An immeasurable mercy

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Watching for the Morning of January 21, 2018

Year B

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Jonah opens our readings from the scripture on Sunday. The great fish has vomited him onto the shore and God tries again to send him to warn the Assyrians that God is about to destroy them for their wickedness. Unless they repent. Every prophetic warning includes the possibility of repentance. It’s why Jonah tried to run away when he was first commissioned. He was afraid the people would turn from their wickedness and God would forgive them. They didn’t deserve forgiveness.   Of course, none of us do. Some of us certainly seem like saints. Some of us certainly are saints. But living well and living faithfully doesn’t put God in our debt. We are still frail creatures, still caught in our selves. The true saints know this. It fills them with compassion for sinners. The rest of us less complete saints want a little credit. It makes us a little judgmental. Those people should know better, behave better, try harder, make better choices. And if they don’t, they don’t deserve God’s mercy. But mercy isn’t earned; it’s given.

So we will hear of Jonah half-heartedly marching into Nineveh and the people hearing and repenting. And God forgives, just as Jonah feared.

Jonah resists the call of God. Tries to, anyway. But the call of God doesn’t let us get away. It pounces on us in unexpected ways – as it did to Peter and Andrew, James and John as they were tending their nets. Suddenly the summons is there and a lifetime of fishing is suddenly turned in a new direction. They will be gathering the world into the arms of mercy, the “fishnet” of heaven’s grace.

The summons is compelling. There is no resisting the eternal voice. Christ stands before them and calls them to follow. And what shall we say? We have work to do? No, we have mercy to do. The world awaits the embrace of God. The world awaits healing and life. The world awaits care and compassion. The world awaits the message that a new kingdom is at hand, a new spirit, a new governance of the human heart.

To choose hardness of heart in such a moment seems unthinkable, though we do make that choice. Often, it seems. Our hardness of heart becomes unrecognizable to ourselves. We cheer what we should not cheer. We trust what we should not trust. We show allegiance to things we ought not serve. Jesus will have things to teach – even as God tried to teach Jonah. The cross and resurrection will be the final lesson: it’s not about what we deserve; it’s about an immeasurable mercy.

It will be sung in the psalm on Sunday. Paul will speak of it in the reading. And Jesus will name names. We are summoned by mercy. We are summoned to live mercy.

The Prayer for January 21, 2018

Almighty God,
as Jesus summoned Simon and Andrew, James and John,
to leave their nets and follow,
you summon all people to lives of faith and love.
Grant us courage to follow where you lead,
and confidence to cast wide the net |
that gathers all people into your gracious embrace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 21, 2018

First Reading: Jonah 3:1-10
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’” – In this delightful tale of Jonah fleeing God’s call to bring warning to Nineveh, choosing death (tossed into the sea) rather than repentance until he is swallowed by a great fish and vomited onto the land, he now finds himself compelled to accept his commission and the thing he feared happens: the wicked city repents and God forgives.

Psalmody: Psalm 62:5-12
“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.”
– Speaking to the community more than to God, the poet expresses his confidence in God and calls the people (warns his opponents?) to also put their trust in God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
“From now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning.” – Paul concludes his guidance on matters of sex and marriage by reminding the community that they live in the light of the dawning reign of God and their lives should be defined by the age to come not the age that is passing away.

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
“Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’”
– Jesus summons Simon and Andrew, James and John, to join him in gathering the nation and instigating a new era of faithfulness.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFisherman_in_Myanmar.jpg By Pupuce22 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Dragged into the kingdom

File:Seabee Olympics at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam 150304-N-WF272-056.jpg

Saturday

Acts 11:1-18

1Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

It doesn’t surprise me that Peter would face criticism; criticism is one of the most wearying aspects of congregational life. What surprises me is that Peter explained what happened and “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God.” It’s easier for me to believe that Jesus walked on water than that Peter’s congregation was turned so easily from criticism to praise.

I want to believe that those first believers were as open and perceptive to the work of the Spirit as Luke describes, but I know that the question whether Gentile’s could be baptized into the community of Christ without first becoming a member of the Jewish community was a deeply challenging issue for the early church.

It is difficult to be certain exactly what the terms ‘Jew’ (Greek = ‘Judean’) and ‘Gentile’ (Greek = ‘the nations’) signified in the first century, but they clearly represent a deep cultural divide between those in the Judean community who define themselves as separate from the Hellenistic world and those who are thoroughly acculturated to that world. How do you have table fellowship – or any fellowship – with those who do not share the same mores, food laws and sense of purity?

To welcome “those people” is always a profound challenge for any community, and it was especially significant for the developing Christian movement. Luke goes into great detail in telling this story – and then has Peter relate the events again. Paul’s ministry to the nations is under constant attack and three times Luke relates Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord and his call to go to the nations. The problem of “Jew” and “Gentile” is the subject of the apostolic delegation to Antioch, Paul’s confrontation with Peter, and the so-called Jerusalem Conference. This issue of “them” and “us” didn’t go away and, in the end, led to the riot in the temple, Paul’s arrest and his eventual execution.

Change is not an easy thing. And it is especially difficult to bridge those cultural boundaries between different social and ethnic groups. But this is the wondrous thing about Jesus. He reaches out to tax collectors and parties with Zacchaeus and his outcast friends. Women travel in his company and he welcomes them as disciples. He converses with the Samaritan woman, treating her as a member of his family – and she brings her whole Samaritan village to him.

The Spirit empowers the believers at Pentecost to proclaim God’s praise in every language. Hellenized Judeans living in Jerusalem take up the Gospel and, when they are scattered by communal violence, share it freely with Samaritans. Philip declares there is no impediment to baptism for the Ethiopian Eunuch (who cannot enter the temple because, as a eunuch, he is ritually unclean). Peter baptizes Cornelius. Antioch welcomes Greeks. Paul and Barnabas are sent to the nations.

Despite ourselves, the heart of the Christian message transcends culture. Christ welcomes all peoples. Indeed, transcending tribalism is at the core of the Christian proclamation that the healing and redemption of all creation is at hand in Jesus. And so Paul declares:

“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

This is a far more profound creation of a new community than the modern liberal notion of inclusiveness. It is the kingdom of God.

And though I love Luke’s picture of a Christian community open to the movement of God’s Spirit to gather all into Christ, and I still hope for a congregation that welcomes all and can recognize the movement of the Spirit with joy and praise – the more profound truth is that we are usually dragged into that kingdom kicking and screaming.

But God’s kingdom comes. To us, and for us, and in spite of us, God’s kingdom comes.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASeabee_Olympics_at_Joint_Base_Pearl_Harbor-Hickam_150304-N-WF272-056.jpg  By Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Quinlan (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1797950) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A New Commandment

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Watching for the Morning of April 17, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Peter does what many regard as unthinkable when he chooses to baptize Cornelius and his family. Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army, a commander of the occupying forces. Though he is a good man, he is outside the community of Israel. And so begins the conversation that decides whether Jesus is the Messiah of Israel or the Redeemer of all the earth.

Is Jesus the anointed one who frees Judah or the anointed one who beings the day when all heaven and earth are reconciled. Does Jesus make us better Jews or citizens of the age to come when death no longer holds dominion over God’s creation?

For Peter, he had no option. God had decided this question by giving these Gentiles the gift of God’s Spirit – the gift of the age to come. If they had the baptismal gift; Peter needed to finish the job with water. It was in keeping with the prophets and the words and deeds of Jesus. The grave was empty. The dawn of the world gathered to God was underway.

John of Patmos describes it for us as the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth and all heaven and earth made new. The voice of the psalmist joins the refrain calling upon all creation to sing God’s praise. And at the center of our worship on Sunday will be the words of Jesus giving the new commandment – the commandment that characterizes the age to come – the commandment to love one another. Such love reveals that we are student/followers of Jesus. Such love bears witness to ultimate triumph of God’s love.

The Prayer for April 24, 2016

Gracious God,
whom all creation praises,
and whose will it is to gather all things into your wide embrace,
pour out upon us your Spirit of love,
that we may follow where you lead
and obey what you command;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 24, 2016

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” – Peter faces criticism over his baptism of the Gentile, Cornelius, by recounting the sequence of events leading to his visit and God’s outpouring of the Spirit.

Psalmody: Psalm 148
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens.” – The psalmist calls upon all creation to sing God’s praise.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, the prophet sees the earth made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth.

Gospel: John 13:31-35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: to love one another.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWashing_the_feets_(1420s%2C_Sergiev_Posad).jpg  By Workshop of Daniel Chorny and Andrey Rublev (http://www.icon-art.info/group.php?lng=&grp_id=9) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Feed my sheep

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Watching for the Morning of April 10, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

It’s painful to hear. We understand why Peter was crushed when Jesus asks a third time “Do you love me?” It strips the cover off the wound of his denial. Three times Peter had been asked if he was a follower of Jesus and three times he had denied it. Now he is given the chance to change the outcome of that denial. But it hurts.

The truth is often painful. But only in truth can true allegiance be born. If we do not understand what has been forgiven, how can our lives be bound to him in true allegiance?

The one who vowed to die with Jesus rather than deny him watched his teacher die alone. Now the leadership of the Christian mission is entrusted to him.

This addendum to John’s Gospel provides the center of the texts on Sunday. We will hear of Paul’s life-transforming encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He who was held the coats as the mob stoned Stephen to death, who had ravaged the early Christian community and was traveling now with authority to seize the believers in Damascus – he is delivered from his blindness by the Lord through the ministry of faithful Ananias. He is baptized, united with Christ Jesus, bound by immeasurable mercy to faithfulness.

The psalmist sings of his complacency in his wealth, the crisis that came, the deliverance God gave, and the new life of thankfulness and praise. And John of Patmos sees a vision of all heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain – but lives and reigns.

The drama of Easter is not a dramatic and unexpected comeback in the final four seconds. It is the drama of our lives revealed by fierce and tender truth, of new life found in God’s amazing grace, of the faithfulness born of that grace, and the ministry to the world that follows.

The Prayer for April 10, 2016

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus your son
you have turned all human mourning into dancing.
As he appeared to his followers by the seashore,
nourished them at his table,
and sent them out into the world,
so come to us, that fed by your mercy
we too may carry your bread of life to the world;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 10, 2016

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20 (appointed: 1-6 [7-20])
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Saul (Paul) encounters the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and is left blind. Ananias responds to God’s call to go and heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – With words that echo the resurrection, the poet sings of God’s deliverance from an unexpected affliction: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’”

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
– The prophet sees the heavenly hosts around the throne of God singing praise to the Lamb who stands upon the throne.

Gospel: John 21:1-19
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” – In an addendum to John’s Gospel, The risen Jesus appears to his followers at the sea of Galilee and gives Peter the opportunity to turn his threefold denial into a threefold affirmation of allegiance to Jesus, and conveys to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOxfam_East_Africa_-_SomalilandDrought026.jpg  By Oxfam East Africa (Flickr: SomalilandDrought026) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They invited him to stay

Friday

Acts 10:44-48

File:Israel Egypt 2009 4092554859 f56e3c720a Baptism O (9198123663).jpgThen Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

At the end of the first reading this Sunday are these few little words: “Then they invited him to stay for several days.” It is the climax of a story that began with an angelic visitation to Cornelius to send for Peter, a thrice repeated vision to Peter to prepare him to accept Cornelius’ invitation, and then this event where, before Peter can finish telling Cornelius about Jesus, the Spirit of God comes upon the whole household just as it came upon the believers on Pentecost. Peter has no choice but to baptize them, for they have received the baptismal gift.

The significance of this event is hard for us to appreciate. The house of a gentile is unclean. Peter acknowledges that to even enter Cornelius’ home “is against our law”. Yet he steps across that threshold. He daringly follows the vision he has received, declaring: “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean”

And now Peter has not only walked across this deepest divide in the human community, he is invited to stay. To eat and sleep in their company – and, presumably, to sing and pray and teach among them. The line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is utterly erased.

The believers who had been driven from Jerusalem by persecution had brought the word to Samaritans. Then Philip is sent to the Ethiopian eunuch. Now Peter himself is in the home of a gentile. A centurion, no less. And they have all been baptized. They have all been graced with the Holy Spirit. They are all members of that community living in anticipation of the final dawning of God’s reign of grace and life.

Of course there’s hell to pay when Peter get’s back to Jerusalem. This argument will rumble through the entire book of Acts. It’s why Paul will be beaten, stoned and imprisoned. It’s why the gift faithfully gathered from the gentile churches will not be received by those in Jerusalem. It is why a riot starts in the temple and Paul is taken into Roman custody – then whisked away in dead of night to avoid a plot to kill him. It is why the freedom riders were beaten, and Medgar Evers murdered: they dared to cross a line that others wanted to keep firmly in place.

But you cannot silence this message of an empty tomb. This is not “good news” this is “the-world-will-never-be-the-same news”. Jesus is not a religious reformer urging us to forgiveness, love and renewal; he has been raised. The day is at hand when sin’s hold on us is broken, when God’s Spirit is poured out on “men and women, young and old”, when all creation is gathered to God, when human tyrants fall and a new Jerusalem rises.

All humanity yearns for an end to war, an end to hunger, an end to suffering and sorrow. We watch the rubble in Nepal and see the suffering of refugees in Africa. We recognize that Syria turned over its chemical weapons so now they are using chlorine gas that can’t be traced. We know that domestic violence lies hidden around us and witness the tragedies of the nightly news. We yearn for peace. And now before us stands the risen one who is the promise and presence of that peace.

This is not one among the many world religions; this is the embodiment of all our longing. Of this we cannot be silent.

All this is present in those sweet little words: “Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

 

Photo: By someone10x (4092554859_f56e3c720a Baptism_O) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Taking up the cross

Wednesday

Mark 8:31-38

File:Diorama of Lunch Counter Sit-Down Protests - National Civil Rights Museum - Downtown Memphis - Tennessee - USA - 01.jpg

Diorama of Lunch Counter Sit-Down Protests – National Civil Rights Museum – Downtown Memphis – Tennessee.

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

It’s important that we understand what it means to take up the cross. Jesus is not talking here about enduring the trials and tribulations of mortal life. This is not an exhortation to endure nobly a weak heart, a rebellious daughter, or a drinking husband. Life has many crosses to bear – but these are not the one to which Jesus refers. Jesus is headed to Jerusalem. There he will encounter the entrenched power and privilege of the wealthy elite who have made their alliance with Roman imperial power. They are the movers and shakers of their time – only they were not movers and shakers but preservers and defenders of the status quo. They would say, “Preservers of the peace,” but Jesus has suggested they are preserving their privilege not the way of God, the way of justice and mercy.

An encounter with power can have only one outcome. They will do everything they can to shame and discredit and silence Jesus. Stripped naked, tortured, mocked – “Come on down if you are the Christ!” – and crushed. Powerless. Worthless. A worm not a man.

Follow the Freedom Riders and you can expect spit and violence. Follow the young people at the “Whites Only” lunch counters and you can expect hate and vitriol (see photo).  Speak up in their defense and you will incur the wrath of your neighbors. Those with any sense are silent. Those who would keep their jobs did not dare to register to vote during that Freedom Summer – or dare say that African-Americans had a right to vote.

This is what it means to bear the cross. To endure the hostility, shaming and violence of the powerful because you stand on the side of the kingdom.

The disciples are altogether unprepared to do this. Peter rebukes Jesus for trying to suggest this is what Jesus will find in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows this is no victory march into the halls of power. The way to the kingdom involves a much more traumatic convulsion, a dying and rising – even as the path of becoming a disciple involves dying and rising. Peter will betray Jesus before he becomes the Peter who feeds Jesus’ sheep, before he becomes the Peter who heals the lame man at the temple, before he becomes the Peter who would serve God rather than man, who baptizes Cornelius the Roman Centurion, who is crucified upside down in Rome because he said he was not worthy of dying as Christ did. The soldiers gladly obliged.

Letting go of life in order to find it. Letting go of the privileges of this world for the sake of the new world dawning in Jesus. Taking up the cross cast by a world that wants not to change, wants not to be born from above, wants not to die and rise. This is the awesome, terrible, holy, liberating journey of following Jesus.

 

Photo: By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Nets not fishing poles

Wednesday

Mark 1

File:Large lift net (In Bengali-Veshal jal).jpg17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Nets. Not a fishing pole. Nets.

We think of Peter and Andrew, James and John as rugged individuals providing for themselves and their families, fishermen on the sea. We see independence, self-reliance, all those wonderful American virtues. And so we subconsciously translate “fishing for people” as each of us out there throwing out the line to bring someone in to Jesus. We think of salvation as personal. We tend to think in terms of individual salvation. A fishing pole.

A colleague of mine years ago hauled his bass boat into the center aisle of his sanctuary and gave his sermon with rod in hand, casting a bob down the aisle. You can’t push that metaphor very far without troubling questions about fake bait and barbed hooks.

But they fished with nets. They caught whole shoals. They were starting a movement. They were gathering crowds. Peter’s Pentecost message gathered 3,000 people ready for God to come and reign among them. In that wonderful story at the end of John there are 153 fish in a net bursting to contain them. But let’s be clear, bursting nets doesn’t mean there are too many people for the seats in church; it means three million people in the streets declaring “Je Suis Charlie.” – Or, in this case, “I follow Jesus.” “I choose the reign of God over the dominions of men.” “I choose the reign of mercy and justice over the tyrannies of power.” “I choose the governance of God’s Spirit over the governance of social convention.” “I choose generosity over greed, service over power, compassion over hardness of heart.” “I choose courage in the face of hate and fear, rather than more hate and fear.” “I choose boldness for the truth over silent consent to what is false.” “I choose forgiveness over revenge, even seventy-seven times.”  “I choose a shared table.”

When Jesus walks along the shore and summons Peter, Andrew, James and John, he is summoning them away from an imperial system where the right to fish was granted by the empire for something that worked much more like a bribe than a fee for the protection of the fishing stocks. They were licensed to fish, but the fish didn’t go to the market or their own table, it went to a middleman who carried it to a factory where it was converted into fish sauce, a delicacy for the Roman elite (and the Judean elite who shared their table, their values, their allegiances to Roman Imperium.)

It was time for change. The social compact was no longer justice and mercy but wealth and power. So Jesus gathers his friends and sets off to change the world, to call the people of God back to the path of God, to bring God’s spirit to reign in their hearts and their world.

It is the beginning of the March on Washington. The beginning of the Freedom Riders. It is the beginning of Non-Violent Resistance Training and the decision to not participate in a corrupt system. Jesus doesn’t move to the back of the bus. They head to Jerusalem, bearing witness along the way to the true generosity of God, the work of reconciliation, the healing of lives, the raising of the dead. Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the sake of what is right and faithful. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the right and proper observance of our obligations to one another (Matthew 5:1-12).

At the center of all this is a man of extraordinary spiritual power, a man anointed of God, a man who faced demons in the wilderness and will face pain and betrayal in Jerusalem. But from that sorrow the world is born anew; from that grave the world is born from above.

Photo: By Balaram Mahalder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Let me try again

A second attempt at: ‘He’ who?  Me?

I received feedback that people had trouble following my last posting, I hope this revision is clearer.

For Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

Our translator puts Jesus’ name at the beginning of this sentence. It’s not unreasonable, given the Greek, but the name ‘Jesus’ is actually connected to the word ‘said’ at the end of the sentence. Literally it says: “He decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip, and Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. Does John intend us to understand that Peter (the subject of the preceding line) went to Galilee and found Philip, or does our author mean that Jesus himself went to Galilee and found Philip?

In the preceding verses, John the Baptist points to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and two of John’s disciples follow Jesus and ask, “Where are you staying?”

This question has a literal meaning about where Jesus is spending the night. But, like so much in John’s Gospel, it has a deeper, more profound dimension. The word these disciples use is ‘abide’. They want to know where Jesus abides. And the answer to this, as we will come to learn in this Gospel, is that Jesus abides in the Father. Jesus answers them saying, “Come and see,” inviting them to come with him and see that he abides in the Father and the Father abides in him.

That this encounter with Jesus is much more than a simple question about residency is clear in what happens next: Andrew goes to get his brother, Simon (Peter), saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew’s encounter with Jesus – the invitation to see –results in the confession that he is the Messiah, the Christ.

Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, and Jesus gives him the name Cephas. Peter’s encounter with Jesus – like that of the two before him – seems strangely simple on the face of it. But Jesus has not just given Peter a nickname; giving a name means calling someone into a new reality, a new destiny.

Our verse immediately follows this giving of a name. Unfortunately, my Bible adds a paragraph break and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John, our gospel writer, didn’t give us section headers (or paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas,” the gospel continues saying ‘he’ decided to go to Galilee and gets Philip. Thus our question: who is this ‘he’?

If the ‘he’ that begins this verse is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

The problem is that we are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, and adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, then as now the followers of Jesus are participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and bring their friends to see. This combining of past and present is also seen in John when the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? What seems like Jesus speaking switches to the plural pronoun in 3:11 when he says “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” Similarly, is it Jesus who says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? The truth is, it is both. John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. Jesus is empowered by God to speak with God’s authority and power. In John, Jesus is more like us, a witness pointing towards the wonder and mystery of God. Jesus gives us signs –signs that are meant to help us see that he is the new wine and the bread of life and the living water.

The Jesus in John’s gospel teaches rather than commands. He doesn’t speak the Word; he is the Word made flesh, the word that makes free.

And we are witnesses, bringing people to this living Word.

John’s Gospel is about Jesus and also about us. It is about then, and also about now.  We are a community in Christ and Christ in us, bearing witness to the light and life of the world. Like Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, we are gathering others to Christ that, together, we might share in the Life that does not perish.

‘He’ who? Me?

Wednesday

John 1:43-51

File:Montréal - Oratoire Saint-Joseph (04).jpg

Philip, Andrew and Nathanael at the la basilique de l’oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal, à Montréal.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

It’s unusual for there to be a question about grammar in John’s Gospel. His writing is elegant, simple, poetic. But here, there is a puzzle. The subject ‘Jesus’ doesn’t show up until the final verb “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

The subject is undetermined at the beginning: “He decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

Was it Jesus who went to Galilee and found Philip? Or was it Simon Peter to whom Jesus has just spoken?

When you look back we find John the Baptist pointing to Jesus saying: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”   Two of John’s disciples then follow Jesus and ask where he ‘abides’ – meaning not just “staying”(so NRSV) but all that we will learn about Jesus abiding in the Father and us abiding in Jesus. Jesus answers them, “Come and see” – again, suggesting not just that they will see where he has pitched his tent, but ‘see’ that he abides in the Father. Andrew then goes to get his brother, Simon, saying, “We have found the Messiah/Christ.” Andrew brings Peter, and Jesus names him Cephas.

My Bible has a paragraph break here and a section header that makes it seem like we’ve moved on to a new topic. But John gave us no section headers (no paragraph breaks or periods, either, for that matter). So, once Jesus says, “you will be called Cephas”, ‘he’ goes to Galilee to get Philip.

If the ‘he’ is Peter, then the narrative goes like this: John points Andrew to Jesus, Andrew gets Peter, Peter gets Philip, and Philip finds Nathanael.

Each of these is brought to Jesus, has an encounter with him and makes a confession about his identity: Lamb of God, Messiah/Christ, the one promised by Moses and the prophets, Son of God and King of Israel.

We, however, are so used to the story from the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke where Matthew and Luke follow the basic outline created by Mark), where Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee summoning disciples, that we tend to bring that picture to bear in our hearing of John. We assume Jesus is summoning disciples. But John shows us believers bringing others to Jesus, who then ‘see’ and acclaim him.

Mark gives us a story where Jesus calls disciples, but the disciples are dimwitted and don’t understand anything. Matthew softens the picture a little, but adds that the risen Jesus opens their minds to understand. Luke adds the dramatic story of Pentecost, where the disciples are transformed from fearful refugees to bold witnesses.

But in John, the present and past combine. In John, the followers of Jesus are already participants in the gathering of a community around Jesus. They see and then bring their friends to see. And the voice of Jesus sometimes morphs into the voice of the community. When, for example, does Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus end and the testimony of the community begin? The plural pronoun ‘we’ is used in 3:11. Does Jesus say, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son?” or is that the voice of the community? Or both? John’s story is not just about Jesus; it is about us.

The Gospel of Mark wants to be sure that we hear in Jesus the power of God’s word/command: “Follow me.” This is the same voice that stills the storm and casts out demons. This is not absent from John, but John wants us to recognize that we are part of the story. We are a community in Christ, bearing witness to him who is the light and life of the world. And we are gathering others into Christ, that together we might share in the Life that does not perish.

Photo: By Concierge.2C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons