“What Did They See?” John 14:15-21

the-woman-at-the-well-daniel-bonnell“I wonder what they saw in Jesus?”  — Those first followers or the people who called Jesus “friend.”

Do you ever muse about that?

I do.

I wonder what it was that they saw in Jesus when he walked besides the shores of the sea of Galilee and called to those first rough fishermen.

What would prompt a person to give up their livelihood, (namely fishing,) to follow Jesus?

What would entice you to leave your own father, the boat, nets, and servants that would someday be yours – your whole inheritance and way of life to take up a life of listening to an itinerant preacher?

I wonder what Matthew the Tax collector saw that would prompt him to give up his lucrative position behind a desk to take up a lifestyle of itinerant living, dependent upon the kindness of strangers and the hospitality of friends and acquaintances?

I wonder what it was about Jesus that made Zacchaeus come down out of his tree and pledging to give up half of everything he owned to any he had defrauded.

What did the woman with a blood flow see in Jesus to want to risk it all by reaching through the legs of the crowd just to touch the hem of his garment — with no assurance at all that it would make any difference?

What made a Samaritan carrying her water jar even bold enough to approach a strange man hanging out by the well in the middle of the day?  Everything about this screams danger.  Women, would you keep walking if you were all by yourself and saw a lone strange man leaning against your destination?    What would you have to see in order to allow you to allow him to strike up a conversation?

What did they see in Jesus, that led them to such acts of trust, following, risk or even confrontation?

I think musing about that question has been the source of a good deal of artistic speculation through the centuries, (some of which I’ve just shared with you in these few images), but there are so many more depictions, and impressions.    In all of them we find the artist trying to capture what it was that perhaps caught people’s attention about Jesus in the first place.

From this earliest depiction from the Catacombs in Rome of the 3rd Century, of a dark skinned, clean shaved man in Roman dress.300px-Healing_of_a_bleeding_women_Marcellinus-Peter-Catacomb

To these more modern interpretations, (for better or worse!)  There is a sense that we are straining to find the best way to connect to Jesus, understand what people saw in him.

Was Jesus handsome and charismatic?  Is that what drew people to seek him out, to listen to him, to allow him to touch them and become the agent of God in their midst?

Or, was Jesus ethereal and otherworldly, radiating a sense of the strange and “not of this world” aura that peaked their curiosity and fueled their ability to listen as if he had brought some alien wisdom.

Was Jesus a “regular Joe”, indistinguishable from the folks you might meet every day in Palestine in that day?  Is that why he attracts working class, uneducated fishermen?   Because he looks like “one of them,” talks like someone who might have hit his thumb with a hammer a time or two as a carpenter’s son and therefore can connect with the hardships of their life?

Or, does the tax collector end up following because he senses in Jesus a kindred spirit, someone who talks about money quite a lot and seems to understand money’s appeal and power; even though Jesus talks about money very differently than Matthew has ever thought of it?

Our depictions of Jesus, our straining to understand what people find attractive, or intriguing, or alluring can sometimes get us into a bit of trouble.

One person’s powerful image, becomes another’s repulsive one.

“I can’t picture Jesus like that!”resize

Some can’t picture Jesus hanging around the Board Room any more than they can picture him as black and hanging around the ‘hood’, but the truth of the matter is throughout history Jesus has been depicted in the way that connected with the community and the people into which he was proclaimed, — from Black Jesus, to Asian Jesus, to Latina Jesus and every variation in between.

So again, I want to just lift up the question, “What did they see?”   What did the artist “see” in their attempt to capture Jesus in their particular context?

I think it’s important that we think about that, because as Jesus does his farewell discourse to his disciples here in John’s Gospel, he makes an implicit promise.

“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but YOU will see me;”— that’s what Jesus says.

That amplifies the question!  We need to know what those first disciples saw in Jesus so that we have some idea of what they would “see” again!   We need to wrestle with that so that we know what to look for ourselves!

How will we recognize Jesus?   We need to ask that question because recognizing Jesus is somehow integral to recognizing that promised advocate that is to be sent.

 “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”

That word, “advocate” can be translated any number of ways, but chief among them is “one who comes along side.”

That is what an advocate does.

He or she comes along side of you, accompanies you, goes with you, guides you, speaks on your behalf.

That’s why it is important that we understand what those first disciples saw in Jesus.   Whoever this “advocate” is that the Father is going to send, we are to recognize Jesus in him, or her, or in the spirit that they exhibit, because it is the same Spirit that Jesus has manifested.

We hear Jesus insist in John’s Gospel to Philip, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father, for the Father and I are one…”

And here now, Jesus takes it just a little further.   “…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Seeing Jesus, and recognizing the advocate, is therefore somehow also connected to this matter of keeping the commandments and we hear that as hard, because the commandments are really hard to keep!   We know that.  We know that because the more you try to keep them, the more you have a feeling like you are always being caught with your hand in the cookie jar.  We just can’t resist doing some of these things, and others we reach in and sample without really thinking about it.

And so, we wonder with our inability to keep the commandments if we will ever be able to recognize this advocate that Jesus says he will send.

We’re not doubting that Jesus sends the Spirit, we’re just not so sure we will recognize it, that it will “come along side” us with all our disobedience and inability to keep the commandments.

But maybe what we’re missing in all of this is that in John’s Gospel, Jesus really only gives one commandment.  A commandment that is given just before this farewell discourse, back in chapter 13, when Jesus washes the Disciple’s feet.de7a2b970284c41cf1885f93be200618

Maybe what everyone who comes near Jesus recognizes is the kind of thing that even a blind man can sense… love and acceptance.

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,”

By this, everyone will know…..

Maybe what everyone who comes near Jesus recognizes is the kind of thing that even a blind man can sense… love and acceptance.

It could be that we make this recognizing the advocate, seeing Jesus, much more difficult than it is.

When does the Spirit come near, when we begin to act toward one another the way that Jesus modeled.

Maybe, just maybe this matter of the Spirit coming is really a matter of recognizing that it is already in us, and it manifests itself when we do what we recognize Jesus would have done.

He told us we wouldn’t know what he had done for us until later…

It is later.

What did that first disciples see in Jesus?  They saw someone who would walk with them, and would not turn them away.

When do we sense the Spirit?  When we begin to walk with someone.  When we love them as Jesus first loved us.  When we speak on their behalf, or accompany them, and they us.

Maybe the Advocate comes in the midst of this Jesus work of how we choose to treat one another, and make no mistake, this is a choice.

It is a choice to wash feet.

It is a choice to love.

It is a choice to touch lepers.

It is a choice to heal the sick, the blind, and to raise up the lame.

It is a choice to listen, and to learn, and to walk alongside those with whom we may have deep disagreements and deep divisions, and really nothing in common, but the more you walk along side of someone, the more the divisions disappear as you love and understand.

What did they see in Jesus?   They saw someone, who saw them, and who was interested in them, and who took notice of them, and who loved them enough to engage them and call them and heal them and raise them up.

This is the Spirit that Jesus sends, the one that makes us recognize him in others.

“I see Jesus in you….” we say when that other one walks alongside us, and that is what they say to us in return, when we choose to walk with them through all the darkness this world is capable of dishing out.

This is what they saw in him.

May this be what is seen by those whom we meet, every day.  “I see Jesus in you.”

“Measured Life” John 10:1-10

Here is the problem with John 10.  It is just too full of mixed metaphors.

Is Jesus the Shepherd or the Gate?

Who is it that is climbing over the wall and how do we identify them?  By their actions?   By what they say?

I’m confused Jesus!

Evidently, so were Jesus’ original disciples since he has to take more than one crack at explaining his metaphors to them.

What are we supposed to take away from Jesus’ words here?

John 10 follows immediately after the extended story of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed and who then is set upon by the Pharisees who want explanations.  The whole of chapter nine is an exhausting exchange between this man who Jesus has touched and who wants to celebrate his good fortune and the Pharisees who want answers, trying to fit the event of his gaining his eyesight into their own system of how God is supposed to operate.

Everyone is questioned; the man, his parents, bystanders.

Accusations are hurled — about Jesus, about the man and what sort of man he is/was, and about the situation.

In the end the man Jesus healed sits dejected, not sure who or what to believe anymore.

It is at that point that Jesus re-enters the story, allowing the man who has sight again to “see” him.  Jesus make commentary on the blindness of the Pharisees.

It’s clear from that story that Jesus is indeed talking about the Pharisees with their rigid rules and categories when he talks about who are the thieves and robbers.

It is clear also, that Jesus is trying to issue a warning.  There is something about following the teachings of the Pharisees that robs you of something.

It all has to do somehow with the “abundant life” that Jesus has come to bring.

But this is again where we end up scratching our heads because we’re not really sure (along with the man who was born blind) what this “abundant life” is that Jesus has come to bring?  What does it look like?

What is abundant life?

In fact, this is a point at which I want to introduce a little audience participation in the sermon, because I’m pretty sure that we all have an idea of what abundant life might be.

So then, what does “abundant life” mean to you?

(Gather responses)

So, as I suspected, “abundant life” means different things for different people, and I don’t really think there is a “wrong” answer to that question “What does abundant life mean to you?”   I think variations in that are perfectly normal, because I think that what Jesus is really warning against in this whole section of John’s Gospel is what might be called “measured life.”

That’s what the Pharisees pursue in their questioning.  How do we measure whether this is from God or not?

Measured life we discover is exhausting.  Just ask the man who had been born blind.  As soon as he could “see” the first thing he ran up against was measured life, people trying to qualify, or quantify, or identify, or exemplify him.

It was exhausting, answering all those questions, and every time he tries to interject some witness to another way of living, “do you want to be a follower as well?”   He gets struck down and verbally assaulted as one who does not “measure up.”

“You were born in utter sin, and are you trying to teach us?”  The Pharisees bark at him.

Living a measured life is exhausting, and you know that because so much of your life is measured, is it not?

You live with a certain set of expectations about who you are to be, how you are to behave, and what is to be expected of you.

Expectations and measurement come your way in your workplace.   You feel it when you have to face the dreaded “performance review” or “annual review.”    Measurements will be taken of how you have acted, how you have performed in your position, how you “measure up” against colleagues, or expectations or quotas.

It will take something out of you, won’t it… even if you exceed expectations, you then have just set the bar a little higher for next year.

You live with certain expectations about relationships, and family, and family roles.

Am I a good father?

A good mother?

Am I living up to the expectations of my parents?  My peer group?  My coach?  My instructor?

How do I “measure up” in their eyes?   In my own expectation of myself?

A measured life seeps into the fabric of our daily comings and goings.

You have experienced a measured life if you’ve traveled.  There is the TSA agent barking out his or her orders, shoes off, jacket off, liquids out of the bag.  Laptop out of the bag.  Put it into separate bins.  No, not that way.  Be uniform, we’ve changed the protocol.  And if you have a green check on your ticket the procedures are different, but you can still be singled out for extra screening.

It’s all done for our safety.

It’s all done for our own protection and our own good.

It’s all supposed to make us feel safer, more in control, more comfortable with travel.

But, it is a measured life, and we feel it’s false assurance and constricting weight.

Even in the church there is an element of a measured life.   Is our church growing, or dying?  How do we measure up next to others?   What should the church be about?   Are we forgiving enough?  Faithful enough?  What is the measure to be applied?  How much we do?  How much we give away?  How many groups are welcomed?  How big our Sunday School is?  How much food we move through the pantry?  How many quilts we put out?  How much we collect for CROP walk?

Measurements abound!

We may not all agree upon what an abundant life consists of, but there is no lack of agreement about what a measured life looks like and its double edged possibility.

If we think we are “measuring up” there comes the danger of being complacent, taking things for granted, it will always be like this.

If we fail to “measure up” to expectations, then we watch what it robs and steals from us.

It robs us of dignity.

It steals in like a thief taking away things before we notice they are even missing, our innocence, our confidence, our trust in others.

The measured life makes us wary, fearful, and always ready to assume the worst in others and in events.

“You just can’t trust people, you know…”  so we begin to believe, and so we don’t.

That in and of itself becomes a thief, robbing us of the relationships that we all long for but are now fearful to engage in.

Robbing us as well of the opportunities to forge relationships which might indeed be life giving, might open up the pathway for living together in mutual trust and care for one another.

Oh, we know well the measured life!

Moreover, the measured life is what is pushed upon us and fed to us, often by those in authority who are supposed to be wise guides.

We are told the measured life is for our own good, or for the greater good.

We are sold the necessity to be vigilant, to fear the other, to watch for stranger danger, and in so doing we are assured that we will be kept “safer.”

But at the end of the measured life pathway there is no guarantee, no final word of reassurance, and no comfort.

So, while we may not agree on what the abundant life means for each of us, it is still what we long to have, and it is something that Jesus says we can only obtain by not listening to or following the “thieves and robbers” who sell us measured life.

Instead, we are to look to the one who opens the gate, who stands in it, and who watches over the flock.

Does this mean we’ll be safe so long as we keep our eyes on Jesus?

Yes, but let’s be clear also about what we mean by “safe.”

Jesus is, after all, the one who goes willingly to the Cross.

It’s not physical safety that is assured to us.

It is life that is assured and given, a quality of life that is not subject to the measurements of this world.

“Abundant life,” which often stands in stark opposition to this world’s “measured life.”

As alluring as it may be to want to be physically safe, if you follow Jesus the first rule of order is that you may be called upon to lay down your own life for the sake of the other.—be that friend or foe.

You are able to lay your life down in complete confidence that even if your life is required of you, what will follow in the wake of such sacrifice is still “abundant life.”  A kind of life that sweeps away the measurements of this world.

We know this abundant life.  We celebrate it when we see it in action.

It is the gift of organs that makes the sick to run and live thankful lives.

It is the estate plan well executed that gives hope and life to the next generation of an institution or agency, letting it impact the future.

It is the choice to not push back when criticized, to diffuse the hostile act and set aside the differences so that a new direction, a new and abundant opportunity can be pursued.

It is loving when you have no reason to love.

It is forgiving when the world would say to you, “exact the maximum penalty.”

Abundant life comes in the wake of every decision NOT to protect yourself, not to live a measured life, not to be bound by the constraints of this world that cannot imagine anything good coming out of Nazareth or anywhere else.

What is abundant life?   It is what it is for you, we may not agree upon it, but we can agree upon this.

Abundant life is not living under the oppressive measurements imposed by a world that cannot picture or imagine grace, or that it would be freely given, flung wide like a gate so that all can come in and go out and find pasture and graze in safety.

This is the kind of life Jesus offers, a life without measure, and free of “measured life.”