Sunday, February 27, 2022

Phil Kniss: Whom shall we fear? Serious question.

I am the Light of the World
The Word became flesh and lived among us
John 8:12; 9:1-41

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This morning’s lectionary reading in John does a funny thing.
It picks up one verse in the first part of chapter 8,
and then with a big leapfrog, jumps over 46 verses,
and drops down on chapter 9,
to tell the longest healing story in the Bible.

But it makes perfect sense to cherry-pick that verse in chapter 8,
because it summarizes, in one verse,
what the long healing story in chapter 9 is all about.

In John 8:12, Jesus makes another of his “I am” claims,
as he is in conversation with his adversaries.
He said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness
but will have the light of life.”

That statement, along with other things he said and did in chapter 8,
resulted in a major verbal kerfuffle — a fight with words.
The conversation got so heated,
the religious leaders tossed Jesus one of the worst slurs
they could think of,
calling him a “demon-possessed Samaritan.”
That insult covers religion, morality, mental health, and race.

So the healing of the blind man happens right after all that,
at least in John, who seems to arrange it that way on purpose.
Measured in number of verses, 41,
no other healing story gets this much ink in the Bible.
The fascinating thing about it is,
Jesus plays a minor role in the story.
The healing itself takes only two verses.
In the rest of the chapter,
there’s a whole cast of characters reacting to that healing.

Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath,
and that stirred up the worst fears
the Jewish leaders lived with every day.

They couldn’t stomach Jesus’ popularity,
because it was calling unwanted attention by Roman authorities.

See, Rome was just fine with the Jewish people
keeping their Jewish identity
and practicing their religion,
just so long as they kept calm and paid their taxes on time.

In other words, Rome was saying to the Jewish rulers,
“Do your religious thing—
pretend like you have actual power (even if you don’t)—
we don’t care,
just as long as you keep the peace,
and keep the money flowing.

It was an arrangement that the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders
could live with.
Because, well, they could live… with it.
And because it kept some semblance of control in their hands,
Kept them in their jobs.
But they knew, if things got out of hand, the hammer would drop.
So it was not entirely unreasonable of them
to be concerned about Jesus and his impact on the people.

If Jesus started skirting the religious law,
and got crowds of people on his side while he did it,
it was undermining this convenient arrangement
they had with the Empire.
It could effect everybody’s well-being.

I think many Bible readers, myself included,
are sometimes too quick to judge the Pharisees,
as the power-hungry elite, who ignore the little people,
and game the system to their advantage.
That’s not really fair.

They were working on behalf of their people, in at least two ways.
They tried to maintain calm and social order,
to keep them out of the crosshairs of the Roman Empire.
And…they were trying to achieve ritual purity,
around Sabbath laws and other religious regulations,
not because they were fanatical, self-righteous conservatives
who didn’t care about the people.
No, they cared about purity because they believed
the Messiah would not come and deliver them politically,
until they had achieved purity religiously.
Now, were they misguided? Yes.
But were they well-intentioned? Also yes.

So keep that in mind as we review the plot of this healing story.
If you can call it a plot.
It’s less a sequence of actions, than it is a series of debates.
This would not make a great movie,
unless you like movies that are all talk, and no action.

The first conversation is between Jesus and the disciples —
before Jesus healed the man.
The disciples pointed at the man,
not out of compassion for him as a human being,
but as a theological object lesson,
asking Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind.”
Jesus confronted their faulty theology, and said, “Neither one.”
Then he proceeded to heal the man of his blindness.

Well, that set everything else into motion,
because, you guessed it, it was the Sabbath Day.

This story has multiple scenes and multiple debates,
over different issues.
Some just could not believe that a man born blind could now see.
So there was an investigation of sorts,
just to verify the story,
make sure it wasn’t fabricated.

But the central debate was driven by the Pharisees,
who were stuck on this issue of Sabbath.
At first, the Pharisees tried
to pull the man’s parents into the argument,
but they wouldn’t take the bait.

Eventually, it came down to a face-off
between the Pharisees and the formerly blind man.
And it’s a brilliant dialogue.
It probably would make a great movie, anyway.
The Pharisees end up looking like blustering fools,
and the blind beggar like a skilled orator,
who wins the debate with his superior intellect.
There’s a couple mic-drop moments in the chapter.

The argument came down to this crucial point—
is this man Jesus from God, or is he a fraud?
That’s the key question,
because the buzz all over the country,
is this growing feeling about Jesus,
“This could be the Messiah!”
And many are believing he actually is.
And things are not staying calm and quiet,
the way the Jewish leaders need them to be.
Rumblings of Messiah, mean rumblings of revolt.
Rome would not hesitate to clamp down.

Jesus is not once, but multiple times,
breaking Sabbath law,
or encouraging others to break Sabbath law
(remember the other week, Jesus asking the lame man,
to carry his mat on the Sabbath?).
And he is not keeping himself ritually pure,
associating with lepers and sinners and Samaritan women.
By definition (their definition)
it is impossible that Jesus could be the Messiah.
The Messiah will come when religious purity is achieved.
This man is drawing people away from religious purity.

The Pharisee’s entire world of constructed reality
is in conflict,
and they are afraid.
They are afraid that this fraudster
is about to ruin the whole project,
and bring the wrath of Rome down on everyone’s head.

But what this amazing Gospel story does, instead,
is unmask the Pharisee’s false sense of security.
It reveals the underlying fear
that is driving their whole way of living—
their fear of losing control over their situation.

Jesus has a way of shining God’s light of truth
into the shadow areas of whoever he encounters.

That’s why John 8:12 is the key that unlocks this healing story.
Jesus IS the Light of the World.
Jesus comes shining God’s spotlight
on all that is wounded and broken and unjust in the world.
The healing of this man would have been no big deal,
if it hadn’t violated religious law.
But these circumstances brought religious law
and God’s compassion into conflict with each other.
That was God’s spotlight.

In Jesus’ day, and perhaps in ours just as much,
sometimes giving someone the healing or justice they need,
results in the powers being unmasked for who they really are.
Operatives that rely on fear to maintain control.

I’m guessing we could all think of some modern-day examples
in the larger world of political movements,
and social change.
The powers of evil are everywhere present.

We can easily look to the human disaster befalling Ukraine right now,
where the people of one country are in no way enemies
of the people in another.
Extended families find themselves
on both sides of the conflict.
It’s seems so transparent to us,
that fear of losing control,
fear of a constructed reality falling apart,
is what is driving Putin and the Russian government
to invade a neighboring country,
and cause so much human suffering, without remorse.

We can also look to our own dysfunctional political system,
and point to where fear is a driving force
all across the political spectrum.
Where fear is the motivator,
and human compassion is a forgotten virtue.

Of course, those are easy targets—
Russia, and our own domestic political adversaries.

But I think the truth of the Gospel hits closer home.
What fears are keeping us
from following the light of Jesus?
Where are those shadow places in our own lives,
where we’d rather the light of God not poke around too much.
Is there a way in which God wants to offer healing,
and we aren’t quite ready for that,
because it would disturb the status quo.

Jesus IS the light of the world,
and the light of our own being.
And light is sometimes welcomed,
and sometimes not.
Light can illuminate us.
Light can also disillusion us.
And illusions are hard to let go of.

That’s what Jesus was getting at in the concluding debate in chapter 9.
He was talking to the formerly blind man,
and the Pharisees were in earshot, listening in.

Let me just reread the last three verses.
I can’t say it any clearer.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment
so that those who do not see may see,
and those who do see may become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him,
“Surely we are not blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them,
“If you were blind, you would not have sin.
But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Ah, the illusion of sight.
Even worse than blindness.

In today’s Psalm reading, we heard these familiar words,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation,
whom shall I fear?”
That question, “whom shall we fear?”
we usually read as a rhetorical question, and rightly so.
God is light, there is NO ONE we should fear.

But actually, we don’t have to read it as a rhetorical question.
“Whom shall we fear? Serious question.”
Whom do we fear?
Sometimes, we fear the one wielding the flashlight.

I invite us to examine ourselves in a moment of confession,
to examine what and whom we fear,
and after that confession,
to then sing, with all our being,
and invite Jesus, the light of the world,
to shine wherever—wherever the light is needed,
even if the light hurts.

—Phil Kniss, February 27, 2022

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Sunday, February 20, 2022

Phil Kniss: Staying in the flow of God

I am the Water of Life
The Word became flesh and lived among us
John 7:37-52

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Today’s service is different than most,
so we aren’t really having a sermon, or a typical children’s time.

Instead, I want to talk just a little about what Mia and I just read
from the Gospel of John,
and about what we are doing in today’s service,
and help it make sense to children, young people, and adults.
So this is for all ‘yall.

The thing about following Jesus,
is that it’s not always an easy way to live.
Not always smooth sailing.
Because Jesus came to change the world,
and change the way God’s people lived in the world.
And that made some people love Jesus,
and some people hate him.

Jesus spoke up for God, and for God’s rule
of justice and peace and love.
Jesus represented, or stood up for, God’s family,
the kingdom of heaven.

But Jesus also had a human family, a human community.
His people were Palestinian Jews
living under a violent Roman Empire.
And sometimes the way his community lived,
didn’t match up to the way God’s kingdom was supposed to be.

So part of the job God gave Jesus to do on this earth,
was to tell his own people,
they weren’t living the way God wanted them to live.
That was hard for a lot of them to hear.
Especially the leaders,
who wanted to keep things the way they were,
and not make waves.

It’s a little like that, with us, in the church.
We are followers of Jesus here at Park View.
We are part of the big heavenly Kingdom,
but we also have this smaller community of human beings
who aren’t perfect, and who make mistakes,
and sometimes, are even selfish or violent 
or sinful in other ways.
Then we all have to figure out together what to do about it.

That’s what it means to be part of a church.
Any church, including this one at Park View, 
is a group of people trying to figure out, best they can,
how to follow Jesus in a big, complicated and messy world,
and especially, how to follow Jesus, exactly where we live,
in our own neighborhood, here and now.
Guess what?
That makes church complicated and messy, too.
We can’t help it, because we’re human.
We aren’t always the best that we can be.
But we need each other anyway.

In today’s service, we will hear from some people 
who want to become members of this church.
That means, they want to say publicly 
that they want to be part of this church family,
as imperfect as it is.
They want to give something of themselves to us,
and they are ready to receive what we have to offer them.

In chapter 7 of the Gospel of John,
right before what Mia and I read,
Jesus’ own family of faith were having conflict,
and a lot of the conflict was about Jesus.
The rich and powerful leaders, especially,
felt threatened by Jesus,
and all his talk about the heavenly kingdom,
because it disturbed their way of life.

It was time for another big festival in Jerusalem,
and some people wanted Jesus to go to it,
and some people warned Jesus to stay away.
At first, Jesus said he wouldn’t go.
But then after everyone else left for the festival,
Jesus himself also went, kind of on the sly.

But once he was in Jerusalem,
he started teaching and preaching openly,
even though some of the leaders were so upset with Jesus
that they wanted to kill him.

But this time, Jesus’ main message
was a comforting one, at least for most people.
He said, “If you are thirsty, come to me.
Drink deep, and you will have rivers of living water 
flowing in and through you.”

The Jewish people in Jesus’ day,
and we here at Park View Mennonite Church in our day,
don’t all have the same ideas about everything.
We disagree, sometimes about important things.
But one thing we have decided to all come together on, 
is that if we are thirsty, if we are tired, if we need life,
Jesus is where we can find it.
We come together around Jesus.
Jesus is, to us, water that gives life.
Eternal life, no matter what else is going on around us.

I’m really thankful for that,
and I’m really thankful that I can call this church my family.
Like my own family at home, we aren’t perfect.
But we are full of love. And that’s enough for a good life.

Jesus, Rock of Ages, let me hide myself in thee.
Jesus, Living Water, let me drink from your flowing stream.

—Phil Kniss, February 20, 2022

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Sunday, February 13, 2022

Phil Kniss: Ingesting Jesus

I am the Bread of Life
The Word became flesh and lived among us
John 6:1-14, 35-44, 48-51

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A lot of eating goes on in John. And it’s not a coincidence.
Six of the stories take place during an actual meal,
where food is served.
And John likes to use metaphors of eating and drinking—
“tasting death” . . . “drinking living water” . . .
and most notably,
today’s strange text about eating and drinking Jesus.

I’ll get back to that disturbing image.
But let’s begin with a story.
This is Narrative Lectionary, after all.
Story drives our engagement with scripture.

In John 6, we get another miracle story.
Like other miracle stories, it’s less about the miracle itself,
than about advancing the mission of Jesus.
It’s a teachable moment, for the disciples and for the crowds,
but mostly for the disciples.

By the way, this is the only miracle that’s  in all four Gospels.
Details vary, but the storyline is the same.
Jesus makes a lot out of a little,
feeds an enormous crowd of thousands,
and to put an exclamation mark on it all,
they gather the leftovers,
and it’s way more than they started with.

So why this story, and why now in John?
Well, it’s one of John’s six meal stories.
And it sets the stage for the long theological discourse
about bread and life that we’ll get to soon.

But primarily,
this is a story about how and why people are following Jesus,
and what people believe about Jesus.

The crowds and Jesus almost seem to be in a cat and mouse game.
Jesus was healing people and word got around,
so crowds started trailing him . . . everywhere.
Maybe they or someone they loved needed healing,
and they were looking for a chance
to be on the receiving end of a miracle.
Or, maybe they were just curious and wanted
to see another one of Jesus’ tricks.

Anyway, it seems like Jesus was trying, unsuccessfully,
to get away.
He tried going to the other side of the Sea (v. 1)
But the crowd kept following him (v. 2)
So he climbed up a mountain (v. 3) to create some distance
and sat down there to teach his closest disciples.
And just as he was starting his lesson, he looked up (v. 5),
and there was the crowd of thousands again,
trudging up the mountain after him.
So he said to Philip (v. 5),
“Where are we going to buy bread for all these people?”
It was a tongue-in-cheek question,
but Philip gave a serious answer about needing 6 months wages.
Then Andrew piped up, maybe also tongue in cheek.
“Oh, I see a boy over there with 5 loaves and 2 fish.”

After this - almost - joking dialogue, the miracle unfolds.
Jesus gives thanks for the 5 loaves and 2 fish,
they pass them out,
they are multiplied exponentially,
everyone is fed and filled,
and truckloads of leftovers are gathered up.

And then the cat and mouse game continues.
The people are overjoyed at this miracle,
they are about to mob Jesus and try to make him King, v. 15,
so Jesus runs off again,
this time to a mountainous area by himself,
presumably for some peace and quiet.
And the disciples, maybe to distract the crowd,
get in a boat and start sailing across the sea to Capernaum.

And to fill in the part we jumped over in our reading,
there’s another miraculous moment with the disciples,
where Jesus walks on water out to the boat in a storm,
and they safely reach the other side, far from the madding crowds.

For one night.
Because in the morning crowds remembered seeing
the disciples sail to Capernaum without Jesus the night before,
so they figured Jesus got there somehow,
so they hightail it over there.

They find Jesus, and ask him how he got there,
but he doesn’t answer.
He just tells them,
“You are only looking for me
because I gave you bread when you were hungry.
You are in it for yourself, for the adventure.
You don’t see the meaning behind the signs.”

Then we have this long teaching about bread and life.

Now . . . let’s recall the main point behind John’s Gospel.
John’s aim is to tell the story of Jesus in such as way,
that the hearer of the story comes to believe—
not, believe, as in accept some propositional statement about Jesus;
but believe in, as in, come to trust Jesus fully,
that Jesus is who he says,
the One come from God, and One with God,
and go all in as a disciple and learner of Jesus.
That’s what John means by “believe.”
And since Jesus is One with God,
as we experience communion with Jesus,
and friendship with Jesus,
we enter into a process of communion with,
and even, mysteriously, union with God’s very self.

So keep that as a backdrop,
as we look at this strange and off-putting discourse.

Now, on the one hand,
“Jesus as bread” is not a strange or difficult metaphor.
Donna did a great job talking about it with the children,
and making the idea understandable.
Just as we depend on bread for life and strength,
so we can depend on Jesus.

But Jesus took it further.
He made the metaphor graphic:
In the wilderness your ancestors ate manna that fell from heaven,
and they died.
I am also bread come from heaven. Eat me and you won’t die.
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;
and the bread is my flesh.

And saying it once wasn’t enough. A couple verses later he says,
“Very truly, I tell you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”
You know those words very well.
They appear in one of our favorite communion and Easter hymns,
“I am the Bread of Life.”

With great emotion we all sing it—
after communion,
on Easter,
at funerals,
and many other times.
We belt out those lines we barely understand,
many of us even spontaneously stand up
and raise our hands.
In the third stanza we sing,
“Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man,
and drink of his blood (and then we say it again),
and drink of his blood,
you shall not have life within you.”

I don’t know, maybe some of you squirm when you sing that.
I admit I sometimes have.
But no longer.
I have come to appreciate these lines from John 6 in a new way.

And it has to do with a newer interpretation of this discourse.
I won’t get into the weeds of the scholarly debate.
But as recently as four years ago,
in the rarified air of the Society of Biblical Literature,
there was scholarly debate on the exegesis of John 6.

The traditional interpretation is that this language in John
grew out of an early Christian community
that already saw the eucharist, the Lord’s Supper,
as a way to eat the body of Christ,
and drink the blood of Christ, albeit mystically.
And that Jesus was here referring to the eucharist.

I slogged my way through a journal article about it this week,
and from the best of my limited understanding,
the newer argument is that there’s no evidence
John meant to have Jesus talking about the eucharist,
or that it was influenced by any existing church ritual
that said they were eating Jesus’ flesh and blood.
Rather, the influence was the other way around—
these words in John led to particular understandings
of the eucharist that developed later.

John used Jesus’ words about eating and drinking himself,
not to refer to the eucharist,
but as an expansive metaphor,
in the same way the prophet Jeremiah
talked about eating the word of God,
“Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy.”
Or the way prophet Isaiah spoke,
encouraging his people to ingest the law, the words of God—
“Listen carefully to me,” Isaiah said, “and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.”

Like Jeremiah and Isaiah,
John is all about ingesting Jesus,
about consuming the Word, the Logos.
Remember the prologue in ch. 1 gave us that image:
Jesus as Word become Flesh.
The Word moved into the neighborhood, and dwelt with us.

All through the book, the reader is invited, repeatedly,
to come closer to Jesus,
to take Jesus in,
to let our life be subsumed in the life of Jesus,
to be united with Jesus,
to abide with Jesus,
and here, to ingest Jesus.

So John 6 is not out in left field.
It’s consistent with the rest of the book.
If we see eating and drinking as metaphor, which of course it is,
then this is no strange idea in John.
It’s not offensive, barbaric, or cannibalistic.
It just reinforces John’s main point—
be united with God, through Jesus, the Word, the Logos.

When John has Jesus saying,
“Eat my flesh and drink my blood, so you can live,”
it’s just another way of him saying,
Go all in with me.
I am where life is found.
I am the living Word, the Logos.
Eat me up.
Drink me up.
Let me become part of you.
Let me course through your veins.
So you can live. Really live.

This is beautiful!
Let’s embrace it, not be repulsed by it.

Apparently, at the end of John 6,
these words did offend and divide.
It separated those who were just following Jesus for kicks,
and those who were coming to believe in a deeper way.
Some were grossed out, I guess,
by Jesus talking about people eating his flesh
and drinking his blood.
Others were offended by Jesus’ claim to have “come from heaven,”
like the manna in Exodus.

In any event, the crowds started thinning out.
So at the beginning of chapter 6,
Jesus couldn’t get away from the crowds.
At the end of the chapter,
so many had left that Jesus turned to the Twelve, in v. 67,
and asked them, “Do you also wish to go away?”
And Peter answered him with these immortal words,
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

So, with the Gospel of John,
I implore us all.
Let us ingest Jesus.
Let us allow the living Word, the Logos, to fill our being.
It will not happen without the intentionality and regularity
of Christian practice—
both individual and communal.
Prayer, listening, scripture, silence,
embodied communal worship,
singing our faith together,
retelling the Gospel story together,
confessing and reconciling,
eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table,
as we did last Sunday,
and more.

Let us commit ourselves to that.
And let us say so, through our confession.
Please join with the bold type, as seen in the order of service,
and on the screen.

one God our Provider, we confess we are hungry, 
        and in want of bread.
We are weary, and in want of your sustaining life within us.
all At your invitation, we come to your table of plenty. Feed us.
one We confess we often eat of that which does not satisfy.
We miss opportunities to be deeply fed by you.
all At your table, we receive what you offer of yourself. Fill us.
Words of assurance
one All who hunger, gather gladly; Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing. 
Here, in peace, we have been led.
Taste and see the grace eternal. 
Taste and see that God is good.

—Phil Kniss, February 13, 2022

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Sunday, February 6, 2022

Phil Kniss: Signs of healing, signs of trouble

Signs and faith: Two healing stories
The Word became flesh and lived among us
John 4:46 - 5:18

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I’d like to start today,
with a quick review of the last four weeks in John,
specifically, the geography.
Because geography matters for today’s two stories.

On January 9 we were in Cana of Galilee, John chapter 2,
for the story about the wedding at Cana.
Cana is in the northern half of Palestine, above Samaria.
It was Jesus’ first venture into the public eye,
when he was sort of drafted by his mother
to perform a miracle to rescue a wedding reception
that ran out of wine.
John 2 then notes,
Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee.
And, that sign revealed Jesus’ glory, and many believed in him.

So the next story, one Sunday later, also in John 2,
takes place in the temple at Jerusalem—
the center of religious and political power.
About 90-100 miles south, more or less,
because, as far as we know, this time
he did the normal bypass around Samaria.
5 days of walking for someone in good shape.

And what Jesus did in Jerusalem—
clearing the temple of a worship industry that exploited people—
caused a ruckus, to put it mildly.
Still, many came to believe in him, it says,
but it also made him many enemies, it’s safe to say.

One Sunday later, we are still, geographically,
down near Jerusalem, in John 3.
The well-connected and influential Pharisee Nicodemus
came to visit him in the night,
to ask some searching theological questions.
And we don’t know how Nicodemus ultimately responded,
but the scene is set up in such a way
that it sure seems it’s not a safe way of life,
either for Jesus, or for those closely connected to him.

Jesus and the disciples then spent some time in the
countryside around Judea.
Maybe everyone was happier
when Jesus was doing his thing out in the country,
and not right under the noses of the power elite.

In any case, last Sunday, John 4, Jesus heads back to Galilee again.
This time, he made a bold choice to go straight through Samaria,
a region other self-respecting Jews avoided.
And he had this deep and penetrating and scandalous conversation
with a Samaritan woman by the well.

And he stayed there for some days.
And then we come to today’s passage, beginning at the end of John 4.

It says, “he went from that place to Galilee
(for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet
has no honor in the prophet’s own country).
When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem
at the festival;
for they too had gone to the festival.

Now, are you starting to get this geographical picture?
Jesus, who has been sent as a healing, saving,
Messiah to the world,
is received quite differently up north and down south.

Geographically speaking,
Palestine is kind of the reverse of the eastern United States.
Here the old guard political, economic and intellectual centers
are mostly in the north,
and the south is sometimes treated a bit dismissively
by the northern elite.
In Palestine in Jesus’ day, it was the same way,
except . . . just swap north and south.
There was even a saying in the south,
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
that backward city up north.

In the opening prologue, in John 1, we heard this:
“He came to . . . his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God.

“His own” people were down south.
His family line, at least through Joseph,
was rooted in Bethlehem, the city of David,
right outside Jerusalem.
He’d been schooled in the traditions of the Temple.
He was a rabbi.
Down south is where he was from, so to speak,
where he received his religious formation.

But Galilee, up north, also ran in his blood.
He grew up in Nazareth.
He chose a good many disciples from Galilee.
He hung out in Capernaum and other towns
bordering the Sea of Galilee,
and seemed quite at home up north,
farther away from the ruling elite.
Jesus had more room to move,
had more people cheering him on.

John said it outright.
When he got back to Galilee he was welcomed,
because of what he did in Jerusalem at the festival.
Because the Galileeans were there, also.
and they saw Jesus clear out the temple.
And they were not offended.
I’m guessing they were the ones being liberated
by Jesus’ prophetic action
against the animal merchants and money changers.
Maybe they had been swindled often enough,
to get some pleasure watching what Jesus did.

So . . . the first thing Jesus does, when back in Cana of Galilee,
is this healing story we heard today.
Jesus heals, not a son or daughter of Israel,
but a Gentile child of a Roman royal officer.
And what is the result?
More people believed.
More people saw God’s glory revealed.
From what we can tell, very little pushback
for showing compassion to someone outside the family.
And, John says, this was the second sign, pointing to Jesus’ glory,
and he did it in Galilee.

And then what happens next in John?
Jesus heads back south.
He went to Jerusalem for another festival.
John doesn’t specify how much time elapsed,
because it’s not that important.
In fact, chronology and sequence is not all that important
to John’s telling of the Gospel.
It’s not relevant whether Jesus actually and physically
went back and forth
between the north and south as often as John says,
and in the order that John wrote it down.
John is painting a theological and political picture of Jesus,
that’s gradually coming into focus.

At this festival in Jerusalem, something scandalous happens again.
It might not seem scandalous to us.
Seems like just another beautiful and miraculous healing story.
But it sparked a very different response
than the first healing, up north.

A man lame for most of his life,
couldn’t get his feet into the healing pool in time,
whenever the waters were stirred,
so he stayed crippled for 38 years.
That in itself is an indictment against a religious system
that couldn’t come up with any better plan to help this poor man.
Jesus simply speaks the word.
Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.
And at once, he walks!
Round of applause!
Everyone rejoices!

No, actually, that’s not how it goes down.
Not here in Jerusalem, home of the Temple and its rule-keepers.
Here, it’s a scandal.
Because the day is a Sabbath.

And the scandal gets set off, not by the healing act itself,
because that apparently happened quietly and unseen.
The problem came to light,
when the man was spotted carrying his mat on the Sabbath,
and it’s forbidden to carry a mat on the Sabbath.
The religious institution failed this man on two fronts.
He lay by the pool for decades,
with no one to intervene to help him get to the water.
And the moment he was able to walk,
rather than rejoicing he can walk,
he gets called out for walking with his mat on the Sabbath.

The religious inquisitors then tried to find out who had the nerve
to heal him on the Sabbath, and instruct him to carry his mat.

So incensed were they by this flagrant breaking of Sabbath law,
that John tells us the persecution of Jesus began in earnest.
And when Jesus added further offense,
by claiming God as Father,
they started conspiring to kill him.

So that’s where the story stops for now.

What is the Good News for our day? our present context?

Well, the extent of woundedness in our community and our world,
is as great as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime.
We are wounded and weary beyond comprehension.
Obviously, the COVID pandemic.
But so much more has cut us down and traumatized us.
Wounds that are physical,
and spiritual.

So much of the misbehavior we witness,
from mean-spirited discourse,
to actually shooting people to death,
from individual acts of aggression,
to mob violence and insurrection,
does not come out of the blue.
It comes from our woundedness.
It comes from places that need healing,
more than legislation.
Not saying legislation isn’t needed.
It is. Without a doubt.
I’ll get behind any good and just piece of legislation.

But healing cannot be legislated.
And healing is central to call of the church.
God’s mission is healing.
And we are God’s collaborators.
It’s that simple.
And it’s that complex and demanding.

In Palestine, Jesus healed up north, and down south.
It mattered not whether the wounded was a poor Jewish leper,
or a wealthy religious leader,
or a member of the Roman occupying army.
It mattered not whether the wounding was from
being socially cut-off and marginalized from the community,
or from a physical, emotional, or spiritual disease.
The public response to his healings would vary,
according to the context (including geography),
and according to whose agenda got disrupted by the healing.
But he healed here, there, and everywhere.
And so must we.

It’s so easy to draw lines and create enemies and enemy groups,
that then fall outside the realm of our responsibility to heal.
But we must be committed to everyone’s healing.
No matter whose side they are aligned with.
No matter what type of woundedness they suffer from.
If we are not thus committed,
we are not following Jesus.

This is the Jesus who, in service to his call as a healing Messiah,
ended up crucified, dead, buried, and raised again on the third day.
This is the Jesus we remember when we come to the communion table.

We are partaking today as one body, at one table.
Now, that is profoundly true,
even though we are scattered in many places,
and many of you will partake in the quietness of your own home,
and persons in this space will partake
of their own elements in their seats.

The invitation to the table is just as real.
Let us come to the table,
from wherever you are,
join us in Spirit and in action,
as we partake of the bread and cup.

We come, because,
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

May God bless this bread and cup
to our physical and spiritual nourishment.  Amen.

Please join us by partaking of the bread and cup at home,
or wherever you find yourself this morning.

—Phil Kniss, February 6, 2022

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