1.   Jesus Makes Himself Available At The Festival

 

I’d like to start off this morning talking about the festival.   The Greek word heh-or-tay  occurs in over twenty times in John’s Gospel and each time Jesus makes himself available.  That is, Jesus makes himself available at the large social gatherings of his day, and so the chances are that he makes himself available at our festivals too. 

 

Think about the festivals that we host in Spokane.  One is known as Bloomsday and the other is known as Hoopfest, and it’s interesting to me that both of them revolve around some kind of physical exertion.   I ran, I mean, walked, I mean, scratch that, I hobbled, in the Bloomsday  festival almost two years ago; and what I remember is this:  runners with baby strollers, runners wearing Halloween costumes, runners who looked like they could run to California and runners who looked like they just fell off a barstool.   And, you see, all along the circuitous route I overheard conversations, and some of them were spiritual conversations.   So I started thinking; maybe during a festival that pushes our bodies to the limits, something spiritual kicks into gear too.  Likewise at Hoopfest  I didn’t play in any 3 on 3 basketball games, but I observed from the sidelines how matured, well-seasoned older men would complain about the fouls being inflicted on their bodies, and then later repent and shake hands.   This is the nature of festival.  During normal business hours, the physical stuff and the spiritual stuff are neatly cordoned off.  But the festival brings something out of us.   [Star Trek clip]

2.   The Way We Picture Human Health Hurts

 

Last Saturday night, at the culmination of the Ham On Regal  festival, I stood outside the restrooms, talking to a couple that I enjoy very much.   He’s an eye doctor and she’s a teacher of teachers.    Anyway, they have one child in high school, who is smart, well-adjusted and beautiful.   But here’s the thing.   They also have a child who cannot walk or talk.   His life expectancy is short.   And as I danced with and laughed with them throughout the night, my mind kept pondering this passage that we’ve read this morning:

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticos.  In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.   When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’

 

You see, that’s quite a question, isn’t it?   Who wouldn’t want to be made well?  I don’t remember where I heard it first, but somewhere in the land of well-worn clichés, the good people say things like this: If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything… And my response, after reading John 5:1—18 is Really?   Do we really have everything if we ourselves are individually healthy?   What about my friends at the Ham On Regal  festival?  They’re healthy.   But they show me pictures of their disabled son at a wedding reception.   He’s slouching in a wheelchair, the only one who can’t walk in the crowd.   And when I look up at his parents, I see it so clearly.  It’s the way we’re picture human health that hurts us so much.   If only we could learn to picture things differently, if only we could stop worrying about looking good or feeling good… and simply be good.  [slides]

3.   Wellness Means Getting The True Purpose of Your Body

 

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.   And there was evening and there was morning on the sixth day.”

 

You see, maybe what Jesus has in mind is a recovery or an exploration of Genesis 1:31.   God has made everything and everyone well.    We are well.   And yet, perhaps we’ve forgotten how wellness happens, or even what wellness means.

“The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

 

Listen carefully to John 5:7.   He doesn’t know.   He’s still under the illusion that wellness comes to those who compete for it.  He doesn’t know.   He’s still in the mode of wanting to be that other person who “steps down ahead of me.”  And I don’t know about you, but that way of health and fitness bores me to tears.   It’s sad.

  • It’s sad when a wife and mother wants to be a supermodel.
  • It bores me when a husband and father can’t watch his children play sports without wanting to re-live the glory days. 
  • It’s sad when a baseball player injects his body with steroids.
  • It’s boring to learn about the Olympic Gold Medalist who lies about drug use.

Wellness, you see, has nothing to do with how well we do with our bodies.   It’s how well we live when we’re forced to face our bodies’ limitations.   Are you prepared for that?  Are you prepared to face your bodies’ own limitations?   If not, you can’t be well.   Or, you won’t be prepared when Jesus asks you the question.   Wellness means actually getting the true purpose of your body.   And the true purpose of your body is not having ten healthy fingers and ten healthy toes.   It’s more, much more.   [Dodgeball clip]

 4.   The Sabbath Rest Is For Those Who Still Work

 

Now I’d like to take a few moments to mention a major theme in the healing ministry of Jesus, which is his apparent disregard or even disdain for the laws about keeping the Sabbath.    The Sabbath too comes from the Genesis account of creation:

“On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done…”

“So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rest from all the work that he had done in creation.”

 

But notice the way that Jesus tends to qualify these statements.   To those who attack him verbally because of what he does physically for the paralyzed man on the Sabbath day, he says,

“My Father is still working and I also am working.”

And again, I’d like to steer us back to the peculiar dynamic of the festival.   The festival, when it’s done well, actually refreshes people for their work.   And ask yourself, in the creation, as God performs his work, what is it that God finishes?   “I’m working on a dream,” sings Bruce Springstein in a recent release.  

I’m working on a dream
Though sometimes it feels so far away
I’m working on a dream
And I know it will be mine someday

Our love will make it real someday
I’m working on a dream
Though it can feel so far away
I’m working on a dream
And our love will make it real someday

 

The fact of the matter is that people don’t rest when they work for themselves, and consequently, they never practice the Sabbath even when they take a day off.   But for those, like Jesus, who work on a dream, rest and work flow into and out of one another all the time.

5.   Stand Up, Take Up Your Mat and Walk, Latah Valley

 

“Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’  At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”

 

The adversaries of Jesus refer to this act of healing as sacra religious “work,” and they complain.   They carp.   But I’m wondering what exactly it is that offends them.   Is it when the lame man stands up?   Is it when he walks?   During the festival, there are lots of people who stand up and walk.   And, you see, that leaves us with only one option.   The thing that offends them so much is that the lame man takes up his mat.  That is it.   The very symbol of his lameness he now takes with him as he walks boldly through the crowd.   And think about that as a picture of what it means to be truly healthy.   What would it mean for our lives if we didn’t glamorize or accessorize our bodies so much, but that we instead took that one indication of weakness and lifted it over our heads?   What would it mean if we dead lifted our suffering off the floor?

 

Stand up, take up your mat and walk, Latah Valley.   We need to see your mat.   We need to see you walking, unashamed of your frailties and working, always, working on the dream of the new creation.

 

Amen. 

Advertisements

1.                   Yes, We Are All Individuals (repeat in unison)

The Peoples Front of Judea

The Peoples Front of Judea

 

There’s a scene in the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, in which Brian finds himself being chased by a mob of religious fanatics, many of whom are either members of the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judea.  Either way, for some bizarre reason they assume that Brian’s been miraculously conceived and therefore might be the long awaited Messiah.   Brian has even lost one of his holy sandals, giving all true believers a sign that we should wear only one shoe.  But then suddenly Brian turns on his pursuers and tries to convince them that he’s not the Messiah.   He says, “Listen, we are all individuals…”  Everyone then stops and looks puzzled for a moment until the crowd repeats in unison, “Yes, we are all individuals.”  

 

Now the irony of this movie scene is fascinating.   First, it represents what all non-religious or agnostic people fear the most about religion, and that is the loss of individuality.   According to Sigmund Freud, the way of the ego—what makes us unique personalities—is to negotiate between the primitive instincts we’ve been given and the overarching social behaviors that are expected of each one of us.   The ego negotiates.  The ego navigates a way between what I want for my own pleasure and the limitations placed on me by the world.   Yes, we are all individuals.   But here’s my question.  Here’s the question that arises from John 3:22—30.    What happens to the way of the ego when you and I and John the Baptist are each confronted with the reality of Jesus?   My hunch is that we are never more unique, we are never more ourselves, than when we point outside ourselves to him.  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30).

2.               A Bruised Ego A Day Keeps Pride Away 

And yet, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?   This week, while preparing for the Ham On Regal performances, the head director told us how we might prevent the bruising of egos with a simple word of encouragement.   After some amateurish, neophyte parent sings a song or delivers a line on cue, the fellow Ferris High School players are supposed to offer this standard affirmation:  “Hey that was really good… for you.

 

Now, while I appreciate the advice and while I understand how we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, part of me wonders if a bruised ego isn’t all that bad.   Part of me wonders if a bruised ego a day isn’t what keeps the most destructive aspects of pride away.   Think of John the Baptist.   For many moons he has baptized crowds of men and women, one by one, in the waters of the River Jordan.  He has made a name for himself, taking on political corruption.   When questioned by the religious elite, he has responded boldly by quoting Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”  John rocks.  John rolls.  But, as of today’s passage, John is famous the way Michael Jackson is famous.   People are curious about how he’s going to cope with his fading star power:

“Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

 

 

And your point is?    You see, the point of this remark in verse 26 is to inflict a bruise.   And maybe John’s ego had been bruised a little.  We’ll never know.   What we do know, however, is that he gave this answer:

“No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven…”

3.               Christ Must Increase, But Who’s Competing!

I haven’t seen the film or read the novel yet, but apparently there’s some controversy about the way Graham Greene’s novel, The End of the Affair, has been adapted for the screen.   The story centers on Maurice Bendrix, who falls in love with Sarah Miles.   Unfortunately, Sarah is married to Henry Miles and eventually decides to end her affair with Maurice.   Later, Maurice meets Henry on the street; they have a drink together, and during the conversation Henry confides that he thinks his wife is having an affair.   This makes Maurice, the former lover, jealous, extremely jealous.   But, you see, when he tracks down Sarah’s new love he realizes, from reading her journal, that it’s God.   Sarah has fallen in love with Jesus, and with this kind of mysterious love there is no competition.   Neither Maurice, nor Henry can compete with the increase of Christ in Sarah’s life.  Nor should they want to.  Nor do they need to.  

 

But, you see, I’m mentioning this controversial story because I think it illustrates what the love of God in Christ does for us.   Christ in us means life like we’ve never known it.   Christ in us means life without the demands of the ego.   And without the demands of the ego, jealousy and envy are nothing to us.   Without the tyranny of wanting what other people have, we’re actually free to be ourselves for the first time.  “In an age where there is much talk about ‘being yourself,’ writes Thomas Merton,

“I reserve the right to forget about being myself, since in any case there is very little chance of my being anybody else.  Rather, it seems to me that when one is too intent on ‘being himself’ he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow… I am accused of living in the woods like Thoreau instead of living in the desert like St. John the Baptist.  All I can answer is that I am not living ‘like anybody.’  Or ‘unlike anybody.’  We all live somehow or other, and that’s that.  It is a compelling necessity for me to be free to embrace the necessity of my own nature.”

4.               I Must Decrease With Joy

 

You see, what I think Merton and others are talking about is the alternative to the rat race.   The ego demands that we run this race, and if possible that we win it for a least a few minutes each day.   Donald Trump recently said that the Trump Tower casino in Atlantic City has lost money, but that it represents less than one half of one percent of his total worth.  Plus, he’s no longer on the board that makes the decisions about the Trump Tower, (and presumably if he had been on the board, the casino would have ended the year in the black).   

 

Now, I know there are no Donald Trump’s with us this morning, but living in the shadow of his tower, caught up in the pressure of that rat race, I think it’s exciting to hear about an alternative.   We don’t have to increase our status in the world.   We don’t have to maintain our edge.   We don’t have to dominate the news cycle or dictate the terms of sale.   We don’t have to issue the ultimatums.   And,

“For this reason my joy has been fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”  

 

Decreasing does not have to be a negative, sour-puss, depressing sort of discipline.   In Alice Walker’s short story, The Welcome Table, an African American woman has been thrown out of a so called white church.   The ushers just pick her up beneath the armpits and deposit her old body on the stone steps outside.   And then this is what happens:

“Suddenly…she looked down the long gray highway and saw something interesting and delightful coming.  She started to grin, toothlessly, with short giggles of joy, jumping about and slapping her hands on her knees.  And soon it became apparent why she was so happy.  For coming down the highway at a firm though leisurely pace was Jesus…”

5.               Latah Valley’s Tally of Baptisms

Sometimes, believe it or not, I stand on the steep banks of the creek at the Latah Valley property, and I try to imagine how in the world we’re going to baptize people there.   It’s not like the steady, easy-going slope into the stream of O Brother, Where Art Thou.   In fact, anyone who feels led to be immersed at Latah Valley will have to climb down approximately twenty feet to the water’s edge.   Moreover, there’s no clear path.  Lots of sharp rocks and broken tree limbs will impede progress.   And progress in this creek will mean getting down, getting down into the springtime run-off, getting down into the silt and into the debris of a winter thaw.   But if it’s you that I see in my dreams on the banks of the Latah Creek, be assured of one thing:   when you rise, when your cleansed body and soul makes a ripple in the water, and when you rise, Jesus himself will be there to walk you back.   And if you should slip on the ascent, he’ll be there to break our fall.

 

Amen.

 

 

1.  Jesus Tells About Earthly Things and Heavenly Things

There are several ways for people like us to think about the world.  

For example, I often think about the world in terms of the news that I watch on television.   That news usually informs my understanding of the world’s natural features, the world’s resources, the world’s ethnic groups, the world’s political problems and even the way that the planet earth can be located in an ever-expanding universe.   But none of these aspects of the world will budge when it comes to the meaning of the world, which is to say why the world exists with you and me as interactive parts within it. 

 

And that’s where Jesus comes in.  Jesus tells us about earthly things—those things that we can hear about on the news—as well as heavenly things.   And I take heavenly things to refer to the gift-meaning or to the grace-nature of the world as we know it.   Someone in our little community has a biscuit cutter in her kitchen drawer.   She uses it, obviously to make biscuits.  It serves a practical purpose.   But if you and I were to come across this scrap of metal that’s all it would be.  Just a thing that serves a purpose if you happen to like biscuits that are round.   But, you see, to Angela Gonzalez this earthly thing is really a heavenly thing inasmuch it was made by her Gran Daddy for her Grandmother when he should have been earning his paycheck at the local factory.   It’s a thing—and the world is full of such things.   But its meaning as a gift is also as much a part of its make up as the protons and electrons.

2.  Nicodemus, Leadership and The Way of the World

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

 

As you may recall, Jesus makes these remarks to Nicodemus.   And the significance of that exchange hinges on how Nicodemus has been identified in John 3:1 and John 3:10.   Nicodemus is a Pharisee, which would imply he knows the Law of Moses backwards and forwards.  Not only is he a biblical scholar, however; Nicodemus actually leads.   He leads and he teaches.   But, you see, in none of his leadership seminars, nor in any of his teaching programs does this interpreter of the law show any appreciation for the gift-meaning or the grace-nature of the world.  

 

In fact, from the Nicodemus perspective, the way of the world combines three  vital skills:   knowing your place in the world (as in verse two, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher…”), looking for peak experiences in the world (as in “no one can do the signs that you do apart from the presence of God”) and finally keeping your head down (as in verse nine, “How can these things be?”).   Now, as far as the way of the world goes, many of today’s leaders still propagate these same practices.    Moreover, many of today’s churches aspire to attract people who are just like them, to offer as many popular programs as they can and then to basically stay out of trouble.   But, what happens when we listen to what Jesus says to Nicodemus?    I’ll tell you what happens; we can’t stay out of trouble.

3.  God So Loves The Cosmos

For God so loves the world.   God so loves the cosmos, and here we have a choice.   Interpretatively, we can read “so loves” in terms of emphasis, as in God is so in love with the world, it’s crazy.   Or God loves the world like so, in this way

 

I tend to favor the latter interpretation because of how it pulls phrases together, which otherwise would be randomly strewn around John 3:16.   “For God so loved the world,” it turns out, is meant to be read in conjunction with…

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

Unpack verses 14 and 15 and you’ll discover the prickly and parched trip of the Israelites as they meandered through the wilderness.   Moses had led them out of slavery in Egypt, but also into a slithering brood of poisonous snakes.   As the exodus account describes, Moses appeals to Yahweh for help and Yahweh instructs him in how he might lift up before the people the very sign of their affliction.   They would see an image of the very thing that caused their suffering, and then somehow be spared the worst effects of the venom.   Jesus’ life and death are similar.   Jesus will embody for the community the sting and the stain of separation from God and so demonstrate God’s love.   We will be spared the worst effects of broken relationship.   Plus, “For God so loved the world” connects with the phrase,

“so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  

 

4.  Giving What Is Only Yours To Give

Typically I’ve heard people interpret this passage as if it reads, “God loves the world, but he’ll only save those people who return the favor, by loving him back.”   I don’t read it that way.   I think it makes more sense to say, “God loves the world and therefore everyone who believes or trusts in the life and death of Jesus will be saved by the same love that God has for the world.”  

 

Think about it.  The text says that God gave his only Son, which is a metaphor for saying that God gave everything he had to give.   He gave the relationship that he cherishes the most to the world, and therefore God presents to us who believe the pattern of how we might survive and thrive in the world and for the world.    That pattern, I believe, involves giving what is only yours to give. 

 

Many times, in the life of the church as an institution, people give things that don’t hurt them very much to give.   They give money, but usually what’s left over.   They give time, but only if they’re not too busy.   They give effort and energy to a pet project, but only if the people are pleasant and there aren’t too many hassles.   By contrast, God invites us to give what only we can truly give—ourselves in relationship!

 

 

 

5.  Latah Valley’s Cross Purpose With The World

Essentially what we’re saying today is that Latah Valley has a cross purpose with the world.   Our purpose is not to fit in and do what people expect churches to do.  Our purpose truly creates conflict in a non-confrontational, non-violent sort of way.   We are to be the biscuit cutter to which I referred earlier.   The biscuit cutter, to Angela, points to relationships that she deeply cherishes.   When she sees it in her drawer she doesn’t just think, “Oh, that’s a user thing to have around the house.”   She wonders about who she is and where she came from, and maybe she wonders about what she might give to others in the future.   Latah Valley is a biscuit cutter like that.   We give away our very life together so that the world knows that it’s loved by God.

 

Amen.