Category Archives: Uncategorized

9/24/17

Exodus 16:2-15

Matthew 20:1-16

“The Kingdom of heaven is like” …this quote always means two things: listen up and hold on tight!

Listen up because Jesus is about to drop some wisdom about who God is and what our role as believers compels us to do.

Hold on tight because you are about to have your ideas about the world turned upside and you are going to want to either squirm in your seat at the awareness of the ways you are falling short of God’s kingdom vision or/ and, you will sit there tightly grasping your assumptions that Jesus is obviously talking to the other people in the room, you’re good.

Any of these thoughts sound familiar?

Any cringes in the congregation?

I have always been fascinated by the way the Kingdom of Heaven puts us in opposition to the economics of our world.

Jesus constantly calls into question some of the most basic ideas we have about money, wealth, and equity.

His original audience was no more immune this shock value than we are.

In fact, this is the second story in a row that ends with the same counter-cultural lesson, “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In chapter 19, we read about the difficulty of wealth existing within the Kingdom.  About the seemingly impossible maneuvering it would take for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of heaven, like a camel going through the eye of a needle.

And in today’s passage we hear from wage earners about their ideas of how money is earned and what fair pay looks like.

It begins with a man hiring workers in the morning, negotiating their contract and then sending them out to the work.

This we understand.

This makes good sense.

This follows the common sense of our adages like, “the early bird gets the worm” and “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” and other phrases that have been handed down through the generations.

Then it is 9:00am, and the landowner goes out for more workers.

I am still okay with this.

I mean, 9 to 5 is a respectable work day.

They are still getting in on the ground level and really earning their pay this day.

Then, fast forward, almost the entire day occurs, marked subsequent trips by the landowner to the marketplace. Even at 5:00, one hour before the end of the work day he is hiring more workers.

He asks those still gathered in the marketplace at 5:00 why they are not working and hears that they have not been able to find work on this particular day.

And, here is where I would love to know more than the story tells us.  I want to know what was going through the landowner’s mind.

Did he wonder what it was about these workers that prevented his neighbors and others in town from hiring them?

Did he give them a once over to assess their ability to do the work required in his vineyards?

But, we don’t get this information.  We don’t have any idea what business model this man is running or what sort of employer he is going to turn out to be.

The end of the day soon arrives and the workers are called in from the vineyards, beginning with those 5:00ers.

At this point, they had put in some work, there may have been a little sweat on their brow, but with their late start, who knows how much they were expecting to get paid.

They were handed the wages for a full day and again, I want more character development.

Did any of them say anything?  Ask any questions?

Remind the landowner that they had been part of the 5:00pm group, in case he had them confused for one of the early risers?

Somehow, those who had been working since morning heard about the wages going to these 5:00ers and began thinking, “jackpot!  If these people who just worked a short amount of time are being paid for an entire day, just think how much he owes us for our work!

I bet we get double that!

I may not even have to work tomorrow with the bonus we are about to get!”

So they come in from the vineyard, tired, drenched in sweat from the work and the scorching sun, but full of anticipation about the extra-large pay check they are about to take.

But then.

But then, they are handed a regular day’s wage.

That’s right, the exact same amount that those 5:00-ers got.  The.

Same.

Amount.

Can you imagine?

Can you put yourself in their shoes for just a minute and really feel all the range of emotions they must have experienced?

Since I am in school to be a therapist, we are going to spend a minute naming some of those emotions.

Anger.

Exhaustion.

Shock.

Disbelief.

Frustration.

Underappreciated.

Taken advantage of.

Enraged.

I mean, it goes against everything we are taught.

It is completely unfair.

How could a one measly hour of work ever earn the same amount as an entire day toiling under the sun?

If you have ever been around a pre-school aged child, you are probably imagining the same scrunched-up, reddened, big eyed look that accompanies the screams of “NOT FAIR!  NOT FAIR!!”

And if we look honestly enough at our own lives, I am sure we can all come up with recent moments where all we wanted to do was scrunch up our face, go red in the cheeks and open our wide mouths to yell out about the unfairness of the world.

Maybe this feeling also comes up when you are watching the news.

Hearing about all the terrible things going on in our community, our nation, and the world.

Hearing about how your taxes are being used to help pay for medical treatments for people you will never meet or for international aid for some nation you would have a hard time locating on a map.

Do you ever want to pull another classic preschooler move and stick your fingers in your ears to block the unfairness of the world?

What hope is there if there is not fairness?

What good news comes in a world where we cannot trust that good, hard working people get the rewards of their hard work?

Ah, but then, this parable has more characters we need to examine.

There are people who began this day at a disadvantage.  Unhired.

Worried about their ability to support themselves and their families if no work comes in.

Those 5:00ers.

They make me think more about those people around the world who we may only think about when their tragedy enters the safety of our homes on our TVs or through our Facebook feed.

And even about the faces we see splashed on the TV as the leaders of our nation fight over who deserves affordable healthcare and what pre-existing conditions should eliminate a person’s ability to be able to get the care they need.

These people that we push to the margins, Jesus, in his loving kindness makes an extra effort to draw our attention, and more importantly, our compassion towards.

We know so little about these workers.

Why were they still in the market at 5:00?

Had they been there all day and just not picked up?

Did they not arrive until after the other people left?

Did they have a valid excuse for their tardiness?

If they were qualified and capable of timely work, surely someone else would have hired them.

If they were valuable, surely someone else could have found them respectable work in the morning.

But, alas, that is not how the story goes.

Any lesson filled with these notions of capitalism and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, every person for themselves, or “getting exactly what you work for and earning it all on your own” are economically never the lessons of the gospel.

Not the moral of Christ’s teachings.

You see, it doesn’t matter the reason why some worked since dawn and others began their work close to supper time, the landowner, the holder of the power and the resources, rewarded everyone with a day’s wage, with fair pay.

Fairness needs a different definition to help us understand this story and in reality, all of Christ’s teachings.  I offer this one from my childhood:

When my brother and I were children and fighting over whatever it was that seemed unfair to us on any given day, we heard from our mother, “Fair does not mean equal.”

Fair does not mean equal.

When the landowner paid the workers, he looked past equal and everything being the same, and looked forward to fairness and the justice of making sure people have what they need to survive and thrive in this world.

Maybe he knew the circumstances that left some of the workers waiting until 5:00 for a job.

Maybe he knew their families and their narratives.

Maybe not.

But, whether or not he knew their stories, he saw them as whole people, not just laborers that he could take advantage of or get a “good deal” on, like he was shopping the endcaps at Target.

He valued their humanity and their work.

He treated them fairly and paid them for their work.

He used the abundance of his vineyard to give people a living, fair wage.

If we look back to our reading from Exodus, we see a similar pattern.

The people are in need.

The entire traveling group of Israelites were all like the 5:00ers, worried about food and not having any sort of way to earn or buy or trade.

They are trying their best to follow God on this liberating journey from slavery into the Promised Land, but they were humans.

They were tired,

they were hungry,

they were thirsty,

and they were beginning to lose hope as the journey seemed unmanageably long.

So, God provided Manna.

God gifted the people food in the desert and a renewed hope.

God gave the people what they needed to survive, their daily bread.

God didn’t make a chore chart for the Israelites to earn their quail and their manna.

There was not a ranking order where the harder workers got more or the more important people got better choices.

All were fed, all was fair.

 

Luckily for all of us, God who placed the manna and the quail in the desert is the same one who provides for the early morning laborers and those who don’t begin the work until closer to closing time.

God redefines fairness in a way that ensures everyone has a day of Manna or a full day of wages.  When people in this world go hungry for bread, or isolated from opportunities because of oppression and systemic racism or sexism or any of the other isms of our time, that is the work of our sinfulness, not the work of God’s kingdom we read about today.

God’s concern for our well-being is gracious, we are given more than we could ever earn, no matter what time we begin our work days and how scorching the sun is, God’s wages of love, community, and the forgiveness of our sins is a wage beyond our comprehension.

And that is good news.

What we do with this good news is our response to God’s love.

We keep doing good work, but always check our motivations.

What are we working towards?

Whom are we working for?

Are we gracious with our blessings or are we looking over our shoulder to see who has more than us?

Are we working to learn about God’s definition of fair and how we can move our world to be more like that Kingdom of Heaven  or are we counting to make sure we have just as much (and hoping for more) than our brother or sister?

As we go out into the world today and this week, may we examine the work we are doing in our homes, offices and school.

And may we seek in all that we do to be arbiters of this gospel vineyard,

land where there is Manna for all

and the labor of all people is fully appreciated and put to the mission of God’s peaceable Kingdom.

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9/29/17

Isaiah 43:18-25

Luke 5:17-26

“We have seen strange things today.”  For some reason this summer, on the 1000 time I have heard or read this story I heard this final phrase for the first time.

Maybe because the lectionary does not include Luke’s telling of this story, it uses the version found in Mark.

Maybe because when this story was taught to me as a child or when I read it out loud for my youth to act out, we stopped before this moment, thinking the real message came before this last thought.

Maybe because after five straight years of Presbyterian theological education, I have heard and read so many sermons that my mind searches each Biblical story I encounter for something new to preach/blog/exegete/theologically reflect upon.

Maybe because the moment I heard this story this summer, my world had never felt so strange, and in my lifetime, our shared world had never felt so strange,

and the reaction of the crowd seemed like the most honest words I had ever heard.

Strange.

But, it is true.

In a way, this story is strange from the offset.

An itinerant teacher with a large following comes to town,

But not just any traveling Rabbi, this one comes with a following of people calling him the Messiah.

This one carries with him the story of a humble birth,

a Baptism complete with an appearance from the voice of God,

a mishmash group of fishermen as his closest friends,

and most recently in Luke’s recounting of the story, the power to heal revealed through not just anyone,

but a leper,

a person that he probably wasn’t even supposed to be close to, much less touch him.

Then consider the strangeness of the gathered crowd itself.

As a child of a college town, I know the strangeness of that first week of classes,

the week where our sleepy little town fills with cars always needing to turn left where there is no left turn lane

and students who cross the street wherever they want, no matter how far away they are from an actual crosswalk they are or what color the traffic light is where they want to cross.

You can ask my grandparents; it turns our familiar little town into a strange little city.

It is only here, in the strangeness of the crowd and in the presence of this new miracle-working Rabbi, that the strangeness of the healing takes place.

Four men walk through the crowd with their friend on bed.

The excitement of the crowd, the people standing shoulder to shoulder, children and dogs milling about between people’s legs, there’s no room,

no space for this caravan of friends to break through,

especially not while carrying a bed with them.

I almost hear one of them say to the others,

“Hey, I know this sounds like a strange idea but what if we…”

and then their plan was hatched.

Then, how freaked out were the people in the house with Jesus when this man began descending from their roof.

At this point, this may have even been a strange sight to Jesus himself.

It was at least enough to grab his attention.

It was enough for him to notice, in this sea of people, this one man and his friends.

Can you imagine how strange it was for all the people gathered, especially those four friends,

possibly still up on the roof looking down on this scene,

to see the man, the one they had known to be unable to walk,

the one they may have given up hope on-but never gave up caring for and supporting-

to see him get up, and carry the mat out of the door, through the crowds.

Doing independently the work that the four of them had labored through together on this day, and in all probability, many days before that.

Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe saying, “We have seen strange things today.”

As someone elbows deep in my search process, with my PIF sent to my CPM and my committee liaison emailing me daily to say, it should just be one more day until you can upload it to the CLC (translations for this sentence can be provided after the service—or by the Presbyterian student sitting closest to you),

I read this story as a wonderful statement of vocation.

It isn’t as clearly laid out as a call story like the one at the beginning of the chapter with Jesus calling his first disciples, but I argue, it is possibly more like the call stories of this modern world.

It is less of a response and more of a reaction.

A reaction to the strangeness in the world AND the strangeness of things we are taught as facts in this world in being turned on their heads by the good news of God’s redeeming love.

A reaction that leaves all of our brains trying to catch up and understand while our mouths mutter something like the people gathered that day,

“whoa, that was strange.”

Or, “What just happened?”

It is how we respond to glory of God once the everything we thought we knew somehow doesn’t fit anymore.

It is the resilient belief in something strange and amazing and the curiosity that keeps us wanting to know more.

It is that strange feeling that your life could have been extremely different if you hadn’t been in this place at this exact moment.

And for me, in this moment, that strangeness is good news.

In the history of our faith and God’s work creating and recreating the world and God’s people, these strange moments are important to watch because

with this strangeness and this newness

comes a better and stronger understanding of who God is

and how God’s people are supposed to respond.

In the passage from Isaiah that aJourney read this morning, we are offered part of a great declaration of the wonderfully strange things that God is doing both in that moment in history and, it is my belief, in our world today.

God is about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Do we perceive it?

Do we see the strange and wonderful things God is doing in our world every day?

Isaiah’s message speaks to hope and a future that seemed strange and far away to a people experiencing exile and dreaming, but maybe not daring to hope for a return home.

Luke’s Gospel includes this strange story of four men carrying their friend to Jesus, traveling for who knows how long to meet with this newish teacher hoping against all odds for a miracle.

And in our world today, it seems naïve at times to believe in a different world.

To believe in a world where people are treated with equality, much less the equity it takes to ensure that each has the abundant life we hang our theological hats on.

It is hard to imagine that any new thing, any new idea, any new community can make a dent in the evils in our world.

Then again, it seemed impossible for four people carrying a fifth person on a bed to get through the crowds

And I bet it seemed impossible to those gathered that Jesus could forgive  sins much less heal a man who was paralyzed.

Not to mention how impossible it must have seemed for a man, after being paralyzed, to immediately pick up his bed and walk out of this crowded house that moments earlier he couldn’t get into to save his life.

The good news is strange news.

It is news of healing in the face of paralysis.

It is news of water in the desert.

It is the news of people gathering together to hear the teachings of Christ

and then making room for the miracles to go out into the world.

A world so in need of miracles.

It is the news of hope for the exiled,

hope for those in the literal and metaphorical barren lands.

It is news of a table being filled

and a community being gathered to remember the story of a strange moment in the middle of what would have otherwise been a normal meal with friends.

A moment where the future was told, filled with both grief and new life, and it was too strange for those gathered to believe until they saw it unfold.

It is the affirmation we make as we share in this meal today, too amazing and strange for us to understand until the prophecy is fulfilled and Christ returns.

So, revel in the strangeness of it all.

Let it keep you on your feet,

searching for answers,

but also searching for brand new questions.

Don’t let the strangeness deter your journey,

let the strangeness guide you.

For in these moments of strange,

there is often something amazing that may just readjust your path in ways you could never imagine.

God may be about to do a strange new thing.

Amen

Children’s Sermons (Advent 2015)

Advent 1: Isaiah 43:1-13

Main idea: New things are scary.  It is okay to be scared, but the new thing could be amazing, so it’s okay to be scared.  God is with us.

Who here has been scared to try something new?

Maybe you were scared while you were learning to ride your bike?

Maybe you were scared when your family moved or you started a new school?

Are there any other times when you have been scared to try something new?

(pause if the children have other answers…the goal is to talk about new experiences, not so much fears like room monsters, so use guiding answers like “That does sound scary, can you think of any scary times that were around doing a new activity or being in a new place?)

After the children have had a chance to answer, continue:

Sometimes, when we have these nervous, scary, new times, there is someone around to offer us words of comfort.  Maybe a parent, a teacher, or a friend is there that we can talk to when we are scared.  Have you ever thought about talking to God when you are scared, when you are standing right on the edge of doing something new, exciting, and a little scary?

Today, Pastor L is going to read from the book of Isaiah.  This book was written for people when they were in a scary place.  God had made promises to them about how wonderful their life would be and all the amazing things in store for them, but when for this group, they were far away from home and scared.  If you listen to the reading, count the number of times you hear the words, “do not fear”.  

God knows we get scared sometimes.  But, sometimes, to have an adventure, to try a new thing, to grow up, we have to be afraid and keep going.  When we are afraid, we can talk to God and receive God’s comforting words, “do not fear”.  And then we can keep looking for the wonderful new lessons and adventures God has in store for us.

Let us pray.

God who is with us always,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  Always, you are with us.  Always you are giving us comfort and encouragement to grow and learn.  When we are afraid, remind us of your love and presence.  When others are afraid, help us remind them they are not alone.

Amen.

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Advent 2: Esther 4

What time is it?

When is the last time you asked that question?  Was it on a long car ride?  Or when you were waiting for your favorite TV show to come on?  Or maybe it was almost time for recess at school and you looked up at the clock 1000 times in five minutes.  

What time is it?

Is it time for school?  For church?  Is it time to go play outside or to come in and get ready for dinner?

There are other reasons to ask about what time it is.  Questions that are less about the clock on the wall and more about being ready.

Is it time to ask for help on your homework? Or time to help a classmate once your homework is finished? Is it time to go and sit with the kid in class that other people pick on?  Is it time to buy a new coat or maybe look through your closet for last year’s coat that you can donate to a coat drive because it is now too small for you?

Being ready to help others, to use what you have, from coats you have outgrown to sitting with a lonely classmate takes courage.  It takes willing being willing to step out and take a risk.  It may be scary, but it may also have wonderful results.  It takes courage.

Today, we are going to hear about Esther.  Esther was a queen and when her family was in danger, she bravely stood up to the king to protect them.  She stood up against his bullying.  It was a dangerous job to do, but she knew that it was time, this was her moment to stand up and be courageous.  God was with her and she was brave.

Let us pray:

God who is with us always,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  Always, you are with us.  Always you are giving us comfort and encouragement to grow and learn.  When we are afraid, remind us of your love and presence.  Even when we are afraid, help us to know when it is our time to be courageous.

Amen.

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Advent 3: Genesis 2

Did you know that you all have a superpower?  In fact, everyone has this superpower.  It is your breathing.  Maybe it doesn’t sound super because you do it all the time without even thinking about it.  But it really is like a super power.  When you take depth breaths, you can run faster, sing clearer, or even smell cookies sooner while they are baking.  You can even control some of your feelings with your breathing.  Next time you are angry or scared, trying breathing in and out slowly, even counting 1-2-3-4 as you breath in and 1-2-3-4 as you breath out.  You will be amazed how much breathing can help.

So, as amazing as our super power breathing is, can you imagine how super and amazing God’s breathing is?  Today in church we are going to hear about how God created our whole.  Can you guess how our world was created?  God’s breath.  God breathed and a wind came over the chaos and the whole world came into being.  God created with a big breath, but we create a new moment with each breath we take, big or little, happy or angry, scared and brave. God is in each breath we take and each moment we experience.

Prayer:

Emmanuel,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  When we breath in, you are with us.  When we breath out, you give us comfort and encouragement to grow and learn.  When we are afraid, remind us of your love and presence.  When others are afraid, help us remind them they are not alone.

Amen.

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Advent 4: Luke 5:1-10

How many of you have played Simon Says before?  Let’s try a little: “Simon says pat your head.  Simon says hop on one foot.  Simon says clap your hands three times.” (If the children are purists, you may have to tell them that Simon says to stop all of those actions, they may just stop when you say the next thing. Try to get them back to sitting however you can, whether you need to tell them that Simon says to sit down or not.) In today’s Bible story, Jesus gives two commands, just like Simon says.  Jesus has come to the house of a man Jairus.  To the grown ups in the house, Jesus says, “Do not fear!”  To the child in the house, a little girl who was so sick in her bed that some people thought she had died, Jesus took her hand and said, “Get up!”  Jesus heals her and she has a brand new chance to live her life.  This story is a miracle, but it also seems like really good advice for our church today.  Jesus, like Simon, says two major commands, “Do not fear!” and “Get up!”  So, let’s practice, Jesus says to the little girl, “Get up!” and she got up and started walking around so let’s stand up and walk in place.  Jesus tells the adults, “Do not fear!”  So let’s say that to our adults, say it with me “Do not fear!” (Maybe do this a couple times if the kids are not loud the first time).  Now, as we are standing, and while we walk in place, we are going to do another thing Jesus teaches us and say a prayer.

 

Emmanuel,

Sometimes we are afraid.  Sometimes we are brave.  You are always with us.  You are always there to tell us to “get up” and not to be afraid.  You fill our days with possibilities to live and to show your love in our world.  You created this wonderful world and you created each of us.  Help us to get up go out into the world without fear, sharing your love and your stories.  Amen

Hair

I have tons of pages of writing to do soon, so of course, here I am blogging about my hair instead.

During writing final reflections for CPE and reflecting upon all of the wacky things in life that have happened to drop me where I am right now in the journey of life and discernment I have one underlying thought going most of the time: I have lost my hairbrush. I have gone over a week without one. I have worked it out with strategic morning showers and ponytails, but it has made me think about my hair more than I have before, maybe ever.

For the most part, I like my hair. It is low maintenance and goes with the flow (everything I try like crazy to be). It does its own thing and wants little input from me about my plans for it. I also have come to hypothesize that it would be my biggest tell if life were an ongoing game of poker. The harder I am trying, the less my hair looks like it belongs on my head. The more tired I am the “more natural” (sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a gross way) it gets. When I am trying to psych myself for something (could be anything, paper writing, exercising, dealing with a new group or in the middle of an argument or heated debate) I go straight for the high pony tail.

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My hair speaking more truth to the magnitude of the experiences we had in the Middle East than my words or thoughts have been able to do.

My hair connects me to my family and at the same time marks my autonomy. When my brother wasn’t able to convince me that my out-of-place hair color was the truest mark of adoption, my hair made me remember my scotch-irish heritage and the way that my aunt taught me to flip my bangs out like Farrah Fawcett.

It isn’t always easy to point out the things we like about ourselves (or, using my I driven language that I have been practicing this summer in CPE-It isn’t always easy for me to point out the things that I like about myself) but this week, during the end of a beautiful but exhausting summer, in the midst of getting ready to move and travel around until fall term begins, and on a day where life seems to be un-catch-up-able, I like that my hair was its normal lion’s mane this morning and now seems to be more at peace. A peace that will seem gone tomorrow morning when I get out of bed, but will find its way back onto and inside my head again and again.

Nobody Warned Me (Ash Wednesday)

Yesterday I was able to experience Ash Wednesday in a new way.  I was given the task of placing the sign of the cross in ash upon the foreheads of those gathered to worship for our weekly campus chapel service.  I was nervous but I was also excited.  This is one of those pastor things that I was excited to do for the first time.

Nobody warned me.  They prepared me for the act, I practiced my “lines”, I dipped my finger into the bowl of ashes before chapel (to check about how much I needed for each person), I drew so many practice (ash-free) crosses on my own forehead that my friends joked I would have a red cross on my forehead all day.  But, nobody warned me.  

I stood up at the same time as those serving communion.  Then my friends started walking up.  My friends, my classmates, my professors, my mentors, people whose children I care for, people who I have come to with bad days, bad ideas, and bad attitudes, only to be met with grace and conversation.  And as I reminded them that they are from dust and to dust they shall return, it may have reminded them, but it certainly reminded me.  

I marked people I care about with the sign of death.  Who does that??  I stood there and reminded people I care deeply about that they were going to die and suffer.  It broke my heart.  Nobody warned me how much that would hurt.  

But then again, nobody warned the disciples what they were getting into by following this Jesus fellow.  Nobody warned Mary that for her baby to be the savior of the world, she would have to watch die in a public, horrific way.  Nobody warned them.  

Nobody warned me.

The Gospel of John

As you begin teaching John, it will be important that you teach his context and the ways in which the differences between his Gospel and the other three can be used as tools to investigate the overall story portrayed in all four Gospels, the story of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is good to remember that while there are some distinct differences between all the Gospels, but especially John, those differences are tools that enable your readers to get a fuller understanding of the faith and context of the earliest Christians.  If you, as their teacher, can help lead them through this journey, it may truly be a blessing for them (and you) to look at the story of Christ through the Gospel of John’s unique lenses.

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The Gospel of John. 

The one gospel that doesn’t quite seem to get on the same page with the other three.  Like Ringo Starr in the Beatles or Michelangelo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Gospels wouldn’t be the same, full team of work without John’s Gospel, but it seems to always be mentioned last, and with some hesitation and extra explanation.  For this first lesson in John, we are going to look into the historical context of John in comparison to the context of the earlier Gospels and then we are going to spend some time looking into important theological statements we make in the church today that have their basis in John’s Gospels.

 

Historical Context:

 When it comes to the historical context of John, most scholars agree that John was written after the composition of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  According to Alan Culpepper’s The Gospel and Letters of John, the writing style seems to suggest that this Gospel was penned in a time more contemporary with the Epistles (the letters between the Christian leaders and the early congregations across a wide region).  This, for modern purposes, makes John a good choice to read as we end a series on the Gospels and begin preparing for lessons on the Epistles.

Culpepper notes that the style of the discourses recorded from words and lessons of Jesus are longer in John than the short sayings and parables in the other three Gospels.  John also is more out right and explicit when talking about the divine identity of Jesus and his follower’s response to his words and presence.  These differences contribute to the claim scholars make that John was written after the Synoptic Gospels.  The goal of Matthew, Mark, and Luke seems to be more frantic.  They are trying to get down as much as they could remember about what Jesus said and did.  By the time John began pinning his work, there wasn’t such a rush.  He was able to construct more of a narrative of the ministry of Christ.  His story was for a people who needed more of the background information and more of the details surrounding the lessons and actions of Christ for them to have as strong of an impact as they had for the early followers.

Another important historic circumstance to keep in mind as you discover the Gospel of John is the ways in which the Christians were separating themselves and being separated (because those two things are not the same and yet both important parts of the story) from the Jewish religion and culture.  John mentions multiple times (9:22, 35; 16:2) the seemingly harsh separation between the followers of Jesus and their heritage in the faith tradition of Judaism.  By the time John was writing, there seemed to be little doubt that the movement of following Christ was not a subset of Judaism, but an entirely different religious movement.  This realization of differences and separation created tension between those followers of Jesus and the Jewish culture and traditions surrounding them.  This tension is not cited in the time when Jesus was alive, but by the end of the first century, the separation had occurred.

 

            John’s Presence in Today’s Church

 

            In the PC(USA) we have four main references that we base our beliefs, governance and worship around.  The first is the Bible and obviously you realize the importance of our scriptures or you wouldn’t have gotten this far reading this blog.  The other three are special to the PC(USA).  The first two, the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions make up the Constitution of the PC(USA).  The third book, The Book of Common Worship is a resource used by pastors in almost every Presbyterian Church.  It provides pastors with prayers and liturgy for every aspect of church life, from weddings to funerals, baptism liturgy to the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving offered whenever the Eucharist (Communion) is shared. 

            As you are reading the Gospel of John, I thought it may have more meaning if you knew even just a few of the many ways John’s words shaped our church’s Constitution and regular worship.  Here are a few references from each book that use the words of John as their actual text or as a citation for their meaning

            In the Book of Order and the Book of Confession, there are not as many places where the Scriptures are quoted directly, but the words and lessons of the Gospels are often cited as the reasoning behind the actions and beliefs of the church.

 

The Second Helvetic Confession (found in the Book of Confessions) points to the words of John 3:16 in its discussion of people being elected for salvation based on the loving acts of Christ in his death and resurrection.

 

The Longer Catechism asks the question

“Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?

  1. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies;2 and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation,3 and offers of grace by Christ, to all members of it, in the ministry of the gospel, testifying that whosoever believes in him shall be saved,4 and excluding none that will come unto him.

The last part of the answer comes from John 6:37

 

In the Book of Order’s introduction to Christian Worship, the very understanding of Jesus that we claim in our Presbyterian Worhsip (W-1.1003-Jesus Christ-In the person and work of Jesus, God and a human life are united but not confused, distinguished but not separated.) is based in part on John 1:1-14. 

 

 These are just a few of the many examples of the ways in which the teaching and writing of John are influencing our church today.  As you continue studying this unique Gospel, think of other ways that it has already been a part of your faith life, maybe without you even realizing it, and the ways in which it adds new dimensions to your understanding of Jesus, and his life, death and ministry.

Ash Wednesday

So, since I complained about seminary trying to ruin my Advent (not really ruin it, just change it…probably for the best in the long run, sometimes I just need to be in the moment and petty), I feel it is my duty to report to the three of you reading this that Seminary made my Ash Wednesday a meaningful and wonderful (in the deep, still kind of sad way that one is supposed to experience the start of Lent).

It started with chapel this morning.  Two of my friends here have a baby that was born on the last day of our Summer Hebrew class.  I threw them a baby shower with our whole class and every week as soon as they were bringing her to community events, I have had a weekly chance to hang out with Baby K.  This week, since both of her parents are in choir, I offered to hold Baby K during the service.  We did a pretty good job not being a distraction.  We missed about half of the sermon, but other than that, we held our own.  Being that is was Ash Wednesday, when we went up to receive Communion, as we do every week, we also received our ashes.  Since, by this point, Baby K was passed out in a deep sleep, I went up there, her in tow.  There was something in that moment that made me stop and ponder.  Here I was, having ashes spread on my forehead (with vigor I may add…if there are two pastors placing ashes, there is always one that does so with more fervor than the other) holding this baby whose journey in this world only began around 7 months ago.  I was holding this relatively new life in my arms as I was being reminded of my mortality, and the mortality of all.  That combination was both difficult and miraculous.  

Then tonight at the church I have been attending pretty regularly since I got to Richmond (initially due to the fact that it is about two and a half blocks from my backdoor, now I am beginning to get more into the life of the church there), we had an Ash Wednesday service in the style of Supper Church.  We shared the meal of the Eucharist as well as a meal of soup and salad around the same tables.  We sang, prayed, read scripture  and reflected together around those very same tables.  It was a celebration of being together and a reminder of the fact that even as we go into a season where we remember Christ being alone in the desert, we get to go into this time as a community.

Peace to all as we begin to walk this lonesome valley.