“All Eyes On…” John 13:1-35

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All eyes are on the basin and the towel.  We use that as the focal point for this service, read the story at the beginning of the service, order our evening around it.   We meticulously make note of all of Jesus’ actions here.

He takes the towel and wraps it around himself.

He washes the Disciple’s feet.

He models what it is to be servant.

He tells them that they will not understand what he is doing for them now, but will understand later.

He asks them if they have understood, and once again commands them to wash one another’s feet.

“You call me teacher and Lord…”  He says to them.    “So if I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example…”

Yes, all eyes are on the basin and towel and trying to figure out what example Jesus sets there, and of course we should be focused there.

Jesus teaches servanthood.

Jesus models doing for others.

Jesus encourages his disciples to not just to know intellectually about these things surrounding the washing of feet, (that they should serve one another,) but blessed are you if you do them!

And so, we are often so focused this night on the towel and the basin and what Jesus does there that we miss something else that he does, another example set.

It has to do with bread.

We know that Jesus is a little bit “bread obsessed.”

Bread was the focal point of the temptation in the wilderness, to make loaves out of stones.   We tend to view that in utilitarian terms,  but if you’ve ever walked into a room when fresh baked bread has just come out of the oven you know the effect it has on you.

Don’t imagine that the devil didn’t employ all the senses, to try to get to Jesus.

It is the scent of yeast and the action of leavening that Jesus uses to describe what the Kingdom of God is like, infecting, infiltrating, and causing change in whatever it touches or gets into.

In John’s Gospel we have that whole, long extended narrative of Jesus talking about how he is the “Bread of life,” and what kind of bread people are pursuing, and what they are missing.

In the miraculous feedings it is bread that multiplies, that is gathered by the basket full as a sign of God’s abundance and provision.

Jesus takes the loaf to symbolize his own body.

So while all eyes this night tend to be on the towel and basin, it might be important to cast our gaze at least for a moment on the other example that Jesus sets in the bread.

“Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”  Jesus says.

A shocking revelation that makes the disciple all look at one another.

“Lord who is it?”

Jesus answered,  “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when it is dipped in the dish.”

And here now, all our eyes need to move from the towel and basin to the piece of bread.   We watch intently as Jesus dips, and hands it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, with the comment, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

Is this an example set as well?

If so, just what kind of example?

Is it an example of how we ought to point out the offenders in our midst?   Single out and expose the traitor, show everyone who and what he or she is, or capable of?

No, because the truth is no one in the room that night picks up on that from Jesus’ actions.

We’re told that the disciples (at that moment) didn’t understand the comment about “do quickly.”

They thought Jesus was referring to some financial matter that needed attending.

They thought it was something to do with the festival.

They had no idea that betrayal was on his mind, and you wonder why that is?   How could you spend so much time, three years walking around with someone and not know what they are capable of doing?

How could they not have known the Judas was going to be the one to betray?

The answer to that is found in the looks they give to one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

It could have been any of them. That’s what they are thinking.

He has washed their feet… all of them…. Even the one Jesus said was not clean, but you couldn’t tell who it was from the foot washing that Jesus was talking about.

To find out who will betray, you have to fix your eyes on the bread.

You have to watch Jesus take it, break it, dip it, and offer it with the encouragement to “go and do quickly…”

It is the bread that shows us who will betray Jesus.

And that makes this night’s actions all the more powerful and poignant, for to whom did the bread come this night?

It came to you.

It came to me.

It came from Jesus actions to our lips, and as we taste it we know two things deeply, and simultaneously.

I don’t deserve this… and it could be me who betrays.

We don’t deserve this… this love, this trust, this gift from Jesus meant to sustain us, even those of us intent on betraying him.

Jesus offers bread for the journey to Judas, even knowing what kind of journey he is about to take, and what kind of journey to the cross Judas’ actions will precipitate.

And as such, this is a peculiar gift and comfort to us as well.  For, you see, we know we won’t be able to keep from betraying Jesus either.

We will betray Jesus with our own uncleanness, the choices we’ll make, the comments we’ll spit out thoughtlessly, the things we will do.

We will betray him with our words.

We will betray him with our actions.

We will betray him with our thoughts, and with our thoughtless words and actions.

We will betray Jesus with our inaction on things, the places when and where we could have spoken or intervened but chose not to for fear of being ridiculed or teased.

We will betray him, this we know deeply because we are human and we are susceptible to the wiles of the evil one, and powerless at times over our own appetites, and our desires, and we are terribly short-sighted in our ability to love.

Jesus knows all of this, and still dips the bread and gives it to us, with the command to “do quickly what you are going to do.”

Jesus hands us the bread, his own body and blood to strengthen us in our living, hoping that at least on some occasions what we will do is what something that would be pleasing in God’s sight.

Jesus feeds us.

Jesus also gives us the command to love one another, precisely because he knows, (and we know it as well,) that we are capable of some pretty un-loveable and unforgiveable things, and we will need all the strength we can muster and receive to live into his promised Kingdom.

In this, the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified.   Jesus and God is glorified in the ability to love, and to serve, and to provide for and sustain even those who cannot and will not be able to follow to the end.

And so, to those who eat the bread, and have their feet washed, Jesus gives the commend to love, precisely because it could be any of us who betrays, and Jesus knows that.

So therefore, love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you can have this kind of love, if you are able to love and care for even for the betrayer in your midst.

All eyes were on the towel and basin, but it was the bread that showed us the love of Jesus.  From his hands, to our lips, … love one another, even knowing what you know.

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“Why Did You Have to Go and Do That?” Mark 1:1-47

1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 

 

Ah, gentle Jesus, why did you have to go there?   If only you had stayed where you belong.    Who would not have loved the folksy “miracle worker” from Galilee who fed the hungry and liked to playfully jab at the stodgy old stick-in-the-mud Pharisees and Scribes?

If Jesus had kept his ministry in and around the Galilee, amongst the poor, the shepherds, the simple fisher folk and rural occupants of the countryside, he likely would have enjoyed the long life of a beloved Rabbi, sought out by many for advice and good stories.

He had all the makings for it.

Jesus told those pithy little parables that made you stop and think and question your motives in a good-natured way.

If only he had kept to his rural roots and his eccentricities in his own little community.

But no, Jesus had to go and get all political.

Jesus had to set his face toward Jerusalem, and go there.

Why did you have to go and do that Jesus?  Set yourself up as a political figure?

Here you come today, riding into Jerusalem astride a donkey like some conquering king, offering a peaceful regime change after winning the battle.

What battle is that?   What made you think you could make these claims?

Here you are, receiving the adulation of the crowds who call you “Son of David” and laud you as their king.

And, at the same time incurring the scorn of those who are privileged and in power, who want to know by what authority you do these things?

Here you come, questioning the power of Caesar by claiming (or at least not outright rejecting) the imperial titles reserved for the Roman Emperor.  The titles of “Lord,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man” and “Savior.”

You called Herod an “Old Fox” and thumbed your nose at his threats and authority, despite knowing fool well he was the one who cut down your cousin John the baptizer and served his head on a platter.

You entered Jerusalem like this and upset the carefully crafted balance of the religious and the political by turning over tables in the temple, questioning the authority of Caesar with a toss of the coin, and talked repeatedly about establishing a Kingdom.

Oh yes, when questioned you affirmed that your Kingdom is “not of this world,” but make no mistake, following your teaching nevertheless bumps us up against a vision that stands in opposition to the way this world works and this world runs.

You made this about politics.

You made it about politics when you chose to be born in a stable while an occupying government made refugees out of the inhabitants of your homeland.

You made it about politics when you showed up at the temple as a precocious child astounding the elders with your teaching, as a foreshadowing that you would be coming back to questions of them again.

You made it about politics, Jesus when you claimed you were fulfilling Isaiah’s words in the Synagogue.  You quoted the scroll of upending the “business as usual” of this world by proclaiming good news to the poor, the release of captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and most dangerously that the “year of Jubilee” would be observed.  The year when property was to be re-distributed and all the gains and accumulated wealth for the last 50 years divided up so that everyone could have a fresh start on equal footing to build again.

That is what is most dangerous, proposing an end to privilege and a call to parity.

If only Jesus had remained a harmless Rabbi in the backwater of Galilee, doing good things for the needy, he could have lived to a ripe old age.

But Jesus, from early on, shows us this is going to be about politics, because God is after nothing less than the world re-arranged.

Jesus made it political when he set his face toward Jerusalem.

Jesus made it political when he began to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and talk about how “of whom much is given, much is expected.”

Jesus made it political when the words of Hannah, and the Magnificat, and Isaiah were all seen to be wrapped up in his coming.   The poor he has considered, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Jesus made it political when he chose as the symbol of our redemption death on a state sponsored method of execution, a Cross.

It is with the political machinations of the Temple authorities that the plots are hatched to find a way to put an end to Jesus, because he interferes with the business as usual of this world.

It is with the complicity and agency of the Roman Empire that the death sentence is pronounced and carried out, to put an end to the threat of insurrection, protests by crowds and the disruption of the festivities of Passover.

Holy Week is our annual reminder that the matter of faith in Jesus is one which is to be worked out in the collision of competing world views, and it is all Jesus’ fault.

It is Jesus who makes this about changing the world.

Jesus won’t let us simply view him as a “personal Lord and Savior” detached from this world he was sent not to condemn, but to save, and who was sent to engage this world’s events and the realities of worldly choices we are given.

Jesus enters this world fully, and the world shows him just what it is capable of doing to all those who try to throw a spoke in the wheel of the status quo and change the world.

It will crucify.

It will make those who try to call into question the way the world currently works, the powers and principalities and their priorities for this world — suffer.

This world will do its best to silence opposing points of view and will always try to put “in their place” those who advocate for a different way to doing things, a way in step with God’s vision and hopes and dreams for the world.

Holy week is our reminder that Jesus has a nasty habit of not staying where we would like him to stay, or where we might think he belongs.

He did not stay the Gentle Jesus who works in Galilee…

He did not stay the miracle worker, the inspiration, or the wisdom teacher content to care for his own….

He will not stay in the neat separations and compartments we like to make of our personal lives, keeping separate what we do in this world, and or say in this world, or how we choose to live, from his example and call for us to be disciple.

And, he certainly will not stay in the tomb to which the world tries to confine him to get him out of its way…

Why did you have to go and that that, Jesus?  Make your coming all political?

“For the sake of the world, my child.”   Appears to be his answer… “And for you….”

“Expectation” Jeremiah 31:31-34

A little story about expectations.

In a little town not too far from where I grew up there was a café.  It was just one of those small town greasy spoons, the kind that used to occupy the downtown of every little rural community.  Above the door the sign read, “The Best Burgers In the County.”

But, if “truth in advertising” were to be employed, the sign outside the door would have been changed long ago.  For in truth, that café had the worst burgers in the county, or at very least the most inconsistent!

Around any given table, if 4 or 5 people had ordered a burger and dared to raise the top of their bun, they would each find a different issue.  Some would be overcooked, some underdone, each formed by hand and so some would be tightly packed and dry, while others crumbled and fell apart as you lifted it.   You might order your burger any way you like, but it would always be a mystery as to how it actually looked when it showed up on the plate.

Actually, the sign behind the counter above the swinging door to the kitchen was more truthful, if less appealing.  That sign read,

“This ain’t no Burger King, you’ll get it our way, or you won’t get the ______thing at all!”

Despite all this, at 12:00 noon every day, six days a week, the old man who ran the hardware store across the street would come in for lunch and order a hamburger.

Day in and day out, he would order the same lunch, and each day the burger he got would be a little different, but never quite right.

When asked why in the world he kept ordering a burger at this place, he simply smiled and winked through his thick glasses, and said, “well, sooner or later I figure they’ll mess up and get it right, and when they do I want to be the one to tell them.”

What does this little amusing story about hamburgers and expectations have to do with the scripture for today?

In the lesson from Jeremiah today, God is talking about covenants.   God talks about promises made long ago and promises that are yet to come.

Much of Israel’s history could be compared to that café sign.  What they proclaimed to be did not match very well what they actually were.

Outwardly, they proclaimed that they were governed by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But looking around at the political intrigue of kings and priests, it was apparent that they followed their own inclinations.

Outwardly, they understood themselves to be the covenant people, who delighted in the Lord’s law and who followed God’s direction.

Inwardly, they were humans who schemed and dreamed and followed the law when it was convenient for their own purposes and used it as a club against those who did not conform.

In short, for Israel (as for us!) the actions of the people did not live up to the promise of the sign on the outside.  No matter how convincing and appealing that sign on the outside may be that proclaims who you are, the real test is whether you live up to what you profess to be inside.

If you are going to have a sign that says, “The Best Burgers In The County”, then you had best produce such a burger.

If you are going go by the phrase, “We are the Chosen People, the Covenant People of God,” you had best keep up your end of that covenant with that God who has chosen you.

In Jeremiah’s time, that covenant had indeed been broken, and the penalty was death.

The death of their nation.

The death of their dreams and hopes.

The death of their normal and comfortable way of life.

And we might say that is just what they should expect for having failed to live up to what they proclaimed themselves to be.

That is no different from our expectations.

When we do something wrong, we also expect the worst.  The bigger our offense, the bigger the “Oh-oh” we commit, the greater the punishment we expect. To have broken the covenant with God is about as bad as it can get.

But now, see what God does in Jeremiah.

The talk of punishment is simply not there.

Instead, something amazing happens, something completely unexpected.  Instead of applying the rules of the old covenant and doubling down on them, instead of holding these people accountable for how they have failed to live up to the expectation God had of them, God decides instead to give a new promise.

“Behold, the days are surely coming” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant…”  And the hallmark of this new covenant — it will be written now, on their hearts instead of on tablets of stone.  In this new covenant God promises, “I will forgive their sins, and remember their iniquity no more.”

What a strange God!

When a covenant is broken by one party, no one expects the other party to have any responsibility for fixing the situation!

The first bad burger you had in a place that advertises “the best burgers in the county” should have resulted in you never eating there again!

You might even become an “extraordinary communicator” spreading the word far and wide of warning to others.  “Don’t go in there!”

But our God ends up being like that old hardware store owner.

Our God comes back again and again, to see what we are doing this time.

Our God keeps trying it with us, not because he likes what we put out all the time, but because God appears to have confidence that one day we will get it right – maybe even accidentally, and God wants to be there when we do to let us know it!

Over and over again God comes back to God’s people, through the prophets, through the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees, through Jesus and the disciples and the Word of God revealed in scripture.

God will use the full array of witnesses available to drive home what God is really all about.

Over and over again the good news of this new covenant is delivered.  “They shall know me, and I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more.”

Our God is a persistent God.

Our God is a God who is persistent in extending forgiveness to people.

Our God is a God whose memory for wrongdoing is exceedingly short, and whose passion for caring and loving is exceedingly long.

Our God is a God who cares passionately about people.

For what other reason, would God send a new covenant?

For what other reason, would God send his own and only Son?

Here, you see, in Jesus; God is showing us what God has long hoped and dreamed that God would find in us, find us doing as God’s covenant people.

Here, in Jesus, God shows us the one who “looks the way we ought to look.”

God lifts up Jesus for all to see.

Here is the example of an abundant life.

Here is the example of a covenant kept, a promised fulfilled.

Here is the example of a life well-lived in service, and in concern for justice, and in obedience to compassion.

God lifts Jesus up so that we all may see, and we all may be drawn to him, and in drawing near to Jesus be given a glimpse of that new Kingdom, that new covenant promised.

This is the good news that we really need to hear and see in our world right now, because so much of life seems to be about punishing and giving up on things.

We struggle with issues of immigration, and human rights, and personal morality, and corruption in government and too often we hear those who are ready to tell us who should be shipped out, who should be rounded up, and who should be excluded.

This world clamors to make someone pay the penalty, for someone to take the fall.

Or we disparage of the whole thing, you can’t trust politicians, or this group, or that group, or the institutional church, so why even try anymore.

We turn off the news.

We turn further and further in on ourselves, and into our own silos of belief and information.

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, why even bother with it anymore.   We even call it a “God-forsaken world.”

But it is precisely into this kind of world clamoring for someone to pay the price, discouraged with its own performance, saying it is one thing but acting like it is something else that God sends Jesus.

The sign of the New Covenant is not perfection, it is human.  The Word made flesh to dwell among us.

The sign of the new covenant is not us getting everything right all the time.

No, the sign of the new covenant is Jesus, and the way of the servant who goes to the cross, the very sign of brokenness itself, lifted up for all to see.

Here is a sign we can live up to, for it calls us not to be perfect, or to be tough, or to do it all right, but to simply look to the graciousness of God found in Christ Jesus and to live a reflection of Jesus’ life.

Look to the Cross and find there the God who knows all about brokenness and death.

Look to the Cross and behold Jesus, who knows a thing or two about suffering and loneliness, about being persecuted and rejected, a thing or two about loss, and who knows about confusion, fear and every emotion you so often feel welling up inside of you.

Our God is a persistent God, persistent in loving, persistent in coming to us.

Our God comes back again and again to sample what we have done as God’s people, waiting with longing for that day when we offer something close to what God hopes for.  And when we do it, when we even get close, God smiles and calls us his children and says, “well done.”

That café may never have the best burgers in the county, but that doesn’t stop that old hardware store owner with the thick glasses from hoping and coming back again and again.

We may never get God’s vision for the Kingdom right in this life, but that doesn’t keep God from coming back to us again and again, offering the new covenant in Jesus’ body and blood.

Someday, we will have such things written on our hearts, and God will be there to tell us.

In such hope God lives and continues to come to us, in love.

“Lovers of Darkness” John 3:14-21

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

We are great lovers of darkness, of this there can be no doubt.

Flip through the channels on the television and take note of the number of procedural crime shows you will find.  NCIS, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, even PBS flourishes best when there is murder and mayhem to be observed and examined.

We are oddly fascinated by the dark side.

We break the world into “predator and prey.”

We are quick to point out that such divisions are hard and fast and that one is either one or the other.  We do not make moral judgments about such behavior, but rather simply accept it as a part of how this world is arranged.

We watch with morbid fascination as the lioness stalks her prey on the nature show, and then transfer that same fascination with every bit as much adrenaline anticipation when the car chase unfolds in the movie or on the breaking news.

Will he/she elude?  Or is the dark ending inevitable?   Even if you escape to live another day it is just a matter of time.

This the just the way the world is, has always been.

John’s gospel is a study in contrasts.   He introduces the events of Jesus with talk of light and darkness right from the beginning. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not prevail against it…”

The world is divided for John into insiders and outsiders.

There are those who follow Jesus, and those who oppose him and the Kingdom he comes to proclaim.

The complicating factor in that is that those who follow and those who oppose are often members of the same community.

So it is, that as John speaks of “the Jews,” he is talking about members of his own community who have rejected Jesus as Messiah.

John is (in other words) trying to make sense of why some look at Jesus and see God’s light shining, and why some look at Jesus and choose to make another choice.

It turns out to be complicated.

That’s one of the reasons why this Gospel reading for today is a little difficult to wrap our heads around, its complexity and what it tries to include and convey.

We’re most familiar with John 3:16-18, the “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son… not to condemn, but the save it.”

But wrapped around that kernel is this talk of Moses lifting up serpents in the wilderness, and Jesus being lifted up, and the talk of judgment and condemnation already for those who do not believe.

It’s a little harder to pull all these things together, unless you remember that fundamentally we are great lovers of darkness, and the struggle against it is what the Gospel is all about.   Followers of Jesus know the world is arranged this way, predator and prey, light and dark, but the message of Jesus and of the Kingdom is that it does not have to remain this way.  The Kingdom of God does come!

We need to unpack that first part a bit, the story of Moses and the serpent on the pole.   If you listened to the reading from Numbers 21:4-9 today you were reminded of the story.  The people are complaining in the wilderness, and in response to their “poisonous words” against God and Moses, serpents are sent to afflict them.  When the people come to Moses with a heart of contrition asking for the serpents to be taken away, the solution God prescribes is for Moses to make a serpent of bronze and set it on a pole and lift it up, and if you are bitten by these “poisonous snakes”, then you are to look at the serpent and you will live.

In other words, face the venom you have brought upon yourselves, and you will find healing.

Face your own darkness!   Acknowledge it, don’t pretend it isn’t there, but repent of it and find life again!  That’s the lesson in the story from Numbers.   You may be lovers of complaining, (you stiff necked people in the wilderness,) but that does not mean that you cannot confront it, see it, acknowledge it and ultimately live!

In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.  Jesus says.  What could Jesus mean by that?

This is a prediction of the Cross, and what will we see in the events of Jesus’ crucifixion.

We will see just how much we love darkness in what the world does to Jesus!

We will see what we are capable of doing to the very love that came to save us.

We are capable of arresting the innocent.

We are capable of torturing the blameless.

We are capable of killing the very Savior of the world, because that Savior will not just let us alone.   Jesus will not let us retreat into our own darkness and our love of it and stay there.

From the cross Jesus will invite us to face the darkness that is within us, and to acknowledge it.  This is what we are capable of doing as human beings because we love the darkness!

We know this to be true.

You cannot turn on the television or read the newspaper without being reminded once again of our love of darkness.

Wars continue to rage, sides are drawn that make no sense, posturing and accusing and blaming and pointing of the finger.

Injustices continue to persist.

Racism persists, it rears its ugly head and even finds a refuge in the powerful, the intelligent.

Fascism returns, and masks itself in populist thoughts, and justifies itself in the overturning of those who are different, the elites.

Inequality of gender and race continue, and are even promulgated as virtues, “the way things used to be”, a utopian existence for those in power and privilege to be hearkened back to, returned to.

Inequity of opportunity, oppression of privilege, divisions of ideologies swirl all around.

We might be tempted to say, “that’s just the way it is, predator and prey, so better to eat than be eaten.”

But Jesus has something else to say about that.    “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

The very things that Jesus came to proclaim an end to are clung to all the more because it is so hard and complicated to let go of such things for us.

John’s Gospel becomes an exploration of how light and dark interplay in our lives.  We get to see how Jesus challenges and changes people, and how that will play out in the lives of these characters whom we will meet.  By watching them, we get clues about our own “love of darkness”, how it works and how Jesus overcomes it.

We meet Nicodemus, who acknowledges that Jesus is indeed a teacher sent by God, but still comes by night, unwilling to be seen making further inquiries.

Nicodemus may long to understand the draw of the light he sees in Jesus, but not so much that he is willing to risk his stature or position in the community.  He chooses darkness as his cover, the night as his ally.   He will lurk in the shadows until the end of the story when he comes with Joseph of Arimithea to claim the body and publicly at last bear witness to Jesus.

Is Nicodemus my story, your story?   Are you drawn to Jesus but not quite willing to commit?  Do you inquire in the dark, but hide out in the light?

The Samaritan woman at the well is drawn by Jesus’ light.  She is wary at first, talking with a stranger to her in the heat of the day, breaking the boundaries.   But when Jesus probes too close to her secrets, she retreats to the presumed safety of the darkness.   She asks of him questions as deep as the well water that she knows are safe, conundrums that have been argued over for centuries about where the proper place to worship should be?  She is hoping to hide in the safety of long dark questions that are unanswerable.

But Jesus shines, and the questions dissipate, and in the end, it is way Jesus dispels the darkness, eliminating all her “hiding places” that captures her.  “Come see a man who told me everything I have ever done.  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

Is the Samaritan woman my story, your story?   Afraid to engage Jesus too much lest he find out what we’re hiding that he may not approve of?   Able to finally proclaim him when our last secret is stripped away, and we can tell others it’s all right to have him strip away theirs as well?

As much as we love darkness, try to hide in it, are fascinated by it or see it as our last safe retreat, it does not stand against Jesus.

“The light shines in the darkness,” John affirms, “and the darkness does not prevail against it.”

We cling to this promise, but not without the sudden realization that what is true for Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well is true for us.

We do love our darkness, and we will try our best to stay in the shadows if we can, resign ourselves to thinking this is just the way things are, and they will never change.

So it is, that Jesus says he must be lifted up, so that we can face what we are capable of doing, even to him, see it, repent of it and find life.

We must face the darkness inside so that the light of Jesus can shine in and heal us.

We must acknowledge what we are capable of doing before we can repent of it, see it as the poisonous thing that it is in our lives, in our community, in our world.

Such work is not easy.

John’s Gospel reminds us of this, for John fleshes out these characters so completely exactly so that we can face the darkness and our own fascination with it in our own lives.

We feel the shame of the woman caught in Adultery, and the powerful release of Jesus’ non-judgment of her.

We feel the bitter betrayal of a Peter thrice denies Jesus, even shouting, “I do not know him!” in the darkness, and the sweet power of forgiveness as Jesus invites him three times to “feed my sheep.”

Our mouths go dry at recognizing that our bitter words spoken against our neighbor are slanders thrown at the Savior who loves the world.

Every bitter cry for the illegal alien to go back home where they belong is a cry against Jesus, who is the ultimate alien in our midst.

Every crowd incited to yell “lock her up!” or “lock him up!” is little more than a repetition of the words of the angry mob in Jerusalem who once cried, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

In Jesus lifted on the cross we witness what we are capable of doing, all of us, any of us, when our love of darkness takes over, and we do evil in the sight of God.

And in Jesus lifted on the cross, we also witness what God is capable of doing.  Silencing the shouts and restoring care for one another.

We are lovers of darkness, it is true, but just beyond this lifting up of Jesus is another lifting up that is promised.

When we face what we are capable of doing, and repent of it, then the door is opened for us to receive what God is capable of doing.

God is capable of healing, forgiving, and ultimately — resurrecting.

“Business As Usual” John 2:13-24

It was “business as usual” at the Temple during Passover.

Pilgrims were making their way from the far flung corners of the world back to Jerusalem to celebrate the events of the Exodus, the escape from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised land.

Business as usual.   There were all these visitors to the temple.   For the convenience of those who had travelled far for worshiper, (and for the very life blood of the celebration of Passover itself,) the temple vendors were engaged in the essential trade of the day as they had been for centuries.

You could change your Roman coins with that idolatrous graven image of Caesar which said “Caesar is Lord” on it for official Temple coinage that did not break the 2nd commandment of “no graven images.” The money changers were there so that your offering could be given.

It was too far to bring your own unspotted lamb to be sacrificed and roasted if you came from the far reaches of the diaspora.  It was simply not practical for travelers to bring one from their own flock from so far away, so here at the Temple available for purchase were certified and approved sacrificial animals for all your Passover needs.

Purchase the sacrifice required by the tenants of the law, be that a turtledove or a young bull, and do what the law prescribed.   Here the offerings that what had been done for generations, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the thanks-offering……could all be arranged.

It was business as usual until Jesus showed up.  With his arrival on this day, the usual day’s commerce, trade, rite and ritual were abruptly brought to a screeching halt!

Everyone is confused about Jesus’ apparent anger here.  It makes no sense to his disciples, nor to the temple officials nor or the vendors that he displaces.

We have always made sense of this gospel story by assuming that all of this activity in the Temple was somehow corrupt or illegal.   And, perhaps some of it was, but the majority of it was above board!

As I pointed out, this is the very thing that has to happen in order for the Temple to operate during the festival!  Coins have to be changed, animals have to be provided…so what is it that sets Jesus off here if not corruption?

It is, I would have you consider, the very attitude of “business as usual”…..

In John’s Gospel you see, we are told in the beginning that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”

God has come now into this world in Jesus, and God is again “tabernacled” – living with and reside alongside God’s people as God had in the Exodus experience.

Then God had been a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night as they marched through the desert.

Or, back then in the Exodus God had loomed over the Ark of the Covenant within the Tabernacle, seated upon the “Mercy Seat.”

Or, back then in the Exodus event, God had been the stormy presence on Mt. Sinai, that Moses would ascend into to speak with and receive the Commandments while the people cowered below in fear of the sight.

God had come in the past to be present with God’s people in smoke and fire and lightning and thick presence.

But now, God has come to be in the midst of God’s people in the Word made flesh, the very presence of God in Jesus.

But the people were still going to the Temple as if God were to be found there in that building, behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies in some way.

“Business as usual….”   We change the coins, we do the sacrifice, we eat the lamb shank and the bitter herbs, and look forward for Messiah to come ….some day.    That’s what the people are doing.

And there would be nothing wrong with any of that, if it weren’t for the fact that the Messiah they have long awaited happens to now be “in the house!”

If you want to know why Jesus seems a bit peeved here, it may very well be for the same reason that parents get a bit peeved when their own children behave as if they aren’t in the same room with them–when the children behave as if the parent does not exist, as if they were not around.

“Hey!   Over here!  (Whistle!)   Remember me? I’m the one you’re hoping shows up some day as you celebrate this feast, and guess what, I’m here now!   Stop acting like it is just “business as usual!”

And that is a wonderful place for us to jump in to talk about what this Gospel lesson may have to say to us.   For, you see, we too like “business as usual!”

We like a certain predictability to the way things run, in our lives and particularly in our places of worship.

We prefer orderliness, rhythm, and ritual to a sense of urgency or things overturned.

We like, “business as usual.”

It is safe.

It is predictable.

And, above all else, it is convenient.

But, when Jesus enters the scene, he ends up being none of those things!

Jesus is not safe!

Oh, we would trust him with our very lives.  We trust him with our children.  We trust him to be there for us, but that does not mean that he is safe.  For all too often, our prayers to have Jesus come and be present for us, to teach our children, to change our lives means that the orderliness we may have craved is thrown out the window.

Jesus is not predictable.   He is reliable, but not predictable.

Just when we think we may have Jesus figured out, that we may have some sense of certainty about what he might think of something, how he would probably respond to a given situation, Jesus has a way of throwing a curve at us.

Who would have expected that the Son of God would be comfortable letting a harlot wash his feet, and pointing to that as the proper preparation for his own death and burial?

Who would have expected that the compassionate and caring Jesus who dandled children upon his knee and who spoke well in all circumstances would be short with a Gentile woman, compare her situation to a “dog” and hesitate in granting her the grace and mercy of God that she had sought from him for her daughter?

Who would have thought that the one who healed so many sick whose names he never knew, would not come running when his friend Lazarus was dying?  That he would instead take his time, and show up what looks like “too late?”

Just when we think we know what Jesus would probably do or say in any given situation, he is prone to fashioning a whip from the available cords and launching into doing the unexpected.

Jesus is not predictable when it comes to how the Kingdom will be proclaimed, and to whom it may be revealed, and who may be brought into it.

And Jesus is not convenient. His words pop into our minds at the most inopportune times.

The beggar is standing on the street corner holding up his cardboard sign, and we can think of a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t give our hard earned cash to this bum.  He’ll just use it for booze.  He probably rakes in more in an hour than you or I do for our work.  He looks able bodied enough, why doesn’t he find a job?   But then the words of Jesus come intruding into the back of our minds… “as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me…”

It is so inconvenient to be reminded by Jesus of that command just as I have made up my mind on my own best course of action!

Jesus is simply not safe.

Jesus is not predictable.

And most certainly, Jesus is not convenient.

What Jesus is, according to this Gospel, is driven!

Jesus is driven by a passion to make the Kingdom known.

Jesus is driven by a sense of urgency that says “business as usual” is NOT the way God works in this world anymore.

And so, Jesus fashions the whip out of the available cords, and turns over the tables, and brings the “business as usual” of the Temple to a screeching halt.   He does this so that people will look at him and wonder and ask, “Who are you to do THIS?”   And there, there is the opening to begin to proclaim the Kingdom, and the Word made Flesh, and God now dwelling in your midst to show you a different way to live.

And you and I, as disciples, what do you suppose Jesus expects of us?   Do you suppose that he expects “business as usual?”

Or would Jesus call us to be driven as well?

Driven to make known the Kingdom?

Driven to care for those whom we meet day to day in such a way that we don’t just let them stumble on as if God were not present in the here and now?

Driven to let others know that God is not in some far off place, or safely tucked away in some temple somewhere, but that that God is on the scene right now?

What would Jesus do if he showed up here this morning?   Sit politely in the back row, sing a few hymns, nod through the sermon, sip a cup of coffee after the service, and then make his way home to pull the roast out of the crock pot?

I think not!

I think, Jesus would do something very — inconvenient.

I think Jesus might just stand up and say, “what are you all doing sitting around here?   There is a world of hurting people out there that I died for, get to know them!  Heal them, feed them, invite them to become your friends and bring them back here where they can learn how unsafe, how unpredictable, and how inconvenient following me can be!”

That would not be “business as usual” in the congregation, I know.

But in the Gospel today, watching people go about “business as usual” seems to be what drives Jesus nuts!