 1st, and expected/hoped we would believe them so they could say “April Fool!” If they were of a mind, I am sure they would echo this verse saying “Very truly mother and father, I speak of what I know and am telling you what I see, and yet you do not receive my testimony!”

To those who do not know God or Christ, Christian testimony may sound as unbelievable as the tales that my children thought up. Christ died, but then arose 3 days later! An elephant sitting on the lawn? Unbelievable! A heaven where there is no sorrow or suffering? A dinosaur in the bathroom? Improbable! Forgiveness of sin? Raining up from the ground? Unheard of!

But seeker, one set of claims is true. I will leave it to you to decide which.

May you seeker speak and testify to those things that bring God’s grace, mercy, and compassion. And concerning other, more impossible claims, leave them for next April Fool’s Day. Shalom!