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Tuesday
Mar072017

J O U R N A L

EASTER WEEK

April 16, 2017

John 20:1-9, 8:32, 1:1-16      

Romans 8:28, 31-32, 35, 37-39

 (https://www.biblegateway.com/

Robert Frost puts it in as few words as possible, “In three words I can summarize everything I have learned about life: it goes on.”  I cannot remember a time when I took the words of John 20 literally.  I can remember a long period of my life in which I was mystified by them.  The truth about life that later flowed from John 20 for me is that Jesus is alive as God is alive.  Then, later, by faith, in my heart I added, and when I die I will be alive as God is alive

To me, the important thing to remember about the Empty Tomb passage in John 20, and all other gospel references to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, is that they were all written a number of years after the Pentecost experience as remembered by Luke in Acts.  The events leading up to the death of Jesus and immediately after were threatening enough to his followers that they scattered, ran for their lives.  As they began to gather, first in small groups, later all together at Pentecost, they realized they were having a common experience of the presence of Jesus.  It seemed more than just a strong remembrance.  So much so that it enabled them to discern what they must do next---they were to continue the work that Jesus had begun.

Though it put them at risk as Jesus had been at risk, they felt this deeply enough that they knew they could not be true to themselves or to God if they did not pursue that mission.  That mission was and is to stand over against any domineering system that limits anyone in their quest to be fully human, fully alive.  This is how they maintained their connection with Jesus, indeed, their connection with God.  Hence, Jesus is alive as God is alive!  Put in dramatic language that would communicate to First Century people and you get, “Jesus rose from the dead.”  The stone was rolled away.  The tomb was empty.

The writer of John’s gospel knew he was going to write this conclusion to his book before he wrote its first chapter.  What is true about Chapter 20 is something that has always been true. 
This truth about God did not come into existence chronologically with Jesus.  God has always been gracious, life-saving, life-giving, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Further, this means God is FOR us and, even further, nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  For me, for Christians, Jesus is the one who reveals this truth about God.

It is like a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

+++

PALM SUNDAY

April 9, 2017

John 12:1-19             Romans 10:4-17

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

I like to say, “I’m from New Orleans.  I know about rivers and I know about parades.”  Actually, though, I am aware it requires no small amount of imagination to correlate Palm Sunday with Mardi Gras.  There is a certain rhythm about the two that is not lost on me.  It is the rhythm of guilt and grace.

But first, about the River.  It was the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who, on May 8, 1541, was the first recorded European to reach the Mississippi River.  He called it Rio del Espiritu Santo, “River of the Holy Spirit.”  For hundreds of years before Europeans laid eyes on the Mississippi River, Native Americans knew the river by a variety of names.  One of these was an Ojibwe word, “misi-ziibi,” meaning Great River that ultimately gave the river its present-day name.

The Ojibwe were mostly around the Great Lakes, both in Canada and in the areas of Minnesota, near the source of the Mississippi River, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas.  Their culture, however, was far reaching and very influential.  The story of their west to east migration is recorded in an ancient written record on bark tablets and song sticks.  It is said to be the oldest written record of people in North America and dates to before 1600 BC![i]

Unity, the oneness of all things, is the fundamental essence of their understanding of life.  They believed that “as people, they could not be separated from the land with its cycle of seasons or from other mysterious cycles of living things: birth and growth and death and new birth.”[ii]  Sounds a bit like Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.

This life view is not uncommon among Native Americans.  One can only imagine how far down river they migrated and what other tribes they influenced.  There is nothing logical about where I am heading with this, but there is something mystical.  I think Langston Hughes grasps it or is grasped by it, as am I.

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world
and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathe in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans,[iii] and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.[iv]

  

There is no doubt that the Great River has had a mystical influence on everything about New Orleans and the people who have lived there.

Nearly two decades before New Orleans was founded in 1718, “Mardi Gras” had become a part of the nearby geography.  It was on that pre-Lenten holiday, March 2, 1699, that Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville rediscovered the mouth of the Mississippi River.  He camped for the night on the brink of a bayou that emptied into the great river, which he appropriately named Bayou du Mardi Gras. 

Early in the city’s history the French settlers celebrated Mardi Gras in one fashion or another.  William C. C. Claiborne inaugurated the American regime in New Orleans in 1803 and was fascinated by the passionate love of the native creoles for dancing and masquerade balls.  By the mid-1850s, though the masked balls continued to flourish, rowdyism in the streets caused the once merry festival to degenerate.  In fact, the local press urged an end to such festivities on Shrove Tuesday, as the English called it, saying that it had become “vulgar, tasteless, and spiritless.”[v]

While I grew up in New Orleans, I was actually born in Mobile, Alabama.  I found it very interesting that six young men from Mobile, who had moved to New Orleans, were largely responsible for rescuing Mardi Gras from the chaos of the 1850s.  They formed the first Mardi Gras Krewe, Comus, and set a pattern that saved the festivities from oblivion.

Even though Mardi Gras is not a worldwide, or even a national holiday, news of it reaches everywhere.  As early as 1858, The London Illustrated News, carried pictures of the Mardi Gras of May 8, 1858.[vi]  There is something about Mardi Gras and the Lenten Season that follows, that reaches deep within us.  It may be that all of us at one time or another would like to be wildly free, to let everything hang out, so to speak.  Correspondingly, we wonder if we actually did this, how guilty would we feel later?  Is there a religious act potent enough to absolve all that we might do?  Is there a rhythm to guilt and grace?

The answer is “Yes” to both of those latter two questions.  Note the gracious act of Mary, how she anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair; Judas trying to hide his guilt by questioning the wisdom of such an act; the intrigue of the chief priests; the gracious reception of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.  All of these, and more, literary devices have been created by a gospel writer bent on moving us by the rhythm of guilt and grace and their salvific climax.

 The only word Paul has for it is, “Faith.”

 But look now, a parade is forming---down by the riverside.  I hear music; sounds triumphant!  Come, let us join them; let us cross over to the other side of the river and see, with eyes of faith, what is there.

 


 

19 www.ojibwe.org:16080/home/about_anish_timeline.html

 20 www.ojibwe.org: 16080

 21 Lincoln’s determination to end slavery was said to have started when, as a young man, he visited New Orleans for the first time.

 22 The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992, the Estate of Langston Hughes.

 23 Historical data for Mardi Gras from Mardi Gras, A Pictorial History of Carnival in New Orleans, Leonard V. Huber, Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, LA, 1977.

 24 ibid.

 

THE FIFTH WEEK IN LENT

April 2- April 9, 2017

John 11:1-44             Romans 5:1-11

(https://www.biblegateway.com/ 

 

The “list” of scripture passages that were evolving into what would ultimately become my New Testament Lectionary often took on added urgency and significance when I found myself in “deep waters.”  In fact, some passages seemed to kick in the door to my soul and demand consideration. The Lazarus story from John 11 is one of them.  It is not surprising to me that it became one of the New Testament passages that I preached on most often.

For me, the season of Lent, particularly as it nears Holy Week, has a lot to do with those times in our lives when we feel we are in deep waters, maybe even “in over our heads.”  I am talking about those times when I have become aware that all I know and all I have become is not enough to see me through.  I need help.  A little grace would go a long way.

In his play, SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO, Dore Schary writes, “God does not lead us into deep waters in order to drown us, but only to cleanse us.”[i]  I have never taken that to be primarily about being cleansed from sin, though I can see that for some people that may be the best way to make sense of it.  I think it has more to do with identity and clarification.  “Deep waters” have helped me to be more at home with my mortality.  “Deep waters” have helped me deepen my sense of purpose.  “Deep waters” have helped motivate me to rise to the challenge.

While it is not necessary for a vegetable to know what it means to be a vegetable in order to be one, it is of infinite importance for me to know what it means to be human in order to be one.  Ironically, “deep waters” often lead us to deep places of meaning within ourselves that we would not otherwise discover.

Sunrise at Campobello is about a time in the life of Franklin Roosevelt when in August of 1921, at the age of 39, he contracted a serious case of poliomyelitis.  A vigorous man, he had been swimming in the Bay of Fundy at Campobello, his summer home in New Brunswick.   The disease, which was reaching epidemic proportions throughout the country, left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.          

In its aftermath, Roosevelt went through a perilous detour in his personal life.  His sense of purpose had been seriously compromised.  At the same time, over an extended period of discernment, he was able to take a heroic leap forward in his personal self-understanding.  He not only survived those deep waters; he triumphed over them.  For as long as I can remember, I have identified with Franklin Roosevelt.  I know, personally, about the ravages of polio, having contracted it when I was two-and-a-half-years old; about the time Roosevelt was elected President.  I also know about extended periods of discernment, leaps forward, and how deep waters can deepen our personal self-understanding.           

The story of Lazarus and Paul’s message from Romans 5 are at the core of my personal spiritual formation. So it is with a genuine sense of passion that these passages are placed in my lectionary at the final Sunday in Lent, immediately before Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  Remember, though, both John and Romans was thought through and written down after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The authors were standing on the same side of the Empty Tomb as you and me.  They had already experienced the full impact of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Scholars call a passage like the one from John, about Lazarus, a pre-figuration story.  Simply put, it is a mirror positioned so as to reflect a later passage that relates to it and greatly expands its depth and meaning.  In this case, that other passage has to do with the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, his death and resurrection. 

Notice how closely the Lazarus story parallels the events of Jesus’ last week.  The disciples warned Jesus that it would be dangerous for him to return to Bethany, just as he knew danger awaited him in Jerusalem. In both instances Jesus points out that something would happen to enable him to reveal some truth about himself.  He tells Mary and Martha who he is, “I am the resurrection and the life…” just as at the Last Supper he tells the disciples who he is in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine.  As in Jesus’ own case, Lazarus was dead several days.  And the stone in front of the tomb has to be rolled away before New Life is revealed.  Talk about a pre-figuration!

At a critical time in my own spiritual formation, what I experienced the Lazarus story saying to me was that the same thing that happened after the death of Jesus of Nazareth is what will happen to me.  I am Lazarus!  I can trust the future.  I do not need to know about the “furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.”  All I need to know, in faith, is that something triumphant is taking place beyond the grave.

Has that not been the case again and again in the “little deaths” that all of us experience and how they somehow lead us to newness of life?  The stone that blocks the New Beginning, by grace, is rolled away and something triumphant happens.           

More than any other time in the Liturgical Year, it is during Lent when I recall some of those “little deaths,” those deep waters that have been so defining in my own pathway toward spiritual formation.  The lectionary passages for Palm Sunday and Holy Week that are to follow certainly feed into those remembrances.  As each of us stands on the same side of the Empty Tomb as the original hearers of the New Testament stories, we become aware that Resurrection is not only for the “Son of God,” but also for Lazarus and for you and me.  Like Lazarus, we too are part of the Family of God; like Jesus, we, too, are blessed children of God. 

In the end, though, it is Paul, who reminds us of the part that faith and grace play, and how at the right time, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners…”  It is as though God in Christ is saying,“If it is necessary for me to die in order for you to live, that is what I will do.” 

Love like that makes me want to be a better person. 

 _______________

18 Sunrise at Campobello, a three-act play, Dore Schary, 1958.

 

THE FOURTH WEEK IN LENT

March 26-April 2, 2017

John 15:1-5             Romans 11:13-18

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

 

John was written much later than any of the other gospels.  People were asking questions by then that they were not asking earlier.  For instance, where did Jesus really “go” after his death?  Did he go in a “spiritual” form or a “physical” form or some form we know nothing about?  Is he really going to come back again like leaders of the movement had been saying for a almost a century? 

There were a variety of answers to those questions making the rounds by the time John was written.  The Jews had some answers.  The Gnostics had some answers.  The so-called “mystery religions” had some answers.  There were a variety of answers among the Christians, themselves, and soon their leaders would call together councils to debate them and create an orthodoxy.  One thing is certain.  All of the answers were ambiguous, as are all of the answers we come up with today to those questions.

In a situation like that we are best served, personally, by coming up with our own “I believe” statements or “I am” statements.  That is what the author of the Gospel of John is doing, in an imaginative and metaphorical way.  Strategically, the “I am” sayings are spread throughout the gospel.  Their meaning is heightened all the more by the fact that their author stood on the same side of the Empty Tomb that you and I do.  It is as though the author is saying, “Let us be clear about the one of whom we are bearing witness, Jesus.”

This Jesus is transparent.  We see through him.  What we see when we look through him is the clearest view we are ever going to get of God.  Jesus is connected to God like a vine to a root.  Whether we realize it or not, we are the branches. 

If you are reading Paul’s Romans while you are reading John, you realize that it does not matter whether you are Jew or Gentile, male or female, you are still the branches.  Before you can even say, “No, not me, I am different,” you are grafted onto the vine, with the rest of humanity.  You may act as though that is not true, but if you do, before long, it is a withering experience. 

Try as you may, you are not the root.  You are the branches.  It is universal and irreversible.  Paul got it right, “…remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.”

Now, I find that comforting.  I know what it feels like to be grafted into something greater than myself.  No one was more Roman Catholic than my Grandmother Sinatra.  In one corner of her bedroom was a small, but lovely altar on which she would light candles each night.  She would say her evening prayers there. 

Her altar was hidden behind a giant armoire.  She thought it ostentatious for it to be visible to everyone all the time.  In the evening she would move the armoire aside to make room for herself, as she was a very ample person.  There was an air of mystery to me about that corner.  Sometimes a Catholic priest would come and say Mass right there.

I was only a child then and I did not understand much about what that was all about.  It was different from anything “religious” I had ever seen before.  What my Roman Catholic grandmother did not know was that my rebellious Catholic mother was sending me to the Presbyterian Sunday School when we were home in Mobile.  Not only that, there were some neighbors who were Baptist who would take me with them to their Sunday School and church occasionally.

Shortly after my family moved from Mobile to New Orleans I started attending Catholic catechism classes, made my Junior Communion, was confirmed, and made my Senior Communion in the Roman church.  Memories of my Grandmother’s “hidden altar” and her quiet persuasiveness played no small part in that evolution.  By the time I went to a Methodist church I was in my teens.   By then I had become a United Nations of denominations.   At least, I was acquainted with several “branches.”  Before long, in my early teens I was "lured" into the Methodist Church; not "pushed" from the Roman Church. It was a wonderful Methodist Youth Fellowship that was my passage-way.  That was a charged period of my youth.

However, it was not until I went to seminary that I truly became a Christian.   While my seminary experience “turned-me-inside-out,” challenging my every belief, it was not designed to graft me into a particular denomination, even though it was a Methodist seminary.  For the first time, I began to understand the meaning of the Christian Gospel: that there is always something going on to liberate me from anything that limits me in my capacity to be fully alive, fully human. 

Apart from that, not a whole lot makes sense.  It was there that I, a Gentile, was grafted into the vine, not of any denomination or sect, but into the Christian movement .  It was there that I claimed my spiritual roots.

 ______________

 SELECTIONS: A Journey Toward Spiritual Formation, John Winn, p. 97-99, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN, 2013

 

THE THIRD WEEK IN LENT

March 19-26, 2017

John 14:1-7             Romans 4:13-25

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

I love that line, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Indeed, they are words of love.  We usually hear them at a funeral service, in the context of our ultimate enemy, Death.  Those words mean more to me in day to day living.  They are spoken to quell the clouds of anxiety.  I have learned that when a non-anxious, or more accurately, a less-anxious person enters a room, everyone in the room gets better.

Somehow that seems integral to what John means when he has Jesus say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  “The Way” he is talking about has to do with “walk where he walks, stand where he stands.”           Another way Jesus could have put it is, “Stand where I stand and you will see The Way.  Walk with me and you will know The Way.”  It should be interjected that the language of faith is being employed here, which has been learned through the grace of God.

There are some key words in the Romans reading that help us with this, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace…”  John Wesley might say that it takes some prevenient grace that enables a person to, in faith, make the first steps along The Way.  Wesley thought of prevenient grace as something that happens deep inside us that prepares us to take a leap of faith in order to live the next moment to the fullest.           

Paul, here in Romans, uses Abraham as an example of one who, having no map of The Way, took a leap of faith as though it was a part of his DNA, actually, as though he had a promise from the One who had given him life, that the leap would lead him to fullness of life.  Abraham believed in the truthfulness of the promise.  “Hoping against hope,” he took the leap of faith!  And he found The Way, a Jesus moment in the Old Testament.  Or, is this reading just as much an Abraham moment in the New Testament?  Maybe both Abraham and Jesus are agreeing, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… It is the truth.  It is the life.

To be sure, we will still die; we won’t stop dying because Jesus rose from the dead.  We just no longer have to fear death as a threat to life.  We can see it as a New Beginning.  We can trust the future.  That makes The Way Jesus is talking about far more than a set of directions, a list of rules, a covey of legalisms.

The John, who has Jesus say, “I am the Way,” stands on the same side of the Empty Tomb that you and I stand on.  The ultimate outcome has been decided.  It is going to work out all right.  Julian of Norwich got it, “All shall be well.”  But first, there is the leap…

When we respond in faith and say, “Yes, I believe that the ultimate outcome of my life is going to be all right, then those battles that are yet to be fought will be fought in a different way than if we did not have faith.  Is it any wonder that one of the earliest names for the Christian movement was, “The Way”?[i]

               “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

 


 

17 Acts 9:2.

                                                          

THE SECOND WEEK IN LENT

March 12, 2017

John 8:12; 10:7-17             Romans 1:16-17

(https://www.biblegateway.com/)

     On a warm summer day a college student was hiking in the country side.  He noticed that clouds had begun to gather.  It looked like a thunderstorm was on the way.  Before long he was being drenched by rain.  Through the rain he could see lightning in the distance.  He heard a loud clap of thunder and shortly a crack of lightning struck nearby, scaring him.  He fell to his knees and impulsively blurted, “St. Anne, save me, I’ll become a monk.”[i]

     What do you think happened?  Did St. Anne save him?  Did his religion work?  I will come back to that in a moment.  Within the first three months after my graduation from seminary I remember having a quaking sensation that my religion wasn’t going to work.  I had done very well in seminary and I felt prepared for ministry---or so I thought.

     Yet, as I was driving across New Orleans from one of the two churches I was serving to the other, a bulletin came over the car radio announcing that a young man had been found shot to death in his car.  The car was found on the top of the Huey P. Long Bridge that connected the East and West banks of New Orleans.  The announcer gave the name of the young man.  He was the president of the youth group of one of the churches I was serving!  He had just graduated from High School earlier that week.  

     That is when I had that quaking feeling that my religion wasn’t going to work.  I was not going to have any words to say to that family.  What could I do?  My straight A’s in New Testament did not mean a thing at that moment.  Nonetheless, I turned the car around and went straight to that home simply because I knew that was where I was supposed to be. 

     Let us return to the college student who petitioned St. Anne.  The lightning did not strike him.  He was saved.  He did become a monk in his twenty-second year.  And twelve years later, early one October morning, he strode across the town square and nailed ninety-five theses or propositions to his parish church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  These were matters that concerned him that he wanted the Roman Catholic Church to look at more deeply.  He was questioning his religion.

     The young man, who impulsively prayed to St. Anne to help him, was repudiating the cult of saints in several of those theses.  He, who vowed to become a monk, was later to renounce monasticism.  He nailed those theses to his church door because his religion was not working.  In his head and in his heart he knew there was not anything wrong with God; there was something wrong with his religion.  His name was Martin Luther, a loyal son of the Roman Catholic Church, who shattered the structure of medieval Catholicism.  A priest and Bible scholar, he became the leader of the Protestant Reformation.

     In his Biblical study Luther had come to understand that faith was not simply an acknowledgment of certain propositions because they could be proven to be true.  He knew that no matter how well we may memorize and how fervently we may say the Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…,” that alone does not make us a faithful person.  Faith is not belief in something because it can be proven to be true, but for some other reason.

     When he opened his New Testament to the Book of Romans he knew what it said well enough to translate it from its original language to his native German.  There was a passage he underlined, “The just shall live by faith.”  Boldly, in the margin of his Bible he wrote an additional word, “ALONE.” 

     “The just shall live by faith---ALONE.”

     He recommended that we memorize the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans.  Luther hammered home the distinctively New Testament understanding of the way life is built:  We are able to live because God loves us, not in order to do the things that will convince God to love us.  There is no bargain that we can strike with the One Who Gives Us Life.  There is nothing we can give or buy or promise that will obtain for us what God gives to us freely---our lives, our very selves.  When we really believe that, it changes the way we face the next moment of our lives.

     When I arrived at the home of the president of my youth group, I did not say anything about Jesus being the Light of the world.  Nor did I feel like the gate-keeper of heaven or the good shepherd.  I do not remember what I said.  Actually, I do not remember saying very much.  I was just there.

     Through the days that followed, the funeral service itself, being with the members of the family, dealing with the press---it went on for months, literally, because authorities could find no clues that would solve the mystery of this death.  Somehow we all got through it.

     The family was incredible.  They had more questions than answers and were in worse shape in regard to that than I was, and yet, they held steady.  It was because they held so steady that I was able to hold steady.  I wish it was the other way around, but it wasn’t.  They held on and they won through and together we came to understand that there are some answers that can only come as we live through the experiences themselves.

In an ancient book

I have read of innocents being thrown into a lion’s den.

I have learned it is so,

But I have trusted.

One whom I believe has said,

“Rain falls on the just as well as the unjust.”

I have learned it is so,

But I have trusted.

Now this has happened.

Still, I trust.

Yes, still I trust.

For it is in trusting

that I am alive to the utmost,

It is in loving that I am most fulfilled,

It is in hoping that I live to see a better day.[ii] 

 

_____________________________________________

15 Here I Stand, Roland Bainton, page 21, Abingdon, Nashville, 1950.

 16 For All Seasons, John Winn, page 48, Preachers’ Aid Society of New England, Plymouth, MA, 2011.

 

+++

 

                     THE FIRST WEEK IN LENT                        

March 5, 2017

John 6:30-36             Romans 1:8-12

(https://www.biblegateway.com/)

             Not only is there a radical shift from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday and Lent, there is also a radical shift, from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), to the Gospel of John.  That is why I chose John as the gospel portion of the selections for Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Easter.  

            One only has to read a few chapters in John to see the difference between his work and the synoptics.  There was upwards of a hundred years distance between the Gospel of John and the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  The historical context had changed drastically.  He is least interested in writing an historical account, but he is most interested in spelling-out the meaning of the Christ Event experienced in Jesus of Nazareth for the context in which he finds himself and for future contexts.

            His writing has more of a theological, even philosophical dimension to it.  John has had a longer time to digest the Christ Event and he begins to fashion the universal and eternal nature of its meaning into a theology to live by.  One only has to read his opening words to be grasped by the radical shift his approach takes.  Instead of a birth story we get,    

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
 the word was God…What has come into being in him was life, and the
 life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness,
 and the darkness did not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and
 lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a
 father’s only son, full of grace and truth…The law indeed was given
 through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one
 has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the
 Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

            Now, I ask you, does this writer know the end of the story as well as the beginning?  Clearly, John interprets the Jesus of history through the lens of the Christ of faith.  He sees the Christ Event as the “hinge of history,” to borrow the title of Carl Michalson’s wonderful book that makes this point emphatically.[i]

            It seems only natural that the epistle readings correlating to John would be Paul’s Letter to the Romans.   Paul, too, is interested in spelling-out the meaning of the Christ Event for the context in which he finds himself and for future contexts.  His theology reaches its full fruition in Romans.  Paul’s distinction between law and grace is not unlike that which we find in the Gospel of John.  They are a good fit for each other.

            But where to begin?  Hardly had I asked myself that question than the “I Am” sayings of Jesus, found only in John, came readily to mind.  They would be the gospel readings for the Sundays of Lent.  It seems to me that in all of the “I Am” sayings, John is attempting to deal with the question, “What is the nature of the risen Lord and what does that reveal to us about the nature of God?”

            Interestingly, John chooses to put the first of these sayings immediately following the story of the feeding of the five thousand.  This is his way of pointing out that he is really not concerned with fulfilling bodily appetites, though that is what impressed the people.  Rather, there were ancient rabbinical sayings that when the messiah comes, he will give a sign that he is, indeed, the Messiah.  Another saying has it that when the Messiah comes he will bring manna from heaven.

            John is convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the long awaited Messiah, so it is no problem for him to tell the story of the feeding of the five thousand with manna that seems to be heaven-sent.  But---there is more---this is not merely a “sign,” rather the very nature of the risen Christ is to be a sign, not to bring a sign, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

            Being trumps everything.  It is the very nature of God, as revealed in the risen Christ, to come to us with the kind of fulfillment that exceeds our physical needs and makes it possible for us to face the next moment of our lives. That is the language of faith.  And it is faith that Paul is talking about in his words from the first chapter of Romans.  Faith is deepened, even kept alive, when we share our stories with each other, when we come together to be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” 

            That is what happens when the church is really being the church and worship is really something that we do and not something that is done to us.  But first, you have to show up.  Then you will hear, “Take this bread…Drink this cup…”  It is the language of faith.

 

 


14 The Hinge of History: An Existential Approach to the Christian Faith, Carl Michalson, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1959.

 

Thursday
Feb232017

J O U R N A L

ASH WEDNESDAY                                                      John 8::2-11 (https://www.biblegateway.com/)

  

   One could say that the unnamed woman in the eighth chapter of John was in need of an Ash Wednesday experience.  Jesus took a look at the situation and came to the conclusion that those religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, needed an Ash Wednesday experience even more!  They seemed far too self-righteous to be seriously in search of the truth.  They saw Jesus as a potential rival, whose popularity was growing.      

   They pressed Jesus as to how he would judge her, testing him to see if he would break the Law, which stated she should be stoned.  They hoped to bring some charge against him that would discredit and embarrass him.  You know what Jesus said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone."  It was a very dramatic moment.      

   Not a one of the accusers made a move.  In case you missed the point, Paul would later write, "...all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  In the context in which Jesus found himself, seeing that none of them condemned the woman, Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you."      

   Now Jesus did not say that the woman did nothing wrong.  Indeed, Jesus tells the woman, "Go and sin no more." He sensed, though, that those making the accusation were more interested in diverting examination from themselves than they were in getting at the truth.  Ironically, in the same chapter we read, "You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free."       

   There are still highly religious groups who see pointing out the sinfulness of people as the main focus of the Bible.  They like to shine the bright light of condemnation on S I N as though that will root out the wrong and make all of us better people.  They mistakenly think that is what Ash Wednesday is about.

   Indeed, in ancient times some people did think that by ripping off their clothes and covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes and other such self-punishment, they could thereby cleanse     themselves of sin.  Centuries before Jesus, however, the prophet Joel takes a stand against such outlandish and unreasonable behavior by saying "...rend your hearts and not your clothing."  He goes on to say, "Return to the Lord, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." (from Joel 2:12-13)  Of course, that is the reading for Ash Wednesday from all three cycles of the Common Lectionary. 

   Ash Wednesday and Lent may be primarily about recognition of our sin, but ultimately it is about a greater recognition---FORGIVENESS, the gift of a new possibility for living.  Ash Wednesday and Lent are about returning to the Lord, who is slow to convict, quick to acquit; who is a forgiving, loving God.  Being honest before God is the first step toward repentance.  "If God is for us who can be against us?"

   In his incredible novel Trinity, Leon Uris has a very wise person, Daddo, say, "We live with a number of rooms inside us.  The best room is open to the family and friends and we show our finest face in it.  Another room is more private, the bedroom, and very few are allowed in.  There is another room where we allow no one in...not even our wives and children, for it is a room of the most intimate thoughts we keep unshared."

   Surprisingly, Daddo goes on, "There is one more room, so hidden away we don't even enter it ourselves.  Within we lock all the mysteries we cannot solve and all the pains and sorrows we wish to forget."[i]

   Jesus unlocks that room when he touches our hearts in ways no one else can. 

   Jesus unlocks that room every time we are liberated from something that has been holding us back as a person, some wrong, some pretense, some way that we have been pretending to be something that we are not. 

   Jesus unlocks that room whenever we know the forgiveness that comes with Broken Bread, symbolizing to us that any human life, no matter how broken or distorted it may become, can be made whole again.

   Jesus unlocks that room each time the Cup is poured and we know deep within that any human life no matter how lonely or empty it can become, can be filled again.

   Jesus unlocks that room when he heals our wounds in a way that exceeds all our physical needs and loves us with a love that is not dependent on anything we can do or say.

   Jesus unlocks that room when the ashes are placed on our foreheads and we know deep within that we are accepted, just as we are.

   It is in that room where we find the truth that sets us free.

   Some scholars tell us that the story of this woman is not in the earliest versions of the Gospel of John.  It must have been part of the oral tradition making the rounds that some later editor knew about and sensed that "this is too good to leave out."  That editor was right.  It is just like the Jesus I know.



 

13 Trinity, Leon Uris, page 52, Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1976.