Sunday, January 21, 2018

Encountering the Messiah: Location

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. John 2:13-25 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, who is Christ, the Lord. Amen.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but, I’m one of those people who, as each year draws to a close, likes to read all the articles and listen to the reports that recap the last year’s events and tries to put them into a broader, longer-term perspective. I’m always trying to make sense of things that have happened that, in the larger scheme of politics or economics or from a societal standpoint have made an impact.
Sometimes, the events in those annual lists are things that have had just a small effect. At other times, they have made huge and lasting impacts on our world. 

What comes to mind for you, for example, if I mention the fall of 2008? For those of us who lived through it, we know the huge impact--the radical shift--that the one week in September made upon not just our economy, but the economy of the entire world.

Or think about how the world--and maybe even your life--has changed since the iPhone was created just over ten years ago. Before 2007, we didn’t know what an “app” was. We had no way of being constantly connected to the internet. We had likely never used a touch-screen before. Or known what “pinch-to-zoom” meant. Or taken a “selfie,” much less upload it to Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram. Or even known what “outsourcing” was or thought about where our devices came from or heard much about labor abuses in Chinese iPhone factories.  

It seems to me that what often appear at first to be fairly small, insignificant things or events end up having a huge impact. They can make a radical shift in the way our world operates or understands things. 

It is this is what is happening in our story today. A seemingly small incident in the temple that is really a radical shift. A radical shift that will completely change faith and our understanding of God. And a radical shift that not only changes Judaism and the temple, but still impacts us as believers today, some two millennia later. 

First of all, it is important to note that this story--the cleansing of the temple--is located in John in a very different spot in each of the other three gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Unlike in John, where it is located at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, in the other three--the synoptic Gospels, It is located at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In the synoptics, it is Jesus’ actions in the temple that are the catalyst for the anger of the Jewish leadership and their plot to kill him. In other words, this story in the synoptic Gospels is the beginning of the end of Jesus’ ministry and, ultimately, his life.

So, why does John put this story at the beginning of the Jesus’ public ministry? 

If you remember all of our stories from the Hebrew Scripture last year, perhaps you will recall that, for Israel, the temple in Jerusalem was central to their worship. It was in the temple, in the Holy of Holies, where God’s promised to remain. This is why the city of Jerusalem and, more specifically, the temple was central to all of Israel’s religious practice. This is why the Jewish people trekked days and miles to Jerusalem to worship for the major feasts. This is why Israel was so devastated that Jerusalem was captured and the temple destroyed by the Babylonians. This is also why it was so important to the Jewish people that the temple be rebuilt. Everything about their faith, their spiritual lives, and their religion was centered in the temple in Jerusalem.

Central to Israel’s worship practices at the temple was the sacrifice of animals. Everyone was required under liturgical law to make an animal sacrifice. If you were traveling hundreds of miles to worship, it was pretty impractical for you to bring along a bull, or a ram, or a dove. So, it was only practical that, when you got to Jerusalem, you needed to purchase an animal to sacrifice. So, eventually, a marketplace grew up around the temple, where merchants began to offer for the people’s convenience animals for sale for temple sacrifice.

In the same way, many people came from places where different currency was used. So, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they need to exchange their currency for money that would work in Jerusalem. Thus, the Jewish version of American Express arose, where people could do this.

So, the marketplaces that were happening around the temple were very practical and they were needed by the Israelites journeying to Jerusalem to worship. So, in John--please note that the perspective in John is different than in the other gospels--in John, when Jesus drives the merchants out of the temple, it is not necessarily because Jesus believes that the marketplace is evil. There is no mention by John that any financial abuses were happening at the temple. 

Instead, it seems that Jesus is doing this to send a message about who he is and what his role is in this fourth Gospel. Jesus is making a bold statement, not so much “against” anything, but rather “for” something. For his authority to represent and reveal who the God of the temple is, whom Jesus knows intimately as his Father. And as a result of his actions in the temple, Jesus is about to inaugurate a radical shift in the understanding of the Jewish people as to where God’s presence is located.

His actions lead to a confrontation. “Who are you?” the Jewish leaders ask. “What gives you the authority to do what you’ve done?” They challenge him.

Jesus responds with these words: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

It is clear that the Jewish leadership don’t understand the double-meaning behind his words. In fact, it is not only the Jewish leadership that misunderstand, it is also Jesus’ disciples. Note the language in verse 22: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” They, themselves, didn’t fully understand until after the resurrection. And we, some 2,000 years later, get that Jesus was referring to his body as a temple and, particularly to his coming crucifixion and his resurrection.

But, what was the deeper point that Jesus was trying to make here? To get the Jewish leadership to understand?

What was the deeper point Jesus was trying to make here? 

His point was that God was no longer going to be restricted to the temple. In fact, it was that God was right there. Right in front of them. Jesus was telling them that God’s Spirit would no longer live in a building, but it would live in him and then, after he had ascended, it would be poured out into every human heart. No longer was God to be found only in the temple. God would be found in the heart of every human being.

This was radical for them. It is still a radical idea for us, too.

Can you see what God is giving? Do you see Jesus present right now in front of you? Here, in the Word made flesh? Here, in the bread and the wine? And in the heart of every single person you meet? Do you see God in front of you?

That is the message of Epiphany. God is right here in front of you. God is present in the flesh, incarnated for you and for me and for all people everywhere.

Come. And see.


Preached January 21, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings: Psalm 127:1-2; John 2:13-25

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Encountering the Messiah: Abundance

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.

Directly north of San Antonio, Texas, is a geographic region located in the Edwards Plateau. This area, which is called the Texas Hill Country, is located at the crossroads of West Texas, Central Texas, and South Texas. It’s also often considered the entry to the American Southwest or the American Southeast, depending on which direction one is traveling.

According to Wikipedia, it’s an area that is known for its karst topography, formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. The terrain has a thin layer of topsoil and a large number of exposed rocks and boulders, which makes it very dry and very prone to flash flooding. It’s a scrub landscape with native vegetation that includes the yucca plant, prickly pear cactus, the ashe juniper, the Texas live oak, and wildflowers--oh, the wildflowers! In the spring, the wildflowers--particularly, the Texas bluebonnet--are everywhere.

It was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800’s, most of whom were farmers. Today, though, this area is known mostly for tourism. And more recently, it has emerged as the center of the Texas wine industry.

I moved to Texas in the summer of 2010. That fall, as the heat of summer began to fade, my brother and sister-in-law and I decided to head to the Hill Country to taste some of that Texas wine. We decided to try out a couple of wineries in an area that was just beginning to develop--northwest of Austin, near Lake Buchanan. As we were at our last stop, our host suggested and highly recommended that we check out a brand new winery that had just opened, a few miles away off a hilly, winding, back-country road. So, we went to visit Perisso’s Vineyard and Winery.

The winery consisted of one building. On the first floor was a big open room that contained huge metal wine vats, dozens of barrels, and a few picnic tables set up for tasting. It was a pretty bare-bones operation. We soon learned that the second floor was occupied by the owners of this boutique winery--Seth and Laura Martin, and their five children. And two dogs--one a Lab and the other a huge, furry Newfoundland, named Bear. We settled at one of the picnic tables. And then we began to taste. To taste--as one of their hosts called it--to taste this “life-changing” wine.  

Over time, Perisso’s became our favorite winery. We’d stop in several times a year. We got to know Seth and Laura and their family well. In fact, we became good friends. We’d get up early in the hot August heat and help them harvest. We’d drop in on Sunday afternoons and sit under one of the huge oak trees, tasting their newest varietal and finding out which child it was named after. And each time we visited, we’d get caught up on what was happening in their family, Bear would come and hang out with us, and, yes, we’d taste wine. Some of the best wine, in fact, that I’ve ever tasted.

Over time the winery grew. They added two more buildings, an event center and another for processing and storage. Their wine club list grew from under a hundred into the thousands. And several of their wines began to win awards. First in Texas. Then, across the U.S., including at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, one of the most prestigious in the world.  They truly lived into their name, Perisso’s, which in Greek means “abundance.” 

Like the story of Perisso’s Vineyard, wine and extraordinary abundance are at the center of our story today. 

But it didn’t begin so extraordinarily. In fact, it began with something pretty ordinary--a wedding. Yet, in the opening verse of our text, we already get a signal that this story may not be so ordinary. “On the third day,” we read. Does that bring something to mind? “On the third day.” When we hear these words, we know that something new is about to happen. They signal resurrection, a new and abundant life. The extraordinary. But it all begins in the ordinary. With a wedding.

Weddings in ancient Palestine lasted approximately a week, with an abundance of wine expected throughout the celebration. Jesus is a guest at the wedding in our story, along with his mother and his disciples. This is the first time in John that we are introduced to Jesus’ mother, who is never called by name in this fourth Gospel. She is simply called the “mother of Jesus.” We will see her only twice in this Gospel. Here, in this story, and at the foot of the cross with the beloved disciple. She is here at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. She will be at the end of his life. She is witness to the first revelation of Jesus’ glory and his last. In John, there is an implied shared parenthood between the earthly mother of Jesus and the heavenly Father. There is no separation or compartmentalization of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. There is no either/or. There is simply a both/and. 

Jesus’ mother comes to him to report that the wine has run out. Such an occurrence would be a major hospitality blunder. So, she approaches Jesus and says, “They ran out of wine.” Why? What does she see in that moment? What has she seen in her life with him this far that would cause her to believe that there was something he might be able to do about it? 

And how does Jesus respond? We can’t miss some of the humor here. “Well, mom, it’s really not my problem. Perhaps they should have hired a better wedding planner.” So, Jesus’ mother walks away. But, as she leaves, she stops to speak to one of the servants. “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows what will happen if he does what Jesus tells him to do. She believes in Jesus.

Something does happen. The miracle, the sign. The first sign pointing to who Jesus is and to the meaning of the phrase “grace upon grace” happens.  And it happens in an over-the-top way. Six jars. Twenty to thirty gallons per jar, filled to the brim. In today’s production standards, that would be a thousand bottles of wine. Not the cheapest, but the best wine. And at the end of the celebration. Extraordinary.

What I have figured out in these years since my family and I first visited Perisso’s Vineyard is that, while we first came for the wine, we have continued to come for the relationships. It is in the ordinariness of our friendship, our relationship with Seth and Laura and my family, that we have experienced deep abundance--the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. 

It’s the same for us here. We might come seeking the extraordinary. We might come seeking the miracles. Yet, we find it in the ordinary. In the grace of our day-to-day lives. In the grace of our day-to-day relationship with Jesus and one another. In the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension and the promise of ours. Grace upon grace upon grace. Abundantly. In an over-the-top way.


Come and see. 

Experience the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. The divine in the midst of the human. The grace upon grace upon grace. Abundantly. For you and for me and for everyone. In Jesus.


Preached January 14, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings: Psalm 104:14-16; John 2:1-11

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:35-51 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.

Happy new year to all of you!

I hope you had a restful time during the holidays, perhaps with family, perhaps busy doing a bunch of fun things, or perhaps, especially, with the cold weather we’ve been having, just staying at home where it’s warm, where you can bundle up on the sofa in your pajamas with a hot cup of coffee or tea and read a book. Or call up friends. Or watch a few football (or soccer) games.

How many of you binge-watch TV? Come on now, let’s be honest. I’ll admit it. I do.

It started back when my son was in high school and college. This was before the time we had Netflix or Hulu or access through our Smart TV’s to endless seasons of the vast variety of shows we now can watch. It was the time when you waited each year for full set of DVD’s to come out of the last season of your favorite show--whatever that was! The first time we sat and binge-watched like that was with several seasons of “West Wing.” Do you remember that show? My son and I loved it! For nearly 6 days we watched episode after episode after episode. We’d take little breaks to get up, go outside and walk--to get a little exercise. And to eat. Then, we go back at it. We watched hours and hours of television in the days between Christmas and New Year’s. It probably doesn’t seem like fun, but it was. It was a time for us to be together, doing something we could enjoy together.

Now I still like to binge-watch, although not quite at that extreme level. Over the past couple of weeks, in the evenings, I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called, “The Ranch.” Have any of you seen it? The show takes place on the fictional Iron River Ranch in the fictitious small town of Garrison, Colorado. It details the life of the Bennetts, a family consisting of a rancher father, played by Sam Elliott; his divorced wife, played by Debra Winter, and their two sons, played by Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson. 

I find it interesting because it reminds me so much of my own family and my upbringing on a ranch. It is the story of complex family relationships--the tug of war for attention that can take place in families, the unwillingness to bend or compromise, and, particularly, the inability to express feeling and emotion--how it’s so much easier to express judgment and criticism than love and pride. It’s the story of one family and their deeply-intertwined relationships, as they attempt to negotiate who they are in the midst of what seems to be constant turmoil and change.

It’s into a similar time that the Gospel of John was written. Historians believe that John was written much later than the synoptic Gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That it was written at the very end of the 1st century, soon after the destruction, for the second time, of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.

If you remember from our lessons last fall, the temple was the center of worship for all Israel from the days of King Solomon. It was first destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jewish people exiled. After they returned from that exile, the temple was built again. We call this the Second Temple period. Once again, the new temple in Jerusalem became the center of worship for all of the Jews. So you can imagine how devastating it would be to see, for a second time--to see this central spiritual place, this place where the Jews believed God was truly present, destroyed by Rome in the year 70. 

By the time of Gospel of John, the Jewish community was in the process of reevaluating what Judaism looked like without the Temple. One response was to reject those who weren’t “Jewish” enough, such as the Jewish Christians. Those who we identify as the early disciples. Many of them found themselves cut off. From their synagogues. Even from their families. They were forced to form new communities and to begin to define themselves apart from Judaism as a minority within a hostile empire. To figure out new relationships. And to negotiate who they were in the midst of what seemed to be constant turmoil and change.

Relationships. In John, it is all about relationships. In John, faith is about relationship. About building new relationships. About strengthening old relationships. About winding a path through the complexity of relationships. In John, when you believe in God. When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God--the Word made flesh. Then, you enter into relationship with God. 

This is what is happening in our lesson today. John the baptizer (except in the Gospel of John he’s not called “the baptizer;” instead, he’s called a “witness”)...In our lesson today, John knows that it is time for him to release his followers to Jesus. John knows that he is not the Promised One. John knows that he is called to witness to this Human One. And so, as Jesus walks by John and his followers, he testifies to them. “Look! Here is the “Lamb of God.”

For John’s disciples, these Jewish Christians, the phrase “Lamb of God” has great significance. What it instantly brings to mind for them is the Passover. The significant festival that celebrates God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. For them, the Passover signifies protection, lineage, deliverance. And, mostly, it represents God’s promise of relationship.

John’s disciples hear this in John’s words. It makes them curious. As a result, their attention is redirected away from John to Jesus. They begin to follow Jesus to learn more. Jesus sees them following, he turns and says, “What are you looking for?” This can also be translated as “What are you seeking?”

This is one thing about the Gospel of John. Words often have dual meanings. “What are you looking for?” can also be translated “What are you seeking?”

“What are you seeking?” Jesus asks them.

Their response? Not really an answer, but a question. “Where are you staying?” Which can be translated, “Where are you abiding?” 

You see, the defining thing in John is not the where but the who. With whom are you abiding. Because abiding has duration. It isn’t short term. It’s not unneeded or unnecessary. Abiding is what meaningful relationship looks like. It is there where the disciples will find what they are looking for. Where they will discover the person, rather than the location. Where, as the relationship unfolds, all of their needs will be provided. Their fundamental bodily needs. But, mostly, their fundamental need for relationship.

Jesus invites them in. “Come and see.” Do you notice that there is no judgment? No demand for repentance? Jesus simply invites them into this relationship. Jesus finds people and invites them in. And, soon, the disciples will do the same. Following Jesus’ own actions. Inviting others to “come and see.” 

Like the disciples, we, have a fundamental need for relationship. Jesus invites us in, too. 
Come and see. Come into this relationship and see the divine become human. Come and see God being revealed. Gradually. Not in one chapter or in a few months. But over a lifetime. Over an abundant life time. 

What are you looking for? What are you seeking? Come and see. Amen.

Preached Sunday, January 7, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Readings: Psalm 66:1-5, John 1:35-51