By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 14:23–29 (ESV)
2 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
The past few weeks have been busy for me. Nothing has really changed in my life, but it seems as if everything happens at once. I am sure many of us have weeks like that. Our schedule changes just a bit and suddenly everything seems to be spinning and you just cannot get your feet under you. I do not know what set it off really, it might be the fact that it is memorial weekend or maybe its just all the rain. Whatever it is, it has made me examine things in my life yet again.
These days happen. We were once walking through life thinking everything was in control and now its as if you cannot remember if you got lunch. These types of days make us question everything from our faith to our sanity. We wonder if we can ever get back to normal, because one day leads to another and another.
Today we again meet Jesus and his disciples in the upper room. Jesus has basically turned their world upside down. How do you respond to your teacher, leader, and who they regarded as king taking the role of a servant? There really was not a precedent for this activity. When a leader did this sort of thing it usually pointed to great mourning and distress. The reality is that something was about to happen something life altering and changing. Jesus was about to enter the final stages of his mission and ministry. He was about to become the embodiment of sin and shame, taking the wages of these things to the grave, and to rise again on the third day.
The disciples were in a daze. Jesus was teaching and they were listening, but it did not make sense to them. The reason it did not make sense was because they were in a totally different frame of reference. For centuries the teachers of the law, those great rabbis from various traditions of faith had taught certain things about the coming kings. They had an expectation, and up to this point Jesus had been fulfilling everything they wanted. He had built a following through his teaching, and his miraculous healings. He had marveled the crowds with the liberation of those who were gripped in the bondage of spiritual possession. People were regarding Jesus as the next Moses when he had provided food for them out in the wilderness from a simple lunch for a single boy. Jesus was tracking to be more than anything they expected.
Then on the day that the crowds were proclaiming him to be king, Jesus goes into the temple and causes the tables to be turned. He lashes out at the very system and foundation of their faith. He turns the tables over, he releases the sacrificial animals, and he rips the hair from a horse’s tail and uses that hair as a whip to drive those profiting from this religious industrial complex from the very courts.
I do not think we fully grasp how shocking this one event had been for the people of Jerusalem. Everything about the life of Israel revolved around this massive temple. It was the temple build for the one true God. It was the icon of their identity, the source of their pride, and the foundation of their faith. The temple was Israel. This was more than a simple place to gather and sing hymns and choruses of praise. The temple was everything to them, without that temple they could not begin to fathom who they were. And Jesus, their messiah was provoking their very identity.
For a week Jesus had taught in the temple, people listened in shock and amazement while he told them that everything, they had been doing was wrong. They were focused on building their nation and Jesus said that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all people. How can their nationalistic identity support a universal concept? The tension increased each day and hour. People could sense that confrontation was near. Plots were being made, schemes were being devised, lines were being drawn, alliances between foes were forged, and traitors being negotiated.
All this was happening around them. The disciples were in this religious and identity tailspin, trying to be faithful yet wondering what exactly they were being faithful to? They followed Jesus, but Jesus was really starting to make them nervous. Then as they prepare to celebrate the great feast of Passover, the feast that commemorates their liberation from slavery and emergence of a unified culture, their messiah opens the celebration by washing their feet.
They can sense that something is about to happen, they want to be part of the coming events. They know that Jesus had taught that what was going on in the established religion was not exactly the intention of God, but how can they fully embrace something this extreme. They submit to their teacher, yet each of them doubts and questions themselves. Jesus said that one will betray him and every one of them wonders if it will be them, they wonder even while Judas had already left the table unnoticed to their conflicted spirits.
Jesus knows what is about to happen, and he knows that it is more than these men and women present can grasp at this time. He knows their hearts and he is aware of their struggle. He knows and he speaks to their condition. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.”
This sentence has been in the back of my mind this past week. Through all the tail spinning emotions that I have found myself being caught in; this statement has been right there. “If you love me, you will keep my word, and my Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” This statement, when I have allowed myself the chance to sit and rest has provided some stability.
I have considered what this means as I listen to news reports and as I scroll through social media. I wondered about it while I prepared for memorial services and prayed for those who attended those services. I let my mind dwell in those words as I walked the red mile at work. If you want to know what that is, you can ask me later. “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my word.”
This statement struck me because of the word keep. When we consider everything, the Jewish people were religiously they were people that knew the word keep. They kept the law. They followed the law. They devoted their lives and lifestyles to keeping their lives on the straight path of legal adherence. Yet, Jesus challenged their understanding of what it meant to keep. He physically confronted this system. For so long I have read this passage and I approached it in a legalistic mindset. In my mind I was interpreting this statement, “If I love Jesus, I demonstrate it by not living a life of sin.” Do not get me wrong there is a place for this. Jesus by no means was advocating for the rejection of the core concepts of the Torah. But what does he mean by keep?
I spent some time studying this word and found it to be more interesting that simply not breaking the rules. To keep is a journey, in some ancient uses of the word it can mean “to apply oneself to the chase” or “to aim at something.” It also can mean to guard, to promise, to pay attention to among other things. What I am getting at is that to keep is more that obedience but a life’s pursuit. It is disciplining our lifestyle to conform to this thing Jesus describes as his word.
I have spoken many times about the concept of word. The concept of word is divine wisdom or knowledge. This goes to the very origin of life; God spoke words and those words became our reality. The wisdom or word of God is life itself. Echoes of the word are found in the soil we tread, in the rain that falls from the sky, in the flowers you might have given to your mother last Sunday for Mother’s Day. Echoes of this divine whisper are found in every breath we take, every movement we make, and in anything our minds create because we are the product of the word of God. Consider what that means. This is more than rules, but the very things that give us life and make life worth living. It is our passions and our pleasures as well as our responsibilities and obligations.
If we love Jesus, we will keep his word. This is more than just keeping the rules. If we love Jesus, we will keep the rules sure, but more than that. We will pursue those things that God created us to be, because that pursuit is that of God in us. When we embrace the passion and abilities that God uniquely gifted us with, we are embracing who we are in that relationship. One of the most powerful words of advice I have ever heard is, “if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life.” This is powerful advice because if we pursue those things that we have passion for, if we pursue those things that inspire us to strive for greatness in, we do not work, we love. But if we deny our passion, we walk through life dreading the next step.
Who are you? What makes you tick, so to speak? What makes your heart race, what around you cause your mind to engage and your body to act? Are we able to see that the life of an inventor or an entrepreneur is just as much a vocation anointed by the hand of God as the life of a teacher or pastor? That the person assembling the cars that we drive is just as much a ministry as the professor training the next generation of ministers? Jesus is telling us if we love him, we will keep his word. If we love him, we will pursue that of God. Jesus did not allow every person that believed in him to walk with the disciples, some were needed to do other things. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha worked in the kitchen. Matthew was called away from the tax collector’s table, but Zacchaeus by remained in his post. Everyone was called in different ways, but each had a ministry to pursue within.
How then do we find that of God in us? Jesus said that if we love him and keep his word, His father will love us, and they will make their home with us. This home that they will make is a relationship. It is spirituality. Where we walk together toward a common goal. Jesus goes on to say that the Father will send a helper in Jesus’s name to assist us in that walk. It is the Spirit of God that directs us to that of God in us. And we discern the voice of the spirit when we take on the life and lifestyle of Christ.
If we go back to the origin story, because that is where the wisdom or word of God was first revealed to us. We find that the spirit was hovering over the waters of the void. Then God said let there be light and there was light. The Spirit was hovering, the spirit is the conduit of God’s wisdom to creation, and we encounter that conduit in the Name of Jesus, because he brings humanity to God through his life, death and resurrection. The spirit continues to hover that is her mission and purpose. To hover between and within the realms of heaven and earth and connecting the two. When we keep the words of Jesus, it is as if the spirit is the magnetic field propelling a bullet train along the track toward our destination. When we are in Christ we move forward in the relationship, but when we reject Christ it is as if the polarity of our spirit is misaligned and instead of moving forward, we come to a crashing halt.
If we love Him, we will keep his word. I speak of this as if there is a different word for each of us. In some ways there is. I am called to stand before you proclaiming the words, I sense God compelling me to say, yet not all of us are called to do this. But there are some things that is for all people. Jesus said that there is a new command that he gives to us, to love one another as he has loved us. This command is connected to the command to love God with everything we have and are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. These are the boundaries or the guidelines that direct us. They are the rails of our spiritual bullet train. These are the concepts that should help us discern if the passion we are pursuing a whisper of the divine word or the clamor of our own self-centeredness. Are we pursuing mutual profit, are we encouraging greater companionship within the community, or are we seeking to control and dictate?
Jesus speaks of a peace that he will give to us, his peace. A peace not of this world. He then encourages us not to let our hearts be troubled. Peace and trouble, love and keeping his word. Often in our world we live in fear, not peace. Throughout most of our lives we lived in peace with our greatest enemy, yet we lived through the cold war. The cold war was peace that was brought about by mutual fear. Our fear drove us to instill greater fear, only to find that we had even greater fear. When I went to Ukraine to teach English, I was surprised that the students that I interacted with told a very similar story as the one I lived, but the roles of each nation were changed. That is the peace of the world, mutual destruction. Jesus said I will give you my peace. A peace that is not driven by fear and mutual destruction, but of mutual encouragement. This is the result of each of us joining together, pursuing that of God in each other, encouraging one another to embrace the Spirit of God and to be directed by that spirit to find where we each can mutually profit and encourage the world around us. Love casts out fear.
The past few weeks I have been busy, I have gone about my daily life in every attempt to follow Christ, and at times I have felt about as far from him as one could be. I read the news and social media and I am saddened by the fear that seems to permeate throughout. Not just fear, but the fruit of fear which matures into hate. I see friends applauding legislation that criminalizes immoral behavior and friends that take the opposite view. I see people applauding selfishness in the name of patriotism while claiming faith. I see this among my friends. And I see Jesus turning the tables over in the temple screaming at the religious because they have made the house of God into something it was never intended to become. Are we any different? We are called to love. We are called to pursue God in our lives and to love him in all that we do and with everything we are. How can we do this if we cannot even see where we are opposing him in our lives? Peace He gives to us, peace not of this world but his peace, a peace that comes not from fear but love. A peace that comes not from force but each of us living lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Jesus with others.
As we enter this time of Open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I encourage each of us to examine our lives. Are we keeping his word? Are we loving him? Are we at home with God? I have asked myself these questions often, daily, if I am honest. Do I love Jesus, and show that love in how I live?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 19, 2019
John 13:31–35 (ESV)
A New Commandment
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Living the Christian life is one of the most difficult simple things to do. Yes, that sounded like terrible grammar because it probably is. The basics of Christianity are simple: Love God, Love your Neighbor as yourself. Three things, that is it. Love God. Love Yourself. Love your neighbor. Three very basic things that should not be that difficult, but have you tried it? We might get one or two pretty good, but all three is very difficult to get all the time.
Today we meet with Jesus and his disciples in the upper room, on the Thursday evening before his arrest. This day in the history of the church is called Maundy Thursday. Maundy is one of those wonderful words that very few of us know the meaning of anymore. Since most of us only see it in relation to Holy week services, if at all, we assume it might mean something like mourning. It really means feast, so the day is feast day, or the day we remember the celebration of the last feast Jesus shared with his disciples. There are many important events occurred during this feast. And some of them have been made into ritualistic sacraments that many celebrate during their meetings for worship, but it is important to remember the meaning behind those rituals.
The first event that occurred this day was Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This is one of the most profound of the events because of its oddity. In ancient cultures to touch a person’s foot was not something that you would want to do. They did not have wonderfully constructed footwear as we have today with memory foam insoles and arch support. In ancient times you would be lucky to have something covering the sole of your foot at all, and if you did have something on your feet it would likely be in an open sandal form. They are walking around with next to nothing on their feet and they did not have the extent of pavement that we enjoy today, so they often walked through dirt. If you happened to live in an area that had stone walkways you were lucky to an extent. I say to an extent because there was always the chance that some beast of burden had passed by before you, leaving evidence behind. There is also a good chance that there was raw sewage running along the roadway as well, because not all areas had the hygienic improvements of roman civil engineering. Those that traveled these ancient pathways had dirty, disgusting feet. Imagine walking into a house or place of business with your feet caked in this mix of mud and other refuse. People often get upset if you walk with your shoes on their carpets today, but we can remove our shoes, your feet need to stay attached. The remedy to this problem was to provide a servant to wash the feet of the family and guests.
The servant that washed the feet was considered the lowest of all the servants in the household. They were dirty lowly servants. Jesus took on that role. This act is something that most of us cannot even fathom let alone participate in. If I were to bring out a bowl to wash feet most if not all of us would hesitate. We hesitate because we are self-conscience of ourselves and we do not want to reveal our feet to people around us. This hesitation is not felt by others of the Christian faith, in many churches the priest or pastor will wash the feet of their congregations during the Holy week service of Maundy Thursday, and in many Anabaptist traditions they regularly included this ceremony with the next sacrament we will briefly discuss.
The washing of the disciples’ feet gave them something important to consider. Their teacher is washing their feet. The highest, most prominent member of their small social group took on the role of the lowest. This act is one of service and submission, it is physically showing those around that I am lower than the one whose feet I am touching. The disciples like many of us hesitated and refused, but Jesus told them that they either let him serve them or they would have nothing to do with him. Peter then boldly said, “Not just my feet but my head and hands as well.” Jesus responded to Peter’s outburst by says his body is clean and just the feet need washed. So, this act of washing feet, has been associated with the cleansing of daily transgressions and is often used as a symbolic act of repentance and reconciliation. It is a beautiful and humbling ceremony.
After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he asked them to explain what he had done for them. They must have stared blankly at him in shock, because John does not record a response. Jesus then answers his own question by explaining to them that they call him teacher and lord, but he washed their feet as their servant. He is master and servant. He then says a servant is not greater than the master, and we should do as he has done. The point is that we are to serve those around us. Get down in the dirt, getting our hands dirty with everyone else. In the business world this servant leadership is so important that you can get a master’s degree learning the techniques. I will give you the education today for free. A leader should be willing to do anything and everything they ask those they lead to do. No job is above or beneath anyone. A CEO should be willing to scrub the toilets and the janitor should be willing to step up and help wherever they are needed. This is the way Jesus encourages us to live.
After this profound teaching, they begin their meal. It is important to remember that this is an actual feast. It is the Jewish celebration of Passover, so there are very important symbolic foods around. We focus mainly on the bread and wine because that is what is mentioned but there is also lamb, apples, bitter herbs, vegetables, and a hard-boiled egg. Each of these foods have a meaning and how they are eaten has meaning as well. Jesus takes the bread; they would have at least three pieces of bread on the table because they have three bread rituals. The first is just eating the bread, then they eat the bread dipped in the bitter herbs, then they eat bread making a sandwich with the bitter herbs and the other foods. I have only read about the meal I personally have not had the pleasure of participating in one myself, but I find it interesting that the dipping of bread is mentioned in John’s gospel account. The rituals around the eating of the bread tell the history of Israel, and Jesus says this is my body broken for you. He is saying that he is the bread, he is the fulfillment of Israel, that he is taking all that history and future on himself. All that brokenness and sorrow, all the bitter experiences, all the pains, as well as the hope and pleasure. This seeming simple staple of life is him.
John’s account of the feast does not mention the wine, but in the Passover meal they drink four cups of wine. There are several understandings as to why they have four cups dealing with the sorrows placed on Israel during their captivity or the exiles that the Israelite people have faced. In the other gospel accounts Jesus says that the wine is his blood spilled for you. While they drink these cups of wine, they recount their history and at certain points in the story they spill some of the wine, because they do not want to ingest the words. Again, I have only read about the meal I have not participated so I cannot say this for certainty, but I find it interesting. Jesus is taking on those things we spill it and he is the spillage. That which they cannot ingest he takes for them.
The bread and the wine have become a ritual to many, but the meaning is much deeper. The staples of life have meaning, and we need to remember and share the meaning, both the hope and the sorrows. From the moment after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet until the time, he goes to the garden to pray, every word spoken could be attached to some aspect of the Passover feast. Jesus is attaching his story to that meal. He is taking all the history of Israel on himself and telling his disciples that he is their history and their future. This is the mindset of those at the table when Jesus speaks the words of today’s passage.
He had just washed their feet; their master became their servant. He had begun the Passover feast, uttering the words required and expending on the story with his fresh teaching. And that teaching is what we begin with today. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A new commandment I give to you, love one another. We look at the word new and we think that it means something different, something that will replace the old. If we were to look up this word, we would find that it can mean many things, but unseen is one of those meanings. Unseen in the since that it was not often practiced. Jesus did not give one single command that was not already present in the scripture, when he says new, he is simply emphasizing it in a way the established religion failed to recognize. Its new, like new math its still math just looking at it differently and often hard to understand if we are used to doing things the old ways.
After siting with new for a moment I looked up commandment. When we hear the word commandment we often think of law. Which it is, but it is so much more than just law. We live in a nation where we have the rule of law. Which means that our civil society is structured in such a way that we can know what is acceptable or not. We call that rule of law the constitution. If we want to simplify constitutional law to the very basics, the constitution is what our government cannot do, or the commandments. Included in our constitution is something we call the “bill of rights”. These are the things that our government really cannot do. Torah in many ways is the basic framework of Israel’s civil society. It is telling them the boundaries of what they can and cannot do, as a nation and as individuals. There is something about these documents that we often fail to consider, they do not hold us back but instead they should encourage and direct us. If governments can’t do these things, that gives us the freedom to fulfill the needs ourselves. They are our rights. And that is how commandment can be seen, not just rules but rights, not just orders but also commission, not just commanded order but disciplined instruction. Jesus is saying we have the right to love one another. We have the commission to love one another. We have the instruction to love one another, and we do this by practicing the life that he lived with us.
He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Have we really considered what those words might mean put into practice? It is something that is truly new, or unseen because so much of our world operates in a realm somewhere other than love. We do not even really know what love is. We are told so many things about love but so much of those definitions have less to do with love and more to do with infatuation or lust. Our world and each of us need to learn what love really is. We have hope because Jesus showed us what love is. “Just as I have loved you,” he says.
This is why I spent so much time explaining the events that happened on this day. Jesus washed their feet. Jesus feed them a feast and explained what that feast means. Jesus then pointed to the greatest hope; he would suffer so we can be free. He would suffer so we could be glorified with him. Jesus loved so we can love. He loved by doing. Love is an active verb. It is serving those around you. It is rolling up your sleeves and breaking a sweat with those around you. It is setting aside some of your desires to make sure those around you have the things they need to survive. It is willingly getting your hands dirty so that the entire community can benefit. To love your spouse, you need to serve your spouse. No longer thinking I want, but they need.
Being a Christian is the most difficult simple thing to do. To live our lives serving others all the time leaves us vulnerable. What happens to me? If I spend all my time looking out for others how can I enjoy my own life, and the fruit of my labor? If I focus on serving, who will serve me? What if those I serve do not appreciate or acknowledge my service? I know that these questions cross our minds, because pretty much every one of them crossed mine in the past few days. It is difficult to be a Christian because so many people aren’t. Those that do not live a life loving others as Jesus loved them, often try to exploit our service and we become bitter. This is where the discipline comes in, this is where the community comes in. We are here to serve one another to share the burdens, joys and sorrows. This is where we meet Jesus. He loves us, he serves us, just as we serve him. This does not mean we control or can exploit God, but he is with us in the dirt. When we are wronged, we take those emotions and we spill them out on Jesus and he takes that on himself, and his blood covers us, and his body feeds us. He takes the bitterness from us and points us again toward hope.
Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? He washed our feet because our daily walk has caused them to get dirty. Let him wash them so that we can go back out fresh and new doing it all again. Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? He took on the cross, our sin and our shame, though he was without sin, so that we could release our bitterness and pain and be made new. Do you understand what Jesus has done? He loved you. He being God came down to live among us and with us in the dirt. And all he asks in return is that we love like he loved. Simple right?
As we enter this time of open worship and Holy expectancy let us embrace the love of Christ. Let us focus on what he did for us and then let us consider how we can reflect that to those around us. Let us imitate his life so that we can participate in his glory.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 12, 2019
John 10:22–30 (ESV)
I and the Father Are One
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Whenever I read a passage of scripture, I find it fascinating. At times the fascination is something within the passage that I have not noticed before. At other times I am fascinated because God showed me something that either I have overlooked or those that taught me have overlooked for decades. Then there are the times I just sit and imagine the scene that is set there, and I just get caught up in it.
Today we meet Jesus in Jerusalem, this is before his trial and the days leading up to that. This is in the winter. The past few weeks during our Wednesday bible study we have been discussing a series called The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi, this series is by Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel. While listening and discussing this series we have engaged some things that we do not normally encounter, simply because we are not Jewish. Rabbi Sobel is a Messianic Jew, he grew up in a Jewish family and he knows the traditions and history behind the various travels of Jesus. In the first session we started with the birth of Christ, so there was a discussion over the actual day of Christmas. To be honest I am no closer to knowing the actual day Jesus was born than I was before, but in the course of that discussion Hanukah was mentioned.
While I was growing up, we did not discuss Hanukah, and when it was mentioned I was told its Jewish Christmas. For a while I accepted this and did not think anything about it, because as far as I knew it was not mentioned in scripture. Well it is mentioned, and today’s passage tells us that Jesus celebrated Hanukah, because it is a celebration and feast in remembrance to the rededication of the temple of God. The actual rededication of the temple is not mentioned in our bibles, but it can be found in first and second Maccabees, which is one of the books of the Apocrypha. The celebration is in remembrance of the miracle where the sacred oil that should have only lasted one day lasted long enough for the blessing of more oil. This is a simplified explanation, but the reason this is important was because after the rebuilding of the temple the Hellenistic overlords after the campaigns and death of Alexander the Great, wanted to force the Jewish people to submit. And they decided that to do this all Gods should be worshiped in the temple. They brought a swine into the temple and offered it as a sacrifice on the alter. This was called the abomination that causes desolation. This act rendered the temple unholy, so from that moment on the Jewish people whose faith revolved around the temple could not be assured of God’s favor. But some priests in saved some oil and were able to get that sanctified oil safely out of the temple so that it was not desecrated with the rest of the temple. This oil was to be used in the sacred lampstand, the menorah, which represented the eternal light of God present in that place. There was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning for the time required to rededicate and purify the temple, but the priest decided they would act in faith and proceed with the dedication, trusting that God would provide. God did provide, and this dedication of the temple inspired the nation to fight for their independence which they won.
Jesus celebrated this feast, the feast of dedication. He celebrated this feast at that very temple. I encourage you all to look into the celebration of Hanukah it is a beautiful celebration, one that lasts eight days. I encourage this because there is something of value to it. The light burned for the necessary time because God provided. In the darkest days, when hope was nearly extinguished the light remained.
Light is a powerful symbol. In most traditions of faith there is a place for light and fire. Even our own tradition which strips away most meaning from physical symbols, uses the mysterious term inner light. Light represented the presence of God, it represents knowledge and wisdom, that we are not alone. In our world of electric lights, we do not quite grasp the fear of the dark that many in the ancient world had. We do not understand because it is rarely dark now. We have night lights in the rooms of children so they can see the path to their parents’ room. We can yell at Alexia or Google and our smart light fixtures will turn on and if we are tech savvy, we can program music and our thermostat to adjust along with it. But in those ancient days the only light that they would have would come from a small oil lamp. That single flicker of light in the darkness, is enough to calm a startled heart. Light is powerful.
Jesus is at the temple celebrating the feast of dedication. He is walking among the people that winter day, looking at the temple, which is larger than an NFL Football Stadium, walking around in the complex that can surrounds it. And we are told he is walking in the colonnade of Solomon. The temple itself was built to the exact dimensions recorded in scripture, but when Herod renovated the complex, he extended the court of the gentiles to the west. The eastern wall where Solomon’s porch was located remained in the same position that the eastern wall had always been. Jesus walked along this area. This covered area that was originally built for the king to enter the temple grounds without facing the elements. Some believe that this portion of the temple complex was the only remaining remnant of the original temple. When the temple was rebuilt and remodeled, they surrounded the entire complex with these covered walkways, and within these porches or colonnades the various teachers would teach. I do not know if there is any special significance to this colonnade, but we do know that it became the place of meeting for the early church prior to the destruction of the temple.
Jesus is walking to the temple during the feast of dedication, he is walking in the Colonnade of Solomon the king of Israel known for his great wisdom. He is walking the pathway the kings of Israel would have walked into the temple, and he is walking among the Jewish teachers and those wishing to gain God’s holy wisdom. The image this first couple of verses has is astounding. He is walking and those around begin to ask questions. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ tell us plainly.” They say. I want us to just sit with this image in our mind. The Jerusalem temple complex is probably the greatest religious complex ever built by mankind. The greatest scholars gather in these colonnades every day to teach those that want to learn, daily. And on that day, a day dedicated to celebrating the temple Jesus is asked of these things, while he walk through the porch the kings once walked.
“Are you the one?” they ask, “will you just tell us plainly.” Jesus responds, “I told you and you didn’t believe, I showed you and you did not believe.” Imagine hearing this. Did they miss something? Jesus then goes on, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”
These people are not common people out in the Galilean countryside, they are the ones at the temple. These are the devoted faithful members of society. These are the religious elites, and Jesus looks at them and said you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. Jesus is telling them straight up that if he is the messiah, they are walking the wrong path. If he is the Christ, then they are following the wrong shepherd. If he is the one, they claim to be looking for then they are looking in the wrong place, because his teaching and his lifestyle should show them exactly what they need to know. His sheep know his voice.
As I considered this passage this week, I thought a great deal about Hanukah and the significance of that celebration. I thought about the temple and the words that Jesus spoke, and I thought about my mom, because it is Mother’s Day. And then I thought why on earth did the lectionary put a Hanukah passage during Mother’s Day. I thought maybe I would teach on one of the other passages, but the Acts passage in the lectionary is about a lady dying and I really did not want to talk about that either. But I got to thinking the relationships we celebrate this day. I know that for some of us our relationship with our mother may have been stained. I know that for many of us our mothers are no longer with us. For some of us we had wonderful mothers and they live far away. I know some of us have not been blessed to be mothers, and others might like some time off from that blessing. But there is a unique relationship the feminine aspect of humanity brings to us that should be celebrated. One that often resembles a flickering light at night.
Jesus told them that his sheep hear his voice, that he knows them, and they follow. There is a security in that voice, a peace. Just last evening Albert tripped while playing and scrapped his arm along some bricks. He came running into the house looking for only one person, mom. He sat with mom and cried. There are those people we go to when we are hurting, when we are scared, or do not know what to do next. They are safe and provide reassurance like no one else can. That first person is often mom. I am a lucky one, because my mom was and is that safe place. I know I can tell my mom anything and she will listen and encourage. Now that I am an adult, she does not always have advice to give because my course in life is different than the course my parents took, but she listens, and she encourages. And I know she wishes her son would let her listen more, but I just do not talk much. My mom is encouraging to me because she points me back to Christ.
Twenty years ago, I was a scared kid with a secret. I sat in my bed not knowing what to do, I thought I had brought shame upon my family. I came to my mom confessing that I had gotten my girlfriend pregnant. That day was the hardest day of my life, but I could not sleep until I told my mom. My mom’s reaction that day has more to do with why I am standing here than anything else. She did not yell, she did not scream, she did not belittle or condemn me at that moment. She looked in my eyes and she saw the fear and she cried with me and gave me a hug. She loved me even though I felt as if I should be rejected. She brought me in she made sure I knew that I was loved before she did anything else. She showed me Christ. She provided a place of comfort, security, and acceptance no different than when my wife held Albert while he was hurting last night. My mother empowered me to move forward, she encouraged me to stand strong and to face the challenge set before me. Were there cross words, absolutely, but all were deserved and spoken in a context of acceptance.
Jesus said to those around him that day that they do not believe because they are not among his sheep. Do you recognize just how heavy those words are? Here they are sitting in the colonnade of Solomon on the eastern wall of the temple during a feast celebrating God’s miracle and Jesus is telling them they do not believe because they are not among his sheep. They are unable to see the hand of God when Jesus heals, even when they are celebrating a feast to remember God’s hand providing. They were unable to hear the voice of God even when they were listening to his teaching. They were unable to see or hear the truth because they were not among the sheep. Which leads to a question who where they among?
Looking at this passage we can determine that having the proper belief does not determine salvation. Participation in religious activities also does not determine our place with God. It is hearing his voice, knowing him, and following. I say this as someone that loves religion. I am someone that loves theology. I love knowing and deepening my knowledge. Yet this means nothing if I do not listen, know the voice, and follow.
Jesus is saying, like he says so often, that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is right here all around you if we would turn, repent, or change directions. This was the message he preached throughout his ministry; it is the message that John preached in the Jordan. It is the same message that the prophets of old spoke, and it is the same message that has been spoken by Moses and was given to the Fathers of Israel. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This very prayer said by every person that day and many today is crying out to Israel to listen to the voice of God, and to follow. This is the eternal light celebrated in Hanukah, to trust in the one that can make something out of nothing and bless it. And what does God say to Israel? “’Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I love religion, I love theology, I love spiritual disciplines that can direct people into a more satisfying spiritual life. All of that is just empty if I do not listen, hear, know, and follow him. I could stand here and debate why my faith is true, but if I do not live it out what value does it have. I know many people that had all the right answers, but when I got to know them, I stopped listening because everything they said was empty. When I was in college, I even tried to distance myself from religion wanting instead to be a man of science. I still love science. But that rejection of God and embracing the ways of the world had consequences. That day I confessed to my mom; I saw the truth. “Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That day I saw acceptance and encouragement. I saw someone willing to live out everything they professed. Someone loved even when I failed to meet the expectation.
Jesus walked in the colonnade of Solomon, that winter day, going to celebrate the feast of dedication. The light of the world, when to celebrate the light that persisted. Israel faced darkness at that time, and God provided the light they needed to accomplish the task set before them. We have enough darkness. We have enough people hurting, we have enough rejection, and injustice. We can see the darkness, but what about the light? That day Jesus told Israel that he and the Father were one, of the same substance, equal, they wanted to kill him for that, and they eventually did. But the light persisted.
Do people see the light when they are among us, or do they see shadow? Hear O Israel, listen and know, obey and follow. Are we among the sheep or somewhere else? Hear O Israel. The Lord is my shepherd. We have enough darkness step back and let the light shine. We have enough fear step back and let the shepherd lead. Turn and repent. Love God embrace the holy spirit and live the love of Christ with others. I am here today because someone I was around did just that, are we willing to do the same?