On the Sudden Passing of a Saint…

She was here last week, as she had been every other week before that.

She was old school in that way.
Church wasn’t a side show in her life – it was her family away from family, her community, her tribe.
That’s why she lived here alone with no blood relatives near by.

She loved us.
And we loved her.

“Didn’t your heart burn within you when the preacher preached today?”
Those were the words she would say to me on her way out of church on the days when her heart had been stirred by the words I had preached.
They were the words she had heard within her own family of origin.
I can’t remember whether it was her father, her grandfather or an uncle in her family…
…but those were the words she had heard when she was young; the words she would use to affirm a good sermon.

She loved us.
And we loved her.

And she could sing. Good Lord, but she could sing!
Each word, each note ringing out from somewhere deep.
Each word, each note telling some of the story of her people.
Each word, each note singing out in praise to God.

She loved God.
And God loved her.

She could sing on her own and lead the church in song:
“His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
“Glory, glory, hallelujah! Since I laid my burdens down.”
Each time she stepped up we knew we were in for a treat; a holy moment.

She loved us.
And we loved her.

She could sing in the choir too.
Our choir. Her choir.
That special group of people committed to each other;
Meeting, praying, and singing together every single week.

She loved them.
And they loved her.

And she could sing in the congregation.
She raised her voice alongside the people of her tribe.
And so many times, at just the right moment,
When the tribe needed to know that the words they were singing were deep, and meaningful and true…
*CLAP, CLAP, CLAP*
She would clap her hands in praise.
She would clap her hands to tell her people to sing louder; to lift their praise higher.

And we would.

She loved us.
And we loved her.

She was a lady among ladies.
Well spoken.
Well dressed. Always immaculately dressed.
Assured in her identity as a daughter of the King of kings.

Faith ran deep within her. So deep.
If you had poked a hole anywhere in her, I am sure that Jesus would have oozed out.

She loved him.
And he loved her.

__________

She is gone from us now.
Such shocking news to hear and share with her tribe in church yesterday.
She is gone from us and will not be coming back.
And that makes us sad. Deeply sad.

__________

But even in the sadness we rejoice.

“To live is Christ and to die is gain!”

That’s the faith story of this tribe.

That was her story.
That was the song she sang among us.
It’s the faith story that gives us such hope.

She is no longer with us, but she is dancing with God now.
She is no longer with us, but she is embracing her beloved daughter who went on ahead of her.
She is no longer with us, but she is clapping her hands and leading the choirs of Heaven
Oh yes! The angels and archangels are singing louder today than they were last week. That’s for sure.
She is no longer with us, but she is in a place where there are no more tears; where there is no more grief and no more broken hearts.
She is no longer with us, but she is with her savior.
In this we rejoice.

And in faith we declare that we will see her and sing with her again. Some day.

Rest in peace, dear, beloved sister in Christ.
We love you and we will miss you.

One remarkably crazy, yet completely courageous moment (5:19-30)

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There are times when we come across a passage of Scripture and find it to be just baffling. Really. It is something I hear all the time from people in conversations: “I have a hard time reading the Bible – it just confuses me. I don’t understand what it is trying to say or what it means…” This is one of those passages. If we come at it cold, and let it stand alone as we read it the chances are that it will be confusing and difficult to understand, let alone apply to our own lives. However, if we take a moment read this passage in the context of the previous 4 chapters, in the context of John’s overall agenda and purpose for writing, and in the context of the 1st century listeners that John was writing for then it starts to make a bit more sense.

Stay with me.

In regard to this passage, William Barclay states: “we must remember that John is not seeking so much to give us the words that jesus spoke as the things that Jesus meant.” Barclay reminds the modern day reader that John is writing this book years after having been with Jesus and as a result he has had time to think through and reflect upon the words Jesus spoke, the actions Jesus took, and the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ life. With years of thinking, experience, wisdom, and of course, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John is seeking to tell his readers not only what Jesus said and did, but more importantly what it all meant.

Imagine for a second that you are reading/hearing this passage as one for whom it was written. This passage is quite literally full of meaning, and for us to grasp that meaning we must do our best to put ourselves in the shoes of the first century Jews who John was primarily writing for. They were different in their background, experiences, and religious understandings than we are. As 21st century Christian people, we have have absolutely no issue with Jesus describing himself as the Son of God. We come at this passage on the back of hundreds of years of trinitarian thought and theology being taught and preached to us and as a result the thought of the Trinity, while complex and mysterious, is easy for us, and the words ‘Father, Son & Holy Spirit’ easily roll off our tongues (whether or not we have any real understanding of ultimate mystery of the Trinity!) This would not have been the case for the first century Jew whose shoes I am asking you to stand in. For the first century Jew, the idea of another human being declaring his or her self to be the Son of God was both preposterous and blasphemous. They did, of course, look forward, with great hope, to the day when the Messiah would be sent and arrive among them, but they looked at it with a similar attitude to me as I look forward with great hope to the day that the hover board (introduced in the Back to the Future movies) becomes a (safe) reality – it is something which is possible, and it is something that i want, but it is in the future and any current expression of it is dangerous and it would be crazy to get on board.

(See what I did there?)

For Jesus to stand there before the local Jewish leaders and explain his actions by speaking of himself as the Son of God was somewhat of a suicide mission. He could indeed be stoned to death for speaking these words of blasphemy.

Listen to a little more of what Barclay says about this passage and the importance of this passage and of understanding it in its context:

“The significance of this passage is hidden to us until we read it against its Jewish background, and until we ask ourselves how it would sound to the Jews who heard it for the first time. To them it would be all at once clear that Jesus was claiming rights that belonged to God alone; that he was declaring that the things which marked the dawn of the age of God had begun to happen; that he was claiming functions and privileges and powers which belonged to the Messiah and no one else. When we really understand the meaning of this passage we see that it is nothing else than a series of deliberate claims to be the Chosen One of God

And when we understand that, this passage becomes not simply a discourse of Jesus. It becomes an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage.”

From the get go John told has told us that this Jesus is the very Word of God; the light of the world come to defiantly shine in the darkness; the Chosen One of God. In this passage John is no longer pointing to this fact by using the words of John the Baptist, or the Samaritan woman at the well. No, John is now letting the words of Jesus himself confirm what John has been stating in the first 4 chapters: that the Messiah who the Jewish world has been waiting for is now among them; that God’s new work of restoration and reconciliation is happening before their very eyes, and it is there for all people to grasp because God, the Father, so loved the world that God’s only Son was given to the world, in love, so that whoever believes in him will not ever perish but will have new and everlasting life.

For the first century Jew there were only two possible responses to this – either believe it and embrace the new life that comes with it, or reject it and in doing so become a hater of Jesus the blasphemer and seek to destroy him. Jesus said as much himself:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”

This is the work of Jesus. This is what he came to do – to enable human beings, all human beings, to cross over from death to life, and to live a new resurrected life beginning here and now and carrying on for eternity.

These claims of Jesus were staggering in their magnitude but nonetheless true. They were true whether or not the first century Jews believed them or not, and they are true also whether you and I believe them or not. The simple question is this: do we believe it?

Today, I hope that these words of Jesus, which seem confusing and complicated at first glance, can begin to be less confusing and complicated for you, my reader.

Today, I hope that these words of Jesus begin to take on a new meaning in your life.

Today, I hope that you receive these words for yourself and that you receive the gift of Christ which invites you to crossover from death and darkness to life and light; which invites you to live in a new way, reconciled with God and reconciling with other humans too.

Today, I hope that you will let go of that which holds you back, and that you will walk freely into your new life with Christ!

I will raise it again in three days…

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The year was 1999, it was September, and I had made my long awaited journey to Sydney, Australia to see my great friend. He had moved there about 5 or six years before. I was excited to see him, hang out, sample Australian culture, see Sydney, and, since I was in the area, I wanted to pop along to Hillsong Church to experience things there. Hillsong had been churning out some pretty amazing worship songs over the preceding decade or so and I wanted to know what it was like on a week by week basis there.

One of the Sunday’s of my trip rolled around and I made my pilgrimage to Hillsong. The experience of the worship service itself was nothing extraordinary. It all seemed to come and go again as any normal service I had known or experienced. In fact, I don’t think i could tell you one single detail about the service if you were to ask me. There is, however, one thing that I do remember quite vividly: my experience of leaving church that day. I do not know for sure if we were herded intentionally through the church store on the way out that day, but I do not remember any other options being available to me as an exit (of course there must have been other exits in the relatively modern building that we were worshipping in!) As I filed my way through the store on my way out of worship I can remember feeling quite disgusted by what appeared to be a focus on merchandising more than anything else. The cash registers were ringing again and again. Quite honestly I felt disheartened by the whole thing. I had come all this way to experience something which i thought was holy, blessed by God, and uniquely making a difference for the Kingdom, and my only lasting memory was one of ringing cash registers and a culture of Christian merchandising. Historians tell us that Martin Luther, when he made his pilgrimage to Rome, was going there with the similar starry-eyed thoughts about what he would see there. Martin Luther was bitterly disappointed in what he found in Rome, and I was bitterly disappointed in what I found in Hillsong, Australia.

I wonder if the table-turning, trader-chasing Jesus also felt that similar disappointment. Whatever emotion and motive was behind Jesus’ Temple outburst – you and I as readers must understand that Christ’s act of rebellion in the Temple Courts was just about the most hell raising act of social disobedience that anyone could have done at the the time. In Jerusalem, for the 1st century Jewish community, the Temple was the centerpiece of EVERY aspect of life: religion and worship, politics, local trade, community celebration, community mourning. There was no more an important place in the life of the community – this fact cannot be understated – and Jesus came in there and literally turned the place upside down!

Why did he do it?
What was so wrong with the Temple scene?
Why does John put it here at the beginning of his gospel when Matthew, Mark & Luke leave the same story to the end sections of their gospels?
What does it all mean for you and me, the readers, as we take this next step in John’s gospel telling journey?

Like I mentioned in my comments yesterday, John is building a story which will include signs and hints along the way regarding what the whole story ultimately points to. In the story of the miracle in Cana, the big point was around transformation – that Jesus can substantially transform one thing into a complete new thing. If the first half of the chapter is about transformation then this second half of chapter two is about the power behind such a transformation – the power of resurrection through which dead things are raised to life.

When Jesus is asked for a sign proving his authority to rebel and act in the manner in which he did, his response was to tell them to tear the Temple down and he would rebuild it in three days. Of course, Jesus was not referring to the literal rebuilding of the bricks and mortar which formed the Temple, rather he was referring or pointing to his own resurrection. John is dropping in another sign post for his readers here: The light who has come into the world; the Chosen one of God who can transform water into wine has come to do a new thing among God’s people and all of humanity. The old ways must come to an end (destruction of the Temple); they must die their death in order for this new work of God to rise up in to life. The Temple has become a market place more than anything else. The activity taking place there is so far removed from what the Temple was set up to be (the place where heaven meets earth, where God is present for the people) that things must change. This is the reason that Jesus is overturning tables and chasing out traders. Jesus has come to bring light to all the world and in a place where people have taken the very symbol of God’s activity among them and turned it into a market place, Jesus’ task is impossible. Tables must be turned. Traders must be chased out. The old ways must die so that the new work of God can rise to life.

John is pointing to this simple fact: the transformative power, which Jesus displayed at Cana, is only possible through death and resurrection. Old ways must die in order for new ways to rise to life.

In your life, what old ways must die in order for the new work of God to take place?