A Word We Need Hear John 1:1-18

I love the snow. Folks look at me as though this is strange. The answer I usually give to their question “WHY?” is a simple “No allergies and no mosquitoes.” This response generally satisfies their question. This morning my love for the snow grows deeper for what it tells us. Where I live, the morning was greeted with a fresh covering of snow. The drab brown of dead grass and bare branches gave way to to a coating of white. The vision out the widow was simply, beautiful. A nice, fresh coating to start a new 2021 from a death filled and compassion barren 2020 was welcomed.

The opening verses from the Gospel of John are high Christology which tell us so much about Jesus Christ. Last week his birth was celebrated and today the reality of his coming has been described to us. The Word, the powerful expression of God has come to be with us. The living Word who brought creation into existence and to whom we owe our life has come to us. If we have any doubts about the nature of God, all we need to do is look upon Jesus and we’ll know the answer. The birth of Jesus means we are blessed in ways we truly cannot fully understand. God has come to be with us. This is grace upon grace.

The sadness of the reading is that we have been so blessed and we reject it. God has come to make beauty known and we refuse to see it. This is our darkness. Those who deny Christ are not those with a different political perspective. They aren’t those we condemn to make ourselves feel better or look more spiritual. The reading says the world did not recognize him and that means all of us. Grace and beauty have come in revealing God to us all and we collectively say, “No thanks.” We have chosen to live in the darkness we have made.

The reading from the Gospel of John isn’t about us. It is about the Word of God having come to live with us. We have been and continue to be blessed because of Jesus Christ. A new year began with the beauty of snow covering the drab brown of last year. The year, 2021, begins with the blessing of light that shines in our darkness. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in the Word, Jesus. Seeing the light for the blessing that it is, means we have the honour to be called a child of God. The year, 2020, was a difficult year but look at Jesus Christ and know that you have been blessed. Grace has come to 2021.

Peace.

Are We Really So Blind? John 9:1-41

The past week has been a wild ride with the Covid-19 leading the way.  Millions of people are in a lock down type situation.  Traveling outside of the country is restricted.  Toilet paper, guns and ammunition are selling out (interesting how these are the items we consider the most critical).  Retired, I haven’t had the guts to look at my investments and savings.  Political leadership has ranged from bold to fault finding, denial and the usual lies.  A few senators have shown an uncanny ability to time the market sell off.  Depending upon your ideology, the virus is a great threat or nothing to worry about in the grand scheme of things.  Conspiracy theories are making unsubstantiated claims about the cause of the pandemic.  Stores and business are closing down to reduce spread of the virus while people are partying on the beaches in Florida (only to increase the spread of the virus when they return home).  So the question for this morning is about blindness and having the sight to recognize the truth and ultimately perceive what God is asking and calling the church to be in these times.

The Gospel reading from John is heavily into the contradictions of light and darkness, blindness and sight.  Jesus gave sight to a man blind from birth.  The disciples wanted to know the cause of the blindness; what sin had he or his parents committed before his birth.  The focus quickly shifted to Jesus and his identity since only God could do this kind of miracle.  The Pharisees got involved because Jesus did this on the Sabbath which made him a sinner.  The healed man was questioned as well as his parents.  Insults were hurled and accusations of being a sinner were made.  The healed man was thrown out of the synagogue and lectured over who he called a sinner.  Jesus came to the man and revealed his identity as ‘Son of Man’ and the man worshiped him.  Pharisees questioned Jesus of their blindness.  He responded, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.

So where does the church and the Gospel begin to fit in all of this?  In the reading, Jesus was revealed as a source of healing as well as the presence of God in the world.  He also drew a line between light and darkness, blindness and sight.  What catches my attention was how the people responded.  Rather than celebrate with the man what Jesus had done for him, they protected power structures and searched for a sin to label and discredit Jesus.

The church is a place where light shines on human darkness.  In the light, truth needs to be held up against the fault finding, disinformation and false conspiracies.  Truth needs to stand against ideology and politics.  Covid-19 is a virus that we need to work together as a nation and world to stop in order to reduce the number of people who will die from it.  Truth is what will allow this to happen.

The church is a place that keeps its sight on Christ who brings healing.  Healing needs to be brought to our divisions.  The focus of healing needs to be brought not just for the well connected but to the weak and powerless.  The biggest sin in the reading was refusing to see Jesus at work.  Today the challenge is to understand that we are called to be different from the world so healing may be allowed to happen and not stifled.

Last week was a wild one.  Next week will be the same.  So let the light of truth be seen.  Keep the focus on Jesus bringing healing into this world.

Peace.

You are Light. You are Salt. Matthew 5:13-20

These days we take salt for granted.  It is cheap.  However, this was not always the case.  In ancient times salt was highly valued.  At times, it was even used by the Romans as currency to pay soldiers and other officials.  Light is also taken for granted.  Flip a switch on the wall and a room is filled with light.  A satellite picture of the world quickly shows how lit up the night has become.  However it wasn’t that long ago when a single lighthouse stood as a beacon between a cargo ship and crashing rocks.  If power is ever lost in a storm, the familiar house now becomes a place of pitfalls and stubbed toes.

Jesus is continuing his Sermon on the Mount and he calls those present ‘Salt’ and ‘Light.’  We may not fully grasp what he was saying because of light and salt being so much a part of modern life.  He was calling them highly valued and important in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is also saying the same about us.

The people in Jesus’ audience weren’t what we call celebrities, they weren’t adorned in luxury or religious leaders basking in the flattery of others.  Along with the disciples, the people included the poor, the persecuted (or soon to be), those who dared to speak the truth (put a light) to the world’s darkness and who desperately hoped for God’s righteousness to be known.  The kingdom of heaven belonged to people like these.  Jesus called them ‘blessed.’  He also called them ‘salt’ and ‘light.’  What is important to note is that Jesus was speaking in the plural, not singular.  As a collective whole, they were ‘salt’ and ‘light.’  Today, we call that collective whole the church.

So what happens when the church is no longer pure in heart?  Meaning, it is willing to trade a seat in the kingdom for a place of prominence in the world?  What happens if it is no longer concerned for the poor, the grieving or oppressed?  What if it no longer shines a light on the darkness or perhaps even helps in the coverup?  It becomes like salt that has lost its value.  It has done the absurdity of lighting a candle only to put a lid on it to protect the darkness.

Jesus was very direct.  He didn’t come to abolish the Law or the prophets but to fulfill God’s demand for righteousness spoken through them.  Jesus will go on in the following verses to explain what this involves as his sermon continues.  His teaching, life, death and resurrection has shown the God who comes to take an enslaved world and bring it to freedom.

The verses today conclude with Jesus warning that unless our righteousness exceeds the Pharisees and teachers of the law, we won’t be a part of the kingdom of heaven.  If anyone knew the Law and prophets, it would be the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  Yet, there is a difference between knowing and being transformed.

There is the darkness of cynicism, division, manipulation, fearmongering, lies, etc., etc., etc.  At times, this seems so overwhelming.  Remember Jesus’ declaration: you are salt…you are light.

Peace.

AHA! Matthew 3:13-17

Every so often we all get those “AHA” moments.  All of a sudden we get it.  What seemed beyond comprehension, we now understand.  What we couldn’t recognize has now become obvious.  These times when the light bulb goes on we call an epiphany.  In the church, this is the season called ‘Epiphany.’  The readings assigned are to help us have one of those “AHA” moments about Jesus.  The reading for this Sunday is the baptism of Jesus.

The first couple chapters of Matthew have given us some background with a genealogy, Joseph’s struggling with the news of Mary’s pregnancy, the Magi, Herod’s desire to kill the baby Jesus and the family fleeing to Egypt for refuge.  Now with the adult Jesus being baptized by John at the Jordan river we read Jesus’ first words, “…it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Righteousness is a relationship word. The word carries with it the understanding of fidelity and promise keeping.  If we call a relationship “right”, it is because falsehood has not found a place.  So when Jesus was baptized by John (a baptism in preparation for welcoming the coming of God’s reign), righteousness was being fulfilled.  God was keeping the promise of establishing his reign over a rebellious world.  God was bringing salvation from darkness.  As Jesus came out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove with a heavenly voice saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  These words were for the bystanders and for us to have that “AHA” moment.

The search continues to find the savior bringing us salvation.  We look to business leaders, celebrities and politics but they don’t bring God’s righteousness.  So often we are left with those serving only their own interests or who leave us in the darkness of our greed, animosity, division and struggle for power.  This is not salvation.  Righteousness is not experienced.

The companion verses from Isaiah 42:1-9 has God declaring his servant…in whom God delights…on whom the Spirit will rest.  This chosen servant of God will not be a braggart or crush the life of someone barely holding on to life.  He will bring justice (another relationship word).  He will be a light: for the nations to recognize the darkness…for us in our blindness…to bring freedom to those in the prison of darkness.  Upon this one alone will God’s glory reside.  Upon this chosen one, God’s righteousness toward us is fulfilled.

Jesus was baptized by John and as he came out of the water the Holy Spirit like a dove descended on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Peace.