Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Giving Up Our Lives

We are so close to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter...This week, we find Jesus, John 11: 1-45, a mere 2 miles (John 11:18) from Jerusalem. Before Jesus enters the city to face his persecution and crucifixion, here he is in a story of his own very personal grief. In the gospels, this family in Bethany---Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, are the only individuals that are singled out as "loved by Jesus." Sure, he loved those in the crowds that followed him and his followers, but this kind of love was different; it was intimate. It was the sort of love that caused him to weep...what a story to hear just two weeks before we remember the grief caused by his own death...

There is something very poignant about his grief, as shown through his encounter with Mary, too. In John 1: 29-42, right after Jesus was baptized, two of John the Baptist's followers. John referred to Jesus as the "lamb of God," and they began to follow Jesus. Jesus asks them, ‘what are you looking for?’ and they respond with another question, ‘where are you staying?’ He replies, ‘come
and see.’ This isn't a casual exchange, but a deeply theological encounter. An alternative translation
could be:

  • ‘What are you seeking, what do you hope to discover?
  • ‘Where will you endure, remain – where will you not be moved from?’
  • “Come and perceive, understand, experience.’

When Mary comes to Jesus, she falls at his feet, grieving for him. This moves Jesus in a real way, and he asks her a question that mimics the opening to the gospel – ‘Where have you placed him?’ Her response: ‘Come and see.’ The words are the same in the original text – ‘Come and perceive, understand, experience.’

Jesus' love for us is personal. He knows us: our pain, our turmoil, our neediness, and our fragile mortality. So, we do give up our lives to Jesus, whether we know it or not. Jesus knows us (see John 4) and loves us. The question is whether we will embrace that love or not; whether we will willingly give up our lives to follow Jesus. In our moments of pain and grief, our hope can lie in the loving hands of Jesus.


Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath,
such a truth as ends all strife,
such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
such a light as shows a feast,
such a feast as mends in length,
such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
such a joy as none can move,
such a love as none can part,
such a heart as joys in love.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 164.

Credit to Starters for Sunday, a website from the Church of Scotland. Some of this material was learned from their entry this week.

In Christ,


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Giving Up Superiority

The story of the woman at the well in John 4: 5-42 is the single longest recorded conversation that Jesus has with one person. In it, the unnamed woman creates barriers between herself and Jesus. I challenge you to look at these walls she puts up, and see if you have ever done the same. If you find that you have, or are, I hope that her story helps you to deconstruct them. This seems to be a goal of Jesus', both for this woman and for you and I. He gives up his superiority in this moment to offer himself to the woman at the well.

The first barrier is prejudice. She was a woman (not valued very highly in society), and a Samaritan woman at that. Samaritan's and Jews did not get along; they had hostility towards one another. The woman said, “Why are you, a Jew, asking me to get you a drink?” The animosity she expressed was characteristic of the relationships between Jews and Samaritans. Maya Angelou wrote, “Prejudice is a burden which confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible” (All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes). That’s exactly what she was doing. She was distorting the past and making the present inaccessible. She couldn’t meet Jesus because she brought prejudice into the relationship. When we evoke prejudice, we are creating a barrier between us and the life-giving water than Jesus offers us.

The second barrier is social custom. It was not custom for a Jewish man to interact with any woman in public. It was also not custom for a Jewish man to ever speak to a woman except their mother, wife, or daughter. So, the Samaritan woman at the well evoked this barrier as a wall between her and Jesus as well. Social customs may keep us from interacting with certain people. This, too, is a wall we evoke or build up that keeps us from receiving life-giving water that Jesus offers us.

The third barrier that the woman highlighted was that Jesus was an outsider to her. Jews did not travel through Samaria. In fact, Jews were more likely to go out of their way to avoid the area, even if they had to get past it. So, Jesus was an outsider; not someone the woman at the well would normally see or interact with in her country. This made it difficult for her to truly listen to Jesus. It is true that Jesus is an outsider; he is not from that area. And Jesus is also an outsider to us; Jesus is different than us; Jesus is the son of God! We tend to think of Jesus as like us, but he just is not. If we accept the life-giving water that Jesus offers us, we will be different, too.

The woman also hesitated to be honest with Jesus but, as she tells us, the readers, Jesus already knew about her. She did not want to become vulnerable with Jesus, sharing her story, and we don't like too sometimes either. But Jesus already knows us. So, we can share our story and our experience with Jesus. This can bring us peace, healing, comfort...life.

My prayer is that you can see how you can relate to this unnamed Samaritan woman at the well, and ultimately do what she ended up doing: sharing about her experience with Jesus with her neighbors. She ended up offering Christ to those around her. Maybe if we can get past the walls we put up around Jesus, we can meet with him and share about him, too.


Fill my cup, Lord
I lift it up Lord.
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more;
fill it up and make me whole.

(Fill My Cup, Lord. United Methodist Hymnal, 641)

Credit to Ministry Matters, the source from which I drew the different "barriers" of the woman at the well

In Christ,


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Giving Up Expectations

Nicodemus and Jesus

One of our readings for this Sunday, the second one is Lent, is John 3: 1-17. It includes one of the Bible's most famous verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." This statement by Jesus comes in a late-night interview with a man named Nicodemus.

Nicodemus is a member of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council in Israel (this is the group that accused Jesus of blasphemy, for example.)  Nicodemus is seeking like so many today. He declares that
Jesus is “Come from God” – a saying normally used only of angels/messengers of God, so it hints at his believing in “something more.” At this point he is hesitant to commit himself and thinks of Jesus as only a “teacher.”

Nicodemus, settling in for a theological/philosophical discussion, would not have expected Jesus’ blunt retort in verse 3 about being born again. Jesus meant to challenge Nicodemus to think deeper about his own faith and about who Jesus is.

Up until then conversion referred to Gentiles converting to the Jewish faith: it would have been a very confusing concept that Jews to be born again. Nicodemus’ cheeky answer shows this.

Nicodemus knows something profound about Jesus, that he is "a teacher come from God." What is surprising to me is that this is the block that he stumbles over. It is what he knows about Jesus that keeps him doubting about who he really is: the savior come to save all, offering all people new life.

But Nicodemus' struggle is real. Our struggle to know God through Jesus is real.

 “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life" is the prized verse in this passage. But moving too quickly to this verse gives the illusion that our struggle with knowing and believing can be easily reconciled.

What if before going there, we lingered more intentionally and empathetically with Nicodemus? Perhaps if we did we would begin to appreciate the real resistance we experience when we hear God’s promises.

What if those promises seem as nonsensical to us as they did to Nicodemus? How can we possibly receive those promises if we do not, finally, understand them, not at least in the way the world is accustomed to understanding?

One clue to our question appears in the work of London-based writer, Susanna Howard. She works with dementia patients, people who, in the language of science, are largely defined by irretrievable losses of neurological function: loss of speech, loss of language, loss of identity, loss of mind.

For the past six years, she has been engaged in the art of listening to the words of people who suffer with dementia. She calls the project, Living Words:

"It can be extremely hard for words to come and we validate all words and sounds that are uttered [by dementia patients] -- words and expressions that seem nonsense can in fact be directly metaphoric, or just need to be said. For example, a person will use words that wouldn't be used in ordinary conversation: 'Everything was all packed up and plopped over with'; 'These people, in to the third act'; 'Some round here are all embers'; 'They don't say much this tribe.' In not finding the 'right' word people might use replacement words without realising."

While others often see only loss, she sees a life to be honored: “I very much believe that this is life and to be embraced -- only through engaging in the darkness do we see who we really are and glimpse what this life is." When she finished her first collection of poems by a woman with advanced dementia, the woman took her hand and said, “Now you know two worlds, the one outside and the one inside in me and you must go and tell all the people.”

It was a gift, a mission handed to her under cover of that darkness, a darkness disturbed by improbable illumination.


Wash, O God, our sons and daughters
where your cleansing waters flow.
Number them among your people;
bless as Christ blessed long ago.
Weave them bright and sparkling;
compass them with love and light.
Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit,
holy dove and heart’s delight.

(“Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” Ruth Duck, The UM Hymnal, No. 605)

In Christ,


Credit to Starters for Sunday and workingpreacher.org, whose work this week was influential for this entry