Reflection on John 7:25-31

Scripture: John 7:25-31

Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

Reflection:

Over and over again in the Gospel of John we see people doubting the divine origin and purpose of Jesus. They question that he is the long-expected Messiah, and they come up with reasons why it can’t be so. Here, we witness a crowd claim he can’t be the Messiah because they know where Jesus was born. In their minds, they shouldn’t know where the Messiah is from. He’s supposed to come only from heaven. And because Jesus fails to meet their expectations, they don’t believe in him. Despite the wisdom he offers and the miraculous signs he performs, the crowd can’t see Jesus for who he is because they are trapped in their own expectations.

That tendency to lock ourselves within our own expectations remains as powerful now as it’s ever been. We are drawn to people who can feed and propagate the narratives and perspectives we already believe without question or challenge. And that makes sense because most people, I would guess, enjoy hearing they’re right. I know I certainly do. Yet, when we bunker down into a life without critical reflection and alternative perspectives, we’re setting ourselves up to miss out on the truth of God that might be coming from outside our expectations. Jesus broke a lot of cultural and religious expectations with his life and ministry. I don’t believe anything has changed now that he’s seated with the Father in heaven.

Prayer:

God of all life and creativity, shatter my expectations of you so that I might be more alert to your voice. Help me to seek out perspectives that aren’t my own with the hope of finding you there.

Reflection on John 7:19-24

Scripture: John 7:19-24

“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Reflection:

In the previous reflection on John, we read what I believe is the most humbling statement in all the bible for trained and highly educated clergy: that the truth of God doesn’t necessarily come from the academic world. Today, Jesus offers another kind of humbling challenge. And it’s one that I believe the whole church should take seriously.

Jesus bluntly tells us, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” This statement comes in the context of an argument with some religious authorities who are still pretty upset that Jesus healed a man on the sabbath – a blatant violation of the law. That happened back in chapter five. In his statement, Jesus is essentially telling them that the way they’re using scripture is a detriment to the work of God and a break from scripture’s overarching message of healing and redemption. “Judge with right judgement” means use a little reason and logic as you interpret the bible. I think Jesus is warning us against the practice of taking verses out of context and interpreting them literally and militantly. For Jesus, the arch of scripture points toward a message of love, healing, and salvation. If our interpretations land us outside of this arch, then we need to reevaluate what it is that we believe.

Prayer:

Great Redeemer, help me fit my life inside the message of love and healing that you’ve been telling since the beginning of time. Amen.

An Xmas Reflection

Christianity as a religion is steeped in imagery and symbolism. Just think about the cross that’s often hanging front and center in sanctuaries or the beautiful stained glass windows that adorn many church walls. Recently the ichthus (the “fish” symbol that happens to be one of the faith’s oldest) has made a comeback, finding its way to car bumpers everywhere. Christians throughout time crafted these symbols intentionally and purposefully because they can communicate powerful messages of God’s truth and love. They are important pieces of our faith even today because they still carry their power if we’ll only let them. Unfortunately, I’m finding that many Christians are forgetting our traditions, our history, and our basic liturgical vocabulary. My assumption is that this is occurring because there is a lack of teaching occurring in many churches. Such a depletion allows for misinformation about our symbols to arise and spread. And there may be no other time in all of the year where this is more prevalent than during the Christmas season.

Chi Rho Chrismon ornament from the Chrismon Tree at Corsicana FUMC

Chi Rho Chrismon ornament from the Chrismon Tree at Corsicana FUMC

Take for instance the Chi Rho, pictured to the left. This symbol was developed at the latest in the fourth century, but more than likely it is older than that. It derives its meaning from the first two letters of the word “Christ” in the Greek alphabet – Chi (resembling our letter “X”) and Rho (resembling our letter “P”). The Chi Rho is one of Christianity’s earliest symbols for identifying Jesus Christ. Chances are, if you worship in a traditional sanctuary, you’ll find one displayed somewhere.

When Christianity began to grow and find its way into other cultures with other languages, symbols like the Chi Rho went with it. And over time, the symbols began to take on new shapes and new everyday uses. For instance, simply using the letter “X” from the Chi Rho quickly developed as a way to symbolize and refer to Christ. The letter “X” has literally meant Christ in the English language for close to 1,000 years. Writers quickly took to the practice of using terms like Xmas and Xtian. This was standard usage for hundreds and hundreds of years. These writers had no devious motives. Rather, they were using the history and the traditions that had been handed down to them in order to communicate the language of the faith.

And, now, after a millennium of symbolizing Jesus, it seems that some are trying to take Christ out of the “X.” I don’t know when this started or who started it, but I can tell you something I do know – I’m frustrated by it. I’m frustrated that some people are manipulating important symbols of worship in the Christian tradition. I’m frustrated that Christians have so forgotten our heritage that we don’t know that “X” is a historically and theologically sound way of symbolizing Christ. But more than anything else, I’m frustrated that this is the Christmas fight that we’ve chosen for ourselves.

We have more important things to do than argue about the alphabet. People are hungry; people are homeless; people are dying from unjust violence and war. Church… our passion is misplaced. Our zeal to protect the Christian roots of Christmas is being wasted. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Christmas can truly be about Jesus and the work of charity and justice to which he called us. But we must open our eyes to see what really matters to him.

The “X” points us to Christ, and the work he would have us do. That’s the power of a symbol. It’s the power of language. I hope you will be so bold as to teach and correct those who would strip Christ from the “X” because an informed church is always a better church. A church that has a deep connection with its traditions and history and liturgy will always be a church more capable of following the teachings of Jesus. Let’s embrace the “X” and the Christ it symbolizes, so that we can be the church God has called us to be.

Extra Reading:

If you’d like to read more about the Chi Rho and the use of “X” throughout Christian history, here are a few links. I encourage you to check them out.

http://themanchestermirror.com/2013/12/02/keeping-the-x-in-x-mas/
http://www.cresourcei.org/symbols/xmasorigin.html
http://blog.dictionary.com/xmas-christogram/
http://www.altogetherchristmas.com/traditions/xmas.html

Reflection on John 7:14-18

Scripture: John 7:14-18

About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

Reflection:

As the Festival of Booths lingers on, Jesus finally decides it’s time to speak. So, he finds his way to the temple and begins to teach the people. And apparently the things he says – the truths that he reveals to them – are powerful, intelligent, and compelling. None of them seems to question or disagree with anything he’s saying. Instead, they’re perplexed at how this poor Nazarene can preach with such authority and conviction when he has no formal education.

The crowd asks aloud, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” Friends, this may in fact be the most humbling verse in all of scripture for clergy persons. It could really apply to anyone in a field where higher education or philosophical ponderings are part of the job description. But it’s especially important for people like me who are trained in the fields of theology, church history, and biblical studies to consider that the wisdom of God doesn’t necessarily come from books. Those who utter the word of God truthfully do it through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, the formal education can help fill out the details, and the Holy Spirit has often inspired me through academics. Yet, it is not through that alone that God speaks. He delivers his truth through people who love him, and who allow the Holy Spirit to inspire them. Jesus’ lack of education opens up the possibility that all people can be vessels of God’s word, and thus speak his truth. As a clergy person, I am thankful for this because it frees me from the responsibility of having to know everything. It gives me the confidence that I can forever keep on learning more about God from people everywhere, no matter what their background might be. That’s true for me, and it’s true for you, too.

Prayer:

God of wisdom and learning, thank you breaking down the false barriers of “learned” and “unlearned” through the ministry of Jesus. For he came as a poor man with no credentials other than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit… and that was enough. Grant us the humility and the desire to grow in our knowledge of you, no matter who it is teaching your truth. Amen.

Reflection on John 7:10-13

Scripture: John 7:10-13

But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, “Where is he?” And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.

Reflection:

Chapter seven of John recounts Jesus’ experience at the Festival of Booths. The festival itself, is a fall festival that celebrated the way God cared for the Israelites during the exodus journey from Egypt and the forty years of wondering through the wilderness that followed. We heard about this festival in the last post, as the brothers of Jesus tried to convince him to go and display his miraculous works to the crowds that would be there. Jesus refused to go on their terms. As we see today, though, it looks like Jesus had every intention of going the whole time. He just wanted to do it his way – that is quietly and secretly. So, he follows his brothers without telling anyone.

And in our few verses that follow, John sets the stage for the conflict that Jesus will experience during his time at the festival. Like much of the gospel so far, there is a crowd of people trying to figure out just who this Jesus guy really is. Likewise, there is a group of authority figures lurking. And between them all, nobody comes up with the correct answer about who Jesus is. Some say he’s a good man. Others say he’s a liar and a trickster. None of them suggest that he is God incarnate and the long-expected Messiah. Like usual, Jesus will have to come and explain that himself. He’ll do it amidst an impassioned, often threatening crowd of people.

I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t avoid the conflict he must know will be coming. He goes to the festival knowing that doing so will put him at some degree of risk. Jesus feels compelled to testify to the truth about his identity despite the dangers of doing so. I guess the question is do we feel challenged by his example? I live in a context where it’s pretty easy to be a Christian. No one threatens me for my beliefs. I’ve never experienced a hint of persecution. I hope I never do. But these verses do keep me mindful of those who know of these struggles all too well. I’m thankful for their faith. I’m in awe of their willingness to follow Jesus even in this way – even in his journey towards risk. May we do the same if the need ever arises.

Prayer:

Fearless and brave God, who risked an incarnate life on earth at the expense of heaven, bless those people who suffer for their religious beliefs. Forgive their persecutors. Enable me to work for your blessed peace. Amen.

Reflection on John 7:1-9

Scripture: John 7:1-9

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.) Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

Reflection:

I find this passage very intriguing because we are seeing Jesus interact with his family. There has been one other time so far where we’ve seen Jesus in conversation with a family member. That was at a wedding feast in Cana with his mother. That interaction with his mother and this one with his brothers have interesting things in common. But they also have one huge difference.

In both cases, Jesus gets told what to do. When the wedding feast runs dry, Mary insists that Jesus save the event by coming up with more wine for the party. Here, his brothers tell him to leave Galilee with them so they can go to Judea for the festival of Booths. The response that Jesus gives to both his mother and his brothers are basically the same. He tells his mother, “My hour has not yet come.” And to his brothers he says, “My time has not yet come.” That sounds like a “no” in each case to me.

But we know that it’s not. Mary, as a mother, holds certain sway over her son that brothers just don’t have. Jesus does miraculously come up with more wine… a lot more wine. In doing so, Mary effectively helps Jesus launch his entire public ministry. Contrarily, if Jesus had allowed his brothers to sway him, that decision could’ve ended his ministry. We are told that some would be in Judea who wanted Jesus dead. And any public demonstrations might’ve only fueled that fire. I want to be careful not to communicate that Jesus’ brothers were somehow trying to lead him into such danger on purpose. That would be unfair. We know that James, one of Jesus’ brothers, goes on to become the leader of the early church in Jerusalem after the crucifixion. But as brothers sometimes do, the risk was overlooked for the adventure. Jesus was wise to place his trust in the guidance of his mother. He was equally wise to be hesitant in going along with his brothers. We’d probably all be better off practicing such discernment from time to time.

Prayer:

God of grace, thank you for the people in our lives who look after us and guide. Thank you for those who challenge us to be more adventurous. Grant us the discernment to know when we should follow the one or the other. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

Sometimes mothers know best.

Reflection on John 6:66-71

Scripture: John 6:66-71

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

Reflection:

We’ve finally reached the final verses of chapter six. This has been a lengthy journey through one of Jesus’ more complex teachings. He has been explaining how he is the bread of life – that only by feasting on his flesh and drinking of his blood will eternal life be possible. Jesus has confused the crowd who follows him, and last time we saw that he also frustrated some of those he called disciples. Now, these weren’t any of the twelve, but they were people who had committed themselves to following this rabbi and shaping their life after his.

The backlash of Jesus’ teaching is that some of those disciples leave. They can no longer follow someone who makes such outrageous claims. I find it interesting that there is no mention of Jesus trying to stop them. They simply go on their way. Jesus reserves his concern with the twelve and how they feel. He asks, “Do you also wish to go away?” When I read this, I hear a little bit of heartbreak from Jesus. Even though he let’s those disciples walk away, I think he’s sad they go. Maybe Jesus is even genuinely concerned that his twelve closest friends will also find his teachings too difficult and leave him as well. I wonder if Jesus feels the fear of approaching loneliness. No one likes feeling lonely. But what a relief to hear the faithful response of Simon Peter. Jesus had chosen his closest followers well.

I think the message of this scene is that the Christian voice is one that can be hard to hear, even among people who count themselves as followers of Christ. We can find ourselves, just as Jesus did, standing in contradiction to cultural norms. The feeling of loneliness is a real threat to those who take the countercultural calling seriously. We cry for justice when others don’t. We believe peace comes through love and forgiveness, not violence and revenge. We champion equality for those who fall to the margins rather than overlook them. These things can leave us in fear of being alone. But the good news of this passage is that we won’t be. Despite the hard teaching, Jesus still has friends around him. Christianity is never done alone. That’s not how God works. We can be confident that even when we express difficult truths, others will be there to support us. That is what Church is supposed to be.

Prayer:

Oh Lord my God, do not let the fear of loneliness overwhelm me. Surround me with your hope. Surround me with your people. Amen.

Thought for the Day:

God won’t let you do Christianity alone. It’s always a community effort.