Tag Archives: Narrative Lectionary

All we have is a man hanging on a tree

John 18:28-40

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (Read the whole passage)

It has been quite the journey through the lenten wilderness. We began not in the wilderness of temptation, but the wilderness of grief, loss and death with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And then we skipped forward to Maundy Thursday with Peter as objected to Jesus’ washing of his feet. Last week, we saw the parallel stories of Peter and Jesus as each was put on trial – where Jesus stood firmly rooted in the face of the moving target of truth, and Peter denied his master and teacher to save his own skin.

These stories have not been the usual stories of Lent – the Narrative Lectionary that we are exploring this winter is taking us through a different lenten wilderness than normal. And today we skip ahead again to that chaotic time between the Last Supper and Crucifixion as Jesus is arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

Today, we go along with Jesus to see Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The crowds and temple authorities demand that Jesus be put to death for the crime of heresy. And the interaction that follows is one we will hear again on Good Friday… as part of the passion. We know where this is heading, each trial, each set of questions marches Jesus and us forward to the cross.

But it is not Good Friday today, we are still in Lent. There are still a few weeks left in our lenten journey. So we hear this story not as just one step on the way to the cross, but rather with lenten ears listening out in the revealing wilderness.

As Pilate and Jesus’ speak today, their exchange is unusual. Unusual in the sense that Pilate’s approach and reaction to Jesus is unlike what has come before. From the moment that Jesus processed into Jerusalem on a donkey, to his arrest and questioning before the temple authorities, the anger and rage against him builds. The crowds and mobs are out for blood, and the temple authorities are stoking the rage in order to rid themselves of a threat to their power.

So when Jesus finally ends up before Pilate, it is the top of the food chain. There is no one in Judea with more power than Pilate. Pilate might answer to Caesar, but Caesar is far away in Rome.

Knowing his power, Pilate seems nothing more than mildly curious about Jesus, if not annoyed by having to deal with someone the local religious zealots call a heretic. Pilate tries to figure out who Jesus is,

“Are you the King of the Jews?”

Not a question of religious doctrine, but a question of political power. Pilate’s concern is whether or not Jesus might represent a threat to peace in Judea. But Jesus turns the question back on Pilate and steers the conversation back to matters of doctrine and faith. Jesus states he is has come into the world to be a king but not an earthly king, and not king of an earthly Kingdom.

Certainly listening to Jesus, Pilate must have wondered why he had been woken from sleep to deal with this guy. Pilate could care less about Jewish religious beliefs, yet here he is dealing with some zealot who claims to be the King of the heavenly kingdom of truth. Pilate probably thought that Jesus was nuts.

“What is truth?” he asks.

Pilate, a good son of the empire, would have been schooled in greek philosophy. He would have believed that truth is not something found in flesh and blood, in the abstract unknowable things of the universe.

But Pilate isn’t debating philosophy. He is dismissing Jesus.

Pilate isn’t asking what truth is, but pointing out Jesus’ predicament,

“What does the truth really matter here buddy, you are about to die.”

It is often the case that we can see ourselves in the people around Jesus. Whether it is disciples who sometimes struggle to get it, people who are in need of healing and reconciliation encountering Jesus, or religious folk who get upset with Jesus as he upsets our ways to doing things.

But Pilate’s apathy and dismissal of Jesus is probably not something we easily see ourselves in. Yet, there is something familiar about it.

As Pilate seems to be asking Jesus, “Why does any of this matter, what good will it be to you when you are dead?” we know what it is like to be asked that question.

As 21st Century Christians, our world has been pushing back on us with that question for a while now. And just as Jesus appeared like a nut to Pilate, Christians too have begun to seem a bit nutty to a lot of the world.

Whether it is the culture wars over morality questions that the rest of the world seems to have settled, like gender roles, abortion, same-sex marriage and so on. Or whether it is our propensity over the past decades to condemn and judge non-believers. Or whether it is how many Christians these days have abandoned all those strongly held beliefs in order to cozy up to power…

And while we as Lutherans night not identify with that kind of Christianity, our credibility is equally challenged when it comes to the core parts of our faith, like Jesus being God, and the resurrection and salvation.

The world is saying just as much to us as any Christian group, “Why does any of that stuff matter, what good is it to you when you are dying?”

It is easy for us to wonder what our role in the world is anymore. It is easy for us to feel as though this faith of ours has no impact, that we are gathering together in order to proclaim things that no one cares about.

And all of a sudden, this lenten wilderness journey of ours, the one that strips back all the covers that hide our flaws and failings finally reveals to us our own questioning, our own doubts, our own apathy. If the world says that our message, our truth doesn’t matter because we are dying… maybe all the trouble we go to believing this stuff isn’t worth it. Maybe Pilate is right.

Pilate tries to send Jesus away, to make him disappear, to suggest that those overly religious jews should stop caring about this guy who claims to be king of a heavenly kingdom.

But mobs and religious authorities won’t allow it…. they want blood. And they will have it.

Jesus doesn’t respond to Pilate’s question, but they both know that this situation is leading towards one end.

Jesus’ silence is an answer to Pilate’s dismissive comment,

“What does this truth matter if you are going to die.”

It is as if Jesus is saying,

“The truth matters precisely because I am going to die.”

In fact, it is what Jesus has been saying all along.

He is going to die for the truth.

And Jesus is going to die because everything is going to die.
Pilate, the mobs, the disciples.
The Jews, the Romans.
All humanity and all creation.
All of it is going to die.

The truth matters precisely because Jesus is on the way to the cross.

The truth of God’s love and mercy and grace given to dying people, given to a dying creation.

The power of death that the mobs and temple authorities cry out for.
The power of death that Pilate holds over Jesus’ head.
The power to kill that is humanity’s greatest power… isn’t really power at all.
The power to kill isn’t truly power when we are all dying anyways.

But God’s mercy.
But God’s forgiveness.
But God’s love.
But God’s life.

That is the truth that matters.

Because, as Martin Luther said, all we truly have is a man hanging on a tree.

Because the only thing that means something to the power of death, is the new life that God brings into the world.

So what is truth, even when we are dying?
It is truth of empty tombs and terrified women.
It is the truth of fearful disciples meeting their master behind locked doors.
It is the truth of lost and lonely followers recognizing the risen One in the breaking of the bread.

And on the days when we almost might agree with Pilate, when we feel like giving up to a world that doesn’t think we matter.

Jesus reminds us that the church is dying indeed.
And that we are dying, and the world is dying.

But Jesus reminds us of the only truth that matters,
The only truth that means anything to a dying world,
The truth revealed to us in the Lenten wilderness.
The truth of God’s mercy and absolution given to sinners like us.
The truth of God’s Word of life proclaimed to the walking dead like us.
The truth of Christ’s body given to a dying a church like us.

What is truth?

Christ crucified and dead with us, with all of creation.
And Christ risen and alive with us, making all creation new.


Lenten Wilderness and the moving target of truth

John 18:12-27

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (Read the whole passage)

We are coming to the half way point of our Lenten pilgrimage. We entered into the wilderness two weeks ago, and we will have two more weeks to go after this. But this year, as we have been using the Narrative Lectionary and the Gospel of John, we have been hearing different stories than the usual ones. We began in the wilderness of grief and loss with the story of Lazarus. We then jumped forward to a moment familiar to us in Holy Week, Jesus washing the disciples feet. This week, we hear a story of Peter and Jesus again… yet not as they interact with one another, but as they are contrasted.

As we continue our wilderness journey today, we are thrown forward again. This time we hear a story from Good Friday, a nighttime story of the chaos between Maundy Thursday and the cross. And it can be an odd moment for us to consider in the middle of Lent. Yes, we know that Holy Week and passion are place that we are eventually headed, but the Lenten wilderness is still very much before us. And Lent isn’t quite the intense chaos of Good Friday. Instead, it is slower, quieter, toned back place. And so again, we hear this story with new, Lenten ears.

After Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, only a few hours after washing the feet of the disciples and sharing in the Last Supper, he is brought to the high priest Annas. While Jesus is questioned in the court of the high priest, Peter is outside in the courtyard with the common folk around the fire. And each is questioned, Peter and Jesus, about their identity and relationship to the message that they have been proclaiming together for three years.

As Jesus responds, he does so grounded and firm in the things that he has been preaching and teaching. He asks for the wrong that he is accused of to be pointed out to him. But as he is struck by a solider, it becomes clear that he is in the middle of a game of power. A game where truth is a moving target, a game of politics and manipulation, a game of self-interest and control.

The temple authorities are not expecting Jesus to stand firm. They are expecting Peter instead. Peter plays the game. They know that when most people are faced with he power of the temple, they will recant and deny their heresy… even if they aren’t heretics.

The high priests want Jesus gone, but they also want to take away the power of his message. They don’t want a martyr, they want a disgraced prophet who took everything he said back before he was put to death. They want Jesus to grovel and to admit that he was just seeking power too.

And so, Jesus’ trial is just a game, a sham. Jesus is doomed from the beginning because the temple authorities don’t care about the truth… or at least the truth isn’t their main concern until Jesus starts speaking it.

They want Jesus to do what Peter does. When faced with accusations of being one of Jesus’ followers, Peter denies even knowing the teacher, master and friend that he has been following. He chooses to save his own skin, rather than stand for what he believes.

But instead, Jesus doesn’t play the game.

We know this game well. It is the game that plays out on the news, in parliamentary chambers or capitol hill, in board rooms of fortune 500 companies and on twitter. But is also played in PTA meetings, church committees, between neighbours and in families.

It is the game where truth and honesty are moving targets and information is controlled, but information is power. Truth is dolled out in small bits by those on the top, because when it comes out too much at a time it often spells the end of power, it embarrasses and shames.

But here is the most insidious thing about this game of the moving target of truth that we play. Often, we don’t even realize it. Sure there are some out there who know the extent of their manipulations, and who are only seeking power. But so often we aren’t even aware of the game. We are instead trying to the right thing, we are attempting to be faithful, yet as we seek to do the right thing at all costs, we end up doing the wrong thing.

And it might be only in this Lenten wilderness that we are in that the truth our game playing is finally revealed.

A the church gathers together week after week for worship, we begin by confessing our sins. It is a moment in community that sets us apart from much of the world. As we confess, we speak truths about ourselves that the game of power and the moving target of truth would never allow. We admit that we have done wrong, that we have failed to do right and that the truth is not in us. Our confession is very much a lenten wilderness moment, a moment when the truth is finally revealed about us.

If we listen closely to Jesus’ words today, we notice that he too gives a confession. But his is different than ours. Jesus says:

I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.

If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong.

Jesus speaks things that sound almost opposite to our confession of sin. Jesus confesses the truth.

As Jesus is in the middle of this stormy game of human sin and the moving target of truth, does something that neither Peter nor the rest of us can do.

He stakes a claim and tethers himself to the ground. Instead of the truth being a moving target, Jesus roots it in place.

And all of a sudden the game that is being played looses some of its power. The temple authorities cannot undermine Jesus. They cannot destroy his credibility, they cannot brush his teaching under the carpet.

Jesus is standing firm in his message.

In his message of the Kingdom of God coming near.

In his message of God’s love for creation, for humanity, for us.

Even at the height of the game… Jesus is still preaching about God’s mercy and forgiveness by demanding this errors be revealed.

It is a similar thing Jesus does here week after week. As we all blow in from the stormy chaotic world, where the game of power and the moving target of truth is constantly being played, the very first thing that Jesus does for us is root us. Stake us to the ground in confession.

We confess our sins, we admit our faults and failings. And the game is banished from us for a least a moment.

And then along with our confession, comes absolution. The promise of God’s mercy and forgiveness given to us. Mercy that holds us in place. That lets us breathe and live and let go.

It might feel uncomfortable for us to be so honest. Every week, we might feel like we are wandering into the lenten wilderness when we confess our sin and the games of power are left at the door. But God’s forgiveness is what we need and what we are given.

Jesus roots us in God’s love and all of a sudden the game of the moving target of truth doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matters because human power means nothing next to God’s love.

The truth that Jesus proclaims, that Jesus confesses changes everything, changes us. And the vulnerable, honest, revealing wilderness that we have entered into becomes a place where God is also revealed to us.

The truth is proclaimed today, but it won’t be until Good Friday and the empty tomb that the temple authorities, that the mobs and crowds, that Peter and the fearful disciples will discover that it isn’t just Jesus teaching that cannot be undone. And with that truth revealed, Jesus will deal the other issue of his trial – his condemnation to death

Soon God will show us that life itself cannot be undone, and that the power of death means nothing next to God’s love and new life promise to us.

Not THE Transfiguration Story, but A Transfiguration Story

John 9:1-41 *

 6 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, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. (read the whole passage)

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is a day that swings us from the revelation of Epiphany to Lent and preparation. We go up the mountain to find God revealed to us on the mountain top and Jesus carries us down into the valley of Lent. Transfiguration is a moment that allows us to glimpse the way ahead before the journey begins, to see out into the valley of Lent, to landmark Holy Week as our next destination, and remind ourselves that Easter is just over the next hill – even if that hill is Golgatha.

Now today, we didn’t actually hear the familiar transfiguration story. The one where Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and then is transformed into dazzling white. Elijah and Moses show up, and Peter wants to build an altar. But then God’s intervenes, just like at Jesus’ baptism, and tells everyone gathered that Jesus is God’s beloved son. And then Jesus is back to normal, tells everyone to keep quiet about what they saw and they all head back down the mountain.

So instead of Transfiguration, we heard a story about Jesus encountering a Blind Man and restoring his sight. A story that follows the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman that we heard in the past couple weeks.

Yet, this story of the Blind man might not be THE Transfiguration story, but you could say it is A story of Transfiguration.

As Jesus and his disciples are walking along, they encounter a blind man, and in order to make a point, Jesus heals blind man’s sight. And then Jesus moves on.

The blind man however, begins an extended encounter with the incredulous community around him. At first people don’t even recognize him, they just cannot wrap their brains around this changed man. Still, once they accept it is the man, they have trouble accepting that this change in him in a good thing. They put him on trial, they want to know who has done this thing that has upset their whole community. They want to know how a sinner like him can now see.

Still not being satisfied with the blind man’s answers, they ask his parents. But they are no help.

So they ask the man who had been blind once again, this time the Pharisees and community leaders are beginning to sound enraged. They simply cannot allows this kind of thing to mess with their community. Everyone has their place, this man was a blind beggar… who will do that now?

The blind man, sensing their rage, pokes fun at his community, asking them if they want to follow Jesus. That’s the last straw and the community drives him out.

The community just cannot see how this sinner among them was healed by some wandering preacher, who were a dime a dozen in those days. They cannot see through the flesh of Jesus, to what just might be a sign of God’s presence among them.

The community is blind.

Blind to God’s presence among them, blind to possibility that God could be close and doing something new.

We get what those people around the blind man feel. We have been there too. It is just as hard for us to dig through the fleshiness we see around us. Like them we can find it so hard to believe that God could be doing things with us.

We look around our community, at each other, at the people we have known for years and years, and those who are new among us… and we just cannot imagine that God could be found in us.

And we look around at this place, these walls and pews, this structure and building where it can feel so mundane and familiar… and we just cannot imagine, we just cannot see God here.

And we look at ourselves. Our own flaws and imperfections, our failings and limits, and we feel so human, so anything but God’s children… and we just cannot imagine, we just cannot see God near and close to us.

And so we can be just like that community around the Blind Man, unable, unwilling to imagine that God could do something among us.

We are blind just as they are. We are blind because we see what we see… which seems to be the absence of God in our very mundane surroundings.

But because the Blind Man doesn’t see what we see, what his community sees just might be why he experiences God.

The blind man is just doing what he always does, beginning at the side of the road, living off the charity and good will of those passing by.

Yet when Jesus and his disciples pass by, the Blind Man does not see what his community sees – another wandering preacher coming to town. Rather the Blind Man hears a voice say,

“I am the light of the world.”

And then the blind man feels hands on his face. Hands and mud. And then follows the simple command,

“Go and was in the pool of Siloam.”

So the Blind Man goes and washes…. and light floods in. The light floods into his eyes and he can now see.

But still, all that he knows of the one who healed him are a voice speaking light into the world. Hands fashioning something new out of the mud, and the command to go and be washed.

The Blind Man’s experience of Jesus follows a story that every Jew would know well, one that we know well. The story of the creation. The story a of voice who said,

“Let there be light.” and “I am the Light of the world.”

The story of hands that shaped the Adam, the first human out of the mud of the earth.

The story of the creator who commanded the creation to live in the good world that God had made.

The Blind Man’s experience was a divine one, the Blind Man had heard God’s voice and felt God’s hands.

But his community could only see another mundane human being, another preacher coming to live off the hospitality of the community.

So sent away because of the story he had to tell and the new life he had been given, Jesus finds the Blind Man again.

And it is there that we find a Transfiguration moment. Jesus meets the Blind Man and tells him that he is finally seeing and speaking with the Son of Man, the Messiah.

With that, Jesus bridges the distance between human and divine. Just like Jesus is Transfigured on the mountain top and then changed back, Jesus show the Blind Man that wrapped in flesh, is the God of the creation, the God who spoke life into the darkness, and who is still the light of the world.

The Blind Man, like the disciples on the mountaintop, finally, truly, sees.

And yet, we still struggle like the community who just couldn’t peer under Jesus’ flesh to see the divine.

But Jesus knows that about us. Jesus knows that we have trouble seeing God.

So here in this place, where we are supposed to encounter God, Jesus meets us in ways that don’t require us to see.

Here, Jesus speaks to us. Jesus speaks words like forgiven, healed, renewed, beloved, washed, raised. Jesus speaks to us with the Word of God proclaimed in this place. And just as God spoke in creation, God speaks to us in our ears.

And here Jesus reaches out to us. Jesus washes our eyes in the waters at the font, the waters of gospel promise, the waters of new life. And just as God commanded the Blind Man to wash, God washes the light into our world too.

And here Jesus presses flesh into our flesh. Bread and Wine, the very body and blood of Christ are pressed into our flesh, and brought to our lips. And just as Jesus reached out to touch the Blind Man, God reaches out and comes as close as God can to us.

So when we look around and only see regular, familiar faces, faces that we cannot seem to imagine God in, Jesus sees in us the Body of Christ, God’s hands and feet in the world.

When we look around and only see the walls and pews and hymnbooks of routine and mundane experience, Jesus sees people gathered in God’s house.

When look at ourselves  and only see flawed and imperfect people who cannot seem to get faith right, Jesus sees in you and me people that God has faith in, people who are God’s beloved children.

And just like the Blind Man, there is A Transfiguration story here too, week after week. A Transfiguration story where God is revealed in human flesh, where the light of creation shines on us, where Jesus comes to us in experiences where we do no see, but instead hear, and feel and taste and touch…  in Word, in Water, and in Bread and Wine.

*The congregations I serve are using the Narrative Lectionary in the first three months of 2018

Washing away social convention at Jacob’s well

John 4:1-42  

6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (Read the whole passage)

You may remember this story from the season of Lent last year. Nicodemus too, the story we heard last week was also from the season of Lent. And the story of blind man next, also from Lent last year. Yet, as we continue our journey through the Narrative Lectionary this year, we are hearing this stories with different ears. Ears that are listening for revelation rather than preparing for crucifixion. We hear this stories with an eye to how Christ is revealed among us, as God’s son.

So last week as Nicodemus came by night, Jesus told him to be be born again or anew. Today, Jesus offers a Samaritan woman Living Water. Water that will keep her from ever being thirsty again.

The contrast between Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are striking. It was Nicodemus who sought Jesus in the darkness of night, with questions to ask. But today, it is high noon in the desert and Jesus is the one coming to the woman with questions of his own. The scandal of this scene is lost to us. We only see a thirsty man asking a woman for a drink. But when Jesus approaches this solitary woman to ask for water, he is breaking rules and overstepping his place in the the culture of the day.

For a man to speak to a woman in public was unthinkable. Women belonged to their husbands like property, and for another man to even give the appearance of tampering with that property invited scorn and suspicion. Jesus’ request of this poor woman could have endangered her life should she be accused of adultery. But it is not only the issue of gender that makes this scene scandalous.

For a Jew to interact with a Samaritan was unthinkable. Samaritans were also people of Israel, but they chose to worship differently… not at the temple. This theological difference, meant that for Jews, Samaritans were unclean. For Jesus to be close to a Samaritan, to drink from her bucket, would have meant he would become unclean. But this is not all, there is still more scandal to come.

Unlike the obvious cultural boundaries of gender and religion, Jesus creates a personal scandal. The woman has come to the well at noon. The hottest and least ideal time of day to fetch water. All the other women would have come to the well early in the morning and then again late at night. But this woman, for whatever reason, has chosen to come in the middle of the day, probably in order to be a alone. And it is scandalous for the woman, that Jesus interrupts her quest for solitude.

And so when Jesus meets the woman at the well and asks for a drink, it is all the things, these social conventions, that prevent the woman from hearing what Jesus has to say. Just like Nicodemus last week, this woman isn’t hearing what Jesus is getting at because of all the other noise, all the social conventions, the categories she is put in and identities she had been given by the world around her.

As human beings we are good at finding reasons to build walls, to categorize and judge one another. The arbitrary and abstract social conventions of  religion, gender, or race keep us form hearing one another, they keep us divided, they give us reason to be cut off from the rest of the world.

We put up walls because we think they are going to protect us, walls that we hope will keep us safe, and we build them to keep the bad folks out. But our walls only end up hurting us. They isolate us, the turn us away from our neighbour and from our communities. The walls and boundaries can become oppressive structures, that keep always in the dark, always alone and always wary of others.

From Lutheran and Catholics, to Christians and Muslims and Jews, to conservatives and liberals, men and women, indigenous and non-indigenous, there are all sorts arbitrary reasons why we hold back from each other.

Whether it is the town we grew up in, or the job we work at, or the church we attend, or the hockey team we cheer for… we are just as adept as the Samaritan woman at giving reasons as to why we should’t give a glass of water to people like Jesus, who show up at our wells thirsty for a drink.

As poeple of faith, we know just how powerful those social conventions and inherited identities can be. We live with the the fruits of them every day. We long for our congregations and communities to be full and vibrant as they once were, but we are wary of those who aren’t like us, those who don’t fit in before the arrive, those who don’t know how things work around here. We live with this tension, of wanting our communities of grow again, while clinging to the arbitrary identities and societal rules that give us reasons to stay divided.

When Nicodemus, despite his curiosity, couldn’t get past his identity and the rules that came with it, he asked Jesus how a person who re-enter their mother’s womb and be born again? Jesus’ response is the sermons that contains John 3:16.

Yet when the Samaritan woman does the same, she asks for a literal drink of the spiritual living water than Jesus offers… and perhaps knowing that the sermon lecture didn’t turn out so well last week Jesus does something different.

He doesn’t berate the woman as he does Nicodemus, nor does he preach or pontificate. Instead he cuts through all the noise and conventions that would say talking to this woman is wrong because she is a Samaritan, a woman and alone in the heat of the day.

He cuts through it all and shows the woman that he knows her.

Jesus knows her story, her life, her pain and suffering, her isolation and alienation.

Jesus knows her. She isn’t just a woman, and a samaritan, and someone isolated from her community. She isn’t just abstract social conventions, but a real person.

And Jesus knows her.

Then something changes in the woman.

The abstract and arbitrary social conventions and identities don’t matter anymore. All the reasons that seemed to stand in the way of even talking to Jesus don’t matter anymore.

Jesus becomes more than a man at the well, a jew and an interrupting stranger.

Jesus becomes a real, tangible person standing at the well, water bucket in hand, meeting this woman face to face in the heat of the sun.

And unlike Nicodemus who left Jesus still uncertain and confused about who Jesus is, this woman recognizes just who has offered her living water.

The One who is found in the Living Water of the Life, the Messiah come to save, the Christ who breaks through all the other things that try to define us – the Christ who knows us.

It is here too, at the water that we gather round in this place that Jesus becomes a real tangible person, offering us living water.

And like the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus breaks through all the identities that we bear, arbitrary names that we carry that would make us think we shouldn’t even talk to one another or to God.

In the waters of baptism we are washed of that other noise in our lives. All the identities that separate us, all the social conventions that dictate who we are allowed to interact with, all the things that seem so real and concrete and immovable.

Standing at the font, when flesh and water meet, when the screams of an unimpressed baby or the tears of a moved adult are mixed together with the promises that the Word of God speaks in our midst, all that other stuff is washed away.

And the only identity that matters is the one that Jesus gives us.

Child of God.

And as children of God, we are reminded of our identity every time someone is washed in the waters, we are given the Living Water of Christ.

The Living Water of Christ that connects us rather than divides, the living water that satisfies our thirst, the living water that brings us to new life.

The Living Water that Christ offers us is the water that changes who we are at the core of our being, the sign that we belong to God.

The Living Water that swirls around the font is where God binds us together into one Body with no social conventions between us, with no identities that keep us from knowing each other.

The Living Water of Christ tells us who we are.

And so like woman who is given this Living Water, this woman who Jesus knows, we are given the same. Jesus gives us that waters of life and in our dying and rising to Christ in those waters we – each of us and all of us – are made Children of God.

Asking Jesus Questions in the Dark

John 3:1-21

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 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.” 3 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)

If you could choose, if you could decide how you would know, if you could have any evidence, any sign you wanted that God is real, what would you have? Jesus to beam down from the sky like a character from Star Trek? What about for God to come and end all wars, feed all those who are hungry, heal everyone who is sick? Maybe you want a divine message to be written in the clouds, some clue to the meaning of life.

It is quite the question to ask. To wonder what it would take for us to have strong unwavering faith. To set the criteria for belief. To decide what signs and miracles we would need to see in order to know that Jesus is God.

We have been making our way through John’s Gospel, we began with events surrounding Jesus’ baptism and we have heard stories about the wedding at Cana and the cleansing of the temple. Now we eavesdrop on a nighttime conversation under the cover of darkness.

We are presented with someone who comes to Jesus, precisely asking about the signs and miracles. Nicodemus. A Pharisee, a leader of religion and faith in Israel. He comes to Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness. In John’s view, those who are in the Dark, have no faith. Darkness is the Apostle’s way of saying that Nicodemus came to Jesus with a lack of faith. Yet, Nicodemus is not entirely without curiosity, even a faithful curiosity.  He has come with questions.  Nicodemus risks being seen with Jesus, which could lead to ridicule and shame by those who follow him as a teacher and expert in religion.

And here is the thing about Nicodemus the Pharisee, he has seen the signs. He knows what Jesus is up to. But he still cannot believe. Nicodemus’s question is not really a question at all. He makes a statement, “ 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”. Nicodemus manages to get the lead up to his question out. He still hasn’t asked Jesus anything, yet Jesus interrupts. Jesus says one must be born from above, or again, or anew, to see the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus has no idea of what Jesus is talking about, and starts imagining how someone can be literally born again. How a man could crawl back into his mother’s womb, and still fit as an adult.

So the conversation continues, and Jesus preaches — lots. He talks about faith and the Spirit, about the son of man being lifted up and about God’s plans for saving the world.

We can see ourselves in the story Nicodemus, in curiously seeking answers, wondering who and what this Jesus guy is all about. Nicodemus saw the signs and miracles, but that wasn’t enough for him, he still was in darkness. Nicodemus even had the opportunity to speak with Jesus himself, in the flesh. And still he doesn’t leave convinced as far as we know. Imagine, if we had the chance to sit down with Jesus for a nice evening conversation, if we could sort out all the questions of faith.

So often, our faith can feel like it is a nighttime faith. Unsure, and questioning. Unsure that God is real. Unsure that a real God can love imperfect us.

There is something about the night that leaves us open to questions and reflections. In the day, we are busy and full of life. There are people to see, things to do, work to be done, entertainment to be had. But at night, when life slows, when there is opportunity to think and reflect, that is when the questions come. The worries and fear begin. How many of us have laid awake at night wondering about life.

As Christians, our normal experience of worship together is during the day, or in the light so to speak. But we do have traditions of worship and prayer at night. Monks and nuns would observe the daily services of evening and nighttime prayer, not unlike the Lenten Services that we are held over the years.

In evening worship services the feel is quite different than on Sunday mornings. Rather than the cross being the primary symbol, in an evening service the Christ Candle becomes central. And even though the darkness is close and all around, the light of the single candle shines in the darkness and the darkness does not over come it. Space and time are given to listen to God as God listens to us. Silence and reflection are the essence of Nighttime prayer.

In one part of the service we sing:

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit

You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Into your hands, I commend my spirit.

We sing those words each night because we are practicing. Each night we practice dying as an act of faith. We practice for when those words will be said over our bodies when we die.

They are at the same time profound words of faith and profound words of doubt. By speaking them we practice trust and faith, by speaking them we also admit that we do not know the future, by speaking them we do not even truly know that the sun will rise tomorrow, except by God’s grace.

These words only really fit at night, in the darkness of faith.

As Nicodemus comes with his questions and doubts something interesting happens. Jesus receives him. Jesus does not send Nicodemus away, nor does Jesus judge the Pharisee for having doubts. He receives him and teaches him. Nicodemus comes in the darkness, but Jesus provides light. Not overwhelming light like the sun, but light like the gentleness of one candle in dark room.

And yet, Nicodemus does not go away convinced. But throughout the Gospel of John, Nicodemus appears again. The second time he defends, somewhat hesitantly, Jesus’s teaching. And the third time, Nicodemus is the one who comes with Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body after being crucified.

For Nicodemus, faith is not immediate. Yet, Jesus is patient enough to allow Nicodemus to have his struggles and stays with the Pharisee throughout his ministry.

And that is how Jesus is with us too. Whether it takes time and practice, or whether it seems to be natural and easy. God’s way with us is not to overwhelm us, but to meet us in our darkness. Jesus meets us in our night time questions and shines a light in the darkness of faith.

In our questions, in our doubts, in out late night wonderings, Jesus reminds us that faith is not a simple or easy thing. In fact, a strong faith is not a certain faith. Because certainty is knowing, and faith is not knowing. Certainty and faith are opposites. Faith is much more like doubt. Being unsure is a sign of faith.

Just like the wind that blows and makes a candle dance in the darkness, the Spirit blows and dances within us too. The Holy Spirit blows questions and wonderings, it stirs within us a desire to know God, and this is where God meets us. Not in our certainty, but in our doubt and faith.

The signs, the miracles, those are about knowing that God is real. Those are about knowing that the real God loves imperfect us. The nighttime questions are where faith happens, where Jesus hears our questions, receives doubts, and takes our wonderings.

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our faith. Into your hands, we commend our spirits.  

The Overturned Household of God

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. (read the whole passage)

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

There is an irony when it comes money and determining the value of something. As soon as we try to sell something, we cheapen it. Sellers will ask, “How much can I make from selling this thing”. Buyers will say, “How little can I pay to obtain the thing I want”. And maybe that is why money can be such a touchy subject, maybe that is why when we as human beings talk about money we talk about it more seriously than anything else.

You can watch the nightly news and a story about war or disease or crime or death can be reported with great gravity and then followed by a lighter story about celebrity, or charity or human interest which is reported with a smile and a laugh. But watch the business news, and every story is treated seriously and like it is important.

All the seriousness almost seems like an attempt to mask the shame and guilt that money invariably brings into our lives. We know that we like money and that makes us greedy, and we know that greed is a shameful thing to be or to feel.

Did the money changers and animal sellers feel that shame when Jesus came barging into the temple?

In our churches today, we do not really know the situation that Jesus was walking into. Imagine if when you arrived at church this morning, you had to pay to park, and then pay again to get through the doors. And then once inside there were some police officers milling about, some county employees and some church council members selling things. In order to worship you would have to rent your hymn book, pay a ticket to sit in a pew, buy the water if you needed baptism, buy the bread and wine if you wanted communion.

And then if you wanted to give 100 dollars to the church, you had to pay 115 to change your money into church money.

This is what the temple in Jerusalem looked like. More like a busy shopping mall than a place of worship. Anyone who was poor had no chance of making it in. Those who had a little money had to save up for years, and the rich would come and go as they please.

The temple priests were skimming off the top all the purchases made. The Romans were taxing all the profits. And the people selling the doves, sheep and cows for sacrifice weren’t even jewish.

You could imagine why Jesus would be upset with what was going on in the temple. The whole point of the temple sacrifice system was to make God’s forgiveness more accessible. The job of the priests was to preside of sacrifices and show people a visible sign of God’s invisible promise of forgiveness. Yet, what had been designed to be accessible had become inaccessible. Worse yet, what was supposed to be a way of freely giving God to the people had become a way of selling God for an exorbitant rate.

Martin Luther had the same problem with the Roman Catholic Church, who was selling God’s forgiveness and early exit from purgatory in the form of indulgences.

Now, today as you came into church, you probably didn’t worry that you would have to buy your way in. We might feel like we can look back and say we have figured it out, we aren’t so foolish as to sell God.

Granted, there are still TV evangelists selling little green cloths and the promise of healing. But in a way this is more honest than what most North American Christians have been doing for a long time.

Jesus was upset with people for trying to make a profit off of God. To sell God’s love for price. To sell something that is priceless and more valuable than we could ever afford, for a few coins.

But like most things, North American Christianity has taken the marketplace of the church to a whole new level.

We aren’t so crass as to sell God. We have found a much more slick and devious way to make a profit off of God. Most churches today will preach that God’s love is free gift, but then they will go on to say that if you are good enough God’s love and blessing will make you rich. Forget trying to earn and pay for a little piece of God, instead let’s put God to work for us! All we have to do is pray hard enough, believe sincerely enough, act pious enough. And then God will bless you with health, wealth and happiness.

If Jesus were to come and over turn over our marketplaces he would have to come into our homes and work places, he wouldn’t tell us to “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace” instead he would say, “Stop making my father’s love a way to get rich!”.

So…does anyone know what the word “economy” means?

In modern terms, it is the resources and wealth of a country or region. But Jesus actually uses the root word for economy as he speaks today. “Stop making my Father’s house a market place”.

Oikos in Greek. House in english. The greek word of economy is oikonomos, which means to manage one’s household.

The economy is caring for the household and all that is within. The people, the resources and the wealth. Our economy is our household wealth. The word economy is related to other words we know.

Ecology, the care of the household of the earth, or the environment.

Eccumenism, which is relationships between Christians, Lutheran Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals etc… The care of the household of faith.

“Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”.

Jesus is suggesting a different economy. Jesus is declaring a new way to manage God’s house. In our economies we buy and sell, we make money and lose money.

But in God’s house, everything is free. God’s forgiveness is freely given. And Jesus’ promise is for everyone. God’s new management system is on its way.

But the priest and temple authorities challenge Jesus’ declaration of a new economy. We challenge Jesus’ declaration of a new way to manage our households. We know that nothing is free, everything costs. We like knowing this because it gives us control, we know what we need to do to earn God’s love. We know that we have to be good, follow the ten commandments, pray hard enough, read the bible enough. As Lutherans we know that we need to attend worship once a year, take communion and give some amount of money to the church.

But Jesus doesn’t care what we know. Jesus is making it all free. Jesus is making it all priceless. And Jesus knows that this radical new system will only lead him to death, he is on his way to the cross. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days”.

The temple is God’s dwelling place, it is God’s house. And yet Jesus is speaking about himself, he is pointing to what we will do on Good Friday “Destroy this temple”. And he is promising what God’s response will be, “I will raise it up in three days”.

We dislike the idea of God being free so much that we will treat Jesus like a criminal, kill God in flesh, and destroy his temple, his house.

Yet, God’s new economy, where forgiveness, grace and love cannot be sold or bought is on the way. God’s new economy that responds to power and fear with weakness and intimacy is on the way. God’s new economy that encounters death with new life is on the way and is promised to us.

Today, Jesus tells us that everything we thought had value is worthless. Power, money, death.

And everything we thought that was of no value, weakness, poverty, life. These things are the new way God is going manage our economy, our households. God is giving away love, mercy and forgiveness for free. And that is turning our world upside down.

“What are you looking for?” asks Jesus

John 1:35-51

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” (Read the whole passage)

John the Baptist just won’t go away. He showed up for a couple weeks in Advent, took a break over Christmas and then showed back up today. John is again pointing to Jesus, and proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.

Now this story about John pointing out Jesus to his disciples might sound a little unusual today, because it is the day of the Baptism of Our Lord. We are hearing it because in Interlake Shared Ministry congregations we are beginning the use of the Narrative Lectionary for 3 months as way of doing something together that is a little different and that will remind us when we gather for worship that we gather not to ourselves, but together as a unified ministry across the Interlake.

Now the focus of the Narrative Lectionary for this three month period is the gospel of John… and John’s gospel has a quirk when it comes to the baptism of Jesus – John omit’s it.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all treat it a little differently, but they all tell the story. However, John tells all the little stories around the story. He talks about John the Baptist preaching at the river, he tells of the crowds coming to hear. He talks about the interactions between John and his disciples, who would eventually become Jesus’ disciples.

But there is no actual baptism… the writer of John’s gospel was writing for the early church community who was in a debate with the followers of John the Baptist about who truly was the Messiah, John or Jesus. The fact that John baptized Jesus was a little inconvenient to that conversation.

Never the less, the first readers of John’s gospel would know the story of Jesus’ baptism, and hearing these side stories, they would immediately bring that well known story of the spirit descending on Jesus and a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my son the beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

And yet, these side stories of the gospel in many ways still tell the story of baptism. They tell a story of call and transformation.

The story picks from where we left if off in Advent. John was talking with the pharisees and temple authorities about who he was, Messiah, Elijah or the prophet.

The next day John is back at the river again and Jesus walks by John and John’s disciples, John reminds all who can hear, that this is the Lamb of God, the Messiah. And so John’s two disciples decide to follow Jesus, presumably they are looking to see what this Jesus guys is all about. It isn’t long beforeJesus notices their interest. He stops, turns and asks them “What are you looking for?”. It is an open ended question.

Maybe these two disciples simply want to know what all the fuss is about or to see a show in case Jesus decides to perform a miracle. Or maybe this question has deeper meaning.  “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we should consider the asker. Jesus, the one who John has proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Lamb of God is asking. Jesus, the one who we believe to be God, the second person of the Trinity is asking. And where one person is, so the other two are also. The God and King of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is asking, “What are you looking for?” So, what would is there to answer? Happiness and Wealth? Love and family? A Long life? Peace in a violent and sinful world? Food for starving children? Cures for cancer, AIDS, Leprosy, yellow fever and heart disease? An upgrade on your room in heaven?

The disciples don’t have any better answers than we might have… but they know they should say smoothing, something to respond, to spark the conversation. So they respond with a safe question of their own, “Where are you staying?”

We know what these two must feel like… We have just been through the season of Christmas, when most churches have at least a few visitors or strangers pass through their doors. And when those unfamiliar faces come to us, we are pretty good at asking the safe question. “So where are you from?”

It is easy, the answer is non-threatening, there is low-risk to offending someone. But it rarely has to do with coming to church.

What if we were more like Jesus the next time we see a visitor? “What are you looking for?”

Now that is a scary question to ask. That is a question with a dangerous answer. We don’t know what kind of thing a visitor might say, I am here with my relatives, I am just visiting, I am looking for a church. But they might say scary things like, I need help, I am looking for a community to belong to, I am looking for Jesus.

Even those of us who come to church every week, and sometimes even pastors, find talking to people about what they want, about what they are looking for at church a bit scary. We can be just as confused as those disciples on the riverside.

All Advent we waited for Messiah. At Christmas we rejoiced at Messiah’s coming. In Epiphany the Messiah, the Christ, God in flesh was revealed to us. But now that Messiah is here, we don’t really know what to do with him. Like the disciples, we find it hard to grasp the magnitude of the Messiah, of Christ being with us, here and now. It is one thing to wait and for guest of honour to arrive, but is another to know what to do once the dinner party is over and the guest is still hanging around.

Even more so, it hard for us to know what to do with God in our lives. Hard to know what this faith business means on Monday morning to Saturday night. What does that mean for us? What do we say? Where do we go? How do we respond?

If John the Baptist had heard the disciples answer to Jesus’ question he might have shamed them not getting it. But that is not Jesus’ way. Instead of correcting or condemning, Jesus gives a simple answer. “Come and See”.

Come and See.

Jesus gives an invitation that is more than invitation. Jesus grabs us and brings us close. Jesus pulls us into the story of Messiah, Jesus opens our eyes to the new thing that God is doing in our world, in our lives.

Jesus knows what we the disciples looking for. Jesus knows that they are not really wondering where he is staying, but are wondering about the Messiah.

And so Jesus calls them, Come and see.

And then Jesus gives them a new name, sure only Simon Peter’s is mentioned, but he is representative of the group. When he speaks, they all speak. And when he is renamed, they are all renamed.

Jesus sees them, calls them, names them and brings them to his home.

Sounds a lot like something we do for new people as they join us.

Sounds a lot like baptism.

In the waters of baptism our graciously heavenly Fathers claims us as his daughters and sons, gives us new name and welcomes us home.

Sure, we might be confused about what do to or say with people when they come to us. But the Church, the Body of Christ, God working through us, using us God’s hands and feet….

Well the church has always been good at asking new people that question that Jesus asks the disciples today, “What are you looking for?”

We ask it of those coming to the waters of baptism, and then we watch as God washes us clean – clean so that we can be seen.

And God calls us – calls us to new life out of the water.

And God names us – names us with the name Christian, one who has been washed.

And God welcomes us home – grants us a place in the Body of Christ.

Come and See.

Jesus’ words are baptismal words. John’s story is a baptismal story.

It is just this time, we don’t hear the story of Jesus’ baptism, we hear the story of our own. We hear the story of how Jesus calls the disciples, calls us, and that call changes us a the core of our being, transforming us into new people.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus already knows our answers, even if we don’t.

And Jesus has already been looking for us.

So, Come and See.