The audio version of this sermon can be found here.
This past Thursday was the day in the church calendar when we observe Ascension Day, the day 40 days after the resurrection when Jesus returns to heaven. Luke, who wrote both the gospel bearing his name and the book of Acts, explains to us the experience the disciples had on that day.
As the disciples are standing there watching, two angels come and stand there with him and speak one of my favorite lines in the New Testament. The Message version of the bible translates it as “You Galileans! Why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?” In other words, get to work! Jesus gave you a job to do, so don’t just stand here and look at the sky. Get to it!
Our gospel reading this morning from John offers up his understanding of Jesus’ hopes and prayer for his disciples – and us today – as he prepares to leave them. The reading comes at the end of the section of John known as the “farewell discourse,” where Jesus instructs his disciples on what is to come. As those words and actions, including the well known narratives of washing the disciples feet and the sharing of a last meal come to a close, Jesus turns his attention away from the disciples and begins to pray for his disciples – and for us.
Of the things he prays for, one thing stood out to me this week – the prayer for and explanation of eternal life. It’s not too often we get a straight forward definition of eternal life, but here it is in verse 3: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Eternal life is a major theme of the New Testament. Jesus says that he has come to offer eternal life and Paul reminds us that eternal life in Christ Jesus is a gift from God. But this all begs the question – is eternal life some sort of future blessing if we are “good” Christians, or is it something we have here and now, and what does that mean?
For generations, eternal life has been defined as a future blessing that we will receive when we die and go to heaven. While this is definitely scripturally based, I think it is a myopic view of eternal life. It discounts this very passage and Jesus’s prayer for us.
This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. Not just in some future moment, but here and now. What if it were that simple? How would this change how we see our lives? How could this change our perceptions of God?
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. Of course, what it means to know God is key.
There are two different words for “know” in Greek. The first is ‘oida,’ which suggests a cognitive knowledge, knowledge coming from observation and education.
The other Greek word is ‘ginosko,’ meaning a progression of knowledge implying an active relationship between two people. Sort of like when two people begin dating and get to know each other over the course of time.
Throughout John’s Gospel, knowing God is described in the second manner. Knowing God is synonymous with being in a relationship with God.
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. To be one with each other and with God in Christ. That is Jesus’ prayer for us, that we will be one just as God and Jesus are one. And knowing God will transform us and our lives to be more Christ-like. Are you ready for that? We may then find ourselves, laying down ourselves – and our own priorities, our own goals, our own desires for achievement, success and fame. We may even end up humbling ourselves just as Jesus did.
I read a story this week by Alan Paton, a South African author, who describes in his book “Ah, But Your Land Is So Beautiful” a concrete example living into to our relationship with God no less shocking than Jesus’ actions on Maundy Thursday when he embodied his commandment to love one another by washing the feet of his disciples. I found it to be a great example of what it might mean to believe we have eternal live here and now.
Paton described a situation in South Africa during apartheid. A prominent activist for human rights was killed and at his funeral, the minister refused to preside and sent everyone home because a black church had sent members to pay their respects. He would not allow blacks and whites to worship together, as it was against the law. It was a terrible insult.
The pastor of a black church, Isaiah Buti knew he must do something to try to heal this hurt and show a different way. He contacted a judge, Jan Christian Oliver, whom he believed would be sympathetic to this situation to ask him to participate in a Maundy Thursday service in which they would observe the practice of washing feet. He asked this justice to wash the feet of a church member, Martha Fortuin, who had been a servant in the judge’s home and cared for his children. The judge readily agreed, though he asked to participate in the service without any prior announcement. When the pastor called Judge Oliver’s name, there was an audible gasp in the congregation. The distinguished man came forward, bent down and carefully, lovingly, washed Martha’s feet and dried them with a towel. Before he rose to return to his seat, he gently leaned forward and kissed the feet of the woman who had bathed his own children’s feet. Some said that it cost the judge his career. He was, it was said, to be appointed as the Chief Judge of South Africa. But the judge was reputed to have said, ‘Being part of that service was worth more than any chief judgeship.’”
What an example of what could happen when we live into the gift of eternal life. When we seek to be in relationship with God and each other. Because of his relationship with God, this Judge became more Christ-like and set aside his own ambitions to live the Gospel.
But we don’t need to go to South Africa – we can see the effects of a relationship with God everywhere. Just as we see steams of grace flowing through Jesus in the gospel of John we can find it now as believers seek to follow his path. Who knows if you dare to want Jesus to pray for you, you may find yourself participating in eternal life and:
- Getting caught up in the overflowing love and abundant life Jesus exhibited at that wedding in Cana
- Giving way to the need for control and living into that new birth from above
- Daring to engage in conversation with the most unlikely people and marveling at their acceptance of the good news
- Discovering that there is “enough” to share with all
- Finding the words to heal the blindness of heart of those who cannot “see”
- And even, believing in the power of new life that Jesus can bring.
Eternal life is to know God and to know Jesus. To know God in Jesus is to have a living relationship. When we have a living relationship with God we are open to God’s calling and the Spirit’s moving in our lives. We are listening for God’s still speaking voice as we seek to follow Jesus. We question, wrestle, and argue with the scriptures. We question, wrestle, and argue in prayer. We seek to live Jesus’ commandments – to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
In Jesus’ prayer he did not offer a road map, but he did offer us a way to eternal life: by allowing his life to more and more become our life of faith and practice. He offered us a meal to share together and to share with him. In that meal we remember all that he has done for us; we gain strength for our own journey of faith because we are nourished by him; we receive hope that one day Jesus’ prayer for us will be seen in its fullness and as we lift up our hearts to God we receive a foretaste of the joyful time when all God’s people will sit at the table together and be one. – even as the God our Creator and the Son are One.
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
We know about loss. Each of us and all of us have experienced some form of loss, personally and deeply. We know this experience.
And yet, we don’t talk about it very much.
Even in the church, a place that should be welcoming to us when we are in the deepest pits of despair, we rarely talk about our hurts and our pains, instead focusing on the happy-clappy good news of Jesus. In deference to being perceived as “nice Christians” who have it all together, we tend to gloss over the pain we are in and pretend that we are ok.
But when we are hurting, we can’t hear the good news without acknowledging the pain of loss.
One of the reasons given in surveys when asked why people are staying away from the church is that Christians are seen as fake and ignore the bad things happening. And I would have to agree with this on one level. Especially if your experience of Christianity is what you see on TV.
But the church should be different. We should not be afraid to talk about the difficult realities of life. And when we do, we realize we are not alone in our struggles. Read more…
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
If you take this passage from John out of context and read it just on its own like we just did, it can be very confusing. Even when you do place it in the larger narrative it is a part of it can still be confusing – heck, even Jesus’ hearers thought so as we see in verse 6. Shepherds, sheep, thieves, outlaws & strangers. So many things to keep track of. Then, Jesus says, “I am the gate.”
Before we get it to what I see as the meat of this passage, I need to explain the context of this passage. These ten verses are part of a larger story that begins with chapter 9, and continues to the 21st verse of the 10th chapter. You may remember about six weeks ago we looked at the 9th chapter and the story of Jesus healing the blind man from birth. This is a continuation of that story, following the pattern of story telling familiar to the Gospel of John of miracle -> dialogue -> teaching. First Jesus performs a miracle, then people talk about it trying to figure out what it means, and then Jesus teaches them about it.
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes we just associate people with what they do? Take Larry the Cable Guy. His real name is Larry Whitney. But to me, his last name is Cable Guy, middle name the. Larry the Cable Guy. There is also Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, and Smokey the Bear. Remember the TV show Friends? Gunther the Coffee Shop guy. And when I worked as a hospital chaplain, I introduced myself as “Jeff the Chaplain.”
Then there’s Thomas. He’s not known as Thomas the Apostle. Or Thomas the servant of God. He is forever known as Doubting Thomas. And people say it like it’s a bad thing. Read more…
Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of the followers named Mary. You are going to the tomb to visit, much like when we go visit the graves of loved ones today. This is the first chance you have had to go since Jesus was buried, because yesterday was the Sabbath day. As dawn is breaking, you make your way to the tomb, expecting to find a sealed grave where the two of you could have some quiet reflection and prayers for Jesus.
Then all of a sudden: BAM!
An angel comes down from heaven, seemingly so fast that it causes an earthquake. And this angel was shining like lightning and white as snow. It must have been terrifying for you. It was for the Roman guards. They were so afraid they passed right out.
Then the angel rolls away the stone covering the tomb, and then sits down on it. By now, you are probably thinking of running away as fast as possible, but the angel says to you: “Don’t be afraid.”
Are you kidding me? Don’t be afraid? I’m downright terrified!
“Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he has been raised from the dead just like he said. Come, look here where they laid him. Now, hurry, go and tell the disciples. He’s on his way to Galilee and you will see him there. This is his message to you.”
And so filled with fear and excitement, you hurry along to go find the disciples. Read more…
The audio for this sermon can be found here.
What a week.
At the beginning of the week you are raiding a villager’s stable to get a donkey and her foal for Jesus to ride in an impromptu parade into Jerusalem. And next thing you know, you are running for your life trying to hide so that you don’t get arrested for being a follower of Jesus.
What a strange week indeed.
Where did it all go wrong? Why do we go from waving palm branches and shouting “hosanna” on Sunday to shouting “crucify him!” on Friday? What happened that caused the Jerusalem establishment to want to kill Jesus and the crowd to either go along with it, or even worse – turn their backs in apathy?
Why do we go from triumphant entry to crucifixion?
I think the answer is this – unfulfilled expectation.
To explain this, we need to go back a ways. Back hundreds of years to the days when the Israelites were in exile and the prophets were telling them of a messiah that was to come and deliver them. We remember in Advent the prophet Isaiah predicts a savior will come who will come with might, his arms will rule for him. A savior who will lift the yokes of oppression.
Fast forward to the time of Jesus’ birth. A baby is born who is to be called the King of the Jews. The establishment is already afraid of him – so afraid that Herod orders all baby boys be killed.
And now, under the oppressing rule of the Romans, the Israelites are yearning for freedom. And along comes this Jesus fellow. The man from Nazareth who claims to be the messiah. In Jesus the crowds see freedom from Roman rule. They see an end to their oppression. They see a political savior.
The triumphant entry into Jerusalem is full of symbolism to encourage their beliefs about Jesus. When soldiers entered villages under Roman rule, they typically entered in the same fashion as Jesus. Branches of trees were laid down in front of them. People placed their cloaks on the road for them to walk over. As Jesus is being led into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the crowd sees the man they think will overthrow the government and kick the Romans out for good.
Hosanna, they shout.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest.
But as the week progresses, the come to realize that Jesus is not who they think he is.
Jesus spends the first three days in the Temple, teaching. And his teaching does not go well with the religious establishment. Or the crowds.
First, he wreaks havoc with the moneychangers in the temple. These where the people who took the Roman currency and exchanged it for goods that were acceptable sacrifices in the temple – Roman coins were unacceptable because the proclaimed Caesar as God. The moneychangers made a good profit in this business, something that made Jesus angry enough to toss their tables across the courtyard.
The Priests and Pharisees were probably thinking – “Whoa, who does this guy think he is?”
The crowds were probably wondering when they were going to start the coup.
But Jesus had other plans. Jesus wasn’t planning a political revolution. The revolution Jesus had planned was much larger than that. In Jesus, God had come to earth, to live among us, to teach and show us a new way of living. A new way of being. Jesus wasn’t interested in being the King of the Jews. He wanted to usher in the Kingdom of God.
“What? Kingdom of God? You mean you aren’t going to kick out the Romans?” the crowds thought.
As Jesus taught in the temple that week, through many lessons and parables, people realized he wasn’t who they thought he was.
The crowd realized he wasn’t their political savior, so they moved on. And when he was crucified, most of them stayed away out of apathy.
The temple establishment saw that Jesus was out to change the status quo for them. This new way that Jesus was teaching would upset their comfortable way of life. So they conspired to find a way to have him arrested so they could turn him over to the Roman authorities as a traitor.
As we listen the story while traveling through Holy Week, we will learn of the betrayal plot by Judas, we will see the Disciples celebrate Passover and learn from Jesus the way we are to remember his sacrifice. We will be there with the disciples trying to stay awake as he prays in the garden. We will watch as he is arrested, beaten, and finally crucified. And we will ask – who is Jesus?
That is the question of Holy Week. Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus have to die on that cross?
On Easter morning, we will know the answer.
Until then, we must walk with him through Jerusalem. As we walk and learn from Jesus, and realize that he is not a political savior, how will we react? Will we, like the crowds, turn away with apathy? Or will we continue to walk with him all the way to the cross?
In the shadow of the cross it may seem that hope died that day. But as Christians, we know that joy dawns again. And when it does, we will celebrate.
Well here we are almost on the other side of Lent, getting ready to make the final journey to Jerusalem and the cross. We’ve been traveling with Jesus as he encounters people and shows them and us who he is. Each of these encounters reveal a bit of Jesus’ identity. We’ve been with:
- Jesus & Satan in the wilderness and saw that Jesus declares that we are enough, just as we are & calls us to claim our identities as God’s beloved children
- Jesus & Nicodemus at night – Jesus came to love the world, offering freedom & we are called to embrace the freedom to allow the spirit to blow us where it will
- Jesus & the Samaritan woman at the well – Jesus is always with us in our darkest hours and calls us to share our faith experiences
- Jesus & the Blind man – Jesus opens our eyes and calls us out of our theological boxes
And here we are this week with Jesus & Mary & Martha & Lazarus. For 42 verses it seems like a story about death and dying, grief & lament. But in the 43rd verse we see that is not the case. No, this is a story about life. New life. Resurrection.
I wonder how much we understand about resurrection. I wonder this because I have been thinking about salvation and resurrection a lot lately. I tend to do that every Lent. Coming out of two edges of the bible belt – the Midwestern edge and the edge that sits just north of the Mason-Dixon line, the prevailing theology was one of salvation for the future. The question always asked was “Do you know where you are going to spend eternity?” The focus was on saving souls for the future. But that never sat right with me. What is the point of life on earth if all we are living for is the future life we have with God? Are we just supposed to grin and bear all the suffering we endure before the end, and have no hope for a good life now? And are we just supposed to sit back and watch it all happen? Read more…