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Tuesday
Mar072017

J O U R N A L

 

THE THIRD WEEK OF MISSIONTIDE

August 13-20, 2017

THE GOSPEL

 Mark 3:13-19

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

 What Now Is Expected of Me

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            I must go to the mountain.  On my way perhaps I can recall and reclaim what I have experienced on other mountain-tops.  I need to realize that I am always proclaiming a message; that without uttering any words, even, I proclaim a message in the life I live.  I must go to the mountain again.

 PRAYER

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            Dear God, please give me an open heart that is sensitive to defining moments.  May I find the courage within myself to seize such moments.  Help me to be resourceful enough to internalize what those moments teach.  Show me how to be caring enough to share that truth in love.  Amen.

THE EPISTLE

Philippians 3:4b-14

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

What Now Is Expected of Me

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            How has my thinking changed?  Have I deepened?  Broadened? I will not allow myself to become “content” with where I am spiritually.  Through study, contemplation, service, putting myself in situations that call forth the best from me, I will try to become a better, deeper person.

PRAYER

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            Help me, O God, to see change as the “surprise” in a universe that is still being created.  May I see it as the surprise within my own sense of self.  Teach me to use my head and my heart to see the difference between change that is negative and change that is positive.  May I be alert to the former and open to the latter.  In the name of a more excellent way, Amen.

From SELECTIONS: A JOURNEY TOWARD SPIRITUAL FORMATION, John Winn, AuthorHouse, 2013

+++

 THE SECOND WEEK OF MISSIONTIDE

August 6-13, 2017

THE GOSPEL

 Mark 2:23-3:6

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

What Now Is Expected of Me

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            I want Holy Days to be important for me, an important part of my schedule, my agenda. I want to be aware, though, of any tendency on my part to place agenda ahead of human need.  My vocation often tempts me to do that in the name of efficiency.  Whenever I am uncertain as to what should come first, I will try to have the courage to err in the direction of caring for human need---and my own, too.

PRAYER

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            It almost always seems easier to stay on schedule, O God, than to go “out of my way” to take food to a lonely, isolated person or to make a stop at a hospital to see a friend, or to “take a week off” to be with someone I hold dear, who is at a life-changing crossroad.   May the “law of love” move me beyond worn-out habits and irrational responses.  I do not want to suffer from “hardness of heart.”  Amen.

THE EPISTLE

II Corinthians 3:2-6

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

 What Now Is Expected of Me

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            I need to become better and better at reading between the lines.  That is where I meet the Spirit---that something more, that leads me to a deeper life.  I no longer want to risk being bound by ideas and emotions that come out of “stuck systems.”  Nor do I want to become stuck, myself, in perspectives and perceptions that no longer correlate to life as it is.  I want to always be moving toward a future that is new and different.

PRAYER

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

            Dear God, be patient with me when I allow myself to become bogged-down in somebody else’s written code.  Be patient with me, please, when I settle for the shallow, when it is the deep that is truly needed.  And help me be patient with myself long enough to find the insight that truly matters.  In Jesus name,   Amen.

+++

  M I S S I O N T I D E

 Liturgically, Pentecost is too long a period to hold the attention of a sound-bite, text messaging age.  So I have divided it, as has been done before, at the last Sunday in August.  I name it differently, though.  I prefer calling it MISSIONTIDE.  This long “last” season of the Christian Year has popularly been called the “Ordinary Days.”  They are the days when we live into those deeper meanings of the Christian Faith.

Pentecost heralds the birth of the Church.  The best definition of the Church that I know is that it is “the community that remembers.”  What happens at Pentecost is that a Community arises that remembers, a community that realizes the sacredness of memory without getting bogged-down in it.  “Memory knows, before knowing remembers,”  William Faulkner tells us.  At its best the Church is the community that remembers Jesus Christ and all that means. 

It is also the community that is committed to completing the mission that Jesus began: Proclaiming the gospel (good news) to the world that there is always something going on to liberate us from all that would limit us in our capacity to be fully alive, fully human.

Actually, there is nothing “ordinary” about that.  It is something that has to be done day by day, one day at a time. Missiontide, then, is the Day by Day Season.  I have long ago forgotten who first said, “The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning,” but it is that concept that correlates Pentecost and Missiontide.  Like Day-Night-New Day, it brings us full circle to Advent again.

There is one thing more that make these days of Pentecost and Missiontide special.  It is an experience which leavens the community that remembers.  It is an experience that makes us realize that memory has a dimension of mystery all its own.  It is embodied in one of the words used in the New Testament for Holy Spirit: “Paraclete. “Para” as in parallel.  It is about the One who goes alongside us. 

There is nothing ordinary about that, either. 

THE FIRST WEEK OF MISSIONTIDE

August 6-12, 2017 

THE GOSPEL

 Mark 2:13-17

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

What Now Is Expected of Me     

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

Sin and sickness do not usually bring out the best in me.  In the face of either I have to find ways to become more intentional about seeking and relating to the sacred in people who find themselves on the margins of the good and healthy life.  I have to become more intentional in relating to the sacred in myself, even, when I find I am on the margin.  Evidently Jesus saw something sacred in those whom he called to follow, even when they had difficulty seeing it in themselves. 

PRAYER

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

Help me, O God, to make a valid distinction between “following Jesus” and “copying him.”  Forgive me when I think that just because I can “handle” something, that everyone else ought to be able to as well.  May I see my own imperfections, but not wallow in them.  And may I see my own sacredness, but not wallow in that either.  Amen.

THE EPISTLE

Galatians 6:1-4

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

What Now Is Expected of Me

(No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

I have to take responsibility for my own actions, for my own life situation.  To be sure, I can be helpful to others and others can be helpful to me, but in the end---I have to take responsibility for myself.  And I should not think too highly of myself when I actually do this.  It is simply the truth about life.

PRAYER

 (No less than 3, no more than 5 sentences)

Grant me the insight to sense when I am veering away from The Way.  Grant me the humility to be thankful for good friends who gently steer me back on course.  Grant me the strength to bear my own burdens.  Amen.

+++

 

O God, 

Sometimes I like my own little world too much,

especially when I act as though

 I am the only person in it.

I am not sure I want "Thy Kingdom to come,"

if it means mine has to change too much.

 

Yet, I know that I cannot remain the same always,

and I do not want everyone around me

 to remain the same either.

I want to grow as a person

and I want

those I care about the most to grow, too.

 

Inform my values,

broaden my concerns,

strengthen my spirit,

deepen my dedication.

Help me to become a better person.

Amen.

 FOR ALL SEASONS, John Winn, p. 91, Preachers’ Aid Society of New England, 2011 

 +++

Dear God,

                    What do I do when my fragile words are inadequate

                    for the freight of meaning I seek?

                    What do I do when my prayer has no voice, no substance,

                    only sighs and groans and silence?

                    What do I do when the “earthquake, wind, and fire,”

                    shake and sway and burn me deep within?

                    What do I do when the “still, small, voice”

                    is subdued by the loudness all around?

                    What do I do when there is no epiphany, no “Aha?”

 

                    I know, Dear God, I know,

                    you have prepared me well:

                    I remind myself of the truest thing I know.

                    I let faith take me where facts can never go.

                    I seek someone whose warm embrace rekindles my life.

                    I return to that quiet place within

                    where I have found answers before.

 

                    Then, I wait;

                    actively wait.

                    Thank you for meeting me there.

 

                    Amen.

 FOR ALL SEASONS, John Winn, p. 29, Preachers’ Aid Society of New England, 2011 

 +++

+++

 

PENTECOST

             Easter is surely a dramatic climax.  Why not just let it be the ultimate climax of the story?  While it may be ultimate, it is not the end of the story.  Think about it.  The Disciples had lost their Leader, the one who had called them together, given their lives meaning and purpose.  Now Jesus is dead and it is fifty days later.  What now?   

             It was not a small thing for them to return to Jerusalem.  They were still thought of as part of an outlawed movement.  Yet, with all their fear and uncertainty and the mysteriously hopeful emotions that still resided deep within them, they felt lured as by a magnet of some kind to Jerusalem to attend a Jewish Religious Festival.  The memory of it is preserved for us by Luke, traditionally regarded as the main author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.  So it is natural to link Luke and Acts as the Gospel and Epistle readings for Pentecost.   

             As those early followers were returning to Jerusalem, what they were expecting was an ordinary Jewish ritual event.  What Luke preserved from the oral tradition about seven decades later was hardly ordinary.  Why in today’s Calendar of the Christian Year the Pentecost Season is referred to as the “Ordinary Days” sounds like a poor detour in semantics made by a committee. 

             What Luke describes in the early chapters of Acts is DYNAMITE!  EXTRAORDINARY!   It is the culmination of all that has gone before.  We color it RED, for fire.  It was Zorba, the Greek, who said, “Many people think of God as cool and refreshing.  God is not cool and refreshing.  God is FIRE!”  And that is what it takes, FIRE, to rekindle a faith that seems mystified by the swift turn of events at Gethsemane, Golgotha, the Empty Tomb, and Ascension.

             Something happened that enabled those early followers to know what they must do next: They are to continue the work that Jesus had begun.  If the story is to be told, they are the ones to tell it.  If the song is to be sung, they would sing it.  If the all-accepting love that Jesus lived is to be passed on, they are the ones to pass it on.  That is their mission---and ours, too.

             All their fears and uncertainties were consumed by the mysteriously hopeful emotions that still resided deep within them.  Contagion filled the room where they gathered: they would be the community that remembers Jesus.   And it would be a community that had no boundaries.  All would be accepted.  ALL! 

              That is Luke’s point in listing all the people and regions and languages, even countries that gathered at Pentecost.  In that moment they saw the possibility of undoing the divisiveness brought about by the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel by a connectedness that led to unity and understanding.  They sensed the possibility of a community unlike anything the world has ever known before.  It would be EXTRAORDINARY.  Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors.

 

                                                                            +++

THE WEEK OF THE ASCENSION

AND

THE SEVENTH WEEK OF EASTER

 

THE WEEK OF THE ASCENSION

John 16:16-22     Romans 12:1-2

May 28-June 4, 2017

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

The forty days following Easter are days of rejoicing, festival days coming to a climax on Ascension Day, the day those earliest followers said Goodbye to Jesus.  After this day had come and gone, I imagine they gathered in small groups recalling how it all had been, those stimulating days with Jesus, the seemingly sudden, tragic end, and the mysterious emotions that still resided deep within them. 

For people like us, who have to “see” it all through the eyes of faith, it is recorded in differing, but equally vivid stories at the very end of Matthew and Luke.  Later, the story is expanded and given even more force in its retelling in the Book of Acts.  In this rendition Jesus meets the disciples in a special place for some parting words about their mission to the world.  As Paul rightly sees in Romans 12, that mission has to do with transforming the way the “world” does its business, lives its life, into a more excellent way; about not being squeezed into a mold so constricting that one becomes a category, an “it,” instead of a sacred person.  Those are marching orders for a lifetime!

Dramatically, afterwards, Jesus is taken up from them in a cloud, signifying that he was not leaving his place of authority even though he was leaving this place.  Such imagination breeds all manner of simile, metaphor, and symbolism.

Let me imagine some: After those incredible stories were told about his Ascension, I am sure someone recalled those times in Jesus’ last days when he said things like, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”… “and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you”---and how mysterious it all sounded at the time.  It became much clearer when Jesus related it to a mother’s miracle of giving birth; the pain of it, followed by the overwhelming joy of New Life.  Can it be that we never say Goodbye to something without also saying Hello to something else?        

We may well say Goodbye to the physical presence of Jesus, but at the same time we are saying Hello to his spiritual presence.  We may well say Goodbye to the Jesus that Thomas wanted to touch and examine, but we are saying Hello to the Jesus we meet in every sunrise, every new day, every new beginning, the Jesus we meet in situations where we overcome the least of us being dominated by the most of us.  Some theologians like to say it is Goodbye to the Jesus of History and Hello to the Christ of Faith.

Ascension Day, the day they said Goodbye to Jesus, was not the end of something old, but rather the beginning of something new.  This is a cycle we live throughout our lives.  O dear Lord, help me to trust it; to do it---in love.

+++

THE SEVENTH WEEK OF EASTER

John 14:15-31     Romans 12:3-8

May 28-June 4, 2017

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

I have a dear friend who, as I write this, is living through a near death experience.  He may not make it, and he knows it.  As long as I have known him he has been a very responsible person, to a fault, even, sometimes thinking he is the only one who “can get the job done right.”  At the moment, though, he is not so sure. 

He has more questions than he does answers and the answers he does have do not always match the hard questions at hand.  Can you imagine the vacuum his family is already experiencing?  He takes care of everything; signs the checks, pays the bills, cuts the grass, has all the keys---get my drift?

His plight helps me to realize how future-oriented Jesus was.  Knowing he is living through a near death experience himself and that he might not make it, Jesus speaks of a presence, an Advocate, who will help those left behind through the “valley of the shadow of death.”  Indeed, this is one of the very few places in the Gospels that refers to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Jesus makes this Advocate sound very personal. 

As central as Jesus has been in these latter days of his life, much of what he has been doing has had to do with creating a future that could be trusted.  Now he is spelling it out.  It is as though he is trying to get everything inside of himself inside of all of us. 

Paul has a unique way of putting it: “…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”  Indeed, we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.  We are SO interdependent.

Thank God, there is help.  There is somebody out there advocating for me; and good enough at it that I can trust the future.  That enables me to say, “Rise, let us be on our way.”  To Pentecost!

+++

 THE SIXTH WEEK OF EASTER

May 21-May 28, 2017

John 3:16-17             Romans 13:7-12

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

What is it that one cannot understand about these two passages from the New Testament?  I say that, knowing how complex love can be.  I know how difficult it is, “to love your neighbor as yourself.”  I have met some of your neighbors!  John 3:16 makes love even more inclusive, “God so loved the world.”  Then, in case we miss the magnanimity and depth of that, we read the verse that follows, which is not nearly as often quoted, “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.”

Paul, in the Romans passage “gets it” and wants us to wake up to this all-encompassing truth, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” So, what is it that we cannot understand about these two passages? 

For me, it is in the doing.  In lovable situations it is doable.  It is in those life situations that threaten to damage, cripple, and destroy me; as in war, violence, injustice, where the complexity sets in.  How much power is there in love when it comes down to solving social problems?  Is “love your enemies” really practical?  Does “turning the other cheek” really work?  When the oppressor holds the balance of power, will that oppressor hear the nuances of the Sermon on the Mount?

The closest I can get to an answer on that is in Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence.  I am not a violent person by nature, so such an answer is attractive to me.  Gandhi speaks of satyagraha, which means truth-force or love-force.  Satya means truth, which equals love.  Graha means force.  It is not a formula, but a way, a stance.  It has to do with the capacity to speak truth to power. 

In one of his sermons Martin Luther King, Jr. puts it this way:

                        “The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the

                        oppressor.  It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed

                        to it.  It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and

                        courage that they do not know they had.  Finally, it reaches the opponent

                        and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.”[i]

 Help me with this, Jesus.  Help us all with it.  Help the world with it.  You were able to do it.  Are we able?

 


 

[i] I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, Martin Luther King, Jr., HarperCollins, New York, 1986, 1992.

+++

THE FIFTH WEEK OF EASTER

May 14-May 21, 2017

John 6:37-40             Romans 6:9-11

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

At most of our family events, at some point, we will all join hands in a circle.  It is often before a well-prepared meal and is our time of prayer and blessing.  It is a joyful and sacramental moment.  We take some time to recall the names of those who could not be with us that particular day.  Some may have other family or vocational commitments.  Some are ill or otherwise detained.  Others have died and are part of “that great cloud of witnesses” forever embedded within us.  As the years have passed the latter list has grown longer.

By no means does that make the moment morbid.  It makes us aware of how many, who are unseen in a given moment, have contributed to our sense of self in a way that sanctifies that very moment.  Not only does it feed into our sense of self, it also amazes us as to how wide our circle has become.  That circle puts us in touch, again, with our individual self and our corporate self; who I am when I stand alone and who I am in community. 

It is a moment when we want to remember and include everyone, whether we speak their names aloud or not.  I am sure that no one of us in that circle feels they can out-love God.  If we value and love them that much, how much more valued and loved must they be by the One who gives us Life.  I cannot imagine our family circle not including people of every race, religion, sexual orientation, the poor in spirit, the infirm.  I cannot imagine it, because they have all been in our circle.  Their names have been called.  They are remembered, revered---and not only by us.  We cannot out-love God.   

How central that is to what it means to be the “Easter People.”  God “drives no one away;” “loses nothing;” “raises us up.”  Is that what is meant by “universal salvation?”  It is close enough for me.  We are more than mere matter and if matter is never completely destroyed or lost, neither are we.  

I daresay that for that brief moment in which we hold hands in a circle and remember, we are “dead to sin” and “alive to God.”

 +++

THE FOURTH WEEK OF EASTER

May 7-May14, 2017

John 21:15-17             Romans 7:15-25

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

Yes, there have been times when, in a more contemplative mood, I have reflected, as did Paul, on why I had acted the way I had in a vexing situation.  I ask myself, “What was that about?”  I think we have all been in that situation.  “I do not understand my own actions,” is the way the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament puts it in Romans 7:15.  More memorable to me is the translation by J. B. Phillips, “My own behavior baffles me.”

Peter must have felt the same way.  In just three chapters before this passage from John 21 we have the infamous story of Peter denying Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times!  Did he at some later point, or even right at that moment, say to himself, “My own behavior baffles me?”  Like Paul, could he not go on to say, “I find myself not doing what I really want to do, but doing what I really loathe?”  Instead, he goes on to deny Jesus three times!

The truth about you and me, as with Peter and Paul---indeed, as with all Jesus’ followers (Remember, when crucifixion came they bolted and ran)---when the “chips are down,” and we are pressed against the wall; when all of our resources and all of our answers seem inadequate and insufficient, we will do whatever we have to do to protect ourselves.  We take care of No. 1.  I take care of Me. 

If you are prone to quickly respond, “That’s not true of me.  I can tell you of a time when I did not act in that self-centered way at all.”  That very statement becomes an illustration of the very thing I am talking about.  This is what the Phillips translation is pointing to when it tells us, “It must be sin that has made its home in my nature.” (Romans 7:17).  That is the very nature of what we call “original sin.”

It is not often that we get a chance to graciously undo a former wrong and make things right again.  This story in John 21 is the Early Church’s way of understanding how this Peter, who, at a crucial, definitive moment, denied his Lord three times, is now one of the respected leaders of the Early Church.  How can that be?

In order to explain the fathomless workings of love and grace on the inside of a human life, the Early Church brings Peter once again face to face with Jesus.  Jesus asks him, not once, not twice, but three times, “Do you love me?”  Not only is Jesus giving Peter a second chance to claim a love which he had denied, but the drama of the event drives home the deepest meaning of that word love, AGAPE, unconditional love.  The Early Church gets the point:  Jesus loved Peter because of Peter’s need to be loved, not because of anything Peter had done to deserve that love.  That is the “way out” of the tomb Peter had placed himself in, or, as Phillips translates it, “I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Much later, someone would sing about this:

Amazing grace!

How sweet the sound,

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Use your imagination.  Is it Paul that adds, Was blind but now I see.[i]

 


 

 [i] The United Methodist Hymnal, Page 378, Words by John Newton, 1779, Music, 19th Century USA Melody, harmonized by Edwin Excell, 1900, United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN, 1989.

+++ 

THE THIRD WEEK OF EASTER

April 30-May 7, 2017

John 21:1-13             Romans 8:1-11

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

Between the time of what has come to be popularly known as “The Last Supper” and this “On the Beach” story we read about in the Gospel of John, a cluster of deeply emotional experiences happened to those earliest Disciples.  In broad strokes we refer to those events as Upper Room, Gethsemane, Arrest, Trial, Crucifixion, Abandonment---and something More.  Each of us has to make out our own list, wrestle with their meaning, and decide what we believe about them.

It is “Abandonment” that strikes me sharply just now.  Let me try to be one of them and put myself in their place; let me put it in the first person: 

“I remember we left the Upper Room, after that shared meal that seemed to be more than just a meal. At the time it seemed like a “farewell.”  We quietly went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he needed time apart, a time to wonder, a time to pray.  I wasn’t really “getting it.”  I couldn’t really believe he was actually on a life-threatening collision course with the dominant political and religious authorities.  He wasn’t the type to start wars---of any kind!  But I went along.  And I fell asleep.  Maybe it was the wine.  Maybe it was the prevailing mood.  I could sense that something sacred was happening, but I couldn’t really grasp its meaning.

 The next thing I knew, all hell broke loose.  It was like an ocean’s undertow getting hold of all of us, especially him.  There was the Judas thing, then Peter---imagine that, Peter, acting like he never knew him!  And after that came the ugly Cross thing.  I couldn’t find a place to hide quickly enough.  I wasn’t sleepy any more!  I was scared.  What they did to him they could do to me.  Believe me, I could almost understand the Judas thing, the Peter thing.  I was no different.  I ran.  I abandoned him, too.

Something more happened, too; something very difficult to put into words.  The women put us on to it first.  It drew us back together.  Maybe I didn’t get IT, but IT was getting me!  Maybe I couldn’t find the SACRED, but the SACRED found me.   He was still alive; ALIVE IN THE WAY THAT GOD IS ALIVE!

I was overcome by the emotion on the beach that morning.  When it looked as though we would find no fish out there, we tried something different.  And it happened again: something sacred.  When we shared those fish, it brought us all back to that Upper Room, the meal we shared there, something sacred.

It was as though all the ways we had betrayed, denied, ran from, abandoned---had been forgiven.  Something sacred!  There was no condemnation only a New Beginning.  He is alive as God is alive.  Something sacred.  I believe that.”

And so do I.

+++

THE SECOND WEEK OF EASTER

April 23- April 30, 2017

John 20:24-29             Romans 3:21-26

(https://www.biblegateway.com/

I stand among you as one who has not actually seen or touched the nail marks in Jesus’ hand and side.  Neither did Paul, who wrote the Romans passage.  Neither have you.  I can see Thomas’ point, though.  The answer to the question, “Did it really happen?” is important.  What really did happen is important.  History is important.  Facts matter. 

But history comes packaged in many different ways, through many different experiences.  The Gospel of John was written some six or more decades after the death of Jesus.  Most of the eye-witnesses, if not all of them, were already dead themselves.  Jesus had not “come again,” at least not in the fleshy way many took it to mean. 

Yet, people were still believing the message, still being claimed by the gospel, the good news, still joining the movement, and, further, still believing that as a result they were able to live a fuller life, more liberated from what had limited them, no longer fearful of death.  They had experienced a way to find meaning in life without always depending on factual certitude.  They had found a way to trust a future that could be new and different. 

Paul understood it as “grace,” as being able to see with “the eyes of faith.”  It was something caught, not taught.  And it comes as a gift.  We sense it at every New Beginning we experience.  We trust it will be there after death, too.

What really did happen is grace, and everyone caught up in it became transmitters of it themselves, whether they planned to or not, even though they had not seen and yet believed.  The gift of grace brought another gift: Faith.  And faith can take us places facts can never go.

 +++

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.

 

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