Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent 3.B

"If last week we met the camel hair wearing, locust and honey eating John the Baptist, this week we do a 180 degree turn and meet a whole different John."
Commentary, John 1:6-8, 19-28, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"Much of the pain and suffering around us comes from people imagining that they are the light themselves. In psychological terms, my mind turns to Carl Jung when thinking about light and darkness within us. Jung warned of the dangers of trying to live only in our light. The shadow within is dangerous when ignored."

John 1:6-8, 19-28, Rev. Todd Weir, bloomingcactus.

Gof of peace, whose word is good news to the oppressed, healing for the brokenhearted and freedom for all who are held bound, gladden our hearts adn fashion the earth into a garden of righteousness and praise!  Sanctify us entirely, in spirit, soul and body, for the coming of the One who even now is among us, your Son, our Lord Jesus Chrsit, who was, who is and who is to come, your Son, who lives and riengs with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 1:6-28

As I walked out on the streets of Laredo,As I walked out in Laredo one day, I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay. I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy; I see by your outfit you are a cowboy, too; We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys. If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too. (listen to it here)
I grew up listening to the Smothers Brothers and this was their version of The Streets of Laredo.  I have always loved it.

Who are you?  I can tell you who I am by telling you my life story. Ultimately, you will guess it by my clothes and by my car and by my house...the rings on my fingers and bells on my toes.  Today's Gospel lesson asks, who are you?

To get to the bottom of this we must take a good look at what is going on this week in the Gospel Text; especially since we have taken a dog leg into John's Gospel from Mark!

This week's Gospel reading is really in two parts. Those of you preparing a sermon (if doing so on this text) will find that it is really two different parts of John's introduction.  The text for Sunday is 1:6-8 and 19-28.

The first piece falls well within what many scholars believe to be the greatest part of the New Testament.  Raymond Brown in his first volume writes this about the prologue which stretches from 1:1-18.
"If John has been described as the pearl of great price among the NT writings, then one may say that the Prologue is the pearl within this Gospel.  In her cmparison of Augustine's and chrysostom's exegesis of the Prolgoue, M. A. Aucoin points out that both held that it is beyond the power of man to speak as John does in the Prologue." (18)
I think it is important to think of these first verses well within this first piece of writing which has both a form and a purpose. Brown breaks it up this way...  The first section is 1:1-2, This is the Word of God section which offers a poetic vision of God very being.  The second section vss 3-5, reveals the Word's work in creation.  It is the light shining in darkness, shining through man's sinfulness, shining in the birth that flows from the fallen woman Eve in Jesus.  Then, and only then, do we arrive at our piece which is nestled quite nicely here.  The third portion is vss 6-9 and is John the Baptist's witness.  As Brown points out the second part is about the Word's work throughout creation, here that comes to fruition in the proclamation of God's incarnate Word Jesus. (Brown, John, vol 1, 18-17)  Many bloggers this week noted the difference between the John of Mark and the John of this Gospel.  I think the reason for the striking difference is primarily this Gospels tightly focused presentation of God in Christ Jesus. The only reason to even have John in this section is to make clear he is preparing the hearts of humankind for the incarnation, and proclamation of the Word made man.  Brown tells us that following this proclamation we return to the fourth section (continuing the ancient hymn outlined in the text) which is about the Christ of God working his mission in the world.  This is followed by the community's response.   The last of the five sections is another few words by John the Baptist but here in 14, 17-18, is John's proclamation that the Word spoken before time is this Jesus.  He is the pre-existant one.  A radical, revolutionary, and prophetic revelation is being offered in this last section for in this time the common person would have understood that God is invisible; so it makes sense that the Word spoken, the Son, is the only one who has seen this God.  The unique relation between Son and God not only helps with the contemporary thought of the day but it gives rise to our common undestanding of who Jesus is: God's only Son.  (For my theological followers, there is a great discussion in Brown's vol 1 on page 35 and 36 about this last section; and it is well worth reading.)

To summarize then, we have in the first two verses of our reading a very clear focus on God in Christ. Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Word made manifest, and the word at work in the world.  As if marching to a drum we hear for the first time in these very first words what we have faithfully memorized as Christians and Episcopalians who have a Common Prayer Book and that is that the only Son of God has come into the world to save the world.  Such comfortable and hopeful words. Everything in this first section of our reading verbally illustrates that John the baptist is someone they knew but now is so transparent to the Gospel that all they see now is the coming of Christ.

On the first day of John's ministry in the Gospel he disappears as the living Word and Jesus take center stage. On the second day he offers a vision of who Jesus us; he is the transparent vessel of a living Christ - of light in the world.

In this third week of Advent a number of things are going on in our context here in the U.S.  One is what I would call the holiday breather.  We began the holiday with a thanksgiving mad dash to fill our bellies and our shopping carts.  We redoubled our efforts to get to church. And, we are now in the slump; it is the week long wednesday between Holiday and Christmas day.  Unfortunately, preachers are in the same predicament.

Into this slump we re-read a passage about John the baptist. Now, you and I both know that is not precisely true. This Sunday's passage is very different from the last.  Brown and practically all modern scholarship recognizes that John the Baptist in John's Gospel is completely different than the one portrayed in the synoptics.  He looks different that the previous version we preached on last week.  This week he is the transparent vessel of God's grace - Jesus Christ. He points only to God and to Jesus.

Just as John the Baptist in John's Gospel, you and I are as Christians intimately tied to who we say God is.

You might remember Stephen Colbert's radical statement that caused so much attention recently:

"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."
I will tell you that not being who we say we are is a crippling missionary stumbling block in a world that is seeking some kind of authentic view of God and Grace and hoping someone will be a true voice of transformation and life in a world of gifts and purchases whose shimmer and shine will fade a few weeks after their delivery.

The truth is that as Christians we proclaim and reaffirm that the pre-existant Word of God is Jesus Christ who is God's only son.  And that we are as a people and as individuals (as is proclaimed in the Isaiah passage for this Sunday) inheritors of a divine relationship with the unseen God through the waters of baptism.  And, that we DO believe we are related as brothers of sisters of God's family.  And, therefore we are to treat people in a certain way with special attention to God's most intimate friends - the poor. 

We say and affirm as a defining part of who we are that we as Christians believe we meet God in the text of scripture and in the faces of our neighbor.

We meet God in John's proclamation. We meet this unseen God in the very speaking and retelling of the story of the incarnation of God offered here on the other side of the Jordan just as it is offered from the ambo's and pulpits of our churches.

Moreover, like John we meet God by venturing out across the doorway of our church onto the other side of the side walk where we have the opportunity to meet the living Word in the storied lives of the people we find out in the world.  We encounter God and his Son in the words of scripture which helps us to hear the same living incarnate God spoken in the story of our neighbor.

This week we did a bible study with this passage at our meeting of the governing board of the diocese.  A friend and fellow clergyman said he had been praying and thinking about this passage. He realized and offered to the group that quite frankly we were simply to be at work being witnesses to Christ (like John the Baptist and John the Gospeller); and if we were not then we were being witnesses for something or someone else.  In the latter he had in mind those folks who traveled all that way to meet John the Baptist in the desert and to shut him down for not bearing witness to what they stood for.

This religious stuff is a dangerous thing.  The world right now is taking a breather from its holiday consumption. It is quiet before the holiday storm.  We have an opportunity to tell the truth.  The truth is that how we live out our holiday will reveal if we are bearing witness to God in Christ Jesus, or if we are representing something else.  Yes, what we say and what we do are incarnational symbols of the living God or something else entirely.

Religion on a Sunday like this is dangerous because when we don't tell the truth about the world we live in (the addictions we have, the way we attempt to purchase our belonging, and how we are stewards of God's things) we sell a little piece of our corporate soul to the secular world; creating a consumer faith.

How will the church, how will you the preacher, how will the people answer the essential question asked on the shore of the Jordan river so many years ago, and which is still relevant today: "Who are you; because you look like someone I once knew?"

A Little Bit for Everyone

John 1:6-28
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

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