Saturday, February 24, 2018

John 13:1-17 ~ 21st Century Foot-Washing

Again, John does not disappoint. Rather, God does not disappoint. I’ve come to John with suspicion and little expectation...and I find a small treasure that enriches the Church and our own Christian lives. Come...let’s see....

v.1-3: John sets the scene and begins that final journey towards the Cross. I am always surprised that Holy Week begins about half way through this Gospel. In the others (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the Passion Week comes in as the last ¼ of the book. Not with John.

In some translations, perhaps the better ones, v.3 bleeds into v.4.  John’s observation or connection here seems odd to me:
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. (NIV)
John sets this up as cause/effect affair: Because Jesus knew these things about himself, he gets up to wash feet. At first, this seems odd. But, perhaps he realizes that his place of ultimate prominence infuses the act with ultimate meaning. The One who is above all is taking the form and behavior of a servant. This means much.

v.4-11: Jesus washes the disciples feet...and engages in that revealing debate with Peter. The debate reveals how stubborn Peter is...and the debate reveals the reason for the foot-washing...sort of.

v.12-17: Here Jesus really reveals what’s going on—no one is above another and no task is beneath another. The passage taken literally indicates that the disciples then and we today are to carry on the practice of washing feet.

Take Away:
First, this seems to be an ‘in-house’ practice. Jesus doesn’t take the basin outside and wash the feet of the passersby. Rather, he is washing his disciples’ feet...and encourages them to wash each others’ feet. Some folks will bristle at this idea: “What? We need to wash everyone’s feet!!” Well, nice thought...but we don’t see it here. This is about washing each other’s feet...caring for one another in the Church. For many, it’s easy to care for the ‘immigrant, homeless, orphan, stranger;’ are we caring for one another?

Second, washing feet means that the disciples have been in the streets, on the road. People who don’t leave the house won’t have dirty feet. Jesus expects that his disciples will be walking the roads of life, that they’ll be getting their feet dirty. Are we and our people getting their feet dirty?

Then, Jesus does this without being asked, and—as far as we know—without anyone saying, “Dang, my feet are dirty. I wish somebody would wash ‘em.” Jesus sees the need, and he acts. He sees the needs of his brothers...and he addresses the need. How many times do we wait until someone says something before we act?

And, what about us in the 21st Century? My feet aren’t really dirty. You can wash my feet, and it’ll probably tickle me more than anything. So, what does ‘foot washing’ mean and look like in our day and time? We’re more likely to get our hands dirty than our feet dirty. Thinking of getting our hands dirty, I recall studying Macbeth in high school and college, and that brilliant monologue of Lady Macbeth in which she washes her hands and mourns, “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” She is complicit in murder...and her hands are stained (not literally.) I wonder if foot washing today may include standing up for our brothers and sisters who find themselves stained, in tight spots.

Maybe you’ve heard lines like these from others:
“Hey, doesn’t Mr. Smack go to your church? I heard recently that he voted against the new re-districting plan...” “You know Susan? I saw her at a party two weeks ago and she was trashed!” “Yeah, I saw old widow Jones at the flea market—she was blessin’ someone out about the price of an old lamp....” 

Time to wash feet—unasked, but needed.
“I know Mr. Smack...and I know he is in worship each Sunday—I think he’s trying to live and do better.”
“Susan struggles with some issues, but she is seeking God. I think we’re seeing changes in her life.”
“Mrs. Jones is one of our faithful ones. I guess everyone has a bad day....”

I’m not suggesting we excuse or explain away the actions or inactions of our brothers and sisters. I’m suggesting we strive to remove some of the grime that society and life may put on them, that we respond with something positive, helpful. We wash their feet and they never know.

Or, perhaps prayer is the water we now use. We pray for people who haven’t asked for it...but who are getting dirty on the road of life. In my own ministry, I collect as many cell numbers as I can of the folks in our congregation. Every now and then, I drop a text that says, “Hey...thinking of you today. You are in my prayers...that God may give you all the strength and wisdom you need for this day. See you soon!” Washing feet...unasked, unexpected.

How many times do we go by the fellowship hall, the church kitchen, a Sunday school classroom...and someone has left it a mess—big or small. When we get down off our high horse, we can grab a hand towel...and wash someone’s them from criticism...and make sure the place is ready for the next person or people coming through.

I don’t know how else to ‘wash feet’ in meaningful ways in the 21st Century. Somehow, we need to find ways to strip away the grime of the daily walk of life, to bring a moment of refreshing to our brothers and sisters in Christ...without their asking, without their expecting. What are ways you have found to wash feet in our day and time?

(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)

Friday, February 16, 2018

John 11:1-44 ~ Resurrection!

This gospel continues to suck me in, to show me new things...and that I am loving. I’m at a conference this week, so my thoughts are brief....

1) “Doubting Thomas” shows a different side here—“Let’s go so we can die with him!” I guess the moniker may be a bit misleading.

2) Resurrection—it only happens if one dies. So, while we get all excited about the new life that Jesus brings, we must remember that we have to go through a death before we find new life.

The writer is quiet on the circumstances of Lazarus’ death. Why did he die? How did he die? We do know that Jesus got word that Lazarus was sick. What kind of sickness? In that time and place, the flu was deadly...much more so than today. Perhaps ‘sick’ was simply, “Something is wrong...we don’t know what...but he’s going downhill.” Whatever it was, it wasn’t a sudden death—like from an accident of some kind. Rather, he died over several days. Perhaps there was pain. Perhaps there were breathing problems. Perhaps he was in and out of consciousness. No matter what, death was not easy. Lazarus may have been aware up to the end. If he wasn’t, Martha and Mary were very aware as they watched their brother slip out of this world. This was hard. This was heart-breaking. It was death. 

Yet, without the process of death, there could be no resurrection. Sometimes, I think we enjoy focusing on the end, the happy ending, but we must think about the death first. This segues beautifully with the Lenten season. Lent is all about self, to sin. We must die. Then, we can live. Then, we can know resurrection.

This passage goes a lot of places—the conversation with his disciples, the conversations with Martha and then Mary, and the outpouring of Jesus feelings (though, I'm not entirely sure what he is crying about....) In any case, it all ends with resurrection.

Are we willing to die or let something die? Are we willing to die to self? Once something dies, resurrection is possible. We are celebrating “Renewal Sunday” this week in our congregation—a time for folks to declare their faith in Jesus, to renew their Christian walk, to come for baptism. So, this passage speaks a message we need to hear—Jesus resurrects our lives...even after we’re good and dead.

Happy Preaching!

(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)

Friday, February 9, 2018

John 9:1-41 ~ Blind to the Obvious

Once again, we have a really long reading for this Sunday. Even so, this story is so crazy, so messed up, I have to read the whole thing for our congregation. As I read through this passage again and again this week, I couldn’t help by wonder if John himself realized what all was coming through this passage. Well, here we go!

9:1-12 ~ The discussion here is rich and flies in the face of much contemporary thinking that—knowingly or not—thinks there is some kind of ‘karma’ that rules the universe...the attractive but misguided idea that good earns favor and evil brings suffering (last I checked, rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike...). This guy’s blindness is not the result of his sin or his parents’—it’s the result of living in a broken, sin-wracked world...and it’s an opportunity for God’s grace and power to be revealed.

Again, John provides no name. Maybe there is a sense of “everyman” behind these stories, but this narrative is so specific, I want to give this fellow a name. Can we call him Daniel?
So, Daniel’s great neighbors are completely thrown of kilter by this miracle. I’m guessing that his blindness somehow affected his eyes so that he could not or would not open his eyelids...or the blindness affected the coloring of his eyes. His face was so changed by the healing, by opening his eyes, that the very people who lived around him weren’t even sure if this was the same guy!

When asked who did this and where he was, Daniel answers appropriately—“I dunno! I COULD NOT SEE!” ha,ha...

9:13-23 ~ “They” brought him to the Pharisees. Who are these “they”? John again doesn’t indicate it, but I’m guessing there was a crowd...and, since it was the Sabbath, there was nothing better to do. All of the closet theologians and front-porch-Pharisee-wannabes take poor Daniel to the Pharisees—either to show off the grand event or to question it. The Pharisees are ticked off that someone is working miracles on the Sabbath.

They interrogate the newly seeing fellow, asking him questions that he may not be able to answer—he’s been blind since birth. Since there was no Braille in those days, we can be fairly confident that he didn’t learn to read and write at the local Hebrew school. Perhaps he has listened well to the many conversations taking place around him, people talking freely since a blind man is often unseen himself in this time (today as well?)

The parents are brought in to testify in this now-established court case. Their response? He’s of age; ask him. John provides one of his ubiquitous parentheticals in v.22—anyone who gets close to Jesus is going to be in trouble! So, Mom and Dad let Daniel answer for himself.

9:24-34 ~ There seems to have been a lull in this. Maybe they took a lunch break. We don’t know, but “a second time they summoned” Daniel, really pressing him for the ‘who’ and ‘how’ and all of that. And here, Daniel proves himself a thinking fellow. He answers tit for tat, not backing down in the face of this increasingly frustrated and angry group of Pharisees. “Why are you so interested? Do you want to follow Jesus? You don’t know what’s going on here—you actually think this guy is against God?...” Well, in the end, Daniel is kicked out of the synagogue. Cut off. But, my guess is, he wasn’t one of their more active members to begin with.

9:35-41 ~ Jesus hears about all the brouhaha and finds Daniel. Of course, Daniel doesn’t recognize him, but I have a feeling he recognized the voice (you see, my wife, Jeanne, and I are watching Covert Affairs on Prime, and Auggie—blind CIA agent—remembers voices). Daniel is so grateful for this gift of sight that he believes, trusts, puts his faith in “Son of Man” and worships him.

This is crazy stuff. When someone receives their sight—someone born blind—this is a time to REJOICE! Celebrate! Go nuts! The neighbors, the parents, the local congregation completely miss the miracle! As I read this, I felt soooo badly for Daniel. I wanted someone to step forwards and say, “WOW! This is great!! God is good!!!” But, no. And, to be honest, when I’ve read and heard this story before, I didn’t either. I guess, I couldn’t see the forest of God’s love and grace for the trees of details, theological questions and pharisaical arguments.

This narrative leaves me a little unsettled. Daniel didn’t ask for the least as far as John tells the story. Then, Daniel’s life is turned on its head. What should be the best day of his life turns into a nightmare—no celebration; his neighbors can’t recognize him; his parents basically save their own butts by throwing Daniel under the bus; and then, Daniel gets kicked out of the local congregation! What does this passage really say to us?

Perhaps this passage is a reminder—
First, it’s a reminder of God’s desire to bring wholeness to a broken world, of God’s love for each of us in our brokenness, of God’s power before the brokenness of the world.

Then, this is a reminder that once we are sure that we see, we immediately become blinded to important things around us. The blind are the ones who see; those who claim to see so clearly are blind. We all want to say, “Yes, yes, I was one of the blind, but now I see....” But, as soon as we claim to see, we are blind again. It’s too easy to think we see and yet be blind to things that are before us. How many times have we failed to see the best intentions behind an act because we were blinded by their failure to go through the proper channels, to ‘get permission’? Perhaps this passage reminds us that we need to celebrate whatever good thing comes our way, comes to our congregations, whatever act of good intention...and worry about the details later.

And finally, maybe it’s a reminder, too, that inviting people to follow Jesus just may turn their lives and their world upside-down. Experiencing God’s grace can really shake up our lives. Knowing God may open doors...and close doors. Not everyone is going to be happy for the good things that happen in our lives. And, we don’t see all the ways that a seemingly simple event may affect or impact a life—in positive or negative ways.

Did Daniel regret this miracle? My guess is, he was set free—from blindness, from a bad family, and from a judgmental congregation. No regrets.

(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)

Friday, February 2, 2018

John 4:1-42 ~ Jesus and Sam...Water and Worship in Samaria

       This is a LONG passage. I doubt many pastors will try to actually preach the whole thing—especially those of us who have Communion to serve as well. But, I guess it’s do-able. Rather, I’ve broken up the passage into manageable pieces. Here are those pieces and what I find:

4:1-6 – This, I’ll paraphrase quickly...and get on to the dialogue.

4:7-18 – We have the beginning of a very interesting conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman (What was her name? Can we call her ‘Sam’, short for Samantha?) The talk begins around ‘water,’ and like the conversation Jesus had with Nick (John 3), there’s are two planes of discourse. Like Jesus talked of rebirth with Nick, this talk of ‘living water’ just goes over Sam’s head—she doesn’t get it. Some may make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is interested in just the spiritual, but I think he wants to help people see that there is more than just the physical. After all, Jesus is tired and thirsty—he really does want a drink of water...plain, old, wet water. But, that conversation serves as a segue for something deeper than the well and more satisfying than the water.

4:16-18 – This is a strange and rather abrupt change of direction: “Go, call your husband and come back.” And then we have that implicating reality set before us: “...You have had five husbands, and the man you now have it not your husband....” Woah! Here is where in my childhood and early adulthood the pastor would go off on this ‘woman of ill repute,’ this brazen, unfaithful woman. But, those pastors and preachers may have jumped the gun.

Here’s what I see. Later in this passage, this woman proves herself no dummy—she knows theology, belief and practice. In fact, to read the rest of the conversation one would get the idea that this woman is in fact fairly well-read when it comes to issues of faith and may even be a faithful follower of the Samaritan practice. If that is so, she may be so conservative and faithful that when her first husband died and they had had no children, she actually married his brother...and when he died...and when died.... So, multiple marriages may even be a sign of faithfulness rather than unfaithfulness! Anyway, she perceives that Jesus is a prophet, and the conversation goes theological.

4:19-26 – Many focus on this part of the discourse...and with good reason. Jesus, who has just recently cleared the temple, posits that God ‘is leaving the building.’ In fact, God is leaving ALL least those of stone and mortar. Worship is not about place; worship is about heart. The Jews no longer have a corner on worship space. Now all space is become worship space. Worship begins within, not without—in spirit and in truth. And, this conversation between Jesus and Sam certainly has been focused on truth. This passage ends with Jesus making a reality-shaking self-revelation—I am the messiah!—that is sort of missed, brushed aside, falls flat because the noisy disciples appear on the scene....

4:27-30 – The disciples show up ‘looking cross-eyed’ at Jesus. He’s talking to a woman...a Samaritan woman. But, are these feelings that seem to come through the text those of the disciples...or of John the writer? John already has revealed his hand, showing that he likes to add commentary here and there. Is this some of John coming through? Well, no matter—we can only discuss it and not find a definitive answer. Seems like a good time to leave the scene, so Sam runs off to town to tell others about this person she’s met.

4:31-38 – These verses practically relate a story within a story, a theological discourse within a discourse. Since this passage takes off talking about food and harvests, I’m not going to read this on Sunday nor will I tackle the themes. This passage might be a sermon in itself someday.

4:39-42 – That verse 39 is amazing: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” Here, in the opening chapters of John’s Gospel, we find the first evangelist, first missionary...and she’s a woman of Samaria. Okay...right, Andrew and Phillip also told their brothers...each one brought one. But, here’s a woman who brings part of her village to Jesus...or who brings Jesus to her village. Jesus crossed borders in reaching out to Sam, but Sam crossed borders as well, boldly taking up the challenge to engage in conversation with a Jewish man at the end of the day by the village well...and then tells the village about her cross-cultural, border-crossing adventure.

What do we take away? Oh, let’s cross borders—talk to the shunned, engage people who are other, chat with folks at the local watering hole. Let’s not get so caught up in where we worship...but let’s get caught up in worship. And, if someone comes and tells us they’ve found something good, we ought to get up off our duffs and see what all the hoopla is about—it might save our lives.

(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)