Sermons on Gospel of John
We are grains of wheat. That is what we are. We can stay by ourselves, alone and rigid, encased in a hard shell, holding the embryo of what could be, of what God could be through us and deep within us, imprisoned by our unwillingness to let go of those things we hold to be safe and true through our understanding of ourselves, each other, or God. Or, we can die to ourselves and we can become the bread of life, giving life and nourishment to others and bearing much fruit for the Kingdom. “Come and die”, Jesus says.
“Grant us the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love. Grant us the grace of a strong soul, O God, grant us the grace to be strong.” John Phillip Newell, a contemporary Celtic theologian, offers these words in an evening prayer from his psalter, Sounds of the Eternal. In our gospel reading today, Jesus reveals the strength to cry for justice, to be angry for love, and “live and move and have his being” as coming from the place of a strong soul. Jesus is focused on overturning that which distracts or inhibits people from fully worshiping God, be it the unjust sacrificial temple tax system that excludes the poor from entering the temple he found in Jerusalem or the many priorities we place in our lives over that of worshiping God. Jesus knows that when we worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul, we can do no else but acknowledge and embrace a holy anger set deep within us that empowers us to right the wrongs, to overturn the imbalance in an oppressive political or religious system, to fight for justice and peace, and to care for the least among us, as Jesus did.
God’s word, the logos, speaks to us each day. Our challenge is to allow Christ to lift the veil for us to see and articulate the truth that is within us and each other. May we see within our relationships the presence of Christ’s healing balm, our salvation, and may we be moved along on our journey, that wild roller coaster of a ride with God, toward a generosity of spirit, which was in the beginning.
There are moments in our lives, sometimes fleeting or seemingly nearly beyond our grasp, when we catch a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, when everything lines up and everything seems right. We may describe these moments as “being in the flow”, or of a sense of wholeness or peace that overcomes us, or experiencing a surge of newness, or a spark of creativity, or a place of deep and holy nourishment, or stumbling into a thin place. These come to us by grace, for we can never orchestrate them, but only enter into them when they are revealed to us. While in these states, we are experiencing what this Forest Season of Creation is all about – that living place where nourishment abounds, where both birth and death happen, where the life-force is strong, where there is a sense of being held as part of a greater whole.
Jesus made an audacious living promise to the disciples. It still sparks hope, leaves us breathless and wondering – could this be true? In these few words of John’s gospel is the pearl of promise pointing to how we can claim a full life in the face of the fear, terror, panic, isolation, loss, and grief that comes to us. The strain and struggle that comes to us simply from living, that comes simply from the very nature of our being alive in this world.
Lent is a season in which we move past the expected, the conventional, the easy answers and trust that God is drawing us out of the shadows of complacency or comfort and into the brightness of discipleship, so we may see the glory of God around us.
Dialogue happened, lives were changed, and the living water began to flow more freely. This all seems to be a part of God’s plan.
John, however, offers us a different challenge. We are to love the ones right in front of us. The ones in the pew beside, behind, or in front of us, the ones we sit next to in the classroom, the ones we share a meal with, the ones we march with, the ones we disagree with, the ones we believe we cannot understand, the ones our hearts have gotten all out of shape about. These are the ones we are to love, as Jesus has loved us, in the fullness of the truth of God’s love and revelation.
When we give or receive love gone beautifully wild, when we love without counting costs, when we give extravagantly, when we pour out the ointment of our own lives, lavishly upon someone regardless of their deservedness, a healthy hallowing takes place within our own being. We create not a void nor an empty space, but an open place, which prepares us for the insight God desires to give us, which allows the space for Jesus to rule our hearts, and which transforms us into a translucent alabaster jar, ready to spill out the special ointment of our hearts. When we give love away, we create room for God to show up in our lives.
For it is Christ’s love alone which can wear down our harsh edges, or erode our pride or selfishness, or erase our deep wounds. Christ can invite us to be our most generous selves, and our world will turn toward goodness. If this all seems vague and difficult to imagine in the particular, to see the details in front of you, to be attentive to what this looks like in real life, you need only to draw up from your heart the images from this past week. Never before in my life have I so experienced the grace and generosity of God through how we were church together
Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who have ever cried out from the depths of our soul, “Where were you when I needed you?” Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who feel consumed with pain, and fail to find God within it, but rather blame God for it. Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who have ever seen only our own dilemma, as the entirety of the world, and failed to see the larger picture of the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the Word, redeems each of us who have ever protected our hearts from lavishly pouring out that precious gift God gave us to give away: love. We must be willing to be broken open to love. It is what allows Jesus to save us.
One major key to finding this real relationship with God through Christ which John’s gospel offers us is the practice of ABIDING. . . Learning to abide is about allowing the Spirit to teach us how to live and walk through the full spectrum of life’s tensions – hanging in there with God while God continues to stay with and hold onto us, loving us for now and always.