Day 57 | John 21 | March 1, 2014

Today is our last day in the Gospel of John. Since the “Word Became Flesh” dwelt among us and began his first work he has said, “my hour has not yet come”. Years later that hour came. He was betrayed, arrested, crucified, died and now has risen from the dead. He showed up to his frightened disciples, sends them out with the power of the Spirit, and then John 20 ends with those great summarizing words of 20:30-31. It seems a fitting end. But the Gospel continues for one more chapter.

Jesus shows up one more time. The disciples are back at their regular work- fishing. They recognize Jesus and half of the final chapter of John seems to be about breakfast. Matthew ends with the Great Commission. Mark ends with the disciples fleeing the empty tomb saying nothing “to anyone for the were afraid”.  Luke ends with Jesus ascending into heaven. John, the Gospel about signs and wonders, ends with breakfast. It then moves into a post-breakfast conversation with Peter reinstating him from his denial of Jesus just prior to the crucifixion. John ends with a very calm and common scene: Breakfast and conversation. But in it is also a forward to the struggle the disciples will soon have. In this very common scene is a set up for the sequel: The Book of Acts. This story is not done. God is not done. God’s redemptive work in the world has a long way to go and Peter and the remaining disciples will lead the charge. It will not be easy. It will not be common. It will not be routine. But they will, by the power of the Spirit, change the world.

In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That is, the full expression of who God is became a human and lived with us. We will never get to the end of God and God’s work in this world. If Jesus is the full expression of who God is in the flesh, then it stands to reason that his work in this world consisted of infinitely more than any human could even observe, let alone record. This is still true today. In a broken and hurting world, and in our often broken and hurting lives, we often ask the question, “where is God?”. God is working. God is working in ways we don’t even see, let alone are able to talk about. God’s work is still big enough that world itself cannot contain the books that could be written. Thanks be to God.

Day 55 | John 20:19-31 | February 28, 2014

In fear of what might happen to them, the disciples lay hold up in a room with the door locked. Jesus’ body is gone- he is risen, but the authorities may take the disciples’ lives in suspicion that they have taken and hidden the body. They are afraid, and there is much to be afraid of. And in the midst of their fear, Jesus shows up. He shows up, breathes the breath of life on them, and then sends them out.

There is much to be afraid of. There is. Right here, right now in our world there is much to be afraid of. We have reason to want to lock ourselves in a room and hide out. Verse 31 of this chapter sums up the whole of the Gospel of John: “But these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (emphasis added). The Gospel of John is about having life and having it to the full. Hiding out in a locked room is not living to the full. The good news of the Gospel of John is that in our fear, and as we hide, Jesus shows up, breathes the breath of life into us and then sends us out into the scary world to love it, to serve it, and to do as he did- breathe life into it.

This is hard. Very hard. But know that in our fear, the resurrected Christ shows up, and breathes the breath of life into us. We were not designed to live in hiding. We were designed step outside of our locked doors and partner with God in healing a broken world by the power of the Spirt within us. In this is real, true, vibrant, abundant life. Like Thomas, we may doubt, but even in our doubts, we are challenged to trust the truth of the power of the resurrection. The key is, as Thomas was, to be honest about our doubts. Thomas named it, claimed and didn’t deny it. As we are honest about our fears and doubts with God and one another, something amazing can happen: Christ shows up.

So may we be honest about our fears and doubts together. May we not be afraid to wrestle with faith together. And as we are authentic in our faith, may we come present to the power of the Spirit within us, calling us to life- a life which exists beyond the safety of our rooms.

Day 54 | John 20:1-18 | February 27, 2014

He is risen! This would be among one of the more familiar stories in Scripture, one might say. After all of the tension, after all of the brutality, after the cruel and painful death of Christ, he, after all, has risen. He is not here. One of the things I love about the resurrection narratives is that the women are the first evangelists. Remember, throughout the gospels Jesus is bringing inside those who are outside; he is empowering the powerless, strengthening the week, and bringing in the outcast. Throughout the Book of Acts we read about the disciples spreading the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and from that building the church of which we are a part here and now. But it didn’t start with a group of men. It started with a few women. They were the ones with the courage to leave the safety of the locked room in which the men stayed to go to the tomb of Christ. They are the ones to first “come and see” that the tomb is empty. And they are the first to share that Christ is risen.

As with all passages, there is a lot going on in this one; but as we so often celebrate the courage and the faith of the early “fathers”, let’s not forget the courage and the faith of the early mothers. They are the ones who kick started this whole movement as Mary Magdalene runs to her male friends shouting, “I have seen the Lord!”

Day 53 | John 19:17-42 | February 26, 2014

So here it is. The hour has come. Jesus has been placed on a cross and has died. It is finished. But there is great beauty in this passage in and amongst the horror of his death. I love the way it ends: “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes…” (John 19:39). Nicodemus is a beautiful thread running through John’s gospel. He comes to us in chapter 3 where he and Jesus have this great dialogue about being born from above, and in his seemingly authentic questioning, Jesus says the ever famous line, “for God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). Unfortunately at the end of chapter 3 we are left with a Nicodemus who just doesn’t seem to get it. He has come by night, presumably out of fear of what his fellow religious elitists will say and do, and he leaves still not getting it.

Then Nicodemus shows up again in chapter 7. The heat is being turned up on Jesus by Nicodemus’ colleagues, and Nicodemus begins to dabble in defending Jesus by stating that Jesus at least deserves a trial. Perhaps he’s getting it more than we know from chapter 3, and in chapter 7 he seems to be testing the waters on how his colleagues will respond.

Then, suddenly, at this key moment in the story of the God and God’s people, Nicodemus shows up one last time. Only this time, he comes at the moment of high risk. The city is packed with people and Jesus’ crucifixion is the focal point. He comes to where any and all could see him, and Nicodemus gives Jesus a proper Jewish burial. He did this at great risk, but it doesn’t matter to him anymore. Presumably to Nicodemus, “surely this was the Son of God”. The Gospel of John is about life, as we’ve said, but in that, it’s also about belief. Nicodemus has come to believe. He is the thread of belief throughout the Gospel. He’s uncertain and doubtful, but continues to take small steps toward Jesus and ultimately comes to believe. May we all do the same. May we be honest about our questions, uncertainties and doubts, but may we also inch closer to Jesus, even if it’s slowly, and one day come to believe.

Day 52 | John 19:1-16 | February 25, 2014

Did you hear it? “We have no king but the emperor”, the chief priests said. This is one of the most sinful things a Jewish leader could say. They have fully placed themselves into submission to Rome. In that one sentence they have compromised their identity. But why? Why do they do this? It’s quite simple: They were willing to say or do whatever it took to get rid of Jesus. To put it another way, their mission in the world became focused on tearing something or some one down rather than building something or some one up. They didn’t really believe that they had no king but the emperor. But embracing that sentiment is what would get rid of Jesus.

We do this. All too often in our world today, especially in the political realm, our mission becomes tearing some one or something down, even if it means going against some of our core convictions. To flash back to yesterday, this is how kingdoms of the world work. The contrast between Jesus in John 18 and the Religious elite in John 19 is staggering. With his life on the line, Jesus boldly claims, “my kingdom is not from this world”. In John 19, in order to destroy some one else’s life, the religious elite boldly claim that the kingdom to which they belong is 100% from this world.

Kingdoms of the world are about tearing something down. They tear down in order to build themselves up. The Kingdom of God is about building up. Its king tears himself down in order to build others up.

Day 51 | John 18:28-40 | February 24, 2014

It may be the most understated verse in all of Scripture: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Last semester I took an early church history class at Luther Seminary. As we read about the first 1,500 years of the church it appeared to me that this verse must have been pulled out of the scriptures during those years. The Church looked, sounded and behaved exactly as if it was a kingdom from this world. It sought power, modeled much of its worship and buildings after kingdoms of this world, and it spent the better part of those years using the cross as a sword to control, manipulate and dominate. It did exactly the opposite of what Jesus says here.

This is another reminder of what the Church is supposed to be. We are a distinct people- not distinct because of some kind of aloof arrogance. We are to be distinct in the way that God called Abraham, the father of many nations, to be distinct. Though the nation of Israel slips into abhorrent violence throughout the Old Testament, God originally called her to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:2). As Christians, we are to reclaim this call as lived out by Jesus by being a distinct people in our living a lifestyle of laying ourselves down for the sake of the others. Our job here on earth is not to rule over it but to serve it, care for it, and love it. We are to care for it in the way that God cares for us.

That means that our hope is never in any form of a kingdom of this world. It is not in a nation, a political party, or a political agenda. Our hope is not in the right laws being passed or overturned. Our hope is not in the right people being elected, and, dare I say, our hope is not even in the ability to elect the right people. Our hope is in the active work of the Holy Spirit in our lives compelling us to be shaped, formed and transformed into the full likeness of Christ in order to restore beauty to the world. No government, law, politician or nation will ever be able to do that. They might be able to restore order, but never beauty. Order is a good thing, but beauty is a better thing. “What is truth?”, Pilate asked. Truth is beauty and beauty, truth.6007901194_52bce3367c

I’ve been reading a book that’s been solidifying much of this for me. It’s a book I highly recommend, and whose title sums this all up. Order is a good thing, But Beauty Will Save the World.

Day 50 | John 18:19-27 | February 23, 2014

Peter gets a lot of bad press for denying Jesus. Maybe he should- I don’t know. But how would I respond if I were in Peter’s shoes? Or sandals. I don’t know. It’s really easy to say that I would have said, “yes, I am one of Jesus’ disciples- loud and proud”, when generally the worst that will happen to me is someone might roll their eyes and tell me I live in a myth. But Peter’s very life was at stake. In 21st century America we are so removed from real persecution that we cry persecution when a student is asked to not a wear a t-shirt that says, “his pain, my gain” or something like that. It’s worth debating whether or not said student should have this right or not, but this is not persecution- not in the Biblical sense, anyway. We must very careful with that word, and we must keep in mind the very real danger in which people lived in 1st Century Rome. And we must also keep in mind the very real danger in which people, Christians and otherwise, live today, and we must not reduce persecution down to t-shirt choices.

How would I respond if I were Peter? Probably pretty much the same way. I have no idea, though. I have no idea what it’s like to have my life threatened for empowering outcasts, serving the poor, and including the excluded. As it turns out, Peter would later be crucified for just such work. He “denied” Jesus when all it was was words, but when it came down to the defense of the marginalized, Peter stayed faithful to the end. May I do so as well.

Day 49 | John 18:1-18 | February 22, 2014

The first preaching class I took in seminary centered around this passage. We spent the whole semester in it and were then called to do a very short “sermon” on it, that was really more of a fly over what could one day be a more fleshed out sermon. I thought I’d share that for today’s post: 

In the cool of the night, sin and death approach the garden, but this time God steps out to serve as the guardian of life. In the beginning Adam and Eve lived as one with God, naked and unashamed, but into that garden the “serpent” came to tempt and corrupt them, and in so doing become the catalyst to their expulsion from that garden. Tonight, Jesus and his disciples enter a different garden- one that, like Eden, is for them a place of rest and peace for their souls; it is a place of familiarity and comfort; it is a place where, quite simply… God is. But on this night, and from this garden one is missing: Judas: the one also called “the betrayer”. The one who, according to John 13, has been corrupted by the insipid work of satan, the adversary. Yes, Judas has gone boldly into the night to gather his detachment of soldiers, who now come in full force to capture the Christ. In the beginning sin and death enter the garden in the form of a serpent to empty it. But on this night, truth and Life, in the form of the Christ, leaves this Garden effectively saying to sin and death, “Not this night. Not this garden. Not these children.” Christ steps before his captors like a mother protecting her children, asking, “whom are you looking for?”, all but begging them to name him. And they do.

They tell him, “Jesus of Nazareth”. To which he calmly, boldly, and without hesitation says, “I am he.” Stunned by this reverberation of God the liberator’s name, the soldiers fall to the ground, opening the window of opportunity ever so slightly for God the protector to escape. But not this God. Instead of running away, Christ presses in and asks them again, “Whom are you looking for?” And again they answer, “Jesus of Nazareth”.  And Jesus says, “I told you that I am he. So if you’re looking for me. Let these men go”. You see, sin will not enter in. Not this night. Not this garden. Not these children. 

But just as they are about to take him away, Simon Peter attempts to play “protector” by pulling out his sword and attacking the high priest’s slave. While the swing of his sword carries with it all the good intentions in the world, “Protector” is not Peter’s job. No. “Protector” is Christ’s job and Christ’s job alone. A job which is not to be done by the power of the sword but by the mystery of the cup. Christ steps out of the garden and hands himself over to the authorities to drink the cup handed over to him by his Father, THE authority. Not Peter. Not Judas. Not James nor John. Not you, not I, nor any person or any kingdom of this world. Not anyone nor anything but Jesus will protect this garden and these children from the sting of sin and death. So, friends, let us put down our swords, let us lay aside our fears, and let us rest in the grace of the garden- this garden which is guarded by the sacrificial, fearless love of the Christ.

Day 48 | John 17:1-26 | February 26, 2014

Here Jesus goes into this beautiful prayer for his disciples. It’s a beautiful prayer and when I read it, I hear the love he has for them as well as the deep intimacy he has with God. It is here that we also get a glimpse of what is to come: The 11 remaining disciples will be called to be Jesus in the world after Jesus is gone. He prays for his disciples, but he also prays for much, much more: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus prays not only for his disciples, but for us, who are “those who believe in [him] through their word”. Think about that for a moment: Jesus had us in mind. And what is his prayer? “That they may all be one.” I believe Jesus is still praying for this. the division happens as early as the Book of Acts and has continued through the centuries. But he doesn’t just pray for this unity because it’s nice. This unity has a very important purpose. He prays for unity in the body “so that the world may believe”. Jesus says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe…

Being right will not draw people to God. Being righteous will not draw people to God. Being in power will not draw people to God. Even being “relevant” will not draw people to God. Being one, being together, being a loving, connected whole is what will draw people to God. For this is what God is like.

Day 47| John 16:25-33 | February 20, 2014

“But take courage; I have conquered the world!” We live in the world. As I noted a couple days ago this word “world” here speaks to the world’s system and structure, that is its way, not its people. We live in this system. We are a part of it and can’t not be. We are in it. But we, as the people of God, are called not to be of it or like it or from it. We are in it though. And that means we have to deal with it. In the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church, our call as churches is to “cultivate spiritual vitality, reach new people and heal a broken world”. This charge indicates that this world, that is, its system and way, needs healing. It’s sick. There is great beauty in it, but it is also ill. We see this in violence, war, famine, destruction, greed, and pain (among a whole host of other things). This is what we must live in and face, and sometimes it can get overwhelming. It can get discouraging. We can even fall into despair and hopelessness about it. This can happen when we read the headlines across the globe, and it can happen in the midst of the fine details of our own story and life as well.

Whether it is a big picture or small picture issue that is evidencing this broken world, we must hang on to Jesus’ words here: “Take courage; I have conquered the world”. Jesus has conquered this broken system. This statement can be puzzling, because what Jesus is saying here is that he has conquered the world, and that work of conquering is finished. It’s done. This then begs the question, “why then is the world still in so much need of healing?” I struggle with this question. How can you say that, Jesus, when the world around me seems to be conquering me? Have you ever felt that way? I certainly have.

I wonder if what Jesus is getting at is this: The world and its system is broken and in need of healing. What Jesus has done, and by this I mean the way in which he has conquered this world, is that he has revealed to us that while we live in this world, we do not belong to it. We are born from above. We belong to God and God gets to tell the end of our story. No one or no other thing or circumstance gets to. God gets to finish our story. I wonder if this is a call to not let the circumstances of this broken world define who we are and the posture through which we will go through life. By the power of the Spirit of God in our lives we live in the brokenness but are not defined by it. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we overcome the brokenness.

So take courage: No matter what in the world may be swirling about you today, yesterday or tomorrow, there is one who is greater than it. And this is the one by whom and in whom we live, move and have our being. The world and its ways do not dictate the posture of our lives. God does that. So take courage; Christ has conquered the world!