February 11, 2018 – “Sight”

Today’s text is from John 9:1-16, 30-41.

So far through the Gospel of John we’ve heard a lot about people coming to “see” Jesus. People have seen Jesus’ sign of turning water into wine; they’ve seen Jesus flip tables over at the Temple; they’ve heard and seen that being in relationship is a crucial element of following Jesus; they’ve seen this Jewish man speak with a Samaritan woman – and watched as both Jesus and the woman dialogued and entered into relationship with one another to the point where the woman could truly see who Jesus was.

And now the people are witnessing sight being given to the blind – the people are witnessing relationship take precedent over the law. And this creates a bit of tension. It’s no different in today’s world. Whether people are facing a disability like the man in today’s reading, or whether they’re up against long odds due to financial insecurity, food scarcity, discrimination – whatever it may be, for any of us, at times it can feel like the world stands at odds against us.

At times, like the man in today’s reading, we may feel isolated, alone, left for dead – without a hope or a dream for a possible future. On our own – without someone truly seeing what we’re capable of – this might be the case. But all it takes is someone entering into relationship with us, guiding us, advocating for us, empowering us, strengthening us, to truly see the life Jesus Christ has prepared for us.

During the Super Bowl last weekend there was an advertisement right toward the beginning of the game that captured this idea of someone with a disability facing long odds – facing obstacles and barriers – that through belief, and relationship – through the opportunities given to her to succeed, and not to fail – prove that she is worth something.

One in a billion. That, according to the ad, are the odds of winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. For the blind man in our reading today, perhaps he felt he had about the same chance of being healed. One in a billion.

The law had prevented this healing from happening. People staying away in fear prevent this from happening. People simply assuming aspects of the man’s life instead of entering into relationship with him prevented this healing form happening.

For too long the religious leaders simply thought the man’s disability was the result of sin – from either him or his parents. That the reason he couldn’t see was because he had done something wrong – with the unspoken reverse side of this coin being that since the leaders can see they must be free from sin.

For individuals in today’s world who reside in this world of unspoken privilege the same train of thought often holds up. If we’re not disabled it’s easy to never view the world through this lens; if we’re not blind it’s difficult to imagine the world as a dark void; if we’re not hungry or thirsty it’s hard to imagine watching a child die of starvation or having to walk miles for water; if we’re white it’s difficult to fathom life as a Person of Color.

Simply put, it’s difficult to imagine such long odds of success, acceptance, relationship – of privilege – if that’s the only life we’ve ever lived. It becomes easy – like for the leaders in our reading today – to place blame on those who seem different from ourselves. It becomes easy to call them lazy or that they should just get off their mat and stop begging and bothering people.

The lens of having good odds of success from the very beginning of our lives can easily blind us from seeing the realities of others. The lens of having even just average odds of privilege from the very beginning of our lives can easily make us fearful and resentful of the “other”.

Of those who need relationship the most – who need support, love, encouragement – often our lens of bias blinds us from seeing through our own good odds and fortune. That we assume everyone has the same odds – the same playing field – the same starting points in life – and that some, like the blind man in our reading today, simply haven’t tried hard enough, or prayed enough, or pulled themselves up by their bootstraps enough.

But that’s where Jesus enters the equation. Jesus steps right on top of our “tradition” and “rules” and “laws” and “status quo” and seeks out those who have been left behind. Jesus enters our world and flips tables over, makes whips out of cords, and drives out those who would put law before relationship.

Jesus seeks and finds those with one in a billion odds and provides abundant grace and mercy and love. Jesus seeks and finds those who have been rejected based on skin color, gender, income, physical ailments – Jesus looks past it all and sees each of us: The rich, the poor; the friend, the stranger; the citizen, the foreigner; the able-bodied, the disabled; the privileged, the defeated – Jesus looks past every label, every category, every possible way we can define ourselves and one another – Jesus looks past it all and sees you: A child of God.

A child of God for whom salvation, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love are yours now and forever. A child of God that is freed from oppressive law, judgement, and the powers of sin. For this day and always, no matter the odds you are facing, Jesus Christ sees you and saves you.


February 4, 2018 – “Invited: Part 2”

Today’s text is from John 4:1-26.

Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Brother. Sister. Wife. Husband. Spouse. Friend. Teacher. Student. Neighbor. Citizen. All of us fit into at least one of these categories – there’s plenty to describe the relationships that we have with one another.

This is usually the first thing we learn about one another: We learn how each of us are interconnected with the world around us. We learn how we deep or wide our social roots spread out. We learn and begin to see exactly who people are so that they move from stranger to friend.

Seeing and knowing who someone is crucial to understanding who they are. Without truly seeing someone for who they are it’s quite easy to generalize and end up painting their character with a broad brush stroke.

Without actually seeing someone – and I mean truly seeing someone – metaphorically, emotionally, literally – without meeting someone where they are in life it becomes far too easy to claim our own way of life as superior, it becomes far too easy to negatively describe other peoples and cultures, it becomes far too easy to use derogatory language to compare 1.3 billion people to excrement.

Because make no mistake, this story shows the unbelievable and incredibly radical in breaking of God into all of creation. It shows two people – two people who according to their own laws and customs are forbidden from speaking with one another – it shows two people who couldn’t be more different from one another having the longest recorded dialogue in the Gospel of John.

It shows a woman – a woman with no name become an evangelist for Christ. A woman who isn’t shunned or rejected by Jesus based on her lack of citizenship, foreign beliefs, personal history, or the fact she’s a woman.

Because Jesus sees her. And she sees Jesus. This same Jesus sees you. This same Jesus goes out of his way to meet you where you are – just as Jesus went out of his way to go through Samaria. This same Jesus meets you and finds you wherever you are in life and enters into a relationship with you.

A relationship that isn’t built on condemnation or judgment – for as we heard last week Jesus did not come into the world to condemn, but to save – and we see that on display in this week’s reading. Jesus is not having a conversation with this woman about right or wrong, confession or forgiveness, but instead a heartfelt conversation about who Jesus is to the point where this woman can say, “I see you.”

I see you. Jesus comes to each of us and says these words. Now that might be a bit frightening if we think we’ve got some baggage in our lives or things we’re not particularly proud of. This might be a bit unnerving if we, like the woman, are seeking something in this life that we simply cannot find.

Perhaps we’re searching for happiness in material items, or wealth based in money, or greatness based in national identity, or achievement in our careers, or status in our social lives – whatever it may be we come to the well like the woman today as we desperately try to fend for ourselves, when Jesus shows up.

Jesus arrives this day and says, “I see you. I see you and I love you.” And like the woman this morning we are each called to abandon earthly treasures that only rust and decay for a heavenly treasure that is living and flowing and abundant and loving. A treasure that became one of us to live for us and die for us, a treasure that is with you every moment of every day, a treasure that in Jesus Christ came not to condemn you, but to save you. A treasure that meets you exactly where you are in this life and enters into relationship with you. A relationship that changes who we are, a relationship that makes our hearts burn with hope and joy and love, a relationship that sends us back out into the world as witnesses to this radical and boundary-breaking Messiah.

Because that’s what being in relationship with someone so deeply does – it moves you. Jesus came to this woman and said, “I want to be in relationship with you.” And make no mistake, Jesus made the first move. He journeyed to Samaria. He sat at the well. He asked the woman for water. He initiated this relationship. And by doing so he was breaking all the rules.

At first the woman was hesitant. Who was this thirsty Jewish man and why was he talking to her? She asked him questions and he responded. She challenged him and he pushed back. He listened and she was heard. He invited her into a new relationship and she accepted. He gave her what no one else had ever given her before: New and abundant life. New life rooted in connection and relationship and worth.

And so this unnamed woman leaves behind her jar of water in order to tell others of the living water she’s now received. She leaves behind her brokenness, loneliness, worldly judgments – she leaves it all behind because Jesus has welcomed and accepted her as his own.

She leaves behind the fear, disrespect, and shame and embraces the strength, courage, and dignity  she now receives from Jesus.

This day, what do you need to leave behind for the abundant and overflowing waters of new life? Like this woman at the well, leave behind all the reasons the world says you’re not good enough, leave behind all thoughts of self doubt, leave behind all the voices that ask you to change who you are, leave behind the race to success, wealth, and becoming great.

For this day Jesus meets you at the well. Jesus meets you out of love, not anger, meets you so that this gift of new and abundant life will be yours.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit we leave behind everything that separates us from God and enter into this life giving relationship. Because in Jesus Christ there is only one category, one title, that you are known by that matters: Child of God.

January 28, 2018 – “Invited: Part 1”

Today’s text is from John 3:1-21.

According to Merriam-Webster this is the definition for the word ‘love’: “A strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; the object of attachment; unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another.”

We hear this word a lot in our vernacular. And we hear it in today’s reading: “For God so loved the world”.  It’s certainly a verse we’re all familiar with, a verse that Martin Luther said was the “gospel in a nutshell”.

But what does it mean to love? We heard the dictionary’s description of what it means. And we see that definition played out in real life. Whether it’s a love between two people that results in marriage, or a love that one has for their country,  or a love one has for their friends, or a love one has for their pets, home, lifestyle, traditions, rituals, or a love one has for things.

It’s easy to say, “I love that movie, or city, or food, sport, or color.” And this is where I think the English language fails us. How is it possible that we use the same word when describing the love two people share and how much someone likes a pizza? I love my spouse. I love pizza.

In doing so I think we devalue the word ‘love’ – or at the very least its meaning becomes a bit muddled. Because when we get to verses in the Bible like the one we heard today – John 3:16 – and we hear that God loves the world to the point where God sends God’s own child to die for all the world – all the world including good people, bad people, believers, non-believers, the righteous and the undeserving – I think it’s a love that’s a bit stronger that our love for random objects and things.

It’s a love that’s so strong, so powerful, it’s to the point where it’s outrageous, a love that’s too much, a love that’s, when we think about it, quite scandalous. It’s a love that’s made manifest in Jesus Christ as both God and human – a love that put Jesus on this earth as one of us – a love that didn’t decide to die on the cross once Jesus had hung out with the Israelites long enough to realize how much he liked them.

But instead a love that long before Jesus’ birth decided this was the plan: To save, not condemn. To die so that we could live. A love that is unconditional, no strings attached, no reciprocation need in order for Jesus to do what Jesus was from the beginning going to do: Die for you.

This is the scandal of God’s love for you: That long before you even set foot on this earth, long before your heart started beating, long before you could needed to ask God for forgiveness – God said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m dying for you anyway. I’m loving you anyway. That no matter what may come your life is now in my hands. Because I love you.”

This is a love that we can’t even fathom. A love that the world can’t fathom. A love that Nicodemus cannot fathom. A love that is so shocking, so unconditional, so abundant that all Nicodemus can say is, “How can this be?”

How can such a love be possible? Not too long ago we heard a young girl say these very words, “How can this be?” I think it’s a very appropriate response to the overflowing and infinite abundance of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and love: How can this possibly be?

We’re going to hear it in next week’s reading too: How can this be? How can such a love exist? A love that lives with you, dies for you, saves you. A love that was extended to you before we could even walk. A love that in baptism claimed you as a child of God, a love that chases after us when we try to run from God, a love that seeks and finds us when we try and hide from God, a love that does not back down no matter how many times we think we’ve let God down, a love that in Jesus Christ saves and redeems even if we think we don’t deserve those things.

An unconditional love that like Mary, that like Nicodemus, that like the woman at the well next week makes us ask: How can this be? An unconditional love that has been given freely to you, an unconditional love that we can now proclaim to the world, an unconditional love that we are eye-witnesses to.

An unconditional love that we too can share with the world. Doing that, in and of itself, is a tall order: To live out the love we first received from Jesus Christ. A love that lives for you, a love that dies for you, a love that saves you – whether we think we deserve it or not.

Because in Jesus Christ it is yours – yesterday, today, and tomorrow – both now and forever. A love that isn’t rescinded, a love that does not decrease based on our actions, a love that is infinite and abundant.

A love we are called to share with the world: Friends, family, neighbors, people both near and far. A love we are called to show to the world in both word and deed. For in Jesus Christ you are loved abundantly.