Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 13:31-35: Love One Another

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

This week’s Gospel reading goes back to before Jesus’ death.  We’re back in the upper room where they are having the last supper. At this point in the evening, Judas has just walked out after Jesus has predicted that he would be betrayed and handed the bread to Judas to indicate he knows it is he who will betray him. I think it was probably a tense moment and the other disciples were probably confused and frightened by the way Jesus has been talking. In some gospels he’s already talked about his body and blood and death. 

Now he says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” When Jesus says the “Son of Man” he’s referring to himself. While researching this passage I read that some consider this his way of saying he was not just the Son of God, but also fully man. I also read that it may distinguish him as not just a Son of David (Jewish) but as coming for all mankind as he’s a Son of Man. 

As for the being glorified, that’s a bit complicated. I took classes in New Testament and in Theology in college, and I’m still not sure what exactly that’s about. All I can figure is he is talking about his death and resurrection (which is what the focus of this last supper has been). Then he goes on to say that he will only be with them a little longer and he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come” (again referring to his coming death and resurrection). 

At this moment it’s like he’s preparing them for that time and then comes one of my favorite scriptures, and the heart of his gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  How true that is…and how sad that many Christians do not show that love to one another or especially to those who are different from them. It’s such a simple command, and yet can be so hard to fulfill.

Third Sunday of Easter, Year C: John 21:1-19: Feed My Sheep

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

This week I was set to preach, but got sick with food poisoning the night before. This is what I would have preached (and what was read for me by my friend Jan):

Our story begins with the disciples deciding to go fishing. You can imagine the strong emotions they have been going through since the death and resurrection of Jesus: shock, awe, trauma, then joy. They’re probably undergoing confusion and tension. It has to put them in a state of mental overload. We have all been there, even if our own experiences might not be as dramatic as theirs.

Sometimes when we are in a state of emotional upheaval like that, we want to do something comforting and familiar—like have a bowl of ice cream, read a well-loved book, or watch a movie we have watched many times before. In this case, Peter decides to go fishing—it’s what he was doing the day he met Jesus. Perhaps he thinks after all this maybe he’ll go back to a normal life.

I want you to take note of two key characters in this story. Obviously, Jesus is the main character as he’s the subject of all the Gospels, but there are two more who are very important. The first is Peter, whom I already mentioned.

The second is referred to as the Beloved Disciple. He’s called that several times in the book of John and remains anonymous. At the end of this same chapter it’s revealed that he is the source for this Gospel, so traditionally people have assumed it’s John, but no one really knows for sure. I’m going to just call him John just to simplify things, because “the Beloved Disciple” is a bit of a mouthful. (I even considered calling him the B.D.—but that’s a little silly—so John it is).

These two men have very different personalities from what we can tell. Peter is impetuous, a man of action, who often acts without thinking and can get himself in trouble. He has moments of great bravery and moments of great cowardice—as when he denies knowing Jesus three times while Jesus is being interrogated following his arrest.

John is more cautious and thoughtful. When Mary Magdalene tells them the tomb is empty, both John and Peter run to the tomb and John arrives first, but Peter is the first to go into the tomb. Then it says that John believed, but Peter did not yet believe. John seems to be the kind to have a deep understanding but he is slow to jump to action; whereas Peter leaps first and asks questions later.

That brings us back to today’s story, keeping in mind these two very different personalities. While they are out fishing, they don’t catch a thing. Jesus is standing on the beach, but they don’t recognize him. He calls out to them to cast their net to the other side of the boat. When they do, sure enough they have so many fish in the net they have trouble hauling in the catch.

At this point John says, “It is the Lord!” He has the insight and recognition—perhaps remembering the same miracle from the last time Jesus told some of these same fishermen to change where they cast their nets. But it’s Peter who takes immediate action, throwing on some clothes and jumping in the lake to swim to shore. John and the others remain in the boat and haul the nets to shore.

John recognizes Jesus first, but it’s Peter who takes immediate action. We need to learn to do both—to recognize and hear the Lord, but also to act, which is the best response of a committed faith. Both the recognition and the action—the knowing and the doing—come from a place of love.

You may notice there are a lot of parallels to previous gospel passages in this story. First there are parallels with the fishing story of how some of the disciples met Jesus, which I said might have prompted John to recognize him. Once more they are completely unsuccessful at fishing until Jesus tells them to move the nets, then suddenly their nets are full to bursting. Remember that in that instance he told them to leave their nets and he would make them fishers of people instead.

The first story is of their calling to be his disciples; this story is of their calling to be more than disciples—to carry on Jesus’ mission into the future. Last time I preached, I actually talked about Jesus declaring his mission to help the poor, to heal, to bring freedom, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus is now sending his followers (and us) to fulfill his mission. That was the beginning of his ministry and this story is the beginning of ours

Another parallel is how none of the disciples recognize the risen Christ on shore at first. This happens in multiple resurrection stories. Even now that they have already seen him post-resurrection they still do not have immediate recognition. We also may not always recognize when Jesus is at work among us.

Another parallel is how Peter quickly jumps in the water to go to Jesus—this reflects the time Peter is on a boat and sees Jesus walking on the water. He asks Jesus, “If it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Imagine the audacity that required! Then when Jesus says to come, He leaps out of the boat and begins walking toward him, until he wobbles and begins to sink. It is almost like his brain finally catches up to him. Peter was such an amazing man—a messy, impetuous human. You can imagine Jesus shaking his head at his antics, but also loving his big, reckless heart.

Finally, there are more parallels when they come to shore. Jesus cooks them breakfast and they eat together as they did on the night of the Last Supper. This time they eat together not as an ending but as a beginning. The disciples have been lost and hurting but now they will move forward with a purpose. From this moment on they continue the work Jesus started—they grow his church and spread his message.

The next parallel comes when Jesus has a talk with Peter. You may recall that after Jesus’ arrest, when he was being questioned, Peter denied knowing him three times, just as Jesus told him he would. That was the only other time in the gospel of John that a charcoal fire is mentioned, so it very deliberately refers back to that incident.

Now Jesus asks him a question three times, and please note he calls him by his original name, Simon—it was Jesus who renamed him Peter, meaning “the Rock”:
“”Simon, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
“Simon, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” Now it says that Peter felt hurt that he kept asking.
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter is rehabilitated and reinstated after his three denials. He is back to being Peter, the rock on whom Jesus will build his church. However, he is not simply reinstated as a disciple; he is being given a new role. He is set a charge to love and feed those whom Jesus loves—his sheep, meaning his followers but also anyone in need. We don’t dwell here on Peter’s past but on Jesus’ grace and his call to carry on his mission.

The words “feed my sheep” refer to providing for physical needs as well as spiritual—Jesus is the model of that as he has modeled feeding people as he teaches them. He has tended to physical illness as well as spiritual needs.

Jesus was feeding and blessing people at once and he calls us to carry on that ministry post-resurrection. When we break bread together in the Eucharist, it is in that same spirit—we are fed by God and we share that moment so that we can go forth and share the love of Jesus Christ and feed others both physically and spiritually.

Earlier in John, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” To keep the commandment to feed his sheep is to love Jesus. He is calling Peter and us to action. Again, we need both the recognition and wisdom of a John and the love in action of a Peter. To love Jesus, we must know him and we must act on his behalf.

Do you ever feel that Jesus is saying to you “If you love me, feed my sheep?” The call to feed his sheep is not only for priests and other ordained servants—it’s for all of us. It is in our baptismal covenant–that we will with God’s help seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. How can we feed his sheep? What does that mean today?

This whole passage reminds us of who Jesus is and how his grace and love are not at an end but continue on with us. Cast your nets to the other side of the boat—make a change—are we living in fear and confusion or are we moving forward in faith and action in love? Go forth and feed his sheep.

Proper 8, Year B: Mark 5:21-43: Jesus Embraces Impurity to Heal

You can see all the lectionary readings for Proper 8, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage, Jesus crosses the lake in a boat and when he lands crowds surround him. A leader from the synagogue named Jairus comes (apparently not everyone in leadership was opposed to Jesus, at least not when in great need). He bowed down before Jesus and begged him to heal his dying daughter.

Jesus accompanies Jairus, but as he goes he is still crowded by people. A woman suffering from a debilitating illness that caused constant bleeding was among those following him; she thinks that if she can just touch his clothes, she will be healed. As soon as she touches his coat, her bleeding stops. Somehow Jesus felt the power and looked around to ask who touched his clothes.

His disciples are surprised that he is asking about a specific person touching him when he has so many pushing around him, but he insistently looks around until she comes up to him and bows at his feet, shaking in fear. She tells him her story and he tells her she will not suffer anymore.

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains that a woman with such a bleeding condition would be considered unclean and as she pushed through the crowd she would be causing other people she touched to be unclean by the Levitical laws–it may be part of why she was fearful, because she could have also rendered Jesus himself ritually unclean by touching his clothes. Instead she is cleansed and purified. It is significant that he made the act known publicly and did not fear impurity. Jesus meets people in their need with love.

Then some people come from the home of Jairus to report that his daughter has died before they have even arrived. But Jesus told Jairus not to fear, just to believe.

As they entered the house, Jesus asked people why they were crying. He said the girl was only sleeping. Then he had the crying people leave the house and he went to the girl, bringing along her parents and three of his disciples. 

Jesus let only Peter, James, and John the brother of James go with him. They went to the synagogue leader’s house, where Jesus saw many people crying loudly. There was a lot of confusion. He entered the house and said, “Why are you people crying and making so much noise? This child is not dead. She is only sleeping.” But everyone laughed at him.

Jesus told the people to leave the house. Then he went into the room where the child was. He brought the child’s father and mother and his three followers into the room with him.

Then Jesus held the girl’s hand and said to her, “Talitha, koum!” (This means “Little girl, I tell you to stand up!”) The girl immediately stood up and began walking. (She was twelve years old.) The father and mother and the followers were amazed.Jesus gave the father and mother very strict orders not to tell people about this. Then he told them to give the girl some food to eat.

Mark 5:41-43 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Again, Jesus ignores the rituals–touching a corpse could make one even more impure than touching a bleeding person. But Jesus does not hesitate to take the dead girls hand and again, rather than him being made impure, she is brought to life and purity.

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.

 

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

Palm Sunday

Source: iStockphoto.com

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

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

Source: iStockphoto.com

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.

Easter 7, Year A: Acts 1:6-14: Jesus Ascends

Jesus Ascends

Jesus Ascends – Source: iStockphoto.com/KimsCreativeHub. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the First Lesson reading from the book of Acts.

In the Acts story, we learn about Christ’s ascension.  It’s a lovely way to end the Easter season and lead up to Pentecost next week.

The apostles were together with Jesus and they asked him if it was now time for him to give the people of Israel a kingdom again.  Jesus told them only the Father knew dates and times and it wasn’t for them to know, but then he promised them the Holy Spirit would come and give them power and that they would carry his message around the world.

Then after he said that, he was lifted up into the sky. As they watched, he went into a cloud and they couldn’t see him anymore.  I think this is a beautiful image of him the risen Lord now rising away from them.  While they stared at the now empty sky, two men in white suddenly appeared and said, “Men from Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky? You saw Jesus carried away from you into heaven. He will come back in the same way you saw him go.” They can’t spend life staring at the sky but need to get on with things (I know some people who are so obsessed with Jesus’ return that it seems they are always looking into the sky instead of getting on with things).

The story goes on to say that they went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and were all together with other followers, constantly praying.

As I said above, I think it’s helpful this week to close out the Easter season—review what happened on Good Friday and then on Easter, review the stories of how Jesus visited people for 40 days before ascending to Heaven.  Then next week is Pentecost, when he sent the Holy Spirit to be with his followers and the Spirit continues with us today.  Though he is in Heaven, Jesus is with us all the time and the Holy Spirit guides us (as it says in our creed).

 

Easter 6, Year A: Acts 17:22-31: To an Unknown God

Areopagus Hill

Areopagus Hill – Source: iStockphoto.com/milangonda

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the reading from the book of Acts.

In this story, Paul was in Athens standing in front of the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis. (see the pic above). It was also the site of a governmental body (the Council of the Areopagus), which tried serious crimes like homicide, but apparently met for other matters as well. Earlier in the chapter it reads, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.” I admire their curiosity. Apparently, they were curious about what Paul had been arguing about all over town and brought him to the Areopagus to find out.

Paul noted there that the Athenians had erected an altar with the inscription, “To an Unknown God,” like they were really covering their bases in case they didn’t know about all the gods. Paul uses this as a clever segue with the words, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” to introduce them to God and the story of Jesus.

Paul was probably a very educated man, from all accounts. He was a Jew, but also a Roman citizen, which allowed him some freedoms and privileges other Jews in the Roman empire lacked. You can see him using his education in this sermon at the Areopagus as he quotes Greek poets:

[H]e is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

He is explaining God as omnipresent creator and disdaining the practice of creating gods formed by human hands. I love the idea of the “unknown god” and the mystery of God who is so beyond understanding. I also love Paul’s passion here. He yearns to bring people to know the God he knows. He is dismayed by the evidence of their many idols, but not condemnatory. He instead reaches out to them to tell them about Jesus and his resurrection. He doesn’t want God to remain unknown to the Athenians. Sharing the love of God is like sharing your love for other people, in some ways—like the way people newly in love can’t help but go on and on about their beloved—so Christians should be about the love of God. Some people laughed when he talked of Jesus’ resurrection, but others wanted to know more. And the same is true today—some will dismiss Christianity but some will embrace it. We must just continue being witnesses in the Jesus Movement.

Easter 5, Year A: John 14:1-14: Doing Great Things in His Name

John

John – Source: iStockphoto.com/tracygood1

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

A lot of times I like to paraphrase the Gospel story as I write.  This week I’m not able to paraphrase very well because it just seems best to go ahead and put it in Jesus’ own words (well, in the English translation we have of Jesus’ own words).  This week’s Gospel lesson is about another time Jesus spent with his followers after his resurrection.  Jesus is talking to his disciples and tells them not to be troubled but to trust in God and to trust in him.  He tells them, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with me, so that you can be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Remember Thomas, who is curious (not just doubting)—he is the one to ask a question here: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Thomas is the kind of guy who likes to be more certain he knows what’s going on.  Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father too. But now you know the Father. You have seen him.”

Philip responds with, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.”  (Isn’t it a shame Thomas gets a rep for being Doubting Thomas? No one ever talks about a Demanding Philip.)

Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I have told you don’t come from me. The Father lives in me, and he is doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done.

“I can assure you that whoever believes in me will do the same things I have done. And they will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.  If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.

I like the part about “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too.”  It’s the heart of the story here—God sent us Jesus to show us Himself.

I’m less comfortable with the end of Jesus’ speech, because it’s been taken to mean some pretty crazy things by some Christians.  “And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you.”  I once attended a church where people were into the prosperity gospel (believing God wants believers to be prosperous and all it takes is faith to have success, money, healing, whatever—flip side is if you have any problems you must just lack faith—I consider that very damaging theology).  The day a teacher got up and said he felt he lacked faith because he gave his daughter Tylenol I walked out and never returned.  Anyway, I think the key to that verse is the “in my name”.  It’s not a magic formula—if I just pray “In Jesus’ name” I can have whatever I want.  I think it’s more about praying in accordance with what Jesus himself would want—praying in His way, if you will.

I also love how Jesus promised that those who believe in him will do great things.  You could talk about how we can do great things for Jesus in our own community—for instance in our church we have a program that provides breakfast to the homeless every Thursday morning.  And the Episcopal church at large has so many programs of great things they are doing out in the world. For instance, Episcopal Migration Ministries is helping refugees (click here for more info and while you’re there, click the Ministries tab near the top right and see how many other amazing things the church is doing for Jesus).

We know a lot about Jesus from the Gospels talking about what he did healing and helping and also the stories he himself told about how we should live.  From there we can see the great things he did and how we can then do our own great things in our own communities. I believe that we have to look for where God is at work and join Him there—healing and helping around the world.