The Wine will Flow

The Wine will Flow

Still turning water into wine here…

Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something.   So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”   So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots.   These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs.  They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs.  If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around.  Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him.  What they are is baptistries.   They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs.  They are used for ritual purification.  Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi.  Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.

So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah.  They are empty.   Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity.  If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here.  So Jesus tells says to the servants Fill the jars with water.”    To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes.  “Oh brother.  Another super religious guy.  Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.”   But they do it.  It’s going to take a while.  Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up.  This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of water.

“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”   Ok Jesus.  Sounds a little strange.  But they do it anyway.  They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification.  They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens.  The water has turned to wine.

The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on.  He just knows the wine has run out.  But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”    Think about the baffled bridegroom.  He has no idea what the steward is talking about.  All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it.   The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us!   You kept the very best wine until now!”   To which the bridegroom said what?   “Praise the Lord!!??

But Jesus has done it!!  The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.  And Jesus gives a wink to his mom.   “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:11 NLT.  And John says Jesus revealed his glory.  Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty.    Imagine being one his 6 disciples there.   Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.

And Jesus revealed his beauty.   This is a beautiful story.  There is something fun, something whimsical about this story.  Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario.  A leper, his life ebbing away.  Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm.   Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died.  There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles.  But this one, there’s none of that.  Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything.  This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign.  It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.

What’s the sign pointing to?   In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing.  Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God.  So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this  – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV.  It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…

That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision.  So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived.   Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now.   John’s gospel is very sophisticated.  It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it.  So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not?   Jesus is the bridegroom…

So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine.  In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine.  In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine.  But then, the exile.  For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine.  The wine has run out.  The good days are gone, they have no wine.

But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!!   Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!!   We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!!   AMEN!

When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen.  Why was Jesus at this wedding?  Because he was invited!   Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth?  He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy.  What’s his name?   Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth.   And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle.  So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus.  JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing?   I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come?   And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him.  Because you never know what Jesus is going to do.  Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine.  Nobody would have ever dreamed that up.  Only Jesus.  So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing.  Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen.  But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.

So invite him.

John Lewis

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What’s That For Us?

Back in John’s telling of the first recorded miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine…

So yes, On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   The third day as in Tuesday, as in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…also as in the doubly blessed third day from Genesis, a doubly blessed day that must be the day the Jews in Israel would have to be married on.   But never forget…and John will not let you forget, the third day is also the day Christ himself rose from the dead…

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   Cana of Galilee.   Funny thing about Cana of Galilee is, we know exactly where this is.  You can still visit Cana today.   It’s only 5 miles from Nazareth.  Which probably tells us exactly why Jesus was invited to this wedding.  Because he was known in the community, he was local.  Yes, let’s invite Yeshua, the carpenter, remember him, he fixed our steps and built the gazebo a couple years ago.  Let’s invite him.    Jesus was invited, his mom was invited, his disciples were invited.   Not because they were Jesus’s disciples but also because they, too, were known.

But Jesus only has six disciples at this point.   This is the very beginning of his ministry.   He’s got Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael.  Nathanael specifically has just joined the day before.   He has just become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus had told him You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” John 1:50 NIV.   Better hold onto your hat, you’re going to see some awesome things.   And sure enough, the next day they are at the wedding in Cana, and Nathanael will something truly amazing.

It’s a Jewish wedding of the first century.  And we need to understand about Jewish weddings, or we might be confused.    When we think of a wedding, we think of a quick ceremony followed by a wedding reception.   But this is not a reception with mints and nuts and cake and punch in a plastic cup.  This is a feast that will go for days.  This is not a 20 minute ceremony followed by an hour long reception.    You would have the ceremony, the bride and groom would disappear for a short time (not for pictures), the happy, blushing couple would return and the feast would begin!

It sounds crazy, but that’s how it was done.  Jesus is at one of these first century weddings.   They’ve had the vows, the happy couple has disappeared into the tent, now they’ve come back, and now it’s time to start several days of feasting.  But no sooner had they got started, a real catastrophe happened.  In a shame and honor based culture, which is typical of the east, including first century Israel, things like weddings have to come off right or it brings great shame upon the family.   What happened here was, they ran out of wine.   If you run out of wine, it is a catastrophe.  Because when you have a feast that’s supposed to run for three days, if you run out of wine, people go home.   Well, that’s that!!  People begin to drift away, and what’s supposed to be a several day feast is over by the afternoon.   It’s very embarrassing, the shame could linger within the family for generations – “That’s that family that tried to have a wedding!   That didn’t work out, they ran out of wine and everybody left!!  LOL

So they ran out of wine and are the verge of a social catastrophe.  Jesus’s mother is there with Jesus, her eldest son, and simply observes They have no wine.   Notice that she’s not requesting for Jesus to do anything.  This is not a request.  Mary is not saying “Jesus fix this.”   She’s simply making a whispered observation laden with pity.  “Oh my goodness. They’ve ran out of wine, I feel so sorry for them.  How embarrassing.  How did they let this happen?  They have no wine.”   In our English translations Jesus’ response is rendered like this – Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.   What is actually said here in the Greek is apparently at least a little enigmatic, obscure, and difficult to understand.  This comes across in our translations as a rebuff, but I don’t think that’s what happening at all.  It doesn’t fit, Mary has not asked Jesus to do anything, she has just observed that they were, in fact, out of wine.  NT Wright says we would benefit greatly from a simple punctuation change –  Woman? What! Has this to do with me?   Or how about this.  Jesus response is really, if we could understand, more like this – “What’s that for us?  I’ve got time.  I can take care of that.

Jesus says  My hour has not yet come.  Jesus knows that an hour will come when he can not work.  The hour of darkness.  The hour that he’s betrayed and turned over to the Romans.   The hour that he’s crucified.  But Jesus knows that’s a ways off.  So Mary says oh no They have no wineJesus responds and says “What’s that for us?   We can take care of that.  I’ve got the tine.  I’m not in a rush.  I can handle this.

Here’s an example so we can better understand.  Imagine you’re in the grocery store, heading home after church to get your true worship on and watch some football, and at the front of the line is a young mother buying groceries, formula and diapers for her baby.  Except she is coming up a couple of dollars short of being able to pay for what she has.  And now she’s embarrassed, because there is a line of people in line behind her.   She’s slowing the line down, and I mean, kickoff is in fifteen minutes!   The back of her neck is white hot from the glowering stares behind her.  This young mother is both embarrassed and a little desperate, because she needs those groceries.  At which point your spouse whispers “She has no money.”  So you  grab a couple of bucks out of your wallet, discreetly head to the front of the line and give it to the cashier.  “Here’s the rest of the money.  I’ve got this covered.”   Because, after all, what’s a couple of dollars?  What’s that for us?   We can take care of it.

That’s what’s happening here.  That’s exactly what Jesus is doing.  Mary says They have no wine.  Jesus says No big deal.  What’s that for us?   He’s not saying “That’s not my problem.”   What Jesus is saying here is “That’s no problem.”   It’s all in how you hear the idiom, and there’s all the difference in the world.

How many times do we see others in certain situations and walk away without helping, telling ourselves “That’s not my problem.  What’s that got to do with me?”   But really, “Whats that for us?”   It’s so easy for us to turn our backs and walk away.  I do it everyday.   But, again, “What’s that for us?  We can handle that.”    Can’t we?

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

John Lewis

On the Third Day

Starting to look at “signs” in the Gospel of John, seven signs that John has chosen and arranged in such a way to point us to Jesus as Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, that we might believe on him in a right way and have the life to the fullest which He promises.   And, so we will start with the first sign along the way, which appears at a wedding in Cana.

This is the first sign in John, but it’s even the first miracle.  Of all of Jesus’s miracles, the first one is turning water into wine.   It’s not raising the dead, not healing the blind, walking on water, or casting out a demon.   The first miracle Jesus does is turning the water to wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.   So yes, it’s a wedding party, but we can also say it’s Jesus’s coming out party.   Jesus is going public now.  He’s going to start doing the stuff here in Cana of Galilee, and the way he starts is very intriguing.   I hope you like this story as much as I do, because I might be here for a while…

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

What a great story!!   It begins like this – On the third dayit’s the third day. What does it mean that it’s the third day?   It means it’s Tuesday.  Sunday’s the first day, Monday’s the second day, Tuesday is the third day.   In ancient Israel, Tuesday was the day to get married.  It’s wedding day.  In modern America, Saturday is the day to get married.   But in ancient Israel, as well as Israel to this day, Tuesday is the day to get married.

Why do they get married on Tuesday?  This is scriptural.  In the ancient creation account in Genesis 1, we go through the six days of creation, God goes through each day and declares it good.   We see the phrase and God saw that it was good repeated over and over again.  He blesses every day and calls it good.   But on the third day, God calls it good twice.  Twice during the creation episode of the third day, God pronounces it good.  He says good twice about the third day, “Aah, that’s an auspicious day, it’s doubly blessed from God, we might as well get married on a Tuesday.”   That’s how that got started.

So on the third day, there was a wedding.   Because of course that’s when you do the weddings, on the third day.   On the other hand, John knows very well that his readers, reading a gospel of Jesus Christ, won’t associate the phrase on the third day with the Jewish wedding day.   No, John knows his readers, and he knows that his readers will associate the phrase on the third day with something else altogether.    When you read a gospel of Jesus Christ and see the phrase on the third day, you’re not thinking “Hey, that’s the day the Jews get married.”   That’s not what you’re thinking.  When you (we) read that phrase, on the third day, we are thinking that’s the day Jesus rose from the dead!!   And that’s exactly what John wants you to think.  He is an artist.  He’s not just a theologian, but he’s an artist.  He’s an artistic theologian, and he wants you to get that.  He wants you to connect what’s about to happen at this wedding in Cana with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Five paragraphs in, I’m not out of the first phrase yet.  Told you I would be here for a while…

John Lewis

Signs

I’m starting to get into the Gospel of John.   Not that I’ve never looked at it before, but now I’m really beginning to get into it more deeply.  John’s gospel is different than Matthew, Luke and Mark, the synoptic gospels, in that they were written more as histories of the life of Jesus, with an assumption being made that the readers would be those who already had come to believe in Christ as Messiah.   But John’s gospel is something very different altogether.  It’s not that there is no history in John, there is plenty of the history of the life of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  But John is writing not to those who already believe, but to those who do not believe, both then and now.   John’s is very much an evangelistic gospel.  John is writing with a purpose, and he’s as much an artist as he is an evangelist.

I’m going to begin to journey through the Gospel of John, guided by the signs he places in within his gospel account.    John’s gospel originally ended in chapter 20.  He added chapter 21 as an epilogue later on because of some things that had come up.  But originally, John ended his gospel like this.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”   John 20:30-31 ESV.

So John tells us at the end of his gospel what he’s been doing throughout.  John places seven signs, seven miracles of Jesus within his gospel, which is in fact very few.   Matthew, especially Mark, and Luke all have far more accounts of Jesus’ miracles than John.   John restricts the number of miracles to seven, which is in itself significant and not accidental, because John knows what he is doing.  He restricts his gospel to seven miracles, but he never uses that word.  He calls them “signs”.  But each of these miracles, which John calls signs, is significant.   Even that word, significant, starts off with the root ‘sign’.   It’s sign-ificant.  John uses seven miracles as signs.  They are important, but not in their own self.   It’s not just telling us Jesus can do stuff.  It’s not just that Jesus can walk in water, Jesus can multiply loaves, Jesus can raise the dead.  John very carefully and artistically selects seven miracles that he calls signs to point us to something.   John uses the seven miracles as signs to guide our faith toward Jesus.   A sign is not significant in itself, but it’s significant because of what it points to.  The sign is not the thing, but it’s what the sign is pointing to or locating or identifying.   For instance, if you see a sign for Yellowstone National Park, or the Grand Canyon, you did not come to see that sign, but you came to find what that sign is directing you to.   The sign itself is not important, but instead the breathtaking beauty you came to see.  But the sign let’s you know you are on the right track, in the right place, and where you need to be.  That’s the value of a sign.

So the important thing, for John, isn’t that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, or multiplied the loaves and fishes.  The important thing is, what do the signs tell us about Jesus???   How do they form and inform our faith?   John gave us seven signs not just to wow us and show off all these things Jesus could do.   John gave us these signs to point us to Jesus in a right way, so that you will look at Jesus right, so that you will perceive Jesus right.  So that you will believe Jesus in a right way and have life in his name.   Want to have more of the life of Jesus in your life??  Then we need to believe on him in a certain way, and John gives us seven signs to direct our faith to believe right so we can have life in Jesus’ name.

So that’s the plan for the next few weeks.  To let John show us signs that lead us to Jesus so that we can believe and have life in his name.   And so we will start with a wedding in Cana of Galilee…

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”   John 20:30-31 ESV

John Lewis

He Left a Trail

Question for you.   What does it mean to be a Christian?   Does it mean to believe something about Jesus?  Yes it does, but only as a starting point.   Because we believe something about Jesus, we begin to follow him.    But ultimately, to be a Christian means to embark on a life of imitating Jesus.  But I’m afraid that we have defined being a Christian as only something we believe about Jesus.   We believe something about Jesus, this alters our afterlife expectation so that now we are going to heaven and not hell when we die, and therefore we are a Christian.  Right?

NO!!!  To be a Christian means you have intentionally embarked upon a life of imitating Jesus.   He has become your mentor, your teacher, your rabbi, your professor, you master.  You are the disciple.  You are the student, the learner, you are the pupil, you are the one who is following his way of life.  That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Anything short of that is short of being a Christian.  Just saying I believe something about Jesus that changes my afterlife, this does not make you a Christian.   What makes you a Christian is deliberately, intentionally embarking upon a life of imitating the way Jesus lived his life.  This makes you a Christ-like one, a Christ-ian, a disciple of Jesus.

Human beings have lost our way.  I am serious.  We don’t know how to be human.  Cats know how to be cats, dogs know how to be dogs, but humans have lost the way of being human.  We think that the way to be human is to fight, kill, keep score, get even, and paybacks.  This is what Cain did when he refused to see his brother as his brother.  He kills his brother, lies to himself and God about it, and goes off and starts civilization.  That’s the beginning of Genesis chapter 4.   At the end of Genesis 4, seven generations later, we come to Lamech, who says “…I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.””  Genesis 4:23-24 ESV.   What does this do?   It puts the world on a completely destructive course leading to the deadly days of Noah and the flood that nearly destroys humanity.   What happens is that Christ has to come much later and give us a whole new meaning of seventy times seven.

Cain says “If my brother is in my way I’m going to kill him.  My vengeance will be seven-fold.”  Lamech says “it’s going to be seventy times seven for me.”   And the world is out of control, baptized in violence, under the flood of judgement nearly destroying the human race.   

When Jesus comes, he comes as the word, the logos, the logic of God made human flesh.  You want to know what God thinks?   Want to know what God’s opinion is?  Want to know how God looks at things?  Up until Christ we have hints, we have prophets, we have guesses, ideas, psalms, we have stories, but when we get to Christ we have the logic of God made flesh so that we can actually look at him and say “that’s what God is like.”    The apostle Paul tells us Christ is the visible image of the invisible God…” Colossians 1:15 NLT.  He is the image, greek word icon, of the invisible God. God is invisible so that we are guessing, we are wondering, we are speculating what God is like.  Some get it right, some get it kinda right, some get it wrong, some get it a lot wrong.

But when Jesus comes the mystery begins to be solved.   We can look at the icon of Christ, who is the flesh and blood manifestation of the logic of God.  We begin to know what God is like when we look at Jesus.

But Jesus is not just the icon of God, but also the icon of what the apostle Paul calls in Ephesians 2:15 the new humanity.  Things go wrong with Adam and Eve.  Things go wrong with Cain and Abel.  Things go very wrong with Lamech.  We’ve lost our way.  We don’t know how to be human.  Jesus comes not only as the icon of the invisible God, but also the icon of what human beings are to be like.   Jesus gives us a new way to be human.

Jesus doesn’t just do things for us that requires only a response of passive faith.  Jesus blazes a trail for us to follow.   Too often we think “Jesus came, did all this for us, and I just believe, so everything is good.”  No.  Jesus came, blazed a trail, then said come on, follow me!   When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John on the Sea of Galilee, follow me, it’s a call to all of humanity.  It’s a call to you, too.  Jesus is not just doing something for us so that we can sit by passively.  “Yes I believe Jesus did that.  Hallelujah.  It’s going to be a great afterlife.  Let’s sing a hymn and go home.”

No.  Jesus comes, blazes a trail, and calls to the human race, this way!   Follow me.  Do it the way I do.  I’m going to show you how to live life right.   You have forgotten how to be human.  You have forgotten how to bear the image of God.  You have forgotten to be what you were supposed to be.  I’m going to show you again.  Follow me.

Jesus did not live and die and rise again just to save us from afterlife consequences.  Jesus lived his life to show us as human beings how to live our lives.  He did not just die on the cross for you, he calls out pick up your cross and follow me!!

What Jesus did on the cross is the defining moment of his life.  It was inevitable and right that the Roman cross would become the symbol of the Christian faith.  If we want to pick a single moment, from his birth, his miracles, his life, his teaching, and message, if we want to pick a defining moment from the life of Jesus Christ, you will find none better than Christ upon the cross, arms outstretched in offered embrace, saying father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

In that moment, we find the clearest picture of what God is like.   We also find the new picture of who we are to be like.  We see our model.  We find the cruciform standard for true beauty.  Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the truest revelation of who God is.

Another question.  Does the dominant expression of public Christianity in America look like Christ on the cross loving and forgiving his enemies.  What if we surveyed the “man on the street”, asking them if the dominant form of Christianity in America, expressed as modern evangelicalism,  publicly expressed in this land, does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?    How is the dominant form of public Christianity in America identified?  Does it remind you of Christ upon the cross forgiving his enemies?

If the answer is no, then we should be alarmed.    We should be deeply troubled.  We should be seeking to repent and change things.   But enough of the small talk.  I’ll get to the point.  If we have to express public contempt and thinly veiled hate for liberals, gays and Muslims in order to prove what good Christians we are, we have invented a false religion that takes the name of Christ in vain.   I understand it feels right, but it’s wrong.  It looks nothing like Jesus.

I don’t want those dark eyes anymore.  I don’t want a dark soul.  I don’t want a soul made dark because I spend my life looking at others through the squinty eyes of judgement.  I want to look at others with the wide eyes of love and wonder knowing that they, too, are loved by God.  I will not play the us vs them game.

We have a public expression of Christian faith that has been almost entirely defined by a quest for power.  As Dr Russell Moore, a leading theologian among the southern baptists, said a few years ago “For far too long, American Christianity has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”   What a disaster.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,”. Colossians 1:15 NLT

by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” Ephesians 2:15 NIV

John Lewis

Darkened Lamps

light_in_dark

“They tell me to be discreet, for all intended purposes,  they tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand I’m sure it is.  But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized.   All I feel are heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.”   Bob Dylan.

Jesus wants to teach us a brand new way of looking at life with eyes of wonder, love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul.   I’ve used this quote before, but here it is again – “Christianity is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all” – Pastor and author Brian Zahnd.  The problem is that the people who are most explicit in our culture in identifying themselves as Christian are not famous for forgiveness.  If we are identifying ourselves with Christianity, which is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all, but we are not famous for our forgiveness, something has gone very wrong.  We say we care about Christianity in America.  We say we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live as Christians.   But we have a problem.

The dominant, most visible public expression of public Christianity in America, evangelicalism, is in deep trouble.   The us vs. them thing is killing us.  We have adopted a paradigm of self-identifying ourselves as we are the righteous and they (pick your group) are the unrighteous, and we are going to react toward them by protest, by clenched fist, by furrowed brow, and this attitude and paradigm is killing authentic Christianity in America.

I can’t paraphrase or otherwise say this any better, so this is directly from Pastor Zahnd’s 2010 book Unconditional?  The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.  So I’ll just quote from it.

“When we choose to forgive those who intentionally and maliciously harm us instead of perpetuating the cycle of revenge, we become a living imitation of Jesus Christ.  And as we do this, we flood a world hell-bent on paybacks with a forgiveness that washes away sin.  The world is all too full of the lust for vengeance.  This lust is ultimately demonic in nature and is what fuels all our wars – from petty personal conflicts to deadly world wars.  Christians are called to opt out of the game of getting even.  The saying is that “vengeance is sweet,” but vengeance is sweet only to the sick soul.  To those who have tasted the grace of God in Christ, vengeance is bitter as gall.  Bob Dylan talks about the perversity of calling revenge ‘sweet’ in his under-appreciated song ‘Dark Eyes.’

‘They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,

They tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.

But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,

All I feel are heat and flame and all I feel are dark eyes.’

Revenge is not sweet.  It’s the heat and flame of hell and leads to the dark eyes of a lost soul.  Those who would aspire to imitate Christ must feel nothing for the game of paybacks.  The saying ‘paybacks are hell’ is true in more than one sense.  Paybacks are not only hell for the recipient of revenge; paybacks are also hell for the executioner of revenge.  It’s the lust for revenge that destroys our souls and keeps us chained in a devil’s  hell of exponential hatred and endless retribution.  The only way out is the imitation of Christ.”

Who are we imitating?   Are we imitating Christ?   Or are we dancing with the devil?   Just what kind of light is the lamp of your soul beaming?

 “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.

John Lewis

Bright Eyes

We read and pray Psalm 88 and we find that “my eye grows [dark] through sorrow…”  Psalms 88:9 ESV.   Some people have dark eyes from the sorrows they have seen in life.   They say the eyes are a window to the soul.    You can look in some peoples eyes and they tell a story, oftentimes a story that is sad.  Some people have dark eyes because of the sorrows they have seen in life, we understand that.

But some people have dark eyes because of the way they look at life.   Jesus talks about that in the sermon on the mount.  “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.  Jesus talks about the eye, how we look at life, being the lamp of our entire being.  He says this in the sermon on the mount in the context of where he is talking about money.  The text is bracketed by Jesus speaking about those who would be his disciples and how we view money.  Right before this text, he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 ESV.   At the end of this passage he says “.…You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 ESV.

So this dark eye that causes our being to be filled with darkness has something to do with a wrong approach to money.   We could say it like this : there are those who go through life with the squinty eyes of greed.  The squinty-eyed have dark eyes that darken their own soul because they have learned to look at life in the wrong way.  We can look at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation, and cynicism.   There is a way of looking at life through little slits, sizing people up, looking for an advantage, calculating, cynical, jaded, greedy.  If you look at life that way, the light pouring into your soul is in fact darkness.  We can look at life with the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, but we end up with dark eyes and a dark soul.

Or we can look at life with wide-eyed wonder, love and acceptance.  With our eyes wide open, wide-eyed wonder of love and acceptance, we have bright eyes and a bright soul.  Some have dark eyes because of how much sorrow they have seen in life.  But some have dark eyes because of how they shut out the light by how they look at life.

But the gospel message is this – Jesus can save us from both the dark eyes of sorrow and the dark eyes of cynicism.  So that if you have seen so much sorrow and pain and suffering in your life, and you feel like your soul has been darkened, I want to tell you the good news that Jesus can come to you and heal you from your sorrows.  He can give you bright eyes and a bright soul.

And if you’ve been looking at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, Jesus wants to teach you a brand new way of looking at life through the wide eyed wonder of love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul…

John Lewis