This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Chruch

When I was a little kid, my mother surprised me by playing the one song she knew on the piano. What really shocked me was that she sang the words while she played. And the words!

Nobody likes me,

Everybody hates me,

Going to the garden to eat worms …

What? Why on earth would anyone write such a song for little kids? But here’s the thing. I have learned over the years that when someone feels alone and disliked, loneliness sets in and it can often lead to actions direr than eating worms. An article in Psychology Today said this:

In children, [loneliness] leads to all kinds of problems. Failure to be socially connected to peers is the real reason behind most school dropouts. It sets in motion a course on which children spin their way to outcast status and develop delinquency and other forms of antisocial behavior.

In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. And it increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.

Loneliness is such a problem in Britain that the government there has appointed someone to do something about it. This from NBC News:

It sounds like a character from a dystopian novel, but Britain has created a “minister for loneliness” to tackle modern public health problems associated with social isolation.

The government said Wednesday it appointed Tracey Crouch after research showed as many as one in ten people felt lonely “always or often” and that hundreds of thousands of elderly people hadn’t spoken to a friend or relative in the past month.

Crouch, whose official title is Minister for Sport and Civil Society, will devise a national strategy to tackle isolation across all ages, and find ways of measuring alienation in official statistics.

There are lots of articles on how to fight loneliness. The problem is not new. And this week, Pastor Jeff will continue his Lenten sermon series on individual encounters with Jesus we find in scripture. He will be preaching on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well from John 4. What does this story have to do with combating loneliness? Come and find out at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church.

Nicodemus: Thoughts on trying to understand Jesus.

During the season of Lent, I will be talking about individuals who had somewhat personal encounters with Jesus.

Encounters where Jesus responds to their particular circumstances.

The kind of thing we all seek from Jesus at one time or another.

An encounter where Jesus responds to our particular circumstances.

Today, we meet Nicodemus.

John 3: 1-17

3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born [again, anew], from above.’ 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

All of us here have been students.

Grade school.

High school.

College.

Graduate school.

However far we went.

Many here are or have been teachers, too.

And so we have all heard – or said – this:

“There is no such thing as a ‘stupid’ question!”

We are told we should ask questions if we don’t understand something.

Yeah, right!

Nobody falls for that line.

Because what you don’t want anyone to know is that you don’t understand something.

It might not be a stupid question, but it makes you feel stupid.

So, instead of raising your hand in class, you become part of the “after” or “between class” line of students who want to talk to the teacher privately.

To confess your lack of understanding only to the teacher.

To ask for help.

To seek understanding.

That is what is happening in our text today.

This is an encounter between someone who does not understand Jesus, and Jesus.

Nicodemus.

It’s the kind of conversation each of us would like to have with Jesus.

So we can ask our … well … many questions.

And try to understand what means to follow Jesus.

Let’s start with what brings Nicodemus to Jesus.

Let’s set the scene.

Jesus has been baptized, gathered some disciples, prevented a wedding disaster at Cana, and threw some rascals out of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Along the way he has taught many lessons about God and performed many “signs” to back up his authority.

One group of people who have been watching Jesus are the Pharisees.

Some of the Pharisees are religious rules of the people, teachers of Israel and members of the Sanhedrin.

Which brings us to our text.

It is night.

Jesus is done for the day.

Maybe hanging out with his disciples around a fire.

There is a rustle in the bushes and out of the darkness steps Nicodemus.

He is a Pharisee.

They can see by the way he is dressed.

Maybe Nicodemus saunters over to Jesus and asks if he might have a word with Jesus in private.

“Certainly”, Jesus says, and off they go to be alone.

Nicodemus is prepared for some type of debate and uses a rhetorical tool to begin the conversation.

He compliments Jesus.

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.

Jesus is thus described as a divinely gifted teacher as is evidenced by these signs of yours.

But Jesus does not seem to be interested in pleasantries.

He gets to the point.

“Why are you here Nicodemus?

Are you trying to understand who I am?

Well, here is what you need to know if you want to understand:

‘[N]o one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’”

So now we need to digress.

This is the passage where we get the term “born again”.

The Greek word translated as “again” is “anothen”.

It has several meanings.

Born again.

Born anew.

Or as the NRSV translates it: Born from above.

There is no single English word that includes all of these.

But the Greek word does and is intended to include all of these concepts in one word.

Each has its own nuance but the word must be understood as including all.

None is preferred, but only one can be selected for translation purposes.

The others are invariably in footnote.

Back to Nicodemus.

When Jesus describes this “rebirth”, he seems to be describing an event of time and place.

The time is when someone encounters Jesus.

The place is from where the new birth comes – from above!

The result of this rebirth is a new way of life.

It’s an illustration.

A metaphor.

Nicodemus misses it.

“Born again?

What?

How does that work?

I’m an old man.

How can my mother give birth to me again?”

So, Jesus responds.

“OK. Let’s try this.

It’s not a real birth, Nicodemus.

It’s kind of like at my baptism.

I was taken into the water and when I came up, the spirit of God came from heaven and rested on me – and stayed.

It started a new way of life for me.

My ministry.

That is what the rebirth is like.

The Spirit of God descends on you and your life becomes new.

And by the way, Nicodemus,” Jesus seems to say, “if you find this difficult to comprehend, don’t feel bad.

This spirit of God is like the wind.

It’s everywhere.

It touches everyone.

It can’t be controlled.

You can feel its presence, but you can’t predict what it will do.

But you can see the result.

Changed lives.

Lives that go in unexpected directions and do unanticipated things.

How does it work?

It is a mystery, Nicodemus.

Get over it.

But when it does touch you, you understand who I am.

I am the Kingdom of God.

Do you see the Kingdom, Nicodemus?

It is right here in front of you.

Talking to you.”

Nicodemus is still having trouble understanding.

“How can these things be?”

You can almost picture Nicodemus with his hands open in front of him, eyes wide, maybe shaking his head.

“I just don’t get it, Jesus!”

Jesus tries again.

Jesus starts with a rebuke.

“Aren’t you a teacher of Israel?

Why aren’t you getting this?

Just be silent and listen.

This is who I am and why I’m here, Nicodemus.

I am the one from God.

You said so.

It’s like this story you know well.

[J]ust 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.

That is who I am, Nicodemus.

I am the one to be lifted up.

I am the testimony of God’s love.

‘For God so loved the world [cosmos, Nicodemus – everything and everyone] that he gave [yes Nicodemus, I am a gift] his only Son, [that’s me Nicodemus,] so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

There it is Nicodemus.

Believing in me is like looking at the snake.

Look at the snake and live.

Believe in me and live.

And your life will be an eternal one.

I know what you are thinking, Nicodemus.

What’s eternal life?

God’s the only eternal thing, right?

Eternal life is living God’s life.

You start that the moment you start living it.

Now you are thinking, what does it mean to believe?

How do I believe?

Belief is not entirely mental.

It’s mainly physical.

It is something you do.

Feed the hungry.

Clothe the naked.

House the homeless.

Welcome the stranger.

Care for the sick.

Visit the jailed.

It depicts a sacrificial love for everyone.

Like mine, Nicodemus.

God so loves you that I will die in your place to save your life.

That’s God’s way.

It’s, my way, Nicodemus.

I am a light shining.

Lighting the way to God.

It enlightens God’s life.

Some come to the light.

Some don’t.

Those who do are reborn and live changed lives.

Those who don’t, well, they don’t.

That is who I am and why I am here.

I am that light.

Live the way I live, and you will live.

Living in the light means you are living the way I live.

My way.

Others do none of these things.

It’s their choice.

If you choose to live in the darkness, that is your choice.

You have judged yourself.

Condemnation comes from you, not me.

I came to save everyone.

Everyone who wants to be saved.”

So, what does Nicodemus choose?

John says nothing here, but we do see Nicodemus again.

We see him next when the Pharisees of the Temple accuse Jesus of being false prophet.

Nicodemus defends Jesus and demands that the Pharisees hear Jesus out before they judge him.

Last, we see Nicodemus after the crucifixion.

With Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus prepares Jesus for burial and puts Jesus in the tomb.

What do we make of this?

I read it that Nicodemus encountered Jesus, chose to live in the light, defended it, and loved it.

And was reborn into the Kingdom.

So what does all this mean for us?

We are all like Nicodemus at first.

We have an encounter with Jesus, most of us in private – no alter calls in the PCUSA, right?

We want to know who he is, why he came and what it means for us.

Jesus’ response is the same.

Feel the presence of the spirit.

Choose to live in the light.

Live in the light and be reborn, born again, born anew, born from above.

See the Kingdom right now.

Be part of the kingdom right now.

Start God’s life right now.

The choice is yours.”

But now I must digress.

The events of this week cry out.

Seventeen students and teachers killed in Parkland, Florida.

This is a terrible and awful thing.

Theologians call this theodicy.

I have preached and taught on it so often I am frankly tired of having to do so.

Why do bad things happen to innocent people?

Why do terrible things like this happen in a redeemed world?

Well, it’s like this.

While we are redeemed, we are still broken.

There is still darkness.

And there are those who choose it.

And live in it.

And act out of it.

Why they make that choice, we cannot know.

It is a mystery.

All I can say is that Jesus offers a way out of the darkness, for anyone who chooses it.

To live in the light – to live the Jesus way.

God’s way.

And live.

Believe it.

Pray with me please.

Lord God,

We are tired. We are so tired of the darkness we see all around us. We confess that we contribute our share to it. We want creation to be reborn as a whole so that all the darkness is scattered. Lord, send your spirit again into this dark world to enlighten us and encourage us to change our lives so that we live your way, the Jesus way. Help us to enlighten others so that they, too can leave the darkness and enter your light, so that the world can be as you would have it, redeemed and reconciled to you. Amen

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

Back in the late 60s and early 70s there was something called “The Jesus Movement”. It started on the west coast of the United States and eventually spread internationally. The people who were part of the movement called themselves “Jesus People” and later “Jesus Freaks”. The general theology of the movement was one of evangelism and the understanding that there was only “one way” to live (words usually uttered with the index finger pointed upward). This movement also spawned what we call today “contemporary Christian music” (which we still call “contemporary” even though many of the songs are now decades old). I was a witness to the movement in Edinboro, PA where I spent my high school summers. When I showed up one summer, a bunch of my summer friends were hanging out at a “prayer meeting house”, wearing big wooden crosses and carrying Bibles. This was a shock to me because they had never admitted to being religious in years past. It was from them that I began hearing the words “born again” in a way I had never heard before. There was something that I had to do, apparently, to be born again and only if I was born again would I be saved and go to heaven. Since that time, I have learned that the theology of this evangelism is not far off the mark (though I do take issue with its exclusionary nature). But yet my “born once” Presbyterian mother was wary of those “born agains”, a term she did not intend to be all that affirming. Where do we get the term “born again”? It comes from a private conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that to see the Kingdom of God one must be “born again” (at least that is how it is stated in some, but not all, translations). Nicodemus is confused, and Jesus explains. This episode in the Gospel of John is one of those where Jesus has a private conversation with an individual, rather than preaching to a large crowd. What might that be like? This Sunday we start a four-part Lenten Sermon Series that will look at four such private encounters, so we can see how Jesus can touch individual lives … well … individually. This week Pastor Jeff will preach “Nicodemus” based on John 3: 1-17. Come and hear about it at John McMillan Presbyterian Church at 8:30 and 11.

A New Way, A New Day: Thoughts on the barriers Jesus broke.

Mark 2: 13-22

13 Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ 19Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

21 ‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’

Well, its Super Bowl Sunday.

Time to reminisce a bit about our favorite team that is not playing.

The Pittsburgh Steelers.

Purchased by Art Rooney in 1933, the Steelers were rarely a winning team.

They did not have a winning record until 1942.

They did not have a playoff game until 1947, which they lost 21-0 to the Eagles.

They would not return to the playoffs for 25 years.

That would be 1972, or course.

That was followed by four Super Bowl Championships, twice back to back, from 1974-1979.

What changed?

Chuck Noll became the coach in 1969.

When Noll showed up several things happened.

First, Noll was in charge of the draft.

From 1969 to 1974 he drafted Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.

Not too shabby.

But what might have been more important, he brought a new way of coaching.

Rocky Bleier put it this way:

Chuck loved teaching moments, but he wasn’t an orator or a motivator. Chuck would say, “It’s not my job to hold your hand. It’s my job to take motivated people and show them how to become better.”

And what made people better?

Good habits.

Bleier again:

[Noll said] habits are created every day in practice, and they carry over to the game … In the third and fourth quarter, you don’t think; you react.

When Noll died, Art Rooney II  said this;

“Chuck knew where he was, where he was going, where he wanted to go and how to do it. He had a very, very strong moral compass.”

Noll showed up in 1969 and there was a new authority in charge.

A new sheriff in town.

It was a new day.

A new way.

And Steeler Nation was born.

Which, interestingly enough, is what Jesus did.

He was the new authority in charge.

The new sheriff in town.

The one bringing a new day.

A new way.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been following Mark’s description of Jesus’ early ministry.

Jesus was breaking down barriers.

We saw Jesus touch and heal a leper and so get rid of the idea that old ritualistic rules determined a person’s status in the community.

We saw Jesus forgive a man’s sins and so reject the authority of religious leaders in the Temple stand between God and humanity.

And now we see Jesus welcome even the most despised folks into his family of disciples!

Levi, the tax collector.

Again, Jesus is casting off the old ways of discrimination for the new ways of inclusion.

Jesus is not revising the ancient laws, he is announcing they no longer apply.

And then he tells us to celebrate.

A new sheriff in town indeed!

That is the lesson of today’s text.

Jesus breaks down the barriers.

It’s a new day.

It’s a new way.

So, let’s take is scene by scene.

Scene 1.

Jesus is out walking along the shore in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee.

Maybe right after the paralytic was healed.

The whole crowd was with him and he was still teaching.

He comes across a toll collector sitting in his booth.

Levi.

This guy was the lowest of the low.

Levi would have “leased” his toll booth from the Romans by paying up front the annual tolls he was expected to collect.

He would then charge whatever he wanted and keep any excess.

Like driving on the turnpike and having the toll collector decide what you owe based on the kind of car you drive.

It was little better than theft.

Toll collectors were considered so untrustworthy that they were not permitted to testify in a court proceeding.

On top of that, Levi would have been considered a traitor to Israel because he was collaborating with the Romans.

This guy was ritually unclean and a social pariah.

So what does Jesus do?

He asks Levi to become a disciple.

And guess what.

Levi does.

Can you imagine what the folks were saying?

Levi?

The tax collector?

Scene 2.

Jesus is having dinner with tax collectors, “sinners” (moral reprobates, impure Jews or Gentiles), and his many disciples.

At Levi’s house.

It is not just sharing a meal, it’s a dinner party!

A celebratory or ceremonial meal.

Maybe toasts.

Speeches.

A welcome banquet for Levi?

A celebration of the new way?

Scene 3.

Around the perimeter of the gathering, there are scribes, likely sent by the Pharisees to keep an eye on Jesus.

It is unclear whether they have been invited to the dinner or just watch from afar.

But this we know, they are puzzled.

They have a question for some disciples nearby.

If Jesus is a good Jew, why would he eat with these depraved people?

Jesus overhears the question.

I have this image of him raising his eyes and muttering, “Are we back to that again?”

“How can I get them to understand?”

Scene 4.

Jesus speaks.

‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

An interesting turn of a phrase.

How would the scribes interpret this?

My professor and friend Bonnie Thurston, puts it this way:

Those who have no need for a doctor, the righteous, are those who keep the law, and are already in in a proper relationship with God.

Those folks don’t need Jesus.

Those who do have need for a doctor, the sinners, are those who don’t or can’t keep the law, and are the ones Jesus has come to call back to God.

Those folks really do need Jesus.

Which are you, you scribes?

Either way, you are all welcome here.

I take everyone, Jesus says.

Even these … what you call … corrupt folks.

That is the new way.

In God’s Kingdom, God’s table is open to all, regardless of class, religious identity or purity status.

Scene 5.

Jesus is approached by another group with a challenge.

The Pharisees fast and John’s disciples fast, but Jesus and his disciples have dinner parties!

“What’s with that?”

First, we need to understand a bit about fasting for the Pharisees and disciples of John.

These people were what Gary Charles calls members of renewal movements.

Folks who were waiting for the initiation of God’s reign.

You know, the Messiah.

They fasted (from more than just food) to purify themselves in anticipation of God’s reign.

Maybe they thought they could make it happen sooner.

Or maybe they just wanted to be ready.

If that is why people fasted, why would Jesus disciples fast?

There was no need.

The reign of God had come.

Jesus, the Messiah, was right there.

Its not time to fast, its time to feast!

Its kind of like the bridegroom at the wedding feast.

While the happy couple is there, it is joy and celebration.

Only when they depart is there any reason to stop the celebration.

If Jesus is the bridegroom, it’s time to feast!

Everyone should keep celebrating until Jesus is gone … which will happen soon enough, buy the way.

That is how Levi can become a disciple!

And why we should celebrate.

Its how we become disciples, too.

Everyone is welcome into the Kingdom of God.

It is here right now.

God was near.

God was here.

His name is Jesus.

There was indeed a new sheriff in town.

And we should all celebrate!

We should celebrate God’s presence In Jesus.

We should celebrate Levi’s discipleship.

We should celebrate everyone’s discipleship.

This is the new way!

And this new way does not fit into the old ways.

Jesus’ new way tears apart the old ways.

Just like a new patch on an old shirt or new wine in an old wineskin do not work, we need understand Jesus as the new covenant God offers.

We need to move on from the old covenant and move into the new.

Jesus came to take motivated people, like us, and show them, and us, how to become better.

This is why we read this text in the season of Epiphany.

This is a new revelation from God!

This is a new revelation of God!

It is indeed a new day, and a new way.

And we acknowledge this new covenant at this table.

The table where Jesus eats with all of us.

Tax collectors.

Sinners.

Scribes.

Disciples.

Us.

Just as we announce here at before communion:

Come to this table, those who have much faith and those who want more.

Come to this table those who have been here often, and those who have not been here for a long time.

Come to this table, those who have tried to follow Jesus and like the rest of us have so often failed.

Come tax collectors, sinners, scribes and disciples.

Come all of you.

Jesus welcomes you to his table, to celebrate, and remember.

It really is a new day.

It really  is a new way.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

I am reading a book called Brunch is Hell: How to Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party. It is based on a podcast called the “Dinner Party Download”. The book’s premise is that the world is going to hell in a handbasket because we don’t do dinner parties anymore … we go to brunch. What’s wrong with brunch? Several things according to the authors. The principal problems with brunch on my list (other than it intrudes on the middle of your day and often eliminates any further activity for the remainder of it due to plummeting sugar levels in the blood stream) stem from the fact that the entire event takes place in public. Because of this, we become self-conscious about what we talk about and reserved about how we talk about it. Similarly, the public nature of the event eliminates any concept of community because there are so many strangers around us who, frankly, want nothing to do with us (and OK, maybe we want nothing to do with them, too). Meanwhile, the dinner party is a communal affair, the conversation is open and spontaneous and, yes, sometimes loud. The group functions as a community because there is a sense of belonging (you either invited or were invited) as well as grace (you are accepted with all your faults and faulty opinions regardless of how loud you proclaim them).

So, what does this have to do with our text for this week?

Well, Jesus is part of a dinner party. One of the folks invited probably does not get invited to many dinner parties because of what he does for a living, and his acceptance of the invitation seems to result in a bit of celebration (and no doubt interesting and spirited conversation). It also gets some tongues wagging about the propriety of it all and that is when Jesus tells folks that the old way is over, and the new way has begun. A lesson about fasting and feasting as combining old and new. What is the old way? What is the new way? What is Jesus trying to teach us? Come and hear about it Sunday, February 4 at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff Preaches “A New Day, A New Way” based on Mark 2: 13-22. Come and join the conversation.

Healed! Thoughts on how Jesus proves his authority.

Mark 2: 1-12

2When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Back when I was practicing law and trying cases I was often amused by my observations of the jury during the trial.

You need to understand the set up.

The judge sits up front behind a high desk.

The jury sits in a box either to the left or right of the judge, with the witness stand between judge and jury.

The lawyers and their clients sit behind tables out front; the plaintiff close to the jury and the defense away from the jury.

I could watch the jury from my table.

The jury’s job is to watch and listen and then make a decision of some kind in the end.

They are the audience.

I could see their reactions to the drama unfolding in front of them.

Questions are asked.

Answered are given.

Evidence submitted.

Legal arguments made.

Their eyes were always moving.

They look at the lawyer when she speaks.

They look at the witness when he speaks.

They look at the judge when she speaks.

You can tell when they are bored.

You can tell when they are engaged.

You can tell when something happens that catches their attention.

You can tell when they understand what you want them to understand.

It was my task to make sure they were engaged when I was speaking.

How do lawyers do that?

There are many ways.

But the most important is to know your message and be ready to proclaim it any chance you get.

Under whatever circumstances you are given.

Someone says something or does something and you immediately say:

“See, that proves my point!”

Which brings us to today’s text.

Another miraculous healing, right?

Well, in part.

As I have said, most, if not all, miraculous healing stories in the Bible are reported not to demonstrate the power of God, although they do, but as illustrations of a particular message.

A particular message for a particular audience.

The particular audience looks on, listens and then makes some sort of decision.

Some sort of decision about Jesus.

Who he is.

What authority he has.

This week’s text is a very good example of how Jesus does this.

We can divide this brief text into several scenes.

Scene one:

Jesus is in Capernaum.

At his home base.

A large crowd has gathered to hear what he has to say.

So many that the room is full and there is a crowd around the front door.

Jesus speaks.

He is speaking the “word”.

What word?

Mark is silent.

But Jesus message to this point has been this:

The Time has come … The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The crowd listens.

Scene two:

Down the road come a group of people, four of them carrying a man on a pallet.

He is obviously paralyzed.

They point to the crowd around the door and someone yells, “Jesus must be in there! Let’s go!”

They carry the pallet up to the house and demand to be let in.

They want to take the man to Jesus.

They can’t get through the crowd.

So, they climb up onto the roof and start ripping a hole in it.

Scene three:

Jesus is still speaking.

Suddenly, there part of the ceiling is torn away.

Everyone in the house looks up stunned.

Maybe someone screams.

Then the pallet is lowered into the room.

Dropped on the floor.

Right in front of Jesus.

What the heck?

Jesus knows immediately what is happening.

It takes just a moment for everyone else to understand.

This kind of thing happens to Jesus all the time.

Maybe not quite so dramatically.

Someone wants this guy to be healed and has faith that Jesus can do it.

He’s done it before, right?

And Jesus sees an opportunity, not just to speak his message, but to prove it.

To demonstrate it.

To demonstrate the that the Kingdom of God is near.

In fact, right here.

Jesus.

And he has the authority of God.

How is he going to prove that point?

Well, he sees a bunch of scribes in the room.

The religious authority of the day.

Their job is to make sure folks who want their sins forgiven to come to the temple and make a sacrifice of atonement.

They also think sickness and sin are somehow connected.

They believe this man’s paralysis is a divine punishment for some sin, to be healed, that sin must be forgiven.

So if he wants to be healed, he has to come to them.

Jesus takes a moment to evaluate how he can use this spectacular event to make his point.

And then Jesus acts.

He says to the paralyzed man”

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

And there is silence.

This is … unexpected.

Jesus does not say, “Get up and walk.”

But, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Period.

I have this image of the four who carried this poor soul all the way to Capernaum then up onto and finally down through the roof.

Wide eyed.

Red faced.

“Wait, what?”

“That’s it?”

“Your sins are forgiven?”

“What about the healing?”

“What about the walking?”

The crowd looks back and forth between Jesus and the paralyzed man and the four.

Scene four:

The other side of the room.

Over in the corner.

The scribes have a different problem with all this.

“Wait, what did he say?”

“Sins forgiven?”

“Only God can do that!”

“He’s a blasphemer!”

So, the crowd’s eyes are darting from Jesus to the paralyzed man, to the four who brought him, and now to the scribes.

High drama.

What is going to happen next?

Scene five:

Jesus speaks.

The room becomes silent.

Jesus asks the scribes what their problem is.

“You think I don’t have the authority to forgive his sins?”

“OK, here’s a question:

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?”

The trap has been set.

Jesus knows what they will say.

They will say it would be harder to tell the man to get up and walk.

Because if Jesus can make him walk, and his paralysis is a divine punishment for some sin, then Jesus can wield the divine power of forgiveness as well.

So, they don’t think that any of that is going to happen.

Then Jesus springs his trap.

He tells the scribes – in his best courtroom whisper – the one that allows everyone to hear – that he is about to prove he has the authority from God to forgive sins.

How?

He tells the man to get up and walk, and guess what?

He does.

Boom.

Point made.

Jesus has the authority and power to forgive sin.

Now the “jury” – the crowd – has seen all this.

They are convinced that Jesus not only does Jesus have the authority to forgive sins, he does, not in response to some sacrifice in the Temple overseen by religious officials.

But in response to faith.

This is a powerful message.

One article I read this week put it this way:

Jesus fundamentally challenged the social and religious structures of Israel, demonstrating that YHWH is beyond human control. Clearly, “the Temple and the priesthood that serviced it need no longer be recognized as the way station between God and humans.” Jesus here is assuming not only God’s prerogative, but also priestly duties.

That is what is going on in this story.

Jesus is taking on the religious establishment.

You scribes?

You are out of a job.

That Temple?

No longer necessary.

Jesus is saying, “I have come to change things.”

“No longer are the religious minions in the Temple in charge of your relationship with God.”

“I am.”

“And I am a sin forgiver.”

“I am a soul saver.”

“I make people whole.”

“I have the authority of God.”

It’s game on!

And the crowd?

What do they do?

They were amazed!

Indeed, the Kingdom of God was very near.

Right here in this room!

In the form of Jesus himself.

They believed it glorified God.

Message delivered – and received – and believed.

And that is the message we are to receive from this text, as well.

That Jesus is the Kingdom of God come near.

Come here.

That Jesus has the authority of God to forgive sins.

And does.

Not through some sacrament under the control of religious authorities.

But though faith.

This is amazing.

Something we nave never seen before.

The forgiveness of our sins.

Making us whole.

The kind of healing that we need.

The kind Jesus gives.

Thanks be to God.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

With all due respect to those who sell cars for a living, there is a particular practice that drives me crazy. It looks like this. You go into the showroom with excited anticipation that you are going to buy a new car. Not long after you walk in, a sales representative walks up with a peppy, “Can I help you?” “Yes,” you say, “I’m looking to buy a new car.” You know what you want and know how much you want to spend. You pick one out and then the deal making starts. You sit with the representative and talk price (which is right on the window, but no one seems to pay any attention to that). But the representative has no authority to make the deal. He has to talk to his “manager” every time you ask a new question. Back and forth, back and forth. It seems endless and time wasting. It would be nice if you could just talk to the manager directly, but that is not allowed. You must work through the representative. It is painful. I mean it – painful. Then I read an article about how to get around this sales practice. Find out how much the dealer paid for the car you want, add 2% profit for the dealer and then deduct the Blue Book value of your trade in. Tell them that is what you will pay, take it or leave it. Sure, they will go to the manager, but the “shuttle diplomacy” negotiation is short circuited. I tried it a while back and it worked. I have done it that way ever since. So, what does this have to do with Jesus healing a paralytic? Quite a bit actually. Jesus does this in front of a bunch of religious scribes who think they are the mediators between God and the Jewish people. Jesus, heals the paralytic but also proves Jesus has the power to forgive sins. He does this to teach the scribes a lesson. They are no longer to be mediators between God and humanity. That job belongs to Jesus, who has God’s authority. And all this happens in front of a big crowd. It must have been quite a scene. Come and hear about it Sunday January 28 at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches “Healed!” based on Mark 2: 1-12. We will look forward to seeing you.

Unclean? Thoughts on changes Jesus makes to old rules.

Mark 1: 40-45

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

My Dad was raised as a Christian Scientist.

Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy taught that that sickness is only an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone.

So those folks don’t readily seek medical attention when they are sick.

They pray.

They believe that if we pray hard enough, and often enough, we will be healed of whatever ails us.

Their theology for healing is found in the Bible, right?

People ask Jesus to be healed, and he does it, right?

Maybe not.

When we see a “miraculous” healing in the Bible, it typically teaches a lesson.

And the lesson is never that the person “deserved” to be healed.

That would imply that if someone did not get healed, they did not deserve it.

That is not good theology.

That is never Jesus’ lesson.

There is always something else going on.

Some other lesson to be learned.

We see that today.

Today’s text seems like a healing story, right?

Pretty simple.

Approached by a leper who asks to be healed, Jesus heals him.

The newly healed man proclaims the miracle of his healing to everyone he knows, even though Jesus tells him not to.

He’s just too amazed and happy to keep it to himself.

Jesus has the power to heal!

Is that the lesson?

Jesus has the power to heal?

In part, maybe.

But there is far more here than meets the eye.

First a bit of background.

Jesus has been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, went into Galilee and preached that the Kingdom of God has come near.

Jesus has called his disciples.

He has cast out a demon in a synagogue and healed many at Peter’s house.

And then continued his preaching tour.

People are asking questions.

By whose authority does he do these things?

But now something even more remarkable.

Jesus starts to change the rules.

Which brings us to today’s text.

Jesus comes upon a leper.

In the middle of nowhere.

Where else would Jesus meet a leper?

That’s the only place one could find a leper.

To really know what Jesus does here, we need to hear a bit about leprosy as it was understood in Jesus day.

Leprosy was a generic term for diseases of the skin that caused scaly or inflamed lesions.

It was understood by the medical community of the day to be a therapeutic evacuation of bodily fluids that are out of balance.

Or the effect of some environmental factor like a skin infection or allergic reaction.

It might or might not be harmful to either the “leper” and might or might not be contagious.

But socially and ritually, it was devastating.

Listen to Leviticus 13: 45-46

45 The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

So, there you have it.

The mere fact a person has the condition makes that person “untouchable” and it is the “unclean” nature of the disease that folks fear.

Why?

It’s not clear.

Maybe it was believed that the disease was God’s punishment for sin.

Don’t want any sinners around, right?

Or maybe that it was just contagious.

It reminds me of the days on the wrestling team.

Our “leprosy” was impetigo.

Get that and you were banished until a doctor certified you clean.

Here is an interesting theory I read this week.

The skin lesions were basically areas of dead skin.

Dead things were considered unclean.

You know what else was considered unclean?

Things of different quality being mixed with each other.

Beware the cotton/polyester blend.

So, a living person with dead skin was unclean for both reasons.

The presence of death on their skin and the mixing of living and dead skin.

But why are lepers banished and people with … say … the flu, aren’t?

Leviticus is silent on it.

But we do know that this passage from Leviticus is part of the “Holiness Code”.

Rules set down by God that Israel was required to follow in order to remain a “holy” nation; set apart by God to reconcile the nations to God.

It’s an illustration of why some nations are not part of the “chosen”.

If a nation is unclean because of idolatry or some other “leprosy”, Israel was not to have anything to do with that nation.

The consequence of that illustration is played out in our scripture reading.

If you had a skin disease of some kind, whatever the cause, you were “ritually” unclean.

Not really unclean … ritually unclean.

You were unwelcomed in the Temple and anywhere else in the community for that matter.

To touch someone who is ritually unclean, even by accident renders the one who does the touching ritually unclean as well.

Ritually contagious, I guess.

And so, to avoid that possibility, an unclean person is banished.

Until they could prove they were no longer unclean.

That is the background.

Now to our text.

Here is our leper.

What ails him is unknown but whatever it is, he is unclean and banished from his community.

With all due respect to Mary Baker Eddy, I don’t think this fellow looks at his condition as an illusion.

He is now isolated and unwelcome.

He is “untouchable”.

Here comes Jesus.

His reputation precedes him.

He is a “healer”.

Jesus has healed many and now is approached by this man who kneels before him and says:

‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 

Which is an interesting request.

Not, “If you choose, you can heal me.”

‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 

He does not want to be healed, he wants to be clean.

So he can go home.

How does Jesus respond?

The NRSV says Jesus was “moved with pity”.

There are manuscripts of Mark with a different word for what motivated Jesus in this story.

They say, when approached by the leper, Jesus was moved or filled with anger.

That Jesus was motivated by anger is consistent with Jesus’ later “stern warning” to the leper that he is not to tell anyone that Jesus has healed him.

A better way to translate Jesus’ “stern warning” is to say that Jesus “snorted” at him, sending him away to the priests for his “certificate of cleanliness” and ordering him not tell anyone what had happened.

So, if we accept all this, it is safe to say that throughout this short story, Jesus is … well … irritated.

Why would Jesus be angry?

Maybe this.

Leviticus was written somewhere between 330 and 700 years before Jesus was born.

That’s a long time.

The understanding of “leprosy” had changed.

It was just an illness.

But it remained stigmatized by this ancient text.

But if the purpose of the text was to teach Israel how to keep itself “holy” and to stay separate from the world , how does the treatment of this man do that?.

This poor soul had been barred from his community not because he was sick, but because Leviticus required it.

It was this stigma that many believe made Jesus angry.

Hadn’t Jesus had come to replace and fulfill the purpose of Israel?

You bet.

So this man was suffering because of an obsolete religious tenet, made obsolete by Jesus himself.

Then there was this.

The diagnosis of the “leprosy” was made by a priest.

It was not a medical diagnosis, but a religious diagnosis.

A ritual diagnosis.

The person was unclean and was to be isolated until the person was declared “clean”.

The certification of cleanliness was also made by a priest.

Which means that until a healed “leper” can find a priest, he or she will remain ceremonially impure and unwelcome in the community.

So even if Jesus heals him of his leprosy, the man remains unclean until a priest certifies him as clean.

Maybe that’s why the man asked only to be made clean.

He wanted Jesus to certify his cleanliness!

Maybe that is also why Jesus snorts about the need to go and see the priest.

Jesus was being a bit sarcastic.

Jesus cured him, but the priests were in charge of “ritual cleanliness”, not Jesus.

I suspect the man understood what was happening because he does not go to the priests, but goes and tells everyone that Jesus has made him clean by TOUCHING HIM!

Oops.

Now everyone who heard the former (but not yet certified clean) leper, knew Jesus had touched him.

So now Jesus is unclean and no longer allowed in the towns.

OK, so this is a lot of background.

What does this healing story mean to us?

It means this:

Jesus changes things.

God so loved the world that God was willing to reach out, touch us all and make us clean.

Not ritually.

Really.

No longer are people to be unwelcome or untouchable or rejected just because an old, obsolete religious tenet says so.

Jesus welcomes everyone.

Now we must do the same.

Even if it means we have to touch them.

Even when some of them make us uncomfortable.

Even when we would rather not have them around.

How do I know that is why Mark tells this story?

Jesus knew Leviticus.

He knew this man was untouchable.

He knew that the only way the man would be welcome back into his community was to go to a priest.

Jesus knew that if he touched this man he, Jesus, would become unclean and so would not be able to go into the towns and cities.

Yet Jesus touches this man and makes him clean and so reunites this man with his kin and community.

In order to do so, Jesus takes on the man’s uncleanliness.

Does this sound familiar?

The consequence here is that Jesus becomes ceremonially unclean, and cannot go into any town openly.

Because everyone knew he touched a leper.

So the people come to Jesus.

Maybe because they heard Jesus was unconcerned with ritual and more concerned with community.

To teach the Good News that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to wipe away all the uncleanliness, and welcome everyone into the presence of God.

Ritual was no longer the way.

It was a barrier.

Jesus was the way.

And he broke down barriers.

Things had changed indeed.

As Pastor Gary Charles puts it:

In a perilous act of solidarity, instead of confirming the man’s exclusion by shunning him, Jesus reaches out and symbolically draws him in. He shatters the traditional boundaries of purity and in the process, rewrites the book on the nature of God’s beloved community.

That is what Jesus did for all of us.

Jesus came to reach out to us and draw us into his community – despite our uncleanliness.

To take our uncleanliness on himself.

To heal us.

To make us clean.

This text is not about healing.

It is about breaking down barriers.

More from Gary Charles.

“Disciples of Jesus are called to break down all barriers – religious, social, economic, political – between human need and God’s liberating mercy.”

The barrier Jesus broke down was between this man’s need to be reunited with his community and the religious tenet that he was not welcome.

What are the barriers we might be called to break down?

What human needs are being blocked from God’s liberating mercy?

Who can say?

There are many and they are complex.

But one way we break down the barriers is generic.

We reach out to all people who are in need.

The hungry.

The thirsty.

The naked.

The homeless.

The strangers.

The sick.

The persecuted.

The unclean.

We reach out and touch them.

And bring them into God’s community.

That is the lesson in the healing of this leper.

He deserved Jesus’ healing touch no more or no less that anyone else.

But Jesus met his human need for reconciliation with his family by breaking down an old ritual that no longer had meaning.

We must do the same.

If you know someone who can use a bit of healing, cleansing or community, reach out, touch them and draw them here.

Be the healed one.

Be the cleansed one.

Break down a barrier.

And bring them to Jesus.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church

In the movie Papillon, the main character is trying to escape from a French prison. He is given sanctuary in a leper colony. The leader of the leper colony meets with Papillon to discuss Papillon’s predicament. The leper leader is smoking a cigar. He hands the cigar to Papillon and tells him to take a few puffs. Papillon is at first put off because to touch the cigar – with his lips no less – will likely transmit the dreaded disease to Papillon. Yet he takes the cigar and puffs away. The leper then asks Papillon, how he knew the strain of leprosy the leper had was not contagious. Papillon replies that he didn’t know. He was just that desperate for help. Papillon would rather have leprosy and be free. This is a bit of a reversal of the story we hear in Mark 1 where we find Jesus healing a leper. The leper appears desperate for help. He asks Jesus to make him “clean”. Jesus does, by touching he leper. Did Jesus know the “leprosy” was not contagious? Maybe, but the fact remains that when Jesus touched the man, Jesus was rendered unclean as well. Jesus was willing to risk leprosy so this man could be free of an inapplicable religious tradition. Because it was not the contagious nature of the disease that rendered the leper unclean, but a religious tradition from ancient times. A religious tradition Jesus thus rejected. What does this rather short story in Mark mean to us in 2018? Come and hear about it on Sunday, January 21 at 8:30 and 11 at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff preaches “Be Clean” based on Mark 1: 40-45. See you then!

Follow Me: Thoughts on introducing people to Jesus.

John 1: 35-51

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?’ 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And 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.’

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas Eve service is the candle lighting.

We get our light from the Christ candle and share it with others.

We see how one candle lights the next and the next and the next until the entire room is filled with light.

That is how Christ’s light shines forth in the darkness and the darkness is scattered.

At our staff meeting this week we likened that effect to something going viral on social media.

Someone posts something and it is seen by another.

Another person who sees it “likes” it and shares it with others.

There is a geometric progression as more and more people react to the initial post until it is seen and liked by maybe millions.

Making something go viral has become an artform.

A science.

It’s attempted by politicians, athletes, entertainers and high school kids.

With Jesus, though his progression was a bit slower.

After all it was just by word of mouth.

People met Jesus and then introduced others to him.

We see how that worked in today’s text.

Jesus has just been baptized by John.

It is time for him to get started on his ministry.

But Jesus is alone, at first.

Not for long!

Jesus almost immediately starts gathering disciples.

In the text, we see four different scenes of people becoming disciples of Jesus.

Scene 1.

John who is still baptizing in the Jordan, points Jesus out to two of his own followers and says:

“That’s the guy you need to follow now.

He is the Lamb of God!”

So, they do.

But at a distance.

Then Jesus turns and asks them an interesting question.

“What are you looking for?”

I have this vision of these two looking like deer in headlights.

Busted!

“Um … where are you staying?”

Jesus just smiles.

“Come and see!”

They do.

They talk all day.

I have no idea what they talked about.

John does not say.

But at the end of it, they knew Jesus was what they were looking for.

Lamb of God.

Rabbi.

And they never leave.

Scene 2.

One of John’s disciples was Andrew.

He had a brother named Simon.

Andrew went and got Simon and took him to meet Jesus.

Jesus called him Peter.

I have no idea what they talked about.

John does not say.

But at the end of it, Peter knew Jesus was what he was looking for.

Messiah.

He never left either.

Scene 3.

Jesus meets Phillip.

The text is unclear about how that happened.

Peter might have introduced Philip to Jesus.

That would be consistent with John’s theme that people bring others to meet Jesus.

Regardless, I have no idea what they talked about.

John does not say.

But at the end of it, Philip knew Jesus was what he was looking for.

The one about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote.

And Philip stayed.

Scene 4.

Philip goes to tell his brother Nathanael about Jesus.

And we hear the first bit of skepticism.

Actually, a bit of hostility!

“Jesus?

From Nazareth?

Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Why would I want to have anything to do with someone from there?”

Now we do hear the conversation.

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’

Jesus somehow knows Nathanael, what he is looking for and how Jesus satisfied that need.

Rabbi.

Son of God.

King of Israel.

And Nathanael stays, too.

If you think about it, each one of these encounters involves a two step process.

First, someone introduces another to Jesus.

That is our job.

Second, Jesus convinces the person to stay.

That is not our job.

That is Jesus’ job.

So, our job is to introduce.

And if you use our text as a guide, it is really not hard.

What do we say?

No grand theological statements.

No logical arguments.

Just three words.

Come and see.

Maybe they’ll come.

Maybe they won’t.

But notice that when the invitation to come and see is offered, there is a sense of anticipation and joy.

“Come and find what you are looking for!”

“Here is what we do.”

“Here is what I like best about Jesus.”

“That is why you should come.”

We need to be upbeat, like John and Andrew and Philip.

Because there might be some Nathanael-like skepticism.

Maybe some hostility.

Folks who respond to our invitation to learn about Jesus with, “Can anything good come out of the church?”

Or, “Why would I want to have anything to do with Christianity?”

Why would people respond that way?

We kind of have that reputation.

It looks a bit like these examples I read in the past.

After a service of ordination to the ministry, a woman came up to the newly-ordained pastor and said, “It’s a grand thing you are doing as a young man – giving up the joys of life to serve the Lord.”

People believe that to be Christian means that all the joy must be taken out of life.

In an old Doonesbury cartoon, an officer is standing by the bedside of a Navy sailor who is in sick bay aboard a cruiser.

The officer says, “We’ve got you scheduled for surgery at four bells tomorrow! Your surgeon will be Commander Torres.”

As he leaves the officer says, “Well, take care, sport. I’ll see you tonight during rounds.”

The sailor is puzzled and says to the officer, “What exactly do you do here?”

The officer replies, “I’m ship’s morale officer.”

And wide-eyed, the sailor says, “You mean, a … a chaplain?”

And the officer replies, “No. No. I really do cheer people up!”

That is what people think of us.

They, like Nathanael, ask:

“Can anything good come out of a church?”

Our answer must be an enthusiastic “yes”.

You bet!

Come and see!

Pastor David Lose on his blog “… in the meantime” said this:

Come and see.

Such easy, warm, and hospitable words. The heart not only of John’s Gospel but Christian evangelism, as we are called not to cram our faith down another’s throat or question their eternal destiny or threaten them with hellfire, but instead simply to offer an invitation to come and see … what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the community of disciples who have chosen to follow him.

And leave the rest to Jesus.

That’s the second part.

People show up and Jesus asks his question.

What are you looking for?

That is a very thought-provoking question!

It is almost existential.

Because everyone is looking for something, right?

Something that will give life meaning or purpose or value.

Something that will comfort or heal.

Maybe something beyond themselves.

Something spiritual.

Fredric Schleiermacher called it “A taste of the infinite”.

That’s one of my favorites.

A taste of the infinite.

But there are many other things people are looking for that Jesus might be able to satisfy.

Jesus is asking if what we are looking for what it is Jesus offers.

“Am I what you are looking for?”

“Who do you think I am?”

“Who do you want me to be?”

There are many roles Jesus fills.

Look at the names we see in this passage.

Lamb of God.

Rabbi.

Messiah.

The one about whom Moses and the prophets spoke.

Son of God.

King of Israel.

So, when Jesus asks the question, the answer might be a bit different for each one of us.

For each person we introduce.

That is what makes Jesus so attractive.

He meets folks where they need him to be in a way they need him to be.

And it might be a bit different from what we sought and found.

That is why we let Jesus take it from the introduction.

Jesus knows what they need.

What they are looking for.

Here are some examples of what that might look like.

Back in the early 90’s, my friend and pastor, Graham Robinson challenged a group of us to read the Bible from cover to cover in a year.

We met once a month to talk about what we were experiencing.

We did not talk about what the text meant, but how it was affecting us.

Suddenly, everything made a little more sense to me.

The world a bit easier to understand.

I found out that Jesus was what I was looking for.

Comfort.

Here is another example.

I knew a woman some years ago who was the best evangelist I ever saw.

More people came to church because of her than you can imagine.

Her method?

Every time someone moved in on her street, she asked them:

“Are you looking for a church?

You should check out mine.

If you are interested I can meet you there Sunday and show you around.”

Not everyone accepted, but many did.

I have no idea what they found.

It is not for me to say.

But at the end of it, some of them knew Jesus was what they were looking for.

Rabbi.

One last example.

I have told this story before.

There is a woman I know who is a teacher.

She met with the mother of one of her students who was going through a horrific divorce.

The teacher said to the woman:

“Why don’t you come to church with me Sunday?

I always feel better at church.”

The woman came.

I do have an idea what she experienced.

We talked about it every week for the next year or so as she worked her way through her grief.

Jesus was what she was looking for.

Healer.

Like John, Andrew and Peter, we just invite folks to come and see.

Let Jesus take it from there.

And they will stay.

This is how Jesus goes viral.

Come and see.