Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 15:9-17: Fruit of Love

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s passage, Jesus is exhorting his followers to love as the Father has loved and has he has loved. He says to continue in my love” or to abide in my love.” I wrote in the previous post about how I love the word abide.  It connotes both rest and permanence to me. We abide in his love and extend that love to others.

This passage ends with:

You did not choose me. I chose you. And I gave you this work: to go and produce fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15: 16-17 (Easy-to-Read Version)

I like that the fruit we are to produce is strongly linked to love. We cannot produce fruit outside of love. I have had heated discussions with people about various tricky passages in the Bible, and for me it always comes down to love. I say that if I err, I want to err on the side of love, which never seems like an error when it comes to understanding Jesus.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 15:1-8: Abide

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In this passage, Jesus describes himself as the “true vine” and the Father is the gardener. He tells his followers as the branches. He describes the need to remain connected to the vine in order to produce fruit. The branches cannot produce fruit alone. He says “Show that you are my followers by producing much fruit. This will bring honor to my Father.”

Typically I like to link to the Easy-to-Read Version (ERV) of the Bible, not because I have any difficulty reading but because I enjoy a different perspective on stories than what I have read all my life. I memorized tons of verses as a child and teenager, usually from the King James Version (KJV) or The New International Version (NIV). Now in my own prayer and study at home I usually use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)  I often prefer to read the simpler ERV to get a new angle on an age-old story. However, with this passage, I really prefer how other versions use the word “abide”.  Here’s verse 5 in the NRSV: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

The idea of abiding is so lovely. It’s a word of comfort and permanence and rest. Most of us stay so busy all the time, whatever our roles in life. Sometimes pursuing our spiritual life can seem like yet another chore, but it’s not meant to be a chore but an abiding. How do we abide amongst all our busy-ness? Take the time, be gentle with yourself, abide in Jesus.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 10:11-18: We Sheep Are Loved

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s passage, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep. He contrasts the good shepherd with a hired hand who doesn’t really care about the sheep and runs away if a wolf comes to attack.

Jesus says he cares for the sheep and knows them as the Father knows him. The sheep also know him as he knows the Father, and he gives his life for the sheep. He also says he has other flock outside this flock to lead. Finally he says,

No one takes my life away from me. I give my own life freely. I have the right to give my life, and I have the right to get it back again. This is what the Father told me.”

John 10:18 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Did Jesus actually predict his own death? Or is that a later claim by his followers as their theology developed? Bible scholars say perhaps not. But I think the importance for us right now is to see what John is trying to tell us in this passage. How great is this love Jesus has for us? We are beloved and cared for like family. We are precious and important to God, not mere useless animals. We need to see ourselves and our fellow humans as beloved members of the family. What a different world it would be if we could have that understanding and see as God sees.

I see people (especially in political discussions) belittling others who disagree with them as sheeple”. But none of us are sheeple. We are all beloved children of God, and it’s heartbreaking to see some of God’s children belittling and dehumanizing one another (whether calling them sheeple or in other ways). It can be hard to love people. It can be so damn hard. But it’s what we are called to do if we are to be like Jesus.

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B: Luke 24:36b-48: Breaking Bread (or Fish)

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

In today’s passage, we have another example of a post-Resurrection Jesus. He comes among his followers and tells them, “Peace be with you.” But they were afraid, thinking they were seeing a ghost. He reassures them and tells them to touch him and see that he has a living body. He shows them his hands and feet, with the scars of the crucifixion.

They are happy but still disbelieving, so he asks for food and he eats some fish. Then he reminds him that he has told them before that everything written in the prophets would have to happen to him. He explains the scriptures to them and tells them they must go and call on people to repent, starting with Jerusalem and then to the people of all the world.

I don’t know that Jesus ever actually told people before he died that he was destined to die and rise from the dead, but I think the key point here is Jesus’ presence and humanity. He comes to them as he had been before death–breaking bread and communing with them. Too often Christians miss the humanity of Jesus for the divinity of Jesus, but he is fully human and fully divine. The humanity is important. The eating, the scars, the presence is important. He doesn’t come back making a big flashy display but he comes back to them human and ready to break bread with them. Then he sends them forth to break bread with the world and share his love.

 

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B: Acts 4:32-35: Radical Christianity

Acts

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B by clicking here. Last year I discussed the passage from the Gospel of John, so this year I will focus on the brief passage from the book of Acts, quoted in full below.

The whole group of believers was united in their thinking and in what they wanted. None of them said that the things they had were their own. Instead, they shared everything. With great power the apostles were making it known to everyone that the Lord Jesus was raised from death. And God blessed all the believers very much. None of them could say they needed anything. Everyone who owned fields or houses sold them. They brought the money they got and gave it to the apostles. Then everyone was given whatever they needed.

Acts 4:32-35, Easy-to-Read Version

Imagine how radical it would be (radical in the revolutionary sense, not in the 80’s cool sense) if the church still functioned like this. Imagine if the world functioned like this. (I’m now hearing John Lennon’s voice in my head).

I am not going to get too political here (that’s not my strong point), but I have to point out that this is far different from the way the United States works today. I also have to point out that many churches today emphasize individual prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing. Certain preachers emphasize that if you are right with God, you will have more money, that you can then donate to their ministry. However, they aren’t using that money as the early church did–to share everything in common with all the believers or the rest of their community. The ministers who crow the loudest about prosperity are typically keeping a lot of that money for themselves, though they may use some for soup kitchens here and there. American Christians often like to trumpet that we are a Christian nation founded on Christian values, but you don’t see them wanting to put this passage or the Beatitudes up in public places, but only the Ten Commandments.

How can we change this paradigm? How can we become Christians who live radically and share radically like the early Christians? I confess I don’t know, but I know we need to speak out when we see the exact opposite kind of Christianity in the public sphere. I want to speak out when I see Christians who oppress the poor, refugees, and other marginalized people instead of professing the true love of Jesus. I pray to God that we can really be Christ to people and that we can turn around this vision of American Christians as cruel and hateful.

 

 

Easter Day, Year B: Mark 16:1-8: He is Risen

Jesus Tomb in Holy land

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You can see all the lectionary readings for Easter Sunday, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

I love the simplicity of this story in Mark. Three women, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James come to the tomb of Jesus just after sunrise on the first day of the week. As they approach the tomb they realize they will be unable to move the stone covering the entrance to the tomb. Just then they look up and see that the stone was already moved. They walk into the tomb and see a man in a white robe. They are afraid, but he tells them not to fear.

You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, the one who was killed on a cross. He has risen from death! He is not here. Look, here is the place they put him when he was dead. Now go and tell his followers. And be sure to tell Peter. Tell them, Jesus is going into Galilee and will be there before you come. You will see him there, as he told you before.”

Mark 16:6-7 (Easy-to-Read Version)

The women are afraid and baffled. They run away from the tomb and don’t tell what happened out of fear. And there it ends. There are later additions to Mark that tell more of the resurrection story, but this is where the original ends (though some scholars think there was more to the story and that part is missing). It does seem to end very abruptly.

I enjoyed this note from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible:

16:8 They said nothing to anyone. Ancient audiences appreciated irony. Sometimes in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus warns witnesses of miracles not to tell anyone, yet the witnesses proclaim it widely (1:45; 7:36); here, when finally some people are commanded to tell (v. 7), they remain silent!

I love that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women, at a time when women were not considered reliable witnesses and weren’t allowed to testify in court. But in the story of Jesus, they matter. If Mark were just making up this story, he wouldn’t invent the first witnesses to be women; he would make them fine upstanding men.

In  Marcus Borg’s Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark, he invites readers not to argue about whether the resurrection was a bodily one or not, but to ask the question of meaning:

What does the story of the empty tomb mean?

For early Christians generally, Easter had two primary meanings. Jesus lives–he is a figure of the present, not simply of the past. And Jesus is Lord–one with God, raised to God’s right hand, vindicated by God as both Lord and Christ, and thus vindicated against the powers that put him to death. All of these are present, explicitly or implicitly, in Mark’s story of the empty tomb.

You may notice that I often put the Gospel stories in the present tense as I recount them–it’s because I do like to make the stories of Jesus immediate and present. He is risen and he is with us. He is Lord of now, not just of then. He is risen, he is risen indeed!

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Year B: Mark 14:1-15:47: Expanding the Kingdom

Palm Sunday

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s lesson is a very long one, so I think I’ll focus just on one part.

Then Jesus cried out loudly and died.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn into two pieces. The tear started at the top and tore all the way to the bottom.

Mark 15:37-38 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So much of Jesus’ ministry was the expansion of the Kingdom of God. He was always reaching out and inviting people in. He despised following strict statutes at the expense of helping people (for instance, he healed on the Sabbath). He associated with sinners and tax collectors (those marginalized and despised by “respectable” people). He talked to women in ways other men of his time did not. He was constantly expanding the invitation of God’s love. And at his death the Temple curtain was torn in half. The temple curtain symbolized the separation between God and humanity and Jesus. In Christ there is no separation; we are all drawn to God. As we learned in last week’s lesson–when Jesus is lifted up he draws all men to him.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 12:20-33: Seeing Jesus

Resurrection

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In today’s passage, some Greeks come to Philip (Bible commentaries note that Philip is a Greek name so that might be why they came to him) and asked to see Jesus.

Jesus’s response seems a bit odd. He says, “The time has come for the Son of Man to receive his glory. It is perhaps related–his message is spreading beyond the Jewish people to Greeks and others, so his time has come in that.

He also says that those who are willing to give up their life will keep it and have eternal life. He says that he is troubled and that he come to this time so that he could suffer.  Then suddenly there was a voice from heaven saying, “I have already brought glory to myself. I will do it again.”

Some who are there think the voice is just thunder but others believe it is an angel. Jesus tells them the voice is not for them and not for him.  He says, I will be lifted up from the earth. When that happens, I will draw all people to myself.”

He will be lifted up onto the cross and therefore people will be drawn to him ever after–not because of the cross but because of the resurrection and his message of love and reconciliation.

So again, this story starts with some people wanting to see Jesus. And Jesus basically responds that he will draw people to him in his death. His response is also that they need to be ready to give up their life. To really see Jesus, to know Jesus, is to know his suffering–to give up their life. It’s a radical message. It’s one maybe we still aren’t usually ready to hear. Do you want to see Jesus?

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 3:14-21: Snake on a Pole

The Serpent in the Wilderness

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

I grew up in Evangelical churches where we were quoting John 3:16 all the time. It was everywhere. It was key to the whole gospel, central to everything. Yet how did I never know that this passage started out with a reference to that kind of weird time Moses lifted up a snake in the desert?

Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. It is the same with the Son of Man. He must be lifted up too. Then everyone who believes in him can have eternal life.

John 3:14-15, Easy-to-Read Version

This is referring to a passage in Numbers, which naturally is our Old Testament reading for this Sunday. When the Israelites were dying from snake bites, God told Moses to put a brass snake on a pole for them to look at and be healed. It didn’t prevent the snakes from biting or drive off the snakes (no St. Patrick kind of thing), it just healed the bites they got. (See Numbers 21:4-9).

So Jesus is being compared to the snake life up on a  pole. The snake is lifted up and when people look to it, they are healed. So the comparison says that Jesus will be lifted up (literally lifted up onto the cross and then lifted up in his resurrection) and people will look to him and be healed not from just snake bites but from death.

I want to share a couple passages from a great sermon from the Rev. Ben E. Helmer from Sermons that Work on the Episcopal Digital Network website:

Deep Lent, as some call this time, is when we struggle with the darkness, and may not always find answers to why it is so pervasive. We cannot answer why evil seems so prevalent because we can’t readily see it in our own choices. So, asking to be part of the light will reveal what is hidden in our darkness, and most of us would prefer not to see. That is why self-examination and confession are rare and avoided by most of us. But we have strayed like lost sheep, we have followed too much the desires of our own hearts, to the point where, left on our own, we are truly lost.

And also this:

The only reason Jesus could go to the cross was because he dared to walk into the darkness. We have to do the same if we are going to follow him the rest of the Lenten journey. That means leaving a lot of things behind, including the world’s wisdom for how to live in the darkness by making everything pleasant for ourselves.

So let us look to the example of a loving Jesus on the cross as we await his death and resurrection during Lent. We will come through this darkness as he did and come to joy.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 2:13-22: Temple of Injustice

Granada - fresco Jesus Cleanses the Temple

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In this week’s passage, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He creates a big scene in the temple there, overturning tables of the money traders, driving out people and animals, and cracking a whip (literally). It’s an amazing story about a Jesus usually seen as gentle and compassionate.

I really like what I read about this incident in The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I highly recommend the book to anyone for a deep dive into Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. Christians have often been taught that Jesus is objecting to the sellers and money changers themselves, though what they are doing is legitimate business that helps people purchase animals for sacrifice–it’s part of the rituals of the temple for people to achieve purification. They were probably very busy close to Passover. They point out that the phrase “den of robbers” (usually in the English translation) doesn’t mean a den where people are robbed, but rather where the robbers go to hide out after robbing. Jesus is condemning the temple in a different way–for it’s collaboration with the evil domination system and the injustice of the time rather than for the particular rituals being carried out at that moment. In fact, Jesus declares that if they tear down the temple, he will rebuild it in three days.

But the temple Jesus meant was his own body. After he was raised from death, his followers remembered that he had said this. So they believed the Scriptures, and they believed the words Jesus said.

John 2: 21-22 (Easy to Read Version)

This made me think about Christians today. Some of us collude with those who would oppress the marginalized and with racist and sexist systems. It’s disturbing to see Christians siding with cruel injustice instead of standing up for the oppressed. It’s something I will examine in my own motives and actions.