Tag Archives: Jesus

Making Demands of Jesus

John 14:1-14

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Read the whole passage)

We are on the back half of Easter, heading towards the Ascension and Pentecost. To be sure, we are still celebrating the resurrection on this great 7 week long day of the resurrection, but as the day gets longer we are starting to look forward to what comes next in this world of the resurrected Christ.

Today, we begin hearing a series of conversations between Jesus the disciples, where Jesus prepares his disciples for the beginning of the church, Christ’s body on earth. These familiar words of Jesus begin, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

These words are the familiar words spoken at many funerals, words of comfort and assurance, at least the first 7 verses. But today, we get the bigger picture, the next 8 verses. These familiar words put in context become one side of a larger conversation.

Jesus begins by telling his disciples of what has been prepared for them by the father. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says, “For in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Jesus says that God has room for many, an idea foreign to the world disciples, where most believed that God only had time and space for the very righteous.

So naturally, the disciples aren’t entirely sure of this idea. Two of them speak up with doubts. Thomas is the first. Thomas asks a vulnerable and honest question. “How can we know the way.” It is a a good question. Thomas is expressing the doubt side of faith, the uncertainty of faith, the part of faith that questions our own worthiness. It is a question echoed through the centuries, asked by St. Augustine and which led to the doctrine of original sin. Asked by Martin Luther, which led to the Reformation and Lutheran doctrine of unconditional grace. Still asked today by many who wonder what the future of Christianity will be.

Thomas’s questions is a genuine one, one that desires to draw closer to, and understand God. It is a question that we all ask too, when our doubt it real, but also when we are open and honest about ourselves. When our doubt is about us and our role in faith.

Jesus gives an answer to Thomas, but Philip isn’t satisfied. Philip’s question is not so much a question, but a demand, an order. “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” If we are not careful, we skip past this statement, and focus only on Jesus’ words about how he and the father are one. Yet, if we pause to consider what Philip has said, we see just how problematic it is.

“Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” It is a command rooted in insecurity. It is comes from a place of discomfort, from a place that prefers not to sit with the uncertainty of Thomas’s first question. It is an order that wants to jump to answer, instead of exploring the question. Philip’s order to Jesus is one we know well too. We have moments when we make demands of God, when we want faith to be easy, simple and certain. Sometimes, like Philip, we just want to be satisfied instead of dealing with the real questions of faith.

We all have Thomas moments and Philip moments. Moments when we can honestly and openly ask genuine questions of faith like Thomas “How can we know the way?” And moments when we just want to jump to the answers, moments when we don’t want to deal with the struggles and uncertainty of believing in Jesus, like Philip, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”

These two contrasting statements by these disciples demonstrate just how fickle we can be when it comes to God, yet Jesus’s response to these two very different ways of asking the same thing shows us how God is with us.

Jesus doesn’t give either Thomas or Philip what they want. Jesus instead gives them what they need. To Thomas, Jesus responds with assurance. He doesn’t tell Thomas what the way is, but instead who the way is. Jesus tells Thomas that it isn’t about our ability to know the way to God, but about who will take us there. Jesus assures Thomas that Jesus is one taking us to the Father, that Jesus is the one who will guide us to the house of many dwelling places. Jesus will show us the Father.

And even though Jesus sounds almost hurt, if not annoyed with Philip, “How can you say show us the Father?” Jesus still responds. Jesus stays with Philip’s discomfort with uncertainty. So Jesus reminds Philip what he has seen and heard, he reminds Philip who he is speaking with, the Messiah, the one who comes in the name of Father, who reveals the Father, who does the Father’s works. This is not evidence or proof  that Philip can be certain of, that can satisfy. Instead, this is the promise of a relationship. A messy, uncertain, faith demanding promise made through relationship instead of through the evidence. Jesus reminds Philip having faith in the Father is not easy, nor something to be controlled and Philip is uncomfortable because he wants certainty.

Whether we are Thomas, open and ready for Jesus, or whether we are Philip, uncomfortable and impatient, Jesus meets us where we are. Jesus meets us in all of our doubts, no matter what they look like. And Jesus promises our troubled hearts that he is the way. They Way to God’s house, the the Truth revealed in flesh, the One who will bring us to New Life.

Amen.

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Thomas and the Scars

John 20:19-31

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

We always hear this parable on the second Sunday of Easter. It is always the same story. It is Easter Evening, the same day as the resurrection. The early church considered the whole seven week season of Easter to be like one great day, and so even though we are seven days from Easter Sunday, we return to that moment to hear the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on Easter evening.

Jesus speaks peace to the disciples. He joins right in the midst of them, he comes despite locked doors and windows, despite their fear and their hiding. He speaks peace and breathes on them the holy spirit. This is the very same peace we will share between us in a few moments, and the same spirit that is passed between us.

And then there is of course Thomas. Thomas who is called Doubting Thomas by western Christians. Thomas who is called Believing Thomas by Eastern Orthodox Christians. Thomas will not accept the stories of his buddies, the outrageous claims of resurrection. He wants to see for himself.

We hear this familiar story each Easter. We call skeptics doubting Thomas’s. We kind of know the routine by now.

And yet there is a piece of this story is we rarely focus on. Usually we hear about Jesus appearing behind locked doors, or Thomas seeing the evidence and believing. But what about the scars?

Yes, the scars.

The scars are there all way through. Jesus offers peace and then immediately shows the disciples his scars. That is how they know him. Thomas will not believe until he can touch the scars with his own hands. And knowing what Thomas needs, Jesus shows up and gives Thomas a view he cannot forget. Jesus offers his scars.

The scars are woven throughout the story, and yet they are troubling. The scars are how the disciples know who Jesus is. Of all the things that might identify Jesus it is the scars. Not how he looks, now how he talks, but the scars that his body still bears. His resurrected body still bears.

This can be hard to imagine. This can be hard to accept. Jesus resurrected body is a sign, an example of what our own resurrected bodies will look like. Our scars can often be parts of ourselves we would rather forget. Sometimes they are physical scars, sometimes they are emotional or psychological. Sometimes they are the scars of broken relationships, and unforgiven hurts, of ongoing pain, and untold suffering. Sometimes they are the scars of death.

We don’t want those scars to come with us. We don’t want to remember the pain that created them. We want all of it to go away. We want God to come and take away our hurts and pain, to make us forget all the ways in which we hurt others, and the ways in which we suffered ourselves. We don’t want our scars to come with us, we would much rather leave them and the things that caused them behind.

It was by the scars that the disciples recognized Jesus. It was because of the scars that Thomas could see who it was that was standing before him. The Risen Christ, the new reality ushered into the world by God where death is no longer the end, is too much to recognize, it is too much to be able to imagine or see. And so it is in the scars that the disciples and Thomas can see Jesus. The scars are reminders of what was before. They allow the disciples and Thomas to see Jesus as the same person who called them to follow. The same Jesus who taught in synagogues, who healed the sick and the lame, who cast out demons and angered the authorities. The same Jesus who was tried, beaten and then nailed to a cross.

It is this Jesus, this Jesus that they knew, that they followed and that they loved who is standing before them – Risen from the dead. This new reality that God brings into world through Christ can only be truly seen and understood when signs of the old reality come with it. And yet is still more than that.

There is no resurrection without crucifixion. Our scars are signs of experiences that have made us who we are. Our joys and our sorrows, our loves and our loses, our comforts and pains, our successes and failures, our happinesses and our sufferings. All of these things make us who we are. All of these things are what make us human.

And it is the same things that made Christ human.

And it is these same things that God loves and intends to resurrect.

It is not perfect, unblemished, perfectly unscarred versions of ourselves that God sees. It is the beat up, worn down, tattered, bumped and bruised versions of us that God is deeply in love with. It is all of us, good and bad, perfect and imperfect that God calls beloved children. It is the broken versions of ourselves that God is well pleased with.

For you see, it is in Christ’s scars that we see the Risen Christ. We see the Christ who came to be born among us, to live among us and to die among us. We see the Christ who took on our nature and our lot, who gathered all humanity to himself and who took all our sin to the cross. And it is on the body of the Resurrected Christ, that we see the scars still present, reminders that the one we would not accept and the one that we tried to kill is now alive. The Risen Christ, scars and all, is showing us that God is bringing life into this world, no matter how much death we wield.

But it is not just Risen Christ that is recognized by his scars. It is also us. Just as we see Christ in his scars, God see us in ours. God sees our hurts and our sorrows, God sees our bumps and bruises, God see our broken relationships and our unforgiven hurts. And it is by these things, that God sees us as beloved children. God does not promise to take these things away, the scars will remain. But God promises that they will not define us and they will not control us. Pain will not be the end. Suffering will not be the end. Death will not be the end. God promises that there will always be life. God promises that there is another side to sin, suffering and death. God will not remove our problems, but God goes through them with us.

And the Christ that we have now seen. The Christ that has come to us in behind locked doors, in fear and hiding. The Christ that gives us what we need so that we may believe.

This Christ has shown us the way, the way to the other side, the way to new life and he has the scars to prove it.


*** For 10 weeks I am on parental leave, and during this time my hope is to post sermons from previous years during this time. ***

Hosanna – Crucify Him – Hosanna

Liturgy of the Palms Gospel
Passion Gospel according to Matthew

We have been journeying Jesus since Ash Wednesday, where we began lent by marking our foreheads with ash, remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We then passed by 5 different people with Jesus on our way to the gates of Jerusalem. We met the tempter in the wilderness, where we saw that Jesus had chosen a new path. We heard the deep questions of Nicodemus by night about faith and meaning. We met with the Samaritan woman at the well in the noon day heat in order to receive the water of life. We got into the mud with blindman and our sight revealed the ongoing blindness of the world around us. We grieved with Mary and Martha at the edge of the valley of the dry bones.

And today, our lenten journey, our lenten wilderness and wanderings have brought us to the gates of Jerusalem shouting Hosanna. We have been calling upon God for deliverance from our oppressors. That word Hosanna, that word which sounds a lot of Hallelujah, like praise the Lord does not mean the same thing.

Hosanna means save now.

Save us now God.
Save us from enemies.
Save us from our sufferings.
Save us from all that threatens us.

And all of a sudden we were no longer passing through the lives of various people on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem. Today we became the ones whom Jesus was encountering. We are the crowds lining the roads singing Hosanna and it is us who Jesus passes by.

The Hosannas we sing today sound like the ones we sing most Sundays,
“Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

We sing Save us Now, and call upon God to come down a meet us.
To meet us in Bread and Wine, to become Body and Blood.
To become our Body and Blood.
To be the Body of Christ that we share in the Lord’s supper.
To become the Body of Christ that we are as the Church.

But today our Hosannas aren’t like our normal Hosannas.

Today our Hosannas, even though they still technically mean “Save Now,” sound a lot more like “Crucify Him.”

In fact, the Hosannas of this day are not prayers pleading for Salvation from our sin and death. They are not confessions that recognizes we are not enough, nor reminders that we need salvation from ourselves.

Rather the Hosannas today are calls for vengeance

Hosanna – Save us now by kicking out the oppressors from our land.
Hosanna – Save us now by destroying our enemies.
Hosanna – Save us now by becoming our righteous warrior king.
Hosanna – Save us now by making us relevant and powerful again.
Hosanna – Save us now by restoring our families and communities and workplaces and churches to their former glory
Hosanna – Save us now by letting us never suffer inconvenience or have think about hard things or be challenged or have to change.

The Hosannas of Palm Sunday are cleverly disguised.

They are disguised shouts of crucify him!

And by Friday they will be revealed for what they truly are.

But despite our vengeance filled Hosannas,

Jesus rides the donkey anyways.

Jesus makes the last move before the cross.

The move that began by coming down the mountain of Transfiguration.
That set the new course in the wilderness of temptation.
That adjusted to meet Nicodemus’s needs
That persisted with the samaritan woman who needed living water.
That came back to fill the blind man with faith.
That allowed the grief of God to bring the dry bones to life.

And that today rides into Jerusalem, even when the Hosannas also mean crucify.

And because Jesus rides the donkey anyways, the disguised Hosannas have another meaning. One that we will soon see.

They will remind us.
That God has come.
That God will saved.
That God has come for us.
That God will save us.

Now.

Jesus, Mary and Martha in the Valley of Dry Bones

John 11:1-45
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (Read the whole thing)

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. (Read the whole thing)

Our lenten journey has been pointing us to this place since we came down the mountain of transfiguration 5 weeks ago. We marked our foreheads in dust and ash to begin Lent. Then we were driven out into the wilderness with Jesus to meet the tempter. With Nicodemus we came to Jesus by night with deep questions of faith. At the well in the noon day heat, we met with Jesus the isolated Samaritan woman. In the dirt and mud, we went with the Blind man to wash and have our eyes opened, only to discover everyone else was still blind.

And all along, we saw from different places and different angles the new thing that God was doing. Jesus is moving towards us. Staying the course in the wilderness, but adjusting when Nicodemus needed a new approach. Persisting when the Samaritan woman needed her the walls holding in her dead water burst open with living water, and coming back to the blind man when he couldn’t bear the torch of faith on his own, and filling him up again with gospel.

All these moves and stops along the way have led us here. Not to the that stretch of road before Bethany, the home of Lazarus… but rather with Ezekiel, it is valley of the dry bones that we have arrived at. It is this valley that is at the bottom of the mountain of Transfiguration and it is this valley that will lead us to the mountain of Golgatha.

Ezekiel’s vision the valley of dry bones that sets the backdrop of the story of Jesus, Martha, Mary and Lazarus that we hear on this 5th Sunday in Lent. We cannot help but hear this story of Jesus’ friends without Ezekiel’s vision framing it all.

As Jesus receives word that his good friend Lazarus is ill, we get the sense that something is up, but still Jesus waits 3 days. When Jesus finally goes to see his friends, he knows that Lazarus is dead.

When Martha hears that Jesus on his way she goes out to meet him. She goes out being led by the hand of the Lord She goes out and the spirit sets Martha down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones…there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. And there among them she can see the bones of her brother Lazarus.

Standing on the edge of this vast valley covered in bones, her grief causes her to lash out at her friend Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus looks at her and responds, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

Martha looks at her friend and answers, “O Lord God, you know.”

And Jesus knowing Martha’s storming grief needs to be calmed says, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

And so Martha recites the tenets of faith, she knows that Jesus has come for a great purpose, to bring life to all creation… but she still cannot see the breath in the bones.

On this 5th Sunday in Lent, we are finally and openly confronting the thing that has been beneath all these stories of Jesus’ encounters with the tempter, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and the blind man. Just as Martha’s grief has brought her to edge to the valley of dry bones, so does our grief bring us there.

Martha’s valley of dry bones is on the road to Bethany. We might find ours when we look over at the empty pew where someone we loved used to sit. It might be that missing voice behind us that used to ring in our ears as we sung our favourite hymns. It might be that missing familiar voice that use to hand us the bulletin or kneel next to us at the communion rail. It might be that empty spot in bed that we wake up to in the morning. It might be that empty spot in the weekly calendar that used to be reserved for that outing with a best friend. It might be that empty chair at the dinner table at home, or the lunch table at work.

The signs and places of valleys of dry bones surround us just as much as they surround Martha and Jesus today. And like Martha we know the promises of God, we know that we are supposed to have hope and trust in God’s future for us. Yet, we just cannot see the breath. In fact, our grief and sorrow makes us ever more attentive to the fact that these dry bones around us, clearly, have no breath. Like Martha, we just see the bones.

And then Mary comes to join Martha and Jesus on the edge of the valley of dry bones. And unlike Martha whose grief makes her defiantly accuse Jesus, Mary falls at his feet in grief. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

But there are no words to calm Mary this time.

Instead, this is the moment of Jesus’ final move of Lent.

In this moment, standing before the valley of dry bones, with Martha at is side, with Mary at his feet, with Lazarus’ bones laid before him… Jesus himself is broken open.

The grief of God bursts open into the world.

Grief like ours that only sees the empty places, and the dry bones and desolate valleys.

Yet, unlike our grief, which is our clearest sign that death has ultimate power in the world.

The grief of God…even the grief of God brings new life into the world.

Because suddenly there is a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone… there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

Even the grief of God brings life into creation.

And Jesus says, to Martha and Mary, Jesus speaks to the rotting bones of Lazarus laying before him,

“Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” And just as Jesus commands, the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

And our grief laying beneath temptations in the wilderness and questions in the dark of night. Beneath self-imposed isolation in the noon day heat and blindness buried under dirt and mud and religious certainty. Our grief that is exposed here in the lifeless valley of dry bones… meets the grief of God. The grief of the God of life, the grief that brings life into the world. Even grief that cannot help but make all things new.

Our grief meets God’s grief. In the empty pews, and hymns missing a voice, and missing faces that used to greet us on our way to worship.

Our grief meets God’s grief, in cold and empty spots next to us in bed, in empty spots on our calendar, and empty chairs and dinner and lunch tables.

Our grief meets God’s grief here in the body of Christ. Even grief that cannot help but make all things new.

And there with Martha and Mary, on the edge of the dry valley, Jesus stands before the bones.

“Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel [These bones are the whole Body of Christ] They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

And there the bones of Martha and Mary’s brother, and all of our beloved Lazarus’s now covered in flesh and sinew, finally stand before us with breath and new life.

And Jesus says to us to them and says to us,

“Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.”

Amen.

Only the Blind Man Could See

John 9:1-41

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (Read the whole passage)

Out of the sun and into the mud.

We have been on journey this lent through various familiar places of Jesus ministry. The wilderness of the desert of temptation. The darkness of Nicodemus’s questions by night. The bright noon day heat of the woman at the well and her isolation. Jesus continues on his journey through the lives of unsuspecting people, moving towards their questions, breaking their walls, and today helping them to see.

This Lenten season has shown us the movement of God towards creation. We have seen that God is beginning a new thing in the identity of Christ, despite the tempter’s wondering if Jesus is the Son of God. We have seen Jesus adjust course and move towards Nicodemus, who needs his deep questions of faith answered. And we saw last week, the persistence of Jesus whose living water broke down the well walls of the Samaritan woman’s dead water.

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaicThe next instalment in the Lenten journey is the story of the blind man. It is a familiar story, yet, it is hardly just about helping a person without normal sight to see the world around him. As Jesus and his disciples come a cross a blind man in the streets, presumably begging in his community, the disciples want Jesus to help them identify the punishments of God. Disability was considered a divine curse, and the disciples were most likely trying to be sure that they would avoid such a fate. Yet Jesus stops, and spits in the mud, covers the man’s eyes with the mud. Then Jesus tells the man to go and wash in pool of Siloam. Jesus says this man’s blindness has nothing to do with God’s curse.

And then Jesus disappears.

But we stay with the blind man and hear his story. Now, I am pretty sure, if this story was really about a blind person gaining sight were to happen among us, we would be amazed by this person who was blind and now could see. Yet, that is not what happens to the blind man. Once this man can see, and Jesus is long gone, the man’s community reacts badly. They just cannot see the miracle or the transformation. They doubt the identity of the man, they doubt that he is actually healed, they doubt that the miracle is from God.

Instead of rejoicing and celebrating, the community puts the healed man on trial. He is called before the religious leaders to explain what happened. To explain how someone healed him on the sabbath. The Pharisees declare that the blind man has not been healed by God, and instead they summon his parents to see if there has been some kind of trickery. But his parents have no answers, so the formerly blind man is summoned again in front of the pharisees. So incredulous are the Pharisees that they declare no only has the formerly blind man not been given a miracle, but that he is sinner being punished by God. So they drive him away, out of the community and on his own.

And throughout the course of the story, the blind man comes to realize something. We can see it too… it isn’t that the blind man can see, it is that he is the only who can now see. The whole community is blind to the transformation that has taken place. Only the man can see what Jesus has done for him. And no matter how many times, how many ways he tells the story of his own healing, the community around him just cannot understand or accept this new reality.

They remain blind.

Blindness to the effects of Jesus in our world is something we know about. Perhaps we are like the blindman, seemingly alone in the world surrounded by unbelievers. Maybe we now feel like most people simply do not see what we see, or know what we know about Jesus. Maybe we are the only ones who feel as though our eyes have been opened to by Jesus passing through our lives and giving us healing, renewal and life. Friends and neighbours just cannot see the good news, they simply don’t are or won’t accept this story of faith and healing that we share. No matter how we tell it, or no matter how the transformation that we now know is apparent to us… people around us just seem blind to God in the world.

Or perhaps we feel more like the blind community. We know the faith, we know what God is up to, and so the zealous believers who claim that God is doing a new thing in their lives are just too much. We cannot see how God is doing something so unexpected in the world, according to suspicious and obviously self-involved people.

Regardless of who we may identify with, the blind man or his community, identifying the gospel, knowing God’s work in the world is not always straight forward. The community cannot believe that this man would be healed by God. The man himself only has a vague sense of just what his experience with Jesus means. And isn’t this our experience too? Jesus passes in and out of out community, causing just as much confusion about faith and church and God, as helping us figure out what is happening.

As we already know, the blindness of the man is not just about physical blindness, but John’s gospel is hinting at the spiritual blindness of the community that Jesus encounters today. But blindness is not the only metaphor that John is playing with. As Jesus reaches down in the mud today, we cannot help but think all the way back to Genesis and God in creation. As God reached down into the mud of the earth to create Adam, breathing life into him, so we see God breathing life into this blind man. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Let there be light” and the blind man sees, not just with his eyes, but with his whole being.

And, still not quite. The blind man doesn’t see Jesus first, but rather only has an experience of Christ before he sees.

But just when it seems that the man has been left to carry on in faith alone, that he has been left to sort out his new place in the world where he knows that the Messiah has healed his blindness, but the rest of his community doesn’t see what he sees… Just as the man is driven away… Jesus shows up again. And we learn something important about what Jesus has done in healing the man of his blindness.

Just as Jesus told the tempter in the wilderness that God is about to do something new in creation…

Just as Jesus changed course and moved towards Nicodemus so that Nicodemus could hear the gospel that he needed to hear in the safety of darkness…

Just as Jesus kept lapping at the well walls of the samaritan woman until she was broken open by living water…

Jesus comes back to the blindman.

And finally, finally the man who was born blind, whose sight was restored, whose story was not enough for his community to see… the blind man sees the One who has given him this new faith.

The One whom meets us in the wilderness, finds us in the dark, who makes us alive with Living Water…. this One comes back and restores and fills us up with faith.

Like the blindman, we can only last for so long in a world of blindness. We can only tell the story so many times for unseeing eyes before we run out of persistence. And so Jesus comes to us and meets us again, fills us with a word of light and hope.

The blind man’s story is our story. We experience new life and renewal in Jesus who comes to us, creating something new and incredible inside us. And then we go out in the world and into our community with this gospel of life, only to find blindness. Yet, still we are called to tell the story.

And then when we cannot tell it anymore, Jesus shows up again. And Jesus keeps coming back and coming back. Jesus keeps giving words of mercy and forgiveness, the light of God’s word, the renewal of our faith in the Body of Christ.

Our story of faith is one where Jesus keeps coming back to us. Week after week, year after year. And all of sudden, when we all we knew was wilderness, darkness, and isolation… Jesus makes us see for the first-time.

Jesus opens our eyes to faith.

Dead Water becoming Living Water

John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

Out of the darkness and into the furnace. Through the season of Lent so far we have gone with Jesus into the wilderness of temptation. We have come with Nicodemus in the darkness to ask our questions of faith that we wouldn’t dare ask in the light. And now we walk with the Samaritan woman to the well in the noonday heat.

This story from the John gospel isn’t quite as famous as John 3:16 was last week, but this season of Lent is not about hearing the obscure stories of scripture. It is about stories that we know and remember, stories we have heard many times in our lives… stories that make it into our literature and language.

Jesus is travelling today, outside the safety of Jewish lands, into Samaria. Not quite gentile territory, as Samaritans were also descended from the line of Abraham – like cousins to the Jews. But Samaritans worshipped differently than their Jewish cousins and therefore were found to be unclean by Jewish law.

Jesus and the disciples arrive in Sychar around noon, in the hottest and brightest time of the day. While the disciples go to find food, Jesus stops at the famous well of Jacob (the grandson of Abraham). As he sits, tired from his journey a Samaritan woman arrives to draw water. Now proper protocol would have been for the two to pretend like each other didn’t exist, but since when has Jesus cared about what is proper.

So he asks for a drink.

And the woman is shocked by this request.

She has come to the well to draw water alone, and likely never expected to encounter a Jew… and almost certainly would never think that this Jew would talk to her, a samaritan and a woman… Jesus would be forbidden by law to strike up a conversation. You might almost imagine the woman laughing with shock and nervousness.

Yet, Jesus persists.

“You really should be asking me for a drink. And I will give you living water,” he says.

And now the woman knows that this strange man at the well is nuts.

“This is Jacob’s well buddy, and you are just a strange guy lurking about,” she responds.

Yet, Jesus won’t give up.

“I will give you water that gushes up to eternal life.”

At this, this woman starts to know that something really is up with Jesus.

“Give me this water,” she says.

And then things get weird.

“Go and tell your husband and I will give you both water”, Jesus says.

“I have no husband,” she answers.

And then somehow Jesus knows that this woman has had five husbands. And the one she is now with is not her husband.

Now, in case we begin making assumptions about the virtue of this woman… let’s not forget that women in Jesus’ day were no different than property like land or animals. And so this woman likely was either widowed by her first husband or tossed to the curb. And her “husbands” after that were probably his brothers or cousins who were obliged by religious law to care for her. However, adding another mouth to feed is not simple. And she is passed into the care of one family after another. The last might be a very distant relative or even a wealthy gentile willing to care for this woman.

And these circumstances are not this woman’s fault, she has no control over these things. But despite this, being five time married still carries a stigma of being damaged goods. So this Samaritan woman comes to the well in the heat of the day, while all the other women come in the early morning and late evening when it is cool. And she comes alone, to avoid the gossip. She is living in open isolation.

This woman is probably not exactly someone we can identify with. While we have all had moments in life, where we have felt powerless in the face of the circumstances of our lives, where we have wanted to avoid everyone around us and their comments, or their whispers and stares… we probably are not quite as extreme in our life story as the Samaritan woman that Jesus speaks with at the well.

Yet, together as a community this woman’s story feels a little more like ours. As a church, either as Lutherans across Canada or our community right here, we may feel like half of ourselves is missing or gone. It might feel like we have been kicked to the curb, in favour of something better. And all those who were supposed to care about us, or care for us next, are turning their backs. And now we too are living in open isolation, it might feel like we go to the well in the middle of the day. Maybe the church is out in the light, but going to the water on our own while everyone else is busy at home.

When Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water, it is meant as a contrast to the well water. Living water was understood by the ancients to be moving water, like streams or rivers or bubbling springs. And the movement was a sign of power, often of divine power. Yet, well water doesn’t move, it is dead water. The dead water of the well, in many ways symbolizes the woman. She is alive, but her life story and isolation could hardly be called living.

Yet, Jesus reaches out to this woman. First by asking for a drink, but then offering her Living Water. Living Water that begins to crack open the walls of this woman’s dead water.

“…the water that I will give them will never be thirsty”

*crack*

“The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”

*crack*

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands”

*crack*

“…for the Father seeks such as these to worship him”

*crack*

And now this woman who was just on her way to get water at her ancestor Jacob’s well, whom Jesus has been talking to despite the fact that she is woman and a Samaritan, whom Jesus has been offering living water, the mercy of God, whom Jesus has accepted and not condemned despite the stigma of her life story, whom Jesus has said is exactly who God is seeking…

This woman whose water has been dead like well water, says,

“I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

“I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

“I am he” Jesus says.

And the well walls burst open and life rushes back into this woman. She immediately runs back to her village, she runs back to the very people she has been trying to avoid…she runs to tell them her story, the one she has been trying to hide… she runs to bring them to Messiah. Her life is so broken open, so transformed by simply talking to Jesus at the well.

And so it is with us.

When we feel that we have been kicked to the curb, left by the people who were supposed to care for us next, ignored by a world too busy to see even see us out in the open daylight…

Jesus is reaching out to us. Reaching out into our lives when we feel like the Samaritan woman, and reaching out to a church that feels like our water is dead. And the living water of Jesus laps against our walls, forming cracks, weakening our supports, threatening to break us open.

And just at the moment when we will be certain that we are only alive but not living, just when all we think there is left is to go to the dead water well in isolation… Jesus will meet us and break us open.

Jesus will return us to community. In fact, Jesus is already doing this. Jesus is restoring us to a world that all that ignores us. And after a conversation with Jesus, we too, will find ourselves running out into the world, proclaiming that we have met the Messiah, telling our story, bringing our community to meet the Messiah

Jesus is doing all of this, with simple living water.

Amen.

Questions in the Dark – Our Nicodemus Moment

John 3:1-17

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (read the whole passage)

Out of the wilderness and into the darkness. As Lent began last week, as it always does, with Jesus going into the wilderness to fast and be tempted… we come out of the wilderness this week only to come to Jesus by the cover of night. We leave the Gospel of Matthew behind of until the season of Easter, and we continue our Lenten journey with John’s gospel.

And John who is rich with words and images, where Jesus loves to talk and teach and preach, gives us the most famous of bible passages, John 3:16. Yet, in context, this famous passage comes in a long line of familiar images. The image of being born again in the spirit. The image of the spirit as the wind, blowing where it chooses. The image of the son of man being lifted up just as Moses lifted the serpent. And finally, “For God so loved the world…”

But when we pull back again, we meet Nicodemus. Nicodemus the curious pharisee. And while the rich and familiar images of this story stand out… it is perhaps the setting by which Nicodemus comes to have this conversation with Jesus that really helps us to understand where we are going on the 2nd Sunday in Lent.

So take a moment, and put all the familiar words and famous bible verses out of your mind and imagine this image.

It is the dead of night. Dim lamps burn here and there among stone walls and buildings. A lone figure, cloaked in darkness makes his way down deserted streets and alleys. The cicadas and crickets are chirping in the hot, dry nighttime air. Finally, the lone figure finds who he is a looking for. Jesus is appears in the darkness, standing among the trees and plants of a garden.

Nicodemus pulls back his hood and looks around to be sure that no one else is lurking nearby. “Rabbi” he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…”

The story comes to life when we can imagine the background of this conversation. Nicodemus has come to Jesus at night to ask his questions. Nicodemus, a religious leader, needs the darkness to feel safe. He has much to lose in coming to Jesus: his standing in the community, his authority as a leader, his relationships with friends and neighbours.

Yet, here Nicodemus is, seeking out Jesus in the cover of darkness, to ask honest and real questions of the Rabbi… Nicodemus wants to know who Jesus is, what he means for all the things that Nicodemus believes about God and religion.

And curiously, Jesus begins by dodging Nicodemus’s question. He has been asked these questions before. The scribes and Pharisees and temple priest love to probe Jesus, they love to put him on the spot and see if he will withstand the pressure. How is Jesus supposed to know what Nicodemus’s intentions are? Even at night, even with no crowds to rile up, Nicodemus is still a Pharisee. Nicodemus is still part of a group that is suspicious of Jesus.

So Jesus answers vaguely about being born from above, prompting a follow up from Nicodemus. And Jesus goes on about being born of water and spirit, about the wind blowing where is chooses.

But still Nicodemus wonders, “How can these things be?”

Nicodemus and his questions are not unfamiliar to us. They are not the wonderings of children, nor the questions of someone new to faith. Nicodemus has old questions, question that come from a life time of sitting in the pew and weeks upon weeks, months upon months, years upon years of hearing the bible stories. Nicodemus knows the doctrine and theology. Nicodemus doesn’t need religion explained to him.

Nicodemus needs the answers for his doubts. He wants to know if all of this is real and what it all means. He wants to know if Jesus is the real thing. Are the thing Nicodemus has believed about God really true?

Our Nicodemus moments come from the same place. They are questions we are too afraid to ask in the light, the doubts we are afraid to share in public, the feelings of being silly for believing in a God that the world often laughs at.

I remember once sitting in on a bible study with a group at a bible camp. A group of volunteers: of retired men who came to fix the plumbing, to drive the tractor that mowed the fields, to chop enough firewood for a whole summer. Retired women who came to scrub kitchens, to sew drapes and to wash windows. People who were faithfully in church every Sunday and then faithfully volunteering at camp during their weekdays.

And as the group talked about prayer and how they could pray about anything to God and God would hear them, one of the men, a life long and faithful Lutheran, a gruff retired contractor asked the bible study leader a question. With tears in eyes he said, “But how can God hear my prayers? I am nobody to God.”

It was a Nicodemus moment. A moment for the deep questions of faith. A moment that we all come to know sooner or later. A moment when we wonder if Jesus the real thing, or when we wonder if Jesus will remember to include us in his Kingdom, or a moment when we realize that believing in Jesus is much riskier than we imagined. Believing in Jesus might mean risking our place in our community, it might mean accepting people we don’t want to accept, it might mean making room in our lives for new things like prayer, and bible study, and acts of service and worshipping God with a sense the world is transformed by that worship.

In Nicodemus’s conversation with Jesus, there is moment where something curious happens. As Jesus first doges Nicodemus’s question with vague and confusing talk of being born from above and the spirit doing as the spirit wishes…. Nicodemus asks Jesus a second followup question, “How can these things be?” And again, the question is not unlike questions often asked of Jesus by the religious authorities. But this time, Jesus seems taken aback, “Where not you, a religious leader, taught these things?”

There must have been something in the way that Nicodemus asked the question that stopped Jesus in his tracks. There must have been something honest and searching, maybe even something desperate in the way Nicodemus asks.

And so Jesus changes and adjusts.

Jesus moves towards to Nicodemus.

Jesus drops the confusing speech that he normally saves for pesky religious leaders questioning him in public.

And Jesus gives Nicodemus what he is looking for.

Jesus gives the assurance that Nicodemus is seeking. Yes, Jesus says, the son of man is following in the footsteps of Moses. And no, this is not an easy thing to accept or believe.

Yet, Jesus declares boldly, for God so loves the world that he gave his only Son…

Jesus gives Nicodemus the gospel in the clearest of terms.

This move towards Nicodemus is just a smaller version of what God has been doing all along. After calling the people to repentance, and the people always fall back into the sin, God decides to make the move. And so God move towards the people. Beginning with an announcement made to a young virgin that she will bear a child. And then with a voice Thundering over the waters of baptism in the river Jordan. And then a dazzling transformation on a mountain top. And then last week, as the tempter tried to get Jesus to return to the old pattern of falling into sin…

The movement of God became clear. God has moved towards creation and there is no going back. Jesus moves to Nicodemus, giving him the assurance and good news he needs to hear.

And Jesus makes the same move towards us.

Jesus assures us in our Nicodemus moments, that he is indeed the real thing.

That when we are worried about looking foolish to the world, that Jesus will accept our foolishness without hesitation.

That when we are worried that believing in Jesus may mean we have to accept people we don’t want to love, Jesus will love us and forgive us regardless.

That when we are worried that this whole faith business may mean changes in our lives in how we live, what we do, who we serve and what we value, that Jesus will keep moving to us, making up the difference in our half heartedness.

Nicodemus moments are something we cannot avoid. We will as people of faith have our questions, our doubts, our fears that would only dare ask in the darkness. But Nicodemus moments are also the moments when Jesus changes course and makes a move towards us. Jesus moves toward us in our darkness, in our confusion, in our hesitation.

And Jesus gives us what we need…. the Good News that God so loved the world, so loved us, that God gave his only Son.