Click here to start reading the Gospel of John...or feel free to find your Bible to follow along
I grew up in the era of VHS and cassette tapes. I remembering the video store imploring us to "Be Kind and Rewind". I also vividly remember them displaying what happened to those VHS movies if you left them in the car on a hot summer day and they became a mangled mess of melted plastic! Good times. Often in life it would be good to have a rewind button, especially for moments when you make a fool of yourself, which for me is about....every day! I would love to have back some of the things I've said or done. Then, again, I also know and fully accept that some of the best learning in life happens with mistakes; the reconciliation and forgiveness that are possible (although not always realized) in the wake of missteps.
Still, there are moments it is good to step back and rewind just a bit, especially with this blog. For the last several posts, I have focused on the Gospel of John: his beginning in chapter 1 and then a sermon for January 5th on John 3. John's gospel is so rich...like a piece of the most decadent chocolate. I remember a clergy friend saying he took a class in seminary on John's gospel and they never got past chapter 3! Each verse in John is dripping with metaphor and meaning. Of course, you can also get so caught up in every word of John that you miss the proverbial forest for the trees. At some point you cannot get too immersed in the minutia of each word, lest you miss the meta-meaning John is striving to share. Namely, the Good News of great joy of God becoming flesh.
There are three important metaphors and words for John that are good to keep in mind.
1. Light and darkness...and you thought George Lucas came up with the light of the force battling the dark side! It was actually John. He proclaims in 1:5 ~ "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." For John this is not just waxing poetic...it is a reality in our lives. In fact, John employs the setting of light and darkness early on in his Gospel. Compare John 3 and 4. In chapter 3 Nicodemus visits Jesus...at night. In the dark. Nicodemus ends up getting confused and flustered by Jesus' word puzzles. Eventually Nick fades into the shadows of the night and we are never sure if he figured out what Jesus meant by the unconditional and unceasing love of God for the whole world. Contrast that to the very next chapter, Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well...at noon...when the sun is at its zenith and it is the brightest/lightest part of the day. The woman talks with Jesus and is led to go back and share the good news of great joy with others! Nick at night is silent. The woman in day is immersed/soaked by the light to share with gusto. One other quick example is John 21, where Peter - after the the resurrection - goes fishing...at night...with others...and catches nothing. Only to have Jesus appear on the beach at day break to give them both some good fishing advice and breakfast. Light and darkness become important metaphors that are woven throughout John to pay attention to as you read through the Gospel.
2. Men'o...or abide...or staying...or standing. It is vital for John to help us trust that Jesus is the one who abides with us...in us...around us. Jesus promises at the Last Supper that he will offer the Spirit to be our advocate to abide with us...especially in times when the shadows of darkness creep into our lives and the light flickers or fades! We also, like the disciples, make a choice to abide in...stand with Jesus. In chapter 1, Jesus does not say to the first disciples, "Come and follow me" (he does that at the end of chapter 21!); rather he invites them to abide...come and see! For John, discipleship is about the experience of the light in the darkness and unceasing love. That is what we are invited in life's journey to be open to see and embrace.
3. Invitation to lean into the new thing God is doing. One of the first signs (in John, Jesus never performs miracles...it is always a sign...something we need to abide or be open to noticing in our life!) is changing water into wine in chapter 2...right after that Jesus goes into the temple and turns over the tables causing a ruckus! It is important to be careful with taking Jesus' challenges to the religious order (like using the six stone jars for Jewish purification or turning over tables in the temple) too far. We need to be careful that we do not interpret Jesus' actions in ways that dismiss or demean the Jewish faith. Rather, I see those acts as challenges to our own Christian church today. What stone jars do we have laying around that need to be filled with new wine of God's actions in 2014? Or better yet, what ways has the Christian church set up our own money tables that need to be overturned? There is a good passage for Stewardship Sunday! When God slips into skin to walk among us in Jesus, things change...faith is challenged...and do we respond by abiding in the light and trusting in the new things God is doing? Or do we cling to what is comfortable, the well worn ruts of our own personal religion/understanding? That is what is at stake for John.
Hopefully these thoughts have offered you some depth to part of what John is up to. In no way is this exhaustive. Over the coming posts, we will read John together, side by side, immersing ourselves in the One who is light, who invites us to abide in the newness/fullness of life found in our connection with God!
Blessings and peace ~