4th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the light of the world. Amen
This story always reminds me of my preaching professor Dr. Craig Satterlee,
this is his favorite story,
you see he was born blind
I believe he particularly held onto the part
where in response to the question of the disciples
asking who sinned the man or his parents to cause his blindness
Jesus responds “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
While people didn’t ask who sinned
while he was preparing to become a pastor and professor and now a bishop
they did ask a lot of questions
that showed they doubted that the works of God could be revealed in him.
Yet that’s exactly where God likes to be revealed
in the last place people expect.
In the gospel of John
people didn’t expect God to be revealed in a drunken wedding feast,
they didn’t expect God to be revealed to a samaritan woman at a well
and they certainly didn’t expect God
to work through someone who everyone accepted was a sinner because of his blindness.
And yet there our God appears
when faced with these unexpected revelations
we react in one of two ways,
we embrace the glory of God
and hold onto the experience even if it doesn’t make sense
and even if it changes us
or after the initial shock
we focus on the impossibility of the experience,
and hold so tightly
onto what we understand to be the truth with a capital T
that we refuse to acknowledge the possibility
that God could be working in a new way
and we refuse to be changed by the encounter.
These two reactions
are played out in our gospel
in the characters of the man born blind and the Pharisees
and while we might not hold onto the belief
that blindness or other what we sometimes call disabilities
are caused by sin anymore
there are other ways of thinking
that we hold onto as true
even when confronted by evidence to the contrary
that cause us to miss the glory of God in front of us
So how does this all play out?
Jesus encounters the man born blind,
rejects the notion that his blindness is a result of sin
and gives him instructions that result in his healing.
The man born blind follows the instructions
and comes back able to see (Jesus is gone by this point)
and when he returns to his community able to see
people start to ask questions,
like how did this happen?
He tells them,
a man called Jesus gave me these instructions
and now I can see,
this is the simple truth of his experience.
his answer isn’t satisfying to the people
he’s given them the how
they want to know the why
So the people go and get some pharisees
who are people who have spent a lot of time studying scripture and religion,
thinking they might have some insight,
and at this point
the pharisees seem to agree
that Jesus healed the man
but they are divided on how to interpret the events
some of them are offended
that Jesus healed on the sabbath
but others wonder aloud
if someone who were a sinner
could perform such signs, maybe he is from God.
They are all at about the same level at this point,
they accept what has happened but they don’t understand it.
So they ask the man’s interpretation of who it was that healed him
and this time when pressed to go beyond the simple facts
he calls Jesus a prophet.
His confession is closer to the truth
this does not satisfy the pharisees
and their dissatisfaction begins to lead them further from God.
they begin to question whether the man was actually even born blind,
they are so unwilling to believe that Jesus healed the man
that they suspect that it’s all a trick
and bring the man’s parents forward to testify
and ask them “was your son really born blind, how do you explain it?”
And now his parents are caught in the middle,
they know that their son was blind and that now he sees
and they say this
but they also know that if they confirm that it was Jesus that healed him
they will be kicked out of their community
so they plead ignorance and turn the questioning back on their son.
And now the pharisees seem to have made up their minds,
they bring the man back
and essentially say, we know Jesus is a sinner,
swear in court that he is a sinner.
but the man sticks to his experience
he says I don’t know if he’s a sinner
all I know is that I was blind and now I see.
This doesn’t satisfy the pharisees,
“tell us, what did he do to you” they ask
And this pushes the man born blind over the edge,
“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” and he accepts their charge that he is a disciple of Jesus.
So here we have a man who was born blind,
given his sight back by a man that he never actually sees-
his sight only returns after he washes in the pool-
go from simply telling his story
to proclaiming Jesus a prophet
to becoming one of his disciples,
the more the pharisees push back at his experience of God
the more he believes,
and the more he believes
the more the pharisees become entrenched in their position
resisting the possibility of God doing something new
so much that they intimidate their witnesses
and finally fall back on a childish sounding argument,
“well you were born entirely in sins, you can’t teach us anything”
and they kick him out of the community.
Jesus hears they’ve driven the man out
he goes and finds him and asks,
“do you believe in the son of man?”
“I’d like to” says the man,
“I am he” Jesus says
and the man confesses his faith, “I believe”
he says and worships Jesus.
And it seems like a happy ending,
except Jesus has one more thing to say,
he names the pharisees spiritually blind,
by their willful rejection of Jesus the light of the world
he names them sinners,
which in John means
that they have no relationship with Jesus or the one who sent him.
The grace of Jesus seeking out the man
is balanced with a warning in the story of the pharisees,
a warning that good, faithful, religious people
can get so stuck in their ways
that they miss the glory of God before them
and end up breaking up their community
and alienating themselves from God.
we are called into relationship with Jesus the light of the world
and the thing about the light of the world
is that it seeks out the dark corners of our lives,
it goes to the places where we don’t expect there to be light,
where we don’t expect to find the glory of God
or ever be healed
and yet that’s where the light goes first
revealing and healing our broken places.
Then, forgiven and made whole
we are called to share our story with others,
to tell about the times
when Jesus transformed our brokenness
into a place where God was revealed
we are called to walk as children of the light,
to bring the light into dark places
to be constantly surprised at how God is working in the lives of others
and to be constantly changed by the way Jesus chooses to reveal the glory of God. Amen
Third Sunday of Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who knows us. Amen
Jesus while traveling sits by a well,
a woman comes to draw water,
Jesus asks her for a drink of water
and they converse
and by the time their conversation is finished
they are both satisfied
and no water has been drawn from the well.
Man does not live by bread alone,
Jesus told the devil when he tempted him in the wilderness,
here the same holds true for water,
there are thirsts so deep
that water will not quench them.
we thirst for meaningful relationships with other people,
we thirst to be known
we thirst for God,
The Samaritan woman at the well needed more than water,
Jesus knew that,
he knew that he could provide what she needed
but to do this he would need to establish a relationship with her
and so he made himself vulnerable-
he asked her for a drink of water,
he gave the woman power over him,
to either fill or deny his need.
And the woman responds,
she knows something is up,
this is an unusual interaction-
in every way Jesus has power over her-
and she calls him on it,
“How is it that you a Jew ask a drink of me a woman of samaria?”
and that is all the opening that Jesus needs to engage her
saying “If you knew who you were talking to you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Again this intrigues her
and again she responds practically,
“where do you get this living water? You don’t have a bucket and the well is deep?”
“I didn’t mean this water” Jesus says,
“if you drink this water you’ll get thirsty
but the water that I will give will become in people
a spring gushing up to eternal life.
“Sir give me this water,
so that I may never be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water” the woman exclaims,
now she’s invested in this curious stranger
who has broken social taboos to ask her for water
and engage her in conversation,
who offers her something that would make her life easier,
she wants this water.
In response to her desire
Jesus abruptly changes the topic of conversation,
at least it seems abrupt
until we realize that he is revealing the real reason that she is at the well at noon,
the reason she has a thirst that water cannot quench,
she is a social outcast,
she is not a woman of illrepute as some have suggested,
the string of husbands probably has something to do with levirite marriage,
the practice where if a man dies without a son to carry on his line
his wife is married to his brother
in hopes of producing an heir for him.
Perhaps this woman was married into a sickly family
and husbands keep dying on her,
perhaps she is barren and has been dismissed from five marriages
and it was an act of pity on the part of the man she is living with now
to consent to have her under his roof,
maybe the women have rejected her company
at the usual communal trips to the well in the morning and evening
because they don’t want her bad luck to rub off on them,
Whatever the reason for her situation,
when Jesus reveals her past to her
he reveals that he knows her,
he knows her past and her present,
and knowing this still sought her out as a conversation partner
and this empowers her to continue to speak,
to try to figure out who this man is, to know him.
“Clearly you’re a prophet” she muses,
“but you’re Jewish,
your people say Jerusalem is the only place to worship God
while my people say this mountain is the only place to worship God
hmmm, what’s going on here?”
And this samaritan woman
on the outskirts of her own community
proceeds to have the most in depth theological conversation yet
among the people who have encountered Jesus,
she is knowledgeable about what her people believe -
versus what Jesus’ people believe,
Jesus does her the honor of disagreeing with her
about the proper place of worship
saying salvation is from the Jews
then goes on to say
that soon, right now in fact
the debate about where to worship is moot
because “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
“Well” the woman counters
“I know the messiah is coming,
we at least both believe in that
and when he comes he will proclaim all things to us”
and echoing the words from the burning bush to Moses
Jesus says to the woman
“I am, the one who is speaking to you”
revealing for the first time who exactly he is.
And the woman reacts by leaving her water jar,
her fears and shame
and rushes back to town
to speak to the people she has previously avoided,
to share her experience and invite them back with her.
And they come!
Being known by Jesus,
trusted as a conversation partner
has empowered the woman to go do what before was unthinkable,
to engage with her community
who had disengaged from her
and something in her excitement or words
moves the people she tells
and they come back out to the well with her
and invite Jesus to stay with them
and many people believe in Jesus because of the woman
and after they meet him they proclaim that he is the savior of the world.
Two strangers meet at a well,
over the course of a conversation
they come to understand both each other and themselves in new life giving ways.
Jesus knows the woman as an engaging conversation partner
who becomes an effective disciple inspite of her past and present,
the woman understands that the messiah is before her
and that he is capable of giving new life to those he encounters
as he has given new life to her
in her new purpose in sharing the news about the messiah.
Jesus is changed by the conversation as well,
he set out to engage one hurting person at a well
and ended up including a whole nation in his work,
He initially argues that salvation is from the Jews
but in this encounter he realizes that while it may be from the Jews
it is for the sake of the whole world.
And it all started because Jesus built a relationship
by being vulnerable and having a conversation.
As followers of Jesus
we are called to be in relationship with God and with one another,
that’s even part of our mission statement to nurture those relationships
and to be in relationship
means that we have to be vulnerable,
to have conversations with people convention says we shouldn’t speak to,
to risk knowing them and them knowing us,
to risk having our world expanded by the conversation,
to honor the other person by disagreeing with them
and still listening to what they say and responding in kind.
And in the course of these conversations,
we may find that our thirst has been quenched
without any water being drawn from the well,
that we have been known
and come to know another,
that we have been empowered to leave our fears and shame behind,
that we have a new purpose in life,
that we have seen the face of God. Amen
2nd Sunday of Lent
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who descended and ascended because of love. Amen
Jesus, what are you up to?
I think this is the root question
behind Nicodemus’ visit and conversation with Jesus.
What are you up to?
You’re a teacher with incredible insight into God,
you’re doing all these signs so you must be from God,
what are you up to?
And Jesus’ response
really only serves to confuse Nicodemus more.
Well, says Jesus, first off,
you can’t know that I’m from God because I do signs,
that’s not good proof
and actually, I don’t really trust anyone who believes in me because of my signs,
the only way you can sense the presence of the kingdom of God,
which I represent
is by being born again, from above.
Say what now? Nicodemus says,
uh born again?
I don’t think I’ll fit back in my mother’s womb
No that was a metaphor Jesus says,
try thinking of it this way
born of water and spirit,
remember spirit and wind, intimately connected,
you can see the effects of the wind but not where it starts or ends.
Uhhh what? Nicodemus is still confused,
and Jesus wonders out loud,
are you really one of the best, wisest teachers in Israel,
and you don’t get it?
This is big stuff here,
and if you can’t figure out earthly stuff
how can you figure out heavenly stuff,
try it this way, it’s like Moses and the bronze serpent,
you know that story right?
I’m going to be the bronze serpent for the whole world.’
And if you still don’t get the how,
try the why,
God loves the world,
the whole world,
God wants to save the world.
I’m the way God has decided to save the world.
Nicodemus is on the path to becoming a disciple of Jesus,
through his appearances
John marks the various stages on that path
and in this scene uses Jesus’ teaching
to communicate the heart of John’s gospel and approach to Jesus,
that salvation is not a distant future
but right now in the present,
it is life lived in the unending presence of God,
and when we live in the unending presence of God
our lives are no longer defined by flesh and blood but by God.
there’s a reason discipleship takes time,
it is a completely different way of being in the world.
Jesus uses several images in his conversation with Nicodemus
to try to convey the transformation that leads to this way of being.
He starts with the image of birth,
that transition that marks the beginning of life in the world,
we need a similar transition into the world of the kingdom of God Jesus says,
that transition is marked by water and spirit,
in a word baptism
a moment that is both symbolic and transformational,
through the visible act of the splashing of water
we are joined to the community,
through invisible the work of the spirit
we are transformed into children of God
joined to Christ, made members of the kingdom of God.
For some Christians being “born again”
is a moment of human decision,
you’ve probably heard the language
or had someone ask you if you’ve accepted Jesus,
in the Lutheran understanding of what happens in this transformation
that approach gives way to much credit to us humans,
rather transformation is a gift from God
through the workings of the spirit.
Jesus uses the image of the wind to describe the spirit to Nicodemus
for whom this was a familiar image
in Hebrew the word for spirit “ruach”,
is also the word for breath, wind.
In Genesis God is described as creating with breath
speaking things into being through the spirit.
The earth creatures that God molds
only become living humans
when God fills them with breath, spirit.
This is something that Nicodemus gets.
But in this conversation,
Jesus says the spirit is like the wind in another way,
we only sense its presence by the effect is has as it moves by.
We are quite familiar with wind in Nebraska,
driving along if I feel a gust move my car
I look to the grass and trees along the side of the road
to confirm that it is windy,
if I pause I can determine the direction the wind is going
but that knowledge only helps me adapt to the reality of the moment,
I cannot change anything the wind is doing.
we cannot control the wind
just as we cannot control the spirit,
we can move with the spirit,
make use of the wind
we can be stubborn and walk into the wind
the opposite direction of the spirit
but that only makes the going harder for us
the wind and the spirit do not consult us as to what path to take
Finally Jesus uses an image he knows Nicodemus is familiar with,
that of Moses and the bronze serpent,
we heard that part of the Israelite’s journey in our first reading for today,
the Israelites have a habit of complaining to Moses,
but this time they include God in their whining
and it is a step too far,
God sends poisonous serpents among the people
and many are killed,
the people repent and God provides a way for them to be saved,
God has Moses make a serpent out of bronze
and put it high on the pole in the center of the camp,
from then on
when someone is bit by one of the serpents
all they have to do is look at the bronze serpent
and they will live.
I am going to be your bronze serpent Jesus says,
predicting his death
when he will be lifted up on the cross
in an act that will save the world from separation from God.
Birth, wind, serpents,
these images are used to explain something
that ultimately I don’t think can be fully explained,
in one sense they are descriptive
in that they point to a reality of life,
they give us words to use
but they all fall short in communicating the complexity
of the relationship between God and humans.
In some ways they lead to more questions,
questions that begin with why,
questions that cannot be fully explained in this life
but Jesus does answer the big why question.
Why is God working through Jesus in the world?
Because God loves the world,
the whole world,
everything in the world,
God loves women and men and everything in between,
God loves the poor and the rich,
God loves the people we find hard to love,
God loves the people that don’t acknowledge God,
the people who are fearful because of who they are,
the people who have been told that God doesn’t love them
and the people that told them that,
God loves the created world,
God loves you.
What are you up to Jesus?
all expansive, inclusive love.
God’s actions through Jesus are made out of love,
they are an invitation to live life in the presence of the source of life,
the source of love,
and through love transform the world. Amen
1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
This was a Sunday without a manuscript. We compared and contrasted the two temptation stories (Adam and Eve, and Jesus after his baptism) and thought about how salvation is not a "return to paradise" but a journey of healing toward God's ultimate goal in Christ.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.