Sunday, March 25, 2018

The triumphant ride into Jerusalem Mark 11:1-11

The triumphant ride into Jerusalem!  The grand Procession.  The joy, as we reenact often what for many of us is a fond memory from our own childhood. John Wesley Notes that “‘Hoseanna’ (Lord save us) was a solemn word in frequent use among the Jews.  The Meaning is ‘We sing hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he, the Messiah, of the Lord. Save. Thou that art in the highest heavens.’ Our Lord restrained all public tokens of honour from the people till now, lest the envy of his enemies should interrupt his preaching before the time.”[1]
Today we celebrate Jesus’ Triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  Today is also known as Passion Sunday, which we will honor during the week as we recall the events that led to the torture and execution of Jesus.    So today let us focus, on today!
Marcus Borg with John Dominc Crossan in the book “The Last Week” gives us a beautiful picture of what was happening;
Two Processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30…. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession, From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. …
On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the roman Governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.  Jesus’s procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.[2]
Most people do not realize that Pontius Pilate rode into Rome.  He was sent down during the Holidays to make sure there was no trouble.  Yet during this time there had been trouble and Pontius was anticipating it.
Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A Visual panopoly of imperial power: cavalry on Horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of the bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curios, some awed, some resentful.[3]
This is an intentional display of imperial power much like the army marching in Tiananmen square or rocket launches around north Korea or maybe a military parade in Washington DC.  This is to instill fear and remind people who is in charge. Sometimes it’s a warning to the people, sometimes to other countries. It is also a warning to anyone who may think about offering any kind of resistance that there is a whole army waiting to react.
This display also was to be not just a display of military might but that of Religious authority as well.
According to the theology of rome, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.  It began with the greatest of emperors, Augustus, who rules Rome form 31 BCE to 14 CE.  His father was the god Apollo, who conceived him in his mother, Atia. Inscriptions refer to him as “son of God,” “lord” and “savior,” one who had brought “peace on earth.”  After his death, he was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods.  His successors continued to bear divine titles, including Tiberius, emperor from 14 to 37 CE and thus the emperor during the time of Jesus’s public activity.  For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.[4]
Jesus’s procession, if we look at it as it is written in Mark seems like a very deliberate, planned, political action.  He tells his disciples where to find the colt and just mention that the master needs it and it is understood who and what it is for.  Okay, that is an assumption, but no one questions the disciples after they say that the colt is for the master therefore one can safely say that the owner was probably a follower of Jesus.
People of that time had to be very conscience of the symbolism, the direct contrast Jesus was presenting. Jesus is coming into town riding on a donkey, lowliest of animals.  His army are all peasants and common folk.  They are hailing him as the King, mocking that of Pontius’s entrance.
Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world.  Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God.[5]
I cannot help but see a direct parallel to what happened around this country yesterday. A movement, a protest, a match up; the powerless against the powerful! The students of Stoneman Douglass High school have started something that, let’s be honest, should have started a long time ago.
On 60 minutes the students were asked “what makes you think you guys could do more? That this could be different?” here is what a student said; “the thing about it is we are the generation that had to be trapped in closets waiting for police to come or waiting for a shooter to walk into our door. We are the people who know what it is like firsthand!” another student states; “we are the mass shooting generation…I was born months after columbine.  I am seventeen years old and we have had seventeen years of mass shootings!” he goes on to say “that stop school violence act they are pushing in DC which is just a bunch of hot air fluff doesn’t use the word gun once its when all these tragedies the one thing that links them all together is the Gun!” [6]  one student points out that they have a gun in their house it is there to protect them in case someone should wish to do them harm but in their house they are taught there is a difference between gun for protection or a rifle for hunting and that of a weapon of war!
“3 days after the shooting Emma Gonzalez accepted an invitation to speak at a rally the five foot two 18 year old had to stand on Boxes to be heard. Her speech was seen millions of times and ignited the passion of students around the country!”[7]
Now I confess I am a huge fan of Emma Gonzalez who said; “we need to understand this isn’t just a mental health issue he would not harmed that many people with a knife!” She said; “That us kids don’t know what we are talking about that we are too young to understand how the government works we call BS!”
When asked why her how she became a symbol? she states I think it was the hair …iconically you think of the picture and you think of the bald girl... I am sorry she is just too cool! When asked about what she thinks of this idea of arming teachers she states “well first of all Stoneman Douglass ran out of paper for like two weeks out of the school year and now all of a sudden they have 4 million dollars for teachers to get trained to arm themselves…really?”[8] she is just so cool.
The students have a donated space for organizing which they are keeping secret because they are receiving death threats!  Death Threats these are students...young people…!
But the thing that breaks my heart was an interview with Emma’s mother “it’s insane you know somebody said please tell Emma we are behind her, which I appreciate but we should have been in front of her, I should have been in front of her, we, all adults should have dealt with this twenty years ago… some adults are, you go girl, but what are we doing?”[9]
What are we doing?
One parent who lost a son pointed out that this generation has their cell phones in their hands all the time, we as adults criticize that but they are use to getting answers right away do you think they are going to wait 6 months or a year for anybody or congress.
The student points out that they need adult help and they gladly accept it but when someone tries to push their agenda upon these kids they say no thank you that is not what this is about!
This is an amazing movement…This is Palm Sunday…These kids are Jesus on a colt riding into Jerusalem!
This isn’t metaphor.  These are young people not old enough to vote…they do not have money of their own to fight the NRA and old school politicians…These young people are riding against Rome. At one time I would ask about todays Gospel reading as you visualize this event could you see yourself in the story.  Would you have been one of the people joyously, celebrating, welcoming the new king into your city.  Believing this man was going to change everything right away.  This man, the one who is always causing trouble, breaking tradition, is in opposition not just to Rome but the religious authorities.  Would you welcome him Knowing that at any moment trouble could break out and you might be caught up it in it?
Well I had the opportunity to walk with the Jesus this Saturday.  I got to walk besides youth who are always causing trouble, breaking tradition, who were standing in opposition not just to the NRA but to government and religious officials who may stand in their way!
So, if you think to yourself yes, I would be there.  I would welcome Jesus to the city.  I would be ready to stand beside him and walk with him no matter where it leads.  I would then say to you, know this…you are part of a great and brave group of people who are ready for a big and dramatic change, and it has started! But remember, with Jesus as soon as trouble started they all turned against him.  They asked for a murderer to be released over him.
So, who are you in this Palm Sunday Story?
Can you picture yourself maybe as the colt?  An innocent creature living in servitude, who is suddenly thrown into this spotlight.  You are given the great honor to carry the Lord and Master into this city.  You alone have been chosen to be blessed and to touch the living Christ.  The excitement of the crowd is energizing and terrifying at the same time and yet.  And yet, when it is all over you go back to what you were doing before no better and no worse for it.  Your life just goes on as it always did.
Maybe, just maybe, you are one of the Roman guards on the far side of the city.  Part of the big corporation.  A Good soldier.  Following orders and doing what you are supposed to do.  Maybe you have heard something about this man about town.  There are rumors and stories.  Oddly enough you are called to stand Guard at an execution and turns out to be this Jesus you have heard so much about, “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"(Mark 15:39)
Knowing all this, all this history, all this conflict, knowing what might be, knowing what we might have done in this story, who we might be.  Knowing that all this triumphant celebratory entry into the city will only end on a hill.  Jesus comes. Despite all that.. Jesus comes and Because of all this…All of you…all of us, all of humanity…Jesus comes!
Because there is poverty in the world …Jesus Comes
Because there is Hunger in the world… Jesus Comes
Because there are migrants who are seeking a better life …Jesus comes
Because there are worn torn parts of our world…Jesus comes
Because the planet and all things living upon it are crying out for justice…Jesus comes
Because there are those who need just and equal health care…Jesus comes
Because people need disaster relief in Puerto Rico ...they need food, electricity, roofs…Jesus Comes
Because of Students who want to be safe and see no need for weapons of war to be available in our society…Jesus comes!
Jesus Comes! Jesus Enters the city and there is an open invitation to follow.  But how do we do that?  How do we follow Jesus into Jerusalem? What are we Called to do? How do we prepare to follow Jesus into Jerusalem?
 We are called to accompany those in need on their life journey.  We are called to take action when we see injustice.  We are called to help close the gap where we see people being marginalized. No, we can’t do it all.  We can’t all be expected to literally walk besides those in need. But we can write letters…offer financial support…offer support to organizations and businesses that believe in the same causes we do.
We can boycott business who do not understand how their actions support injustice and call them out. Our cry of Hosanna is we walk in the way of Christ and we are called to act upon that call to the best of our ability. For some that may be offering a prayer, lifting Christs love that is in our heart to another. Offering a smile or a word of encouragement. Standing for a just and peaceful world in our hearts may be all we can do but it is more than enough! And actually offering kindness and prayer is the best place to start!
Amanda Beck writes;

“You may say that these practical instructions amount to being nice to others and being a good person but carry very little spiritual weight. We would all prefer merely to contemplate the mystery of God’s coming near and follow Jesus’ journey with a spiritual devotion to the suffering servant. It is true that many of these instructions don’t seem spiritual in themselves. We must do them, not because of their own spiritual weight, but because our hearts are very small. We clutter them daily with concern for ourselves, misplaced loves, and hurt feelings. We must make room for Jesus in order to welcome him properly. Somehow this practical work done with spiritual attention prepares the way of the Lord as nothing else can. It changes us. It makes room in our hearts that Jesus can fill with the kingdom of heaven. This is the way to make straight the path of the Lord: self-emptying. There is no other way to let Jesus’ message sink in, and there is no other way to follow our Lord than to walk in his footsteps. Jesus’ life was one of self-emptying and service to God and humanity, and so we make our lives in his likeness. If there was ever a week to get this right, this is it. If there was ever a point in the Christian narrative to step out of the way and let the story of divine love continue, this is it.[10]
So, on this day when we gleefully welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with all the knowing and all the anticipation of the spiritual practice of this week.  This is the time to spend spiritually on ourselves.  This is the week to practice spiritual centeredness and forgiveness and seek right living or ways to help make living right, so that we cannot only be spiritually present to each other but to the community around us.
This week can be used to ramp us up for the rest of the year so that we here at United Church of Christ Petaluma may “put our faith into action through our commitment to compassion and justice. So that As individuals and as a congregation, we address need and challenges of inequality in our community and around the world as we seek ways in which we may join others to advance social and environmental justice.”[11][7]

You all are doing a lot individually and collectively as a congregation, but this week, this week is for yourself and God.  This week is about reenergizing ourselves as Christians as we live into our story.  Look for yourself in the story, look for what moves you spiritually this week. Watch for the story as it continues to unfold around you.  Jesus’ walk to good Friday is part of our richest tradition.  It empowers and inspires so that we may be who we are called to be Christ to the world. As we are called to engage the 3 great Loves: Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation  Amen.

[1] Jenee Woodard, The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), 85.
[2] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: The Day-by-day Account of Jesus's final Week in Jerusalem (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006),2.
[3] Ibid., 3.
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid 5
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] David Neil Mosser, and Wellman, eds., Abingdon Preaching Annual 2011 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 119.
[11] UCC Petaluma, About us, 2018, accessed march 20, 2018,

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Let us plant a new seed....John 12:20-33

Today's reading John 12:20-33 sounded like a football call out.

I want to open with this quote…

“One afternoon in the Sabbath school where a lad was asked to repeat what he had learned during the week, he said simply "Sir, we would see Jesus." The teacher was strangely conscience-smitten. He remembered that he had given excellent lessons on the Creation, the Fall, Israel in Egypt, and similar subjects, but had said little about Christ. He looked at the youth who had spoken these words, and then round on the faces of the others. And then instead of using the lesson he had prepared, he talked to the lads earnestly upon the request made so simply and opportunely. He spoke with such yearning for their souls, that the lads listened as never before; and as he spoke he felt that the master’s presence was in their midst.” [1]

The process I use to write my sermons is I read the selected reading about a week, sometimes two, before I sit down to write.  Then when I feel, what I perceive to be the spirit, to be moving in my heart I look to see what other people have said in their sermons, I look to the commentaries and see what the research says and then I pray that when I am done this will all make sense.
Sometimes I have pages and pages of quotes that I love, like the one I started with. Often more pages of quotes than you would care to hear me read. Other times I have a big blank page staring at me…and then I pray again.  Sometimes All the rules I learned in seminary echo back to me especially a quote attributed to Karl Barth that we need to have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other but, with what the news is these days, I’d rather not.
The first thing we hear in today’s reading is the Greeks wanted to see Jesus.  What I wouldn’t give to see Jesus to just sit at his feet and listen.  What would his words be today?  Would they be any different?  Impossible to know for sure but I suspect not.
So, we have a request to see Jesus. Impossible today and yet a simple request at that time, and yet, evidently this was not a simple request for they went to Philip and then Philip went to Andrew and then they both went to see Jesus.  Now if this was a movie I would imagine the scene would be like “you ask him. I am not going to ask him you ask him, why don’t we both do it…ok together lets’ go….” ah the wise, mature, followers of Christ, sorry but they really are portrayed as a bumbling bunch of everyday people. And I love that because I am a bumbling bunch of everyday people myself!
So, the two tell Jesus there are a couple of Greeks here to see you and how does Jesus react?  Come in?  Sit Down? Relax? Nope!
Professor Christine Wenderoth says:
This passage recounts Jesus' last public dialog in the book of John, and starts us on the heavy, sorrowful journey to the cross.  Jesus himself announces his own death in a sort of take charge way: "The hour has come," he declares, as though he's in on the whole plan and approving of its drift.  "The hour has come for the Son of Man [that would be me] to be glorified." [She goes on to say]
I find Jesus' clairvoyance and bravado to be off-putting, to tell you the truth.  It's a little smug-"I'm off to be glorified, so don't weep for me, Argentina"-smug and invulnerable.  I want my Jesus to be like me--vulnerable, doubting and scared witless.  Even though Jesus says his "soul is troubled," I don't really believe him because in the next breath he says one more time "Father, glorify your name," meaning "Do your worst! Slay me!"[2]
Now she admits she has a bit of attitude problem here and it is showing blatantly in her quote.  Yet in John these “Greek’s” demonstrates a definitive shift in Christ’s teaching and his life.  For John yes this is the beginning of the end, and I wanted to know why?  Who are these Greek’s and how did their appearance trigger something?
In my research I have found nothing unusual about Greeks going to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was quite the Hellenistic city at its time. “Herod once again turned Jerusalem into a Hellenistic city, including all the constituent elements and institutions of a Polis. He built a large theatre, instituted wrestling tournaments in honor of the Emperor, staged spectacles where men fought wild animals, [24] and encouraged gentile immigration to Jerusalem.” [3] So it was not unusual for tourists to come to town for festivals and to trade their wares.  It also is possible that these are Greek speaking Jewish people who have made pilgrimage for the Passover.
Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh states;
“I believe the mention of the “Greeks” here is the inclusion of the last segment of mankind represented in this chapter. In John 12, we find Jesus, Judas His betrayer, the 12 disciples, the intimate friends of our Lord (including, but not limited to Lazarus, Mary and Martha), those who came from Galilee and other places in Israel, those pilgrims who came from afar to Jerusalem for Passover, the residents of Jerusalem and Judea, those from Jerusalem who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, those who opposed Jesus (chief priests, scribes, Pharisees), and now, at last, the Greeks. To pick up on the words of the Pharisees in verse 19: “Look, the whole world has run off after him.” How right their words would prove to be!” [4]
What he is saying here is that it doesn’t matter if these are Greeks of Jewish heritage or pagan.  It doesn’t matter why they wanted to see Jesus it is the fact that they do.  At that moment the possibility of God’s message for a people, shifts to all people.  In the Johannine context Jesus has an awakening, it is as if he sees all that is before him and the greater message that is for all people, for the world must be proclaimed.
Christ even goes on to try to explain what is about to happen to him in a poetic sense and it is a message proclaimed for all…it is not just a parable. “very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24) What is interesting for me about this saying is, we know now, the seed is dormant and doesn’t die when it is fed by fertile ground and watered, it germinates and rises to be fruitful.
Let me say this again a seed, a grain of wheat is dormant, not dead, and it is awakened when fed and watered and nurtured.  This is what it means to be Christian. We cannot sit and be dormant and expect something to come of it.  Recently a church was telling me how they have these wonderful festivals and people from the whole neighborhood come.  They have days of service when they go out and help their neighbors and meet them one on one.  Yet no one new comes to church.
So, is that the point?  Do we do things for others to get them in the door?  I am not saying getting people in the door is a bad thing.  I believe in church festivals and church picnics and services on the beach or on the hill and coffee houses or game nights or movie days or open studio time. However, I cannot help to wonder, by my own analogy, is this just planting the seed?  How are we feeding?  How are we nurturing?
I read a survey recently that was talking about why people left Church…the number one reason people leave church is a change in their life situation.  One third said they believed they were too busy another third said they had moved away from their home church and just were not motivated to go to another.
The rest were just disenchanted with church, they found it hateful, divisive or they perceived their pastor as judgmental or insincere or lacking good preaching abilities, and finally surprising to me, some just were never Christians to begin with.
Less a seed is nurtured, fed and watered it cannot grow.  It must be placed in the ground.
Can anyone guess the most underestimated reason people return to church???   
41% say they were invited back.  How many of you here first came because of a heartfelt invitation?  You see it takes an invite to get someone here and …and it should be an invite from someone they have a connection too.  Do not get me wrong an invite from anyone is good but if it comes from a friend or family member it holds more value.
Now once someone comes in the door this is where the other stuff comes in.  People want a sense of community and to Make a difference.
“Almost a third of the formerly churched mentioned that if they were to return to church, they would want to be part of a local body where they can make a difference. By and large, people within the church are more fulfilled in ministry when they sense that God is using them. And churches with high expectations of their members are more likely to draw people back into the fold. The de-churched may have left due to insincerity, but it’s the high standards and expectations that draw them back. People want to serve and know that they are contributing something significant.” [5]
I know that if it wasn’t for the fact that if it wasn’t for the connection to each other, those long roots many would not be here today.  I know for a fact if not for the love of music and singing there may be some who would not be here today.  The opportunity to reach out to our community on a regular basis through different programs gives people a sense that this is where part of their community is, and it builds upon that concept of making a difference.  We are building community and making a difference when we offer outreach, and yet more is expected of us.
We must feed and nourish people…but how do we do that?  I mean what more can we do?  I know the Seder has many people excited.  That feeds people, spiritually and physically. I know the dinner for six is a great opportunity to build community.  I know people miss it when bible study gets preempted which I can say is rare. The book group is truly engaging in a challenging discourse. I am hoping we have a chance to engage with habitat this summer though I have yet to hear anything definitive. There are a few other programs coming into the light soon.
Okay now here is the thing... You see the question I want to ask right now…right here is what feeds you.  What would you be interested in seeing happen for your ministry, for your spirituality?  You see if we start doing something that YOU like, that YOU want, then you might be enthusiastic enough to invite a friend.
I have spoken of this concept of the seed in other ways before.  I am taking this opportunity to speak of exciting possibilities for us as a congregation but this metaphor of nurturing and feeding works well for the self as well.  This speaks of more than a Sunday spirituality.
I am going to ask some questions you do not need to answer just listen.  Do you have a particular spiritual practice that you find nurturing, or have you made something of your own enjoyment into a spiritual practice?  Do you play and pray?
Do you take timeout for daily scripture or reflection?  Are you seeking more than just a Sunday type of relationship with God? What could we do for you here that you might want to experience participate in?
It is funny, to me, that Christ reiterates the metaphor a bit more harshly and not any easier. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life!” (John 12:25)
And to quote Christine Wenderoth again; “And so the more I thought about the grain of wheat, and its journey into the dirt, the more I came to realize that for me this is not an attractive vision at all.  I don't want to go into the dirt.  I don't want to die.  I don't want to die, even in the service of truth and justice and the American way.  I don't even want to sacrifice my comfort and serenity, if the truth be told.” [6] She is feeling the uncomfortable truth that The way, as taught and modeled by Christ, is not easy is not comfortable and can be messy and dirty.
Yet for me, what I find even more challenge is this concept that one who loves their life here will lose it.  Ok that’s true we will all lose our life.  Remember it is not a matter of if you should die but when. But Christ says; “those that hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life!” (John 12:25) now that is hard, especially since it is so easy to hear wrong.
If heard wrong, it sounds like we are all going to die but if you hate it here you are going to hate it forever.  But what it says, to me, and let me say this has nothing to do with luxury, rich or poor.  If you are satisfied with the way the world is, if you have no care but for yourself and your own comfort well you lose in the end for that is not what all this is about.
However, no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey if you find yourself hungry for more knowledge of Christ, if you find yourself not comfortable with the world the way it stands and you want to find a way, the way…too make a difference then, then this is your eternal reward.  You get to continue loving, caring and enjoying being in community.
Now l am not saying the other person goes to a fiery Hell.  I have a hard time with that concept.  I believe they, come into the all loving presence of God, the redeeming Grace and love of God, that is eternal, that changes the spirit, moves it, and that beings existence will no longer be the same.

In the presence of God and God’s love one cannot continue being apathetic.  You are going to lose the apathetic life you once had.
But here and now, we are so blessed because we have a knowledge of Christ and we come together as a community because we need that relationship with each other and with God.  And because we are Children of God we are also called to nurture our lives in God, in Christ, through prayer and spiritual practice.
Then as we do the spiritual work for ourselves we find we are called to invite others to join us and grow our community.  Because there are different paths to God we are called to open our building to other denominations and welcome them as our guests as our mission of hospitality. We welcome groups who are are their own path of healing and awareness. We are also called to serve.  We know, I hope, that service takes many forms from charitable giving, to physical participation in programs, to Prayer.  Of course, I am going to tell you, Prayer in all things and all things should be prayer.
If you are surprised that I have brought this back to prayer…you probably haven’t been paying much attention to many of my sermons.  But I want to add something here.  Prayer in all things and in all things prayer and in all prayer joy, so that all things are joyous!  Especially in this Lenten season. I think we have had 2000 years of hearing how bad people are, how sinful people are, how God is angry, and we need to be miserable to be good Christians.
I really do not want to be invited to THAT party!
In Corpus Christi by Terrence McNally Joshua says “Be awake every moment and give thanks to God the Father for it.  Give back as much-no more!-than you have been given.  Laugh.  Fill your lungs with good air and pray.”[7] Joshua goes on to explain that we are not to fear God but pray smiling and boldly even.
So to day I ask you again envision what you may want to see here to help us nourish you and your spiritual life.  What is going to make you smile in the spirit of Jesus? I pray that we all become a Living, growing seed of the spirit of Christ for each other and the community around us. Amen.

[1] Pastor W. Baxendale, A lesson to Pastors and Teachers, 2002, accessed March 17, 2015,
[2] Christine Wenderoth, John 12:20-33, April 1, 2009, accessed March 16, 2015,
[3] wikipedia, Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, last modified December 19, 2014, accessed March 16, 2015,
[4] Robert Deffinbaugh, The Greeks Seek Jesus (John 12:20-50), August 20, 2004, accessed March 16, 2015,
[5] Thom Rainer, Why do people leave and how to bring them back, Medium, accessed March 16, 2015,
[6] Wenderoth, John 12:20-33.
[7] Terrence McNally, Corpus Christi (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1999), Digital eBook

Sunday, March 11, 2018

That our deeds may be clearly seen John 3:14-21

John 3:16 Nice neat little saying…Out of curiosity I googled it then hit the shopping button on the first page there 16 different items for sale…from a key chain that just said John 3:16 to scroll like plaques and banners that have the full long passage.  There are 21 google pages full of john 3:16 merchandise
This quote is probably the most well known in the new testament.  Some may know John 3:16 and not know the words exactly,  others may know the words for God so loved the world …and may not know the verse.
“If we are able to move beyond the historical “romanticizing” of this particular verse in this pericope we might find some new fertile and revolutionary ideas laden within it. The romanticizing I am referring to is the somewhat simplistic view that God gave Jesus to come to earth to save it with love and literally by sacrificing his body without attempting to rid the world of evil, but by magically saving people who “believed” in him.
Most likely John did not intend to promote such a simplistic view of the salvific trajectory. It is therefore necessary to ask some pertinent questions of him and/or this gospel lesson: What does believing in him (Jesus) mean? Why did Jesus need to come into the world? Was it because of sin? If indeed Jesus came to the world to save it from sin, what kind of sin? For John, sin seems to be concrete and structural (that is injustice, hate, lack of mercy, etc.) rather than individualistic.”[1]
It’s the perfect verse to plaster on a bumper, or brandish on a sign at a football game. John 3:16 has become a kind of trademark for evangelical Christians -- a way to reduce and simplify one version of the Christian gospel to a quick sound bite.
In one sense, this use is justified. Following the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-10), verse 16 does fall within a discourse (3:11-21) in which Jesus offers a kind of summation of God’s good purposes for the world. Jesus speech almost seem to be a reflection on his own life.  It is written in such a way it appears Jesus is addressing us directly while he reflects upon just what it means for Jesus to be in the world.
“But if it is true that these verses zoom out to address the big picture of God’s work in Christ, it is not true that the message is simple, nor can verse 16 be understood well as an abstract slogan, apart from its immediate context within John. In the first place, the context suggests that the truth about God’s purposes in Christ is confusing and troubling, not obvious and cross-stitch-worthy. Nicodemus finds this Good News confusing (John 3:10) because it demands that he let go of all that he has accomplished and understood -- let go and become like a newborn, ready to receive the world on completely new terms. There is an ethical dimension to understanding. Some things are hard to grasp not because they are conceptually subtle, but because they ask so much of us. We don’t want to understand, because if we understand, we are implicated.”[2]
John has this way of writing that to one who is not listening or paying attention may seem like an us vs them. But, John’s writing is having Jesus use language of below for what is above.
Raymond E Brown Professor of biblical studies at Union theological reminds us that
“The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Mathew and Luke) describe a failure to understand Jesus' parables of the Kingdom of God; in John this motif becomes more pervasive as a universal misunderstanding of an alien Jesus who employs both signs and polyvalent vocabulary to reveal the world from which he comes.”[3]
What he is saying is John’s Jesus has come to this earth as God incarnate, alien Jesus, who uses not just signs but Vocabulary that has double and perhaps triple meaning.  The people Jesus speaks to do not understand what he is saying fully and often neither do we. We get glimpses, revelations, something hits us this time when we read John and next time it may hit us in a completely different way.
In this Gospel reading we are in the middle of a conversation and dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus. The conversation is long and confusing using double meanings and a very poetic language as well.
So Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the son of man be lifted up….In the desert people we being bitten by snakes and dying so Moses created a bronze serpent placed it upon a pole so that when a person was bitten they could look at the bronze snake and be healed.
In the same way Jesus will be lifted onto the cross….so that we might believe in him
Well what does it mean to believe in Jesus.  What does it mean to have faith in the Christ? What does it mean that God loved the world?
For oyu see the tricky thing about the John 3:16 is that the word for So as in God so loved the world is often mis seen or not heard clearly “The Greek houtos means "so" in the sense of "just so," or "in this way," or the more archaic, "thusly." We could translate the verse as "This is the way God loved the world, with the result that he gave his only Son, in order that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 is not about how much God loved the world. It is about in what way God loved the world.”[4]
The way God showed that Love is by giving Jesus who conquers death so that we may have eternal life. That is Jesus’ message I am here because God loves you, God always has , now I am here to tell you and to show oyu and to teach you how to share in this Kingdom of God which is here and now.
One commentator askes these questions;
“What does it mean to “believe” this Good News that in Jesus “lifted up” God seeks the world’s salvation, and not condemnation (John 3:17)? Simplistically, we might say that it requires us to offer our intellectual assent to the proposition that all of this happened in just the way the story describes, and to accept that it means precisely what John claims that it means. To “believe that” Jesus died and was raised to save us is easy to understand in the sense that it requires almost nothing of us. But such simplicity does not honor the larger story John is telling. This is a story about an encounter with Jesus that left an intelligent and accomplished man scratching his head in bewilderment as he went back out into the darkness. This is a story about how any one of us might reject the light offered to us because of the way it exposes what is dark in us (John 3:19–20). To “believe” this Good News in a way that brings salvation requires more than “believing that;” it requires “trusting in.” To “trust in” Jesus is not simply to believe something about what happened long ago, but also to let our own lives be transformed by the Jesus we encounter in this story:
1) Placing our trust in this Jesus means withholding our ultimate loyalty and trust from other things that ask us to pledge our allegiance. Remembering that he was publicly executed as an enemy of empire, we must be honest with ourselves about the subtle ways we are complicit in and benefit from imperial coercion. The “lifting up” of Jesus on a Roman cross places ever before us the question of who we will serve.”[5]
Placing our trust in Jesus means standing against empire.  This means looking for and standing against oppression.  Do we have imperial forces at work here in our world today?
 The light has come into the world and people loved darkness because their deeds were evil…this actually may be a commentary on the way in which we come to follow the way of Christ.  Sometimes there is just so much darkness around us I believe it is a true miracle when we choose to seek out the light. Even in Johns Gospel there is a process of coming to faith.  Fore the apostles it wasn’t until the met Jesus in the resurrection and ponder all that happened do they understand.
“First, these verses are embedded in a story where Jesus continues to engage, argue, and persuade people who are slowly transformed into believers. In John 3, Nicodemus is the seeker by night who is left in confusion, only to reappear in 19:39 to help care for Jesus' body. He has emerged from darkness into light over the course of Jesus' ministry.
So also the Samaritan woman of John 4 whose long conversation with Jesus ends in a tentative belief, far from where she first began. Consider the blind man healed in John 9, whose move from darkness to light happens rather quickly in physiological terms, but more slowly in terms of identifying Jesus. The intense contrast between believing and not believing, darkness and light, and evil and truth are descriptions of realities, but not of the process by which human beings come to recognize truth, light, life, and God's own son.
Finally, verses 18-21 follow the first and most important contrast, the contrasting ways to depict God's own goal and longing. God's way of loving the world was to send the Son to save it. Jesus is God's expression of love and longing. The light comes to find us, to illuminate our path for our sake, because God wants us. God reaches out through the Son with the sheer purpose of sharing everlasting life with us.”[6]
But how do we do that?  How do we work towards being the Christian Christ calls us to be?
The Three great loves initiative have some ideas…
Churches across the United Church of Christ will collect items to support the basic needs of people living in need of shelter, food, and/or safety. This call to action is the first of the 3 Great Loves initiatives and invites congregations to show our Love of Neighbor in action.
We do that with the scarf hat and Gloves we collect…do we want to make it bigger?  Partner with an organization in town to do more?  I know some are driving for the hot meals program did oyu know if you can’t drive you can volunteer in the kitchen?
The ucc is suggestion book clubs where we learn and read about justice Any group of people interested in learning together about justice and faith. This can be a group that already exists (book club, small group within the church, etc.) or a group that has never gathered before. You are responsible for forming the group and acquiring the books, and the United Church of Christ National Office will provide the discussion guide.
We have a book group and they are engaging in a new book “tears we cannot stop” here is what is being said about this author and this book…
“In the wake of yet another set of police killings of black men, Michael Eric Dyson wrote a tell-it-straight, no-holds-barred piece for the NYT on Sunday, July 7: "Death in Black and White" (it was updated within a day to acknowledge the killing of police officers in Dallas). The response has been overwhelming. Beyoncé and Isabel Wilkerson tweeted it; JJ Abrams, among many other prominent people, wrote him a long fan letter. The NYT closed the comments section after 2,500 responses, and Dyson has been on NPR, BBC, and CNN nonstop since then.
Fifty years ago Malcolm X told a white woman who asked what she could do for the cause, "Nothing." Dyson believes he was wrong. In Tears We Cannot Stop, he responds to that question. If we are to make real racial progress, we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. As Dyson writes, "At birth you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead.... The problem is you do not want to know anything different from what you think you know.... You think we have been handed everything because we fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it - all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace - should be yours first and foremost, and if there's anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully."
[7]  Bob will be tying in some of the white privilege curriculum with the reflections on this book.
I truly believe that we can also do what we can to make sure immigration reform comes about. We need to stand with our youth and make sure the dreamers have justice.
Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper and father of two who has lived in the United States for 30 years, said a painful goodbye to his family at the Detroit Metro Airport early he had no criminal record, he was a year too old to qualify as a dreamer
With nothing but the clothes on his back and less than $300 in his pocket, Amer Adi was put on a plane and deported to Jordan, the country he left 39 years ago to pursue his American dream. He lived in America he has an American wife and 4 daughters who are also American citizens and he owned several businesses and payed his taxes he had no criminal record.
These are just a few examples of what is happening everyday around us two weeks ago ICE was here raiding seven elevens taking people out of their work place.
On Sunday March 24 is the March for our Lives
“The students of Douglas Stoneman High School in Florida have announced a national march to draw even more attention to improving our gun control regulations.
Many of our representatives receive money from the NRA yet ironically speak out against gun violence.
Thoughts and prayers are great but we need REAL change. Show our local reps that it’s time to review our legislation and prevent the normalization of these tragedies. If you support this idea (not necessarily banning guns) please come out for this event ✊🏼✊🏽✊🏿[8]
 I will be heading to stand in unity with our youth as they rally at the state capital anyone can join me if you like.
Christ calls us out of our comfort zones Christ calls us into the light we are called not just to believe but believe and act, so that it may be clearly seen that our deeds are being done in God! Amen.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

we are the Body of Christ (John 2: 13-22)

The Gospel of john comes out of what is known as the Johannine community there are few theories about this group but one of the most common is that they were a community of believers who once practiced in the synagogue and then were kicked out.  They also, by reading Johns Gospel and letters are much more mystical then the other writers.

The writer of Johns Gospel tells us that he has a particular purpose in his writing.  John writes of the Baptizer that “7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.”

John also goes on to write

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)” John is writing so that you may believe where as the Synoptic Gospels, Mathew mark and Luke are also with that purpose but in a different way.  Thy tend to chronologically write of Jesus life.

Where the synoptic Gospels want to show you Jesus life in chronological order then this incident becomes one of the reason for Jesus’ eventual arrest and crucifixion. “the chief priests and the scribes and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him” Luke 19:47

But for John he is showing us something different he wants us to see and hear the same story but in a different way…

Though John was written last, John’s Gospel may be written closer to the heart of a community that has experienced the destruction of the temple and the exile form the Jewish community. “While John’s Gospel may have been written after the other Gospels, it was early enough to have been written by the Apostle himself, a man who saw the events firsthand and recorded them within the lifetime of those who would know if he was lying.”[1]

John “The narrator now describes the situation in the temple: “He found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables” (v. 14). Given the Passover setting, these elements are certainly not out of place. Part of the festival worship involved the sacrifice of an unblemished animal, and the availability of animals for people travelling from a distance (who might risk sullying an animal brought with them) was important. As well, one could only pay the annual “temple tax” in Tyrian coinage, so money-changers provided an essential service.”[2] The temple is all set up for a normal festival weekend.

Interestingly we know Jesus has seen this before “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.” (Luke 2:42) We must assume that he continued this tradition.  So, something significant has happened, but what is it? John is using this story to demonstrate something new and different in Jesus as compared to other people. Jesus has stepped into his Authoritative role as The Christ, the anointed one.

Gilberto ruiz explains;

“The effect of Jesus’ actions in verses 15-16 -- his driving out the sheep and cattle (possibly the merchants too, if they are included in the “all” of verse 15, which is difficult to determine grammatically), his pouring out the coins and overturning the tables, his order for the dove-sellers to remove the doves (locked in cages, which is why he cannot drive them out with the whip) and for the temple to cease being a marketplace -- is to bring the selling to a halt. By taking on the temple’s economic apparatus in this way, Jesus assumes the authority to dictate temple practice.”[3]

By disrupting the well-established and accepted economic practices of the temple, Jesus publicly reveals he is more than a pilgrim visiting the temple. He is Son of the God who dwells in that temple, and as such he has the authority to disrupt the temple’s usual activities.

Remembering Psalm 69:9, the disciples in verse 17 perceive Jesus as demonstrating zeal for God’s “house” (the Psalm quote shares the word “house” with Jesus’ saying in verse 16). This zeal distinguishes him from the majority of temple pilgrims who participated in the temple’s sacred economy. As God’s Son, he can disrupt the temple’s activities and in doing so demonstrate a zeal like that of the psalmist, who like other Jewish heroes said to have zeal represents God’s interests on earth (e.g., Numbers 25:11) and endures hardships as a result (Psalm 69:4, 7-12).1[4]

It is interesting to note that in Johns gospel there are Just 7 signs;

“Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 - "the first of the signs"

Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54

Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15

Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14

Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24

Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7

The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45”[5]

Jesus is just beginning his ministry. Right after the miracle at Cana in Galilee, he returned to Capernaum "with his mother and his brothers and his disciples" (2:12).  John tells us in 2:11 that his disciples "believed in him" after the first sign of changing water to wine.   Now, in this passage, we will see the disciples actively engaged in trying to understand this Jesus in whom they "believe" with the help of Scripture.”[6]

There is an evolution of faith happening in this writing.  Jesus changes water to wine the disciples believe. But in this instance there is a pause for it isn’t till all is said and done that the disciples believe.  The disciples do hold as remembering the sacred text. They recall the psalmist quote and compare it to Jesus’ action. One commentator states:

“In fact, the "remembering" of Scripture and Jesus' own words is at the center of the lives of Jesus' disciples. How useful it is to see Jesus' own disciples coming to deeper realization of what it means to believe in Jesus. Gradually, they come more fully to understand how Jesus serves the God who has sent him out of love for the world.”[7]

In many ways this is what we are called to do just as the wedding at caanan evokes a immediate simplistic respons we now can see that

 “Belief on the basis of Jesus' first sign would quickly prove shallow, even untenable. That belief, important as it may have been, must be deepened and extended. The cleansing of the temple elaborates Jesus' identity for his disciples and for John's readers. In addition, it prompts disciples then and now toward on-going engagement with Scripture as God's reliable (if not always crystalline) word about God's purposes in this world which God loves.”[8]

The commentator goes on

“Central to the passage, and even more so for its use as a Lenten text, is the act of interpretation and remembering. Both times the disciples appear, they are remembering. In verse 17, they reflect on Jesus' quotation of Zechariah 14:20-21 in terms of Psalm 69:9. Jesus explains the temple cleansing in prophetic terms decrying the use of the temple for trade.

Yes, the "trade" in question was legitimate and necessary for pilgrims and others who did not have suitable coinage to purchase the animals needed in temple worship. That historical fact is not relevant. Rather, Jesus is declaring himself both as prophet and as one who claims that the Lord's house is his "Father's" house. His disciples have the first hint of the extreme conflict that will be at the heart of Jesus' ministry, and recognize it as foreboding Jesus' death.

“In spite of their dawning comprehension of perils that surround Jesus, Son of God, King of Israel (1:49), the disciples are no more able than the "Jews" to grasp fully Jesus' statement in verse 19. “Jesus answered them Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (And remember, the disciples themselves, like Jesus, are also Jews). Jesus offers a sign so outrageous and so incomprehensible; it is not until after his resurrection that his disciples understand what he has just said. Jesus seems to speak of the temple but does not. Or does he?”[9]

“the reference to the three days is a foreshadowing of the resurrection but also the ascension. As a result, Jerusalem is at once the location of the completeness of Jesus’ ministry -- his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension -- not just the place of his death. If the temple symbolizes the location and presence of God, Jesus is essentially saying to the Jewish leaders that he is the presence of God. Where one looks for God, expects to find God, imagines God to be are all at stake for the Gospel of John. In Jesus, God is right here, right in front of you. That Jesus is the revelation of God, the one and only God (John 1:18), will be repeatedly reinforced with different sets of images, different characters, different directives, all pointing back to this essential truth.”[10]

Jesus’ play on words and signs as we now understand it because the writer has made it clear that all the disciples now understand it (after the resurrection, allows for further exploration. Jesus is saying my body, this temple will be destroyed and resurrected in three days.  John is saying this here is our center of faith for the authority of God lies in the body of Christ.

During lent we are called to focus on this this journey in which the authority of Christ as God revealed. Especially as God is being revealed through the Gospel of John. You see

“To claim that God was uniquely present in Jesus is certainly important, since it is integral to the high Christology of the Johannine community. {92} … God’s presence within this group as followers of Jesus is central as well. This theme of the ongoing divine presence within the community is prominent in the Fourth Gospel’s “Farewell Discourses” (e.g. 14:16-27; 15:26; 16:7). The Johannine community does not simply worship a “once-for-all” entry of God into human history: it sees itself as the dwelling-place of God in the present context.”[11]

This is the same presence we honor in each other and the Christian community today.  It is a call to remember we are the body of Christ. Not this building, not only when we gather for an hour on Sunday but we are called as the Body of Christ.

As 1 corintians reminds us  …from the message

 “12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of Christs’one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which Christ has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of Jesus’ resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—God’s Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

14-18 I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where God wanted it.”

So finally in the words of st theresa

eresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Let us be the hands and feet of Christ in the world today!

[8] ibid
[9] ibid