If we are to take the Gospel of John seriously we have to admit that it presents us modern folk with quite a challenge. We like our theology done from the bottom up – from the human to the divine. John took the traditions he received and wrote them from God’s side. His approach has been called the theologizing of a human drama – the telling of how a man speaks and acts who is literally inebriated with the divine. John’s faith in Jesus has become our faith in so much as we affirm the Creeds and their insistence that Jesus was fully a human being and fully divine being – the Word of God in the flesh. Never not a human being, never not the divine Word of God.
It’s this knowledge that helps us make sense of how quickly the titles for Jesus come in the reading this morning. Messiah (v.41), the one spoken of in the law and the prophets (v.45). It’s this retelling from God’s side that helps explain disciples who act quickly, impulsively and follow Jesus. And it explains how Jesus can give a human being a new identity simply by speaking a word a title on Peter as the gospel closed to our hearing this morning. There is a divine mystery being played out in the telling of John’s Gospel. Clement of Alexandria writing in the very early days of the Church called John’s gospel a spiritual gospel. We enter another realm when we engage the Gospel of John. Many before us have found it to be fruitful ground for their relationship with God, in the building of a strong faith. John told stories about Jesus from God’s vantage point. So maybe we’d grasp the depths of who Jesus is to us and our world.
So we tell stories….
Several years ago a computer salesman from Milwaukee went to a regional sales convention in Chicago. He assured his family he’d be home in plenty of time for dinner. But one thing led to another, the meeting ran overtime, he raced to the station, ticket in hand, he and the others from his office. As they barged through the crowd in the rail terminal, one of the staffers inadvertently knocked over a table supporting a basket of apples. Without stopping, all of them reached the train and boarded it with a sigh of relief. All but one. He paused, got in touch with his feelings, and experienced a twinge of guilt for the apples spilling on the ground. He waved goodbye to his coworkers and returned to the terminal. He was glad he did. The ten year old boy was blind.
The salesman gathered up all the apples he could find, noticed that several were bruised beyond saving. He reached into his wallet and said to the boy, “ Here please take this twenty for the damage we did. I hope we didn’t spoil your day.” As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered boy called after him, “Are you Jesus?”
We tell stories to help us understand…..
God, as everyone knows, created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. And, as we are now aware, he created them through the use of words, for words, of course, are power. “Let it be done,” God proclaimed, and it was done. And everything god made was good.
Well, God was especially proud and loving of creation and the man and woman he made, because he had breathed into them a part of himself, his spirit. Not surprisingly, the devil was jealous and angry of this new relationship that God enjoyed. So one day when God was enjoying the man and woman, the devil casually happened to walk by. He sauntered up to God and asked him what he liked so much about these creatures. And when God opened his mouth to speak, the devil craftily put a bond upon his tongue so that he could no longer speak! God could not talk. And since God’s creative power was in his words, the devil had bound that power.
The devil laughed at God and quite had his way with the man and the woman. Well, as the story is told, eons went by, the devil came back to mock God – he couldn’t resist, such is his nature. Well, he came back to mock God. He scoffed at the silent deity and taunted this helpless God. God responded to all this by holding up one finger.
“One!” asked the devil. “Are you trying to tell me that you want to say just one word? Is that it?”
Yes, God nodded, pleading with his soft eyes and urgent hands. The confident devil thought to himself, “ I don’t suppose that even God could do much with a single word. Ok.” So the devil removed the bond from God’s tongue.
And God true the bargain struck with the devil, spoke one word, in a whisper. He spoke it for the man and the woman and it brought them great joy. It was a single word that gathered up all the love, forgiveness and creativity God had been storing in his heart during the entire time of his silence.
The word, you might have guessed was Jesus!
We tell stories to help us understand…..
Marcus Borg who sum of us are reading these days points to three phrases that still work as we seek to try and understand Jesus….
“ What would Jesus Do”
Remember the bracelets that were all the rage with our evangelical friends a few years ago. Some of us even wore them. Funny thing about that saying it dates back to a character named Charles Sheldon who wrote those words in 1897. Our understanding of who Jesus is, our image of Jesus, Borg, writes impacts our consideration of WWJD? Jesus for Borg and many of us would teach us the futility of violence in human life. He would be passionate about compassion and justice as the primary values of a life centered in God. And of course he would teach the importance of a deep relationship with God.
“Jesus loves Me – This I know”
We remember singing those words. Children’s words we think. Except for this one story that Borg tells. Karl Barth the greatest Christian mind of the 20th century during his only lecture tour of North America was asked at a press conference if he could sum up his theology in a brief and simple statement. His reply you can likely guess – “Jesus loves me – this I know.”
So if we can take this one statement as the bedrock of our faith, our understanding of Jesus what follows? What does it mean to you, what does it mean to us? If I know, if we know, that Jesus loves us, what then?
Surely what follows is we return that love, we love Jesus back. We love the things that Jesus loved; which brings us right round back to the Gospel of John.
“For God So Loved the World.”
John 3:16 likely the most beloved words of the New Testament in not the entire Bible. It’s so important that it’s worth some reflection.
To quote Marcus Borg directly;
“God so loved the world.” – not Christians in particular, or the elect, or the church, but the world. God’s passion is for the world. Christians have often been fearful of loving the world, for we have sometimes confused it with worldliness. But loving the world doesn’t mean getting lost in the world. It means loving the world – the creation – as God loves the world.
How much does God love the world? So much “that he gave his only Son.” God loves the world so much that God incarnate in Jesus became a part of it, vulnerable to it, partaking of it. To love the world means to love the world as God in Jesus loved the world, to give one’s life for it.
And Borg describes the life he sees Christians living in response to what we’ve seen this morning. Again in his words we are invited into a life of deep commitment and gentle certainty. Deep commitment, because faith involves one’s whole being. Gentle certainty, because all of our dogma, all of our knowledge is best held softly and gently because these things are always human products and so always incomplete.
And again from Borg – The Christian tradition – it’s scriptures, its history, its intellectual tradition, its worship and practices, its wisdom, its music and art, its saints, its lives filled with compassion and sometimes justice – is an extraordinarily rich tapestry, and we impoverish ourselves if we do not pay attention to its detailed particularity if we don’t seek to plumb it’s depths for ourselves. But being Christian is not complicated. At its center is Jesus, whose passion was God, the way, and the kingdom. John’s Gospel is a particularly beautiful, spiritual, door into that center, a part of our rich tapestry of faith. Having caught a glimpse of that richness it’s no wonder that Andrew and his companion followed after Jesus, and it should come as no surprise that they invited others along as well, And the magnificently grand good news we have to tell this morning is that we too are invited, we too can invite others into a life lived with and for Jesus. A way of being that is richer, fuller and more beautiful than any other story we could ever imagine or tell! And so, like John, we have stories to tell….