Our Vulnerability and God John 14:1-14

One of the things exposed about us in the past few weeks is our vulnerability.  We don’t like feeling that way.  The unemployment rate is rising causing the fear of losing health insurance and paying the rent to leave us feeling very vulnerable.  Wearing masks and continuing to social distance seems to be the best we can do for now to keep the pandemic at a further distance.  We still feel vulnerable because we can’t do more to gain control over our lives.  We don’t like feeling vulnerable.

One way we can use to chase away these unwanted fears is denial.  This is just a political hoax in an election year.  Somebody else will get sick, not me.  Somebody else will die, not me.  Denial in the face of a dangerous reality isn’t very helpful.  Another approach to gain control is violence.  We scream at those forcing us to shelter in place.  We walk around with our guns on display.  We refuse to wear masks.  These actions might help us feel more powerful and in control but reality hasn’t changed, we are still vulnerable.

The disciples were feeling vulnerable in the above reading.  Jesus had just told them that he would be leaving them.  He predicted their betrayal.  Jesus was speaking about his upcoming death.  Life for the disciples was going to change, drastically.

Jesus comforted them by saying that in the Father’s house there are many rooms.  Jesus also told them he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could be with him.  These words of comfort are why this reading is often used at funeral services.  However, Jesus wasn’t going away to hang drywall and do landscaping.  The Father’s house is more than a condo.  Father’s house implied household, being part of the family.  The ongoing and anxious moments taking place were how Jesus was preparing the way for us to have a secure place in the Father’s house, family.  In their vulnerability and in ours, is the security of knowing we are a part of the Father’s house.

One of the disciples, Philip, still needed more reassurance.  He wanted to see God.  Jesus’ reply was that because of their unity, to see Jesus is to see the Father as well.  What does Jesus show us about God to us who are so vulnerable?  We see compassion…empathy…willingness to share our vulnerability…willingness to face death.  What we see about God, the Father, is love in action.  What we see in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the great lengths that the Father will go to bring us into his household and give us a resurrected life no longer vulnerable.

These days we feel vulnerable.  We don’t like it at all.  While we live in denial, yell at each other and put others at risk to claim some sense of control, nothing has changed.  We are still vulnerable.  This is why Jesus’ words are so important for us to hear.  Knowing that we have a secure place in the Father’s house, we can allow ourselves to feel vulnerable.  We can allow ourselves to see the vulnerability of others too.  We can emulate Jesus’ compassion and empathy.  We can point to Jesus so that others can also recognize God’s presence in their vulnerability.

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.

Born Again John 3:1-17

John 3:16 is one of those verses from the Bible that transcends many barriers.  The verse has been called the Gospel in miniature.  It is one of those verses that little children learn in their Sunday school classes.  At an arena or sporting event, you can see the verse on a t-shirt or poster held by a spectator.  The verse does the amazing task of describing God’s endless love for his creation/universe/world that he would send his Son to redeem it back from its darkness and death.

The verse is preceded by a ruler of the Jewish council, Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the darkness of night most likely to avoid being discovered by others.  Nicodemus had seen and heard in Jesus a quality of life that set him apart as being from God.  Jesus responded that to see the kingdom of God a person needed to be born again which can get really confusing.

Nicodemus was obviously right in that we can’t once again undergo the physical birth process as adults.  So what does being born again mean?  Does it mean an altar call or confession?  Not really, but a confession of faith is the result of this rebirth.  So what is born again?

Jesus went on to describe how this world already stands judged and comes up wanting.  The reality of this is shown in our love of darkness and our effects to hide what we do because deep down we know it is evil.  Simply look at the false information, manipulation of the truth and direct lies being told these days to put our love of darkness on display.

So what are we saying by being born again?  It means we stop our allegiance to the darkness and grab hold of the light which exposes the truth.  The hold that darkness has over us we can’t break; this is the Holy Spirit’s work.  Only the Spirit can make us able to see the truth.  Only the Spirit can allow us to see the reign of God and give us a rebirth from this world into God’s kingdom.

Jesus spoke of his being lifted up (crucifixion).  It was also his exultation.  There the darkness of the world challenged the reign of God.  Jesus’ resurrection (exultation) showed that the light and truth of God’s grace and love are what reign and give life.  John 3:16 tells us that to believe in Jesus is to have eternal life.  Eternal life is more than an endless number of days to live.  Eternal life is a quality of life…a way of life…a life in relationship with the resurrected Lord that is now and continues on forever.  Believing in Jesus is to trust that in him God was saving the world, so deeply loved, from darkness into light.

So we return to John 3:16 and its message.  “For God so loved the world (you) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The Gospel in one sentence.

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.

The Freedom of Truth John 8:31-36

Truth.  Does anybody know what truth is these days?  Is truth a simple collection of facts?  Is truth what I accept from my personal filters – what is true for me may not be true for you.  Everyday we are subjected to information that ranges from spin to direct lies.  “Fake News” is the accusation against what I consider to be reality.  So is truth really nothing more than my personal take on reality or can truth be found that turns out to be liberating?

This coming Sunday many churches will be celebrating the Reformation led by Martin Luther challenging the abuses of the Catholic church in that day.  Set free from those abuses have we abandoned them only to take on a different bondage?  If so, then we haven’t come to know the truth that enables us to be free.

Jesus was having a debate that was concerned with identity.  Some of the Jewish folk in the crowd were listening to his teaching and starting to believe that he just might be the Messiah.  Jesus said that if they continued in his teaching they would be his disciples (learners) and come to know the truth, the truth that will set them free.  They protested that they were descendants of Abraham and were never slaves to anyone.  Apparently they had forgotten about their ancestors slavery in Egypt and the Roman soldiers currently having a powerful grip on them now.  They were starting to believe but their bondage was tied to their identity as children of Abraham.  The desire to kill Jesus proved that their bondage was to a way that Abraham would have never supported.  Their perceived identity was false.

Jesus said that whoever sins is a slave to sin.  Sin is more than doing bad things.  Sin is rebellion against God.  The bad things we do are symptoms of that rebellion.  So what is the truth that sets us free from our slavery?  The truth is not a set of doctrine.  It is not tradition.  Truth is not grabbing select Bible verses that support our political philosophy.  It is not nationalism.  Truth is not repeating memorized lines.  It is not longing for an idealized past.  The truth that sets us free is a person.  Jesus is that truth.

If we take the time to listen to the things Jesus taught.  If we observe his compassion for the sick and the outcast and the poor.  If we take notice of how he forgave and showed mercy.  If we understand his rejection of the world’s take on power for fidelity to the kingdom of God.  If we begin to notice these things then what opens up to us is holy and Divine.  If we take these things into our being, then we come to know the One who is truth.  Jesus sets us free.  The result is that freedom in this world of slavery no longer is an obscure concept but a gift from God.

Peace.

“The Truth: Bad and the Good” John 16:12-15

John devotes a lot of time to Jesus’ farewell to his disciples.  In this selection, Jesus tells the disciples that he has more to say but the news is beyond what they can bear.  What is the worst news that anyone can give to us?  If the person is one we truly love, the worst would have to be of their death.  We can join with them in the struggle against a terminal illness and try to manage the side affects, for example.  What is the most difficult is losing them and facing life ahead without them.

Jesus had already told them a few verses earlier that they will find themselves ousted from the synagogue.  More than that, some of the disciples will even be killed by people thinking they are serving God.  Now Jesus is saying he is going away and in their grief that is all they can handle for now.  The loss of Christ would be the ultimate loss.  Their bad news and resulting questions are the same for us today.  How would we (the church) move forward as his body in the world?  How would we speak of hope without his guiding words?  How would we know his comfort without his presence?

This Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday and we struggle to understand God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The harder we try to put this doctrine written down in stone, the more elusive is the outcome.  Yet, this is the way that God has chosen to relate with us.  The sad news was of Jesus going to the Father.  The good news is that the Counselor – the Spirit of truth – will come to guide us in the truth.

Our listening isn’t always the best.  We choose to hear what we want to hear.  However, if the church is to be a witness to Christ then we need to listen to the guidance from the Spirit of truth.  If we are going to speak of hope then we need to listen better to the instruction from the Spirit of truth.  If we are going to know comfort from Christ, it will be by the Spirit’s presence.

The bad news was of Jesus going to the Father.  The good news is the coming of the Spirit of truth.  We need the Spirit to guide us as our poor stewardship is leading to climate change.  We need the Spirit of truth to help us maneuver in a world where truth has become self defined.  We need the Spirit to guide us into the future that is still to unfold.

While Jesus has gone to the Father, we have the Spirit with us.  The good news of the Trinity is that God has not abandoned us but is fully engaged in redeeming the world around us.

Peace.