Day of Pentecost, Year B: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15: The Advocate

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Day of Pentecost, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John. I already wrote about the Acts passage for the Day of Pentecost, Year A.

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus is telling his followers about the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom he calls the Advocate and the Spirit of truth (at least in the translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible).

He says that the Advocate will testify (or in other words, advocate) on his behalf. His followers are also to testify about him. He explains that he didn’t tell them this before because he was with them, but now that he is returning to the one who sent him, he sees that they are full of sorrow. He tells them if he does not go, the Advocate will not come to them, but when he goes, he will send the Advocate to them. He says the Spirit of truth will guide them into all truth.

He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16: 14-15

This is a rather complex passage for me. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible talks about the meaning of Advocate and testifying in relation to courts and legal matters, which makes some sense. As an advocate to speak on legal behalf of a client, the Holy Spirit is like an advocate–working in the hearts of Christians to help them know and follow the way of Jesus.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 17:6-19: Liminal Space

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Seventh 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 praying for his followers. He says that they have believed that he was sent from God and his glory is seen in them. He prays that they will be kept safe and will be as one. He also prays that they will happy, though he says the world has hated them because they don’t belong to the world.

The passage ends with this:

Make them ready for your service through your truth. Your teaching is truth. I have sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world. I am making myself completely ready to serve you. I do this for them, so that they also might be fully qualified for your service.

John 17:6-19, Easy-to-Read Version

For this passage I’m going to share a link that I found helpful and thought-provoking by Jerrod McCormack from Sermons that Work on the Episcopal Digital Network website. I am currently in a sort of liminal space myself. I’m in the process to become a postulant for the priesthood, but it’s currently out of my hands, waiting for some paperwork to be done between my rector and the bishop.  Meanwhile I’m in a stage of waiting and praying and continuing my life as it is, looking forward to big changes and action to come. I can use this passage from the Gospel as an example of how to abide in God in that liminal space.

 

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.

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

Resurrection

Source: iStockphoto.com

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.

Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 9:2-9: Transfiguration

Bruges - Transfiguration of the Lord  in st. Jacobs church

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

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday—it’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing sort of more than human—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah, ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “Jesus was changed.His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone on earth could make them. Then two men were there talking with Jesus. They were Elijah and Moses.

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good that we are here. We will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the one I love. Obey him!”

Imagine how surprised they were at all this. When they looked again, they saw that Jesus was alone. As they went down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw until “after the Son of Man rises from death.”

There’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t attempt to explain it much.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  The most I can say is imagine if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help) and your friend and teacher was glowing from within in a miraculous way. How would you react? How would you think God was at work?

Continuing the theme of Epiphany, this passage highlights the authority and unique preeminence of Jesus. Mark wants us to know Jesus is not like other teachers. And the same voice that called out at his baptism calls out again to single him out as the Son of God.

 

Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:14-20: Following Jesus

Bologna - Jesus call the Apostles St. Andrew and John

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

Today’s story is at the early part of Jesus’ ministry. He goes into Galilee to tell people about God. He tells them that God’s kingdom is near and they need to change their hearts and believe the Good News.

 

One day as he’s walking by Lake Galilee, he sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew. They are fisherman so of course they are doing their work and throwing a net into the lake for fish.

Jesus tells them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a different kind of fishermen. You will bring in people, not fish.”  They immediately stop fishing and follow him.  I love the idea of this.  Here are these two regular guys out fishing for a living.  Jesus walks up and is like, “OK, quit that and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And they’re like, “OK, let’s go.”  In the version of this story found in Luke’s gospel, more happens (you can read it here) but it’s amazing to imagine these two guys just dropping their nets and taking off with Jesus.  How amazing Jesus was and is to affect people that way.

Jesus continues walking by the lake and sees James and John, who are called the sons of Zebedee (they are also brothers). They were preparing their nets on their boat. Their father and other men were also in the boat. Jesus also told these brothers to come, so they up and left the boat, leaving their father and the other men to follow Jesus. Again, there’s more to the story in the link above in Luke’s gospel. Again I love the idea that Jesus so wowed them that they abandoned their profession right then and there and went to follow him.

What are you prepared to change in your life to follow Christ? Is there anything you need to abandon to be a true Christ-follower? How can you change your heart and life to really follow him?