Thursday, March 30, 2017

Call me Lazarus, the Mirror

In reading for the week, and in particular considering the Gospel of John and the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11), I have had some questions rolling around in my head that I am going to write down and see where we might go with them.

So here we are:
·         Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?
·         Do you believe in death?
·         Do you believe you are free?

Let me start this exploration and adventure with some self-disclosure. I have had the experience of being left for dead and was expected to die by those who were carrying for me. I was ill and the sickness I had (meningitis and meningoencephalitis) could not be traced to its origins so treating me in the hospital was difficult. There was lots of pain and medication. There were many painful tests angry doctors, lab techs and lots of needles. And because I was in a teaching hospital and I was an inexplicable case, I was often a teaching case for students.  When I was released to go home, people started calling me ‘Lazarus’.

I share this with you so that you understand that this particular piece of John’s Gospel has a significant meaning for me.

One of the first things that I notice about this chapter is that Jesus after the confrontation that has lasted since chapter eight is that Jesus waited two more days before he set out for the trek to Bethany and back into Judea. Everyone around Jesus was wondering what he was waiting for because Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were close to him and Lazarus was near death. But Jesus kept reassuring the people around him, “This will not end in death”. Even when it came time to go, those around him still did not get it. Jesus is going to wake him from death not sleep.

Thomas announces that they should go with Jesus so that they can follow him, even if it means their own ends. It is both very fatalistic and at the same time very noble and true. The Twelve choose to go with Jesus and to be with him. I find it true also that there are different kinds of servants where God is concerned. Some are as bold as brass like Thomas and Martha while others like Mary are quietly called, led and sent.

Martha, unlike Mary in this story, is the one who is confident in Jesus and makes a bold statement of faith in acknowledging Jesus as the Sent One and that her brother will rise again on the last day. Mary is quieter and shares some of the same faith. When Mary comes to Jesus, adopts a position of contrition and worship. I find it interesting that Mary, after encountering Jesus falls into the tears and despair of the rest of the group that when with them to the tomb.

To me, it is powerful that in spite of the fact that no one seemed to understand what was coming, Jesus went ahead with his plan and started with praying to the Father.  And when I think about it, what else are you going to do when you are intentionally going to the cemetery to raise a dead man. Something tells me that you had better come with something more than a little bit of doctrine if we are going to raise the dead. And let’s keep in mind this is one man. Jesus could have raised the whole community cemetery. He raised one man. Can we? Can the Church raise one man from the dead?

This thought brings me back to my questions at the start of this blog. Do I believe and trust in God? I can tell you that during the illness I described to you, there was a point when I finally prayed to be taken rather than remain in this world. The pain and the suffering were too much and I had enough. I put myself in the hands of God... and he delivered me. It took 22 days for the healing to take effect but I remember that moment when I was healed.

One afternoon Nova and a friend (the priest who married us) laid hands on me and prayed for me. I could feel this heat and the print of someone’s palm on my back. As hot as the hand was, it did not hurt. My wife left not knowing if she would see me alive again. I was blind, photophobic, unable to eat or walk. I lived in darkness for 3 weeks that way. The following morning my wife came into my hospital room to see me sitting in the day chair, with the blinds wide open, eating my breakfast. God did that. God did that and I have been blessed over the years to lay hands on others and to pray with them. Some have died but done so with grace and with boatloads of hope. Others, by the grace and care of God, have come back and gone on to lead lives that defy the human imagination. The important thing is not that I was healed but that God showed himself to so many people, and people were healed and they believed in God. I was only the mirror to reflect the light of God’s glory.

Like Lazarus, we might need some assistance to take off the grave clothes so that we can be truly free but we are capable of living as the free people we are, for Christ and in Christ.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does God hear the Law breaker?

As miracles go, giving sight to the blind was perhaps the one Jesus did most often. It was a way of signing the presence of the coming kingdom and of telling us who Jesus is. The Old Testament made us aware that the blind receiving their sight would be a way to tell that the person was the Messiah or God’s anointed one.

This week’s Gospel (John 9.1-41) is part of a larger story that talks about Jesus and his dealings with the Pharisees. In Chapter Eight, there is a discussion about the identities of Jesus and the Pharisees and who is telling the truth. Jesus points out that the reason the Pharisees do not accept Jesus’ testimony about who he is, is because they cannot hear God and thus do not belong to God. In turn, the Pharisees claim their heritage as children of Abraham can tell Jesus he is nothing better that a Samaritan and that he is demon possessed (Jn. 8.48).

It is in the context of this argument about truth, obedience, and life, that Jesus heals the man born blind. And it raises a simple question, “If Jesus is sinful and a law breaker, why does God listen to him?”

The 12 and other disciples have a question about sin – whose fault was it that this man was born blind. Did he sin before he was born or did his parent's sin, causing him to be blind? If I understand Jesus’ reply to the question, it went something like this: every person is responsible for the sins that they commit. But, this man was born blind. God knew that this man would be born blind and chose to seek him out so that he could come to glorify God in his healed state.  

It starts out innocent enough. Jesus makes some mud with his spit. Puts the mud on the man’s eyes and then sends him to Siloam to be washed. The man responds by going (with help I suspect), washes, returns and is now a sighted person.  Immediately there is a discussion that erupts about where this is the man that was formerly blind amongst those that know him. The interesting thing about this story is that the man accepted the word of Jesus and found his physical sight and then, found spiritual sight. It took faith in Christ and his word to make that happen. It was not the act of going or the contact with the water that made the man see, but faith in Christ.

At the same time, there were people, including the Pharisees and the man’s parents who could not or would not accept that this was the same man. They are shown to be blind to the wonders of God’s works in the world and deaf to what God is saying to them through Christ. It is as if they have turned both ‘a blind ear and a deaf eye’ to all that was going on. All the while, continuing to insist that they were correct and that Jesus was the one in the wrong – that Jesus was the sinner for not follow Moses, Abraham and the traditions.

The presence of the healed beggar caused a schism amongst his neighbours and friends rather that leading to praising God for the gift of this man’s sight. The people argue about where this is the man and they refuse to believe him when he identifies himself, “I am the man!” He cannot explain why these things have happened to him. He does not know the man that did this for him and cannot even identify him because he has not seen him. He can only reply it was the man they called ‘Jesus’. When questioned as to where Jesus when he could only proclaim his ignorance: “I do not know.”

The healed beggar’s encounter with the Pharisees shows that when the religious hear that Jesus has broken the Sabbath law, it is all that they can focus on. They believe that they have the evidence that Jesus cannot be from God because he broke the sanctity of the Sabbath by making mud and doing a healing. This is a common argument between Jesus and the Pharisees. Doing work of some kind on the Sabbath breaks the rules. The Messiah would never break the rules, dishonour the tradition of the nation! But as they continue to question the truth, they discover that the man who was healed now considers Jesus to be a prophet.

The only way the Pharisees can think to debunk this miracle then becomes the idea that the beggar was not blind from birth. They draw in the man’s parents. These folks are well aware of what happens to people who go against the religious leaders. They do not want to be blackballed and thrown out of the religious life, so they refuse to answer how they think that their son received his sight. “He is old enough to answer for himself – ask him” they reply to the questions of how he might have his sight. In the constant telling and retelling of the miracle, faith in Jesus moves from being in possession of the facts; from “He did this” to who Jesus is as the giver of eternal life and as the Light of the world.

Not everyone is ready or willing to confess who Jesus is for them. I can see the parents being excited for their son – he has his sight. They understood that if they told the Pharisees what they believed, there would be consequences and that would be too much for them to bear. And at the same time,  I cannot help but think of this man who has had his world turned over and upset by the actions of a man he only knew by the name he was told. He had gained his sight but lost his profession. He gained the help and support of people around him while his parents had to turn their backs on him. He was thrown out and treated as a liar and an imposture for telling the truth.  

This unnamed beggar underwent an amazing journey. He went from believing that Jesus was a man to thinking Jesus was a prophet to discovering that Jesus is the Sent One from God and falling down in worship before him.

So let me ask you: who is Jesus to you? Will you let us know or will you continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf hear to what God is telling you?


Friday, March 10, 2017

He did choose. What will you choose?

Nicodemus came after supper to Jesus, to have a conversation and see if he could not understand what Jesus was teaching and how he, as a teacher had gotten it wrong (John 3.1-18). The Gospel this week, introduces some themes that are important to the Faith and asks a question that every person needs to answer at some point. The question? Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God?

In this section of John’s Gospel, ideas and themes like salvation and condemnation, being sent, the Son of Man being lifted up, rebirth and the gift that God has given humanity (all flesh) in sending his Son to us are just some of them.

But first, let’s deal with who or what a disciple is. In a recent conversation, I pointed out to someone that a disciple is not someone who gets to flaunt their own opinion and do whatever they feel is right and forget the consequences. As Jesus demanded of Peter when Peter insisted that Jesus was going to be the Messiah that the people thought he should be, that Peter get behind him and get back in line as a follower. Peter needed to hear this and to get his mind on the same agenda as Jesus. This is something that Peter struggled with throughout the rest of his ministry, including in the Garden of Gethsemane when he pulls out a sword and cuts off the High Priest’s servant. He is still right to the last, trying to build a different kingdom from what Jesus was working on.

A disciple is a person, who first and foremost, is a person who has been given a rebirth, a spiritual birth, a new life by God. A disciple is a person who has been birthed through the physical (water) and the spiritual (the Spirit). A follower of Jesus has been rescued from death and given life (birth) from above. Such a life comes from seeing and recognising Jesus for who and what he is: the Son of God and God’s messiah.

This means that each and all of us have a simple choice to make when we see Jesus for who and what he is – do we believe it or not? Will we participate and trust God in this faith or not? Because as it is pointed elsewhere in Scripture, “There is no other name given under heaven to men (flesh) by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4.12-13) Either you accept what God has done for you in Christ or you choose to reject it. The choice belongs to each of us.

And as we make that consideration of what to do and to believe, we need to remember that God sent Jesus to us because he loves us and desires us to be with him. God reaches out to this God hating empire by sending his one and only Son so that those who choose him should have to perish but have eternal life. The purpose of the Incarnation was for people to have a choice because apart from God there is no life; only death. It is only in Christ that we begin to truly live. You cannot have a relationship with a dead person, only a memory whether it is Christ or someone else.

Followers of the Lord Jesus are not perfect. What they ought to be is repentant and they know where to seek forgiveness. Disciples are people who are on their way to being made perfect in their relationship with God and then with creation. There is no health, no help, no rescue that we can accomplish in our own flesh that can do what Jesus has done for us; not just on the cross and in the grave, but even more so in the life that he lives towards the Father in the here and now. Seeing Jesus and participating in his risen life, gives us life; eternal life, his life.

Like Nicodemus, we have a choice to make: we can live with the status quo and hope that we get enough things right to be good enough for God or we can choose to accept and participate in the life and community Christ is building which will lead to eternal life. And if it is consolation, Nicodemus is not recorded here as having an answer, but he is shown to be with Joseph of Arimathea when the Church needed them most on Good Friday. He did choose.

What do you choose?