The Sea of Empire

Jesus walks to the disciples in the middle of their storm, he walks to us in the middle of our storms, and he is Lord of all, even the winds and the waves and the sea.   Think about it.

If we are going to understand the true significance of Jesus walking on water, we must understand the Jewish view of the sea.  The Jewish people were not a sea-faring people.  The Phoenicians, the Greeks, even the Egyptians were great sea-faring people.  But as for the Israelites, they’re staying at home, they’re not going anywhere.   They don’t really like the sea, even if they may have fishermen who work the Sea of Galilee, which is really just a lake about 12 miles long and 7 miles wide.  But they really generally view the sea with dread.  In Hebrew thought, the sea is emblematic of chaos and the source of evil.  This is why in the book of Revelation, which is a book comprised of nothing but signs, one of the signs is that in the new earth is there is no more sea.   “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”  Revelation‬ ‭21:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  It’s not that there will literally be no more oceans and we’re not going to able to swim with the the dolphins anymore.  It’s that the sea is the origin of evil and this is symbolic that the capacity to generate evil is going to be eradicated.

Job, in his praise of God, says that God tramples the waves of the sea – “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;”. Job‬ ‭9:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  It’s not God walks on the waves of the sea, but God tramples the waves of the sea.  Because the sea was viewed with dread, and it was generally a symbol of the source of evil, so Job says God tramples the waves of the sea.

More significant is Daniel’s vision of the beasts that come out of the sea.  “Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea…”  Daniel‬ ‭7:2-3‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Daniel has a dream, it’s at night, yes a dark and stormy night.   He’s looking out upon the sea, the sea is troubled, it’s rough, it’s churning, the winds are blowing and the waves are rising.  Up out of the sea come four monsters, four beasts.  These monstrous beasts that Daniel sees coming out of the sea in his dream are identified later as four empires, or superpowers, who dominate the world. They create oppression among the other people.  The four empires are Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  It’s all there in Daniel 7 for you to discern.  But by the end of the vision in Daniel 7, here is the point – the Son of Man has come up from the earth into the clouds of heaven and has been received before the ancient of days, and unto him is given dominion and authority over all of those empires, all of those beasts, all of those nations.  They are now all serving the Son of Man.  The vision is that the Son of Man will prevail over the empires and peaceably rule the nations.

Let’s back up again to the beginning of this chapter.   “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Remember, Jesus lived on the western side of the Sea of Galilee, but when he fed the 5000 he and his disciples had gone seven miles to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  This body of water is seen over and over in the Old Testament and the New Testament as the Sea of Galilee, you’ve all heard of this before.  But here, John refers to it as the Sea of Tiberias.   This is very significant.  Nothing is in John’s Gospel by accident.  We know the Holy Spirit inspired John, but we also know how the Holy Spirit works.  It isn’t automatic writing, this is John working with the Holy Spirit.  That’s why it sounds like John, Matthew sounds like Matthew, Romans sounds like Paul.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t eradicate our personality, or our thinking, or our style, but works with it.  So, if we asked John “How long did you work on your Gospel?”, would it surprise anyone if he said “I worked on that off and on for twenty years.  I kept working, refining it, getting it just right.”   We can tell, can’t we?   There’s so much in there, it’s just so.  Nothing happens by accident.   There are nuggets we continue to find.   So if John tells us that Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberiasthat’s not just some throwaway line.  He wants you to see that.  His gospel is filled with this kind of thing.

So who is Tiberias?   It’s Tiberias Caesar, who became the Roman emperor in the year AD 14, when Jesus was a teenager, and his reign was through AD 37.  From Jesus‘s teenage to adult years, through his ministry and the first seven years of the church, Tiberias is the Roman emperor.

Tiberias is also a city.  It’s there to this day, right on the Sea of Galilee.  The city was built in AD 20.  This episode in John chapter 6 is probably about AD 28-29.   This city has only been there for 8 or 9 years.  It was built by Herod Antipas, grandson of Herod the Great.  He was the client king of the Jews for the Roman Empire.  He built the city of Tiberias intentionally on the Sea of Galilee to be the capital of the Roman Empire in Galilee.  It housed the Roman army, the Roman officials in Galilee, and lots of Gentiles moved there.   Very few, if any Jews, went to live in Tiberias.
 
This city has only been there for seven or eight years.  Herod names it for the emperor, Tiberias.  This is the way of empire.  Empire is just swallowing up everything.  They even try to rename this sea, which has been known forever as the Sea of Galilee forever, to the Sea of Tiberias.  It’s like when they take some great historic ballpark, and rename them with corporate name and logo.  It is in this way that empire just attempts to swallow up everything.   Maybe this is why Revelation shows them as beastly, because they just swallow up everything in their path, even the sea.   The emperor Tiberias has his mark on everything.   

In Jesus’ day, Tiberias was the face of the empire, his image was everywhere, his name was everywhere, he’s swallowing everything up.  John wants you to notice that the empire tries even to name the historic seas after itself.  The empire was devouring everything, it’s a beast.   Most people either sink or swim in the sea of empire.    You’re either a winner or a loser in the empire, you sink or swim.

But not Jesus!!   Jesus just walks on top of it!  John wants you to see this anti-imperial sign.  That’s why he tells you it’s the Sea of Tiberias.  He hopes that you will know or learn enough about the way Jews typically viewed the sea.  He hopes you know something about what Job says about how God tramples the waves of the sea.  He hopes you remember Daniel’s vision that it’s out of the sea that all these monsters come.   The latest monster out of the sea is the Roman Empire, represented by Tiberias, who wants to swallow up everything, and everybody had to sink or swim in the sea of empire.  But not Jesus, because he’s Lord and he just walks in top of it!!

We don’t have to swim in the sea of empire like a bloodthirsty shark.  We don’t have to sink in the sea of empire like a drowning victim.   We can walk with Jesus and stay above it all, because Jesus is Lord!!

Amen.
 
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”  John‬ ‭6:16-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  
 
John Lewis
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The Horses of History

The Horses of History
And now to finish out what I have to say (finally) about Jesus feeding the multitudes…
 
First…the paragraph I finished with last time.

Jesus says we don’t have to stay down here in the finite sphere worried and fighting.  We can trust in God and connect with the beauty of the infinite.  This is the life where trust replaces fear and faith replaces force.  This is the life that the sign of the feeding of the five thousand points us to.  It’s the life that we want to live.  It’s the life of peace.  But it’s challenging to enter into.  You can do it, but the fear of scarcity, the paradigm of insufficiency, the drive for economic self preservation is the greatest hindrance to entering into the Kingdom of God.

The people that have the hardest time connecting with that connecting point between the infinite heaven and our finite creation are not the poor down here, but the rich.   The rich that have few more of those grains in the hourglass.   I mean, the rich have twelve grains of sand, and after all, the poor only have one.  But, it is just twelve grains… Jesus says it’s hard for the rich to understand that there is the infinite provision of God…”How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  ‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:24‬ ‭ESV‬‬, because they are so locked into their paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.

We are dominated by our paradigm of scarcity, and we fear there will never be enough.  So we are committed to maintaining economic self preservation by force, and this is the way of Cain.  The force maintaining our economic self preservation is where we place our faith, and it’s idolatrous.  I’ll say it again.  The force maintaining our economic self preservation is where we place our faith, and it’s idolatrous…

What happens is, when we operate within our paradigm of scarcity and we put our faith in force to forcibly preserve ours, this creates competition.  Competition leads to conflict.   Conflict leads to conquest.  Conquest leads to resentment because people tend not to like to be conquered (go figure).  Resentment leads to retaliation and rebellion, and that leads to war.  And the whole thing becomes one big self-fulfilling prophecy that there is not enough because we squander it fighting one another…

Because we are dominated by our paradigm of scarcity, it leads to competition.  Competition leads to conflict, conflict leads to conquest, and people don’t like to be conquered and this leads to resentment, and then rebellion, and then retaliation and war, which leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy of scarcity and lack, also known as the haves and the have-nots.   Now what do we have?  Maybe you can recognize the four horseman of the apocalypse

The white horse of conquest.  Followed by the red horse of war.  Followed by the black horse of scarcity (or famine).  Followed by the pale horse of death.  People ask “Do you think those horses are about to ride?”  They’ve been galloping across human history several times a century since history began!!!!   And Jesus wants to SAVE us from the stupid cycle of the stupid four horseman!   He wants to save us from this cycle where we have conquest, we conquer, but people don’t like to be conquered.  So as soon as they get a little power and some kind of leader they retaliate, and that leads to WAR, which is the worst squandering of human resources, and it turns into that self-fulfilling prophecy of Look there’s not enough!  

Yeah, because you spent it all killing each other.  Of course there’s not enough now.  And in the end it’s always that pale horse that rides across history.  Jesus says, “Let’s do something else, because this isn’t working!   I’ve come to save you.”  Jesus came to save us from the stupid cycle of conquest, war, famine, and death.  Conquest, war, famine, and death. Conquest, war, famine, and death.   That’s human history.

The miracle of the the loaves and fishes is a sign pointing us to Jesus in a new way, but do we have eyes to see it, do we have faith to believe it?   Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.   We call him Lord Jesus Christ.   Christ means Messiah, Messiah means King.  Christ is King.  Jesus is the King.  Yet they come to make him king, and he runs off to hide.  What’s happening here?  The key word here is force.  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force…the crowd wants to take Jesus by force to make him their forceful king to lead their forces.  This is exactly what Jesus will not do.  Jesus will not ride the white horse of forceful conquest, because that leads to the red horse of war, that leads to the black horse of famine, and that leads to the pale horse of death, and that’s what Jesus came to SAVE us from, not ride.
 
The Kingdom of Christ is without force.  It’s persuaded by love, spirit, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be laying down our lives, martyrdom.  Because we love not our lives, even to the point of death.  But never by force.  The kingdom of God does not come by winning the game of force in our finite sphere.  The kingdom of God comes by, in faith, connecting to Jesus Christ, and thus to the beauty of the infinite.

The Word became flesh and blood.  The Word didn’t become an idea, the Word didn’t become a theory, the Word didn’t become a sermon.  The Word became flesh and blood.  The flesh and blood of Jesus is the connecting point of the finite and the infinite.   I’ve used the word infinite, but the Bible uses another word for this, it’s called eternal life.  Instead of infinite, I could have used the words eternal life.  But I want to bring it in a fresh new way.  In the beginning was the infinite, the infinite was with God, the infinite was God, and the infinite became finite flesh and blood, lived among us, and we beheld the beauty of the infinite.

The beauty of the infinite.  It’s a sign.  It’s not just Jesus giving lunch one time.  It’s a sign that we can connect by faith with the word made flesh, and that opens us up to the infinite.

 

“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬
 

 

John Lewis

I Shall Not Want

I Shall Not Want

So Jesus is giving is a sign as to just how mistaken we are when we go through life believing there is just not enough for us and for them, for me and for you, for mine and for yours…

We are back in Galilee.  The multitudes are coming to Jesus, and it is a beautiful thing.  The setting is beautiful in Galilee.  Grassy slopes rising up from the Sea of Galilee, and the people were coming to Jesus in great numbers.   And Jesus is teaching them, and of course he was teaching one and one thing only, the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching them the way that their creator, whom He calls his Abba, his Father, intends for human beings to live.  It’s an alternative social structure.  It’s not a social structure based upon systemic sin, it’s a social structure based in love.  

Because this government of God, this reign and rule of God, is only constrained by two laws.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.   The cynic will say, and maybe you agree, that you just can’t build a society around that kind of law and structure.  But Jesus says, “Oh, yes you can!”  And this is exactly what it is that Jesus teaches and preaches.   

We’re told that it was Passover.  There were three Passovers in John’s Gospel.  It is from John because of this that we get that Jesus’ ministry lasts 2 1/2 – 3 years, we don’t get that from Matthew, Luke or Mark.   If we only read the synoptic gospels, we might think Jesus’ ministry only lasted about a year, but it’s from John that we see it lasted 2 1/2 – 3 years, still a very short public ministry.   On the first Passover, Jesus had gone to Jerusalem, and events there had created some trouble for him.  

Now, it is the second Passover, and Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for the Passover because of death threats.  He’d been there for an earlier festival, probably Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and there were death threats.  It says he was not going back to Judea because the Judeans were seeking to  kill him.   When the third Passover comes around, Jesus will go to Jerusalem, and he will be killed.

So it was Passover time, but Jesus was staying in Galilee.  Passover is a Jewish table rite.  It is remembering how God delivered the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, and how God provided for them with the manna from heaven through the long journey to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.   Jesus will take that Passover meal, and he’s going to innovate.  He’s going to rework it into what we call communion.  John gives us the Eucharistic theology of Jesus at the end of this chapter.

So we’re on a grassy hillside listening to Jesus teach about the government and social structure of God.  He’s teaching how God wants the world arranged.  Not how Cain and Pharaoh and Caesar and all those want it, but how God wants it.

Then he turns to one of his disciples, Phillip, and asks him Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?    These people have needs.  They can’t just live on my words.  They are human beings.  They need bread, maybe more.   Where are we to buy bread to feed these multitudes?  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  And of course Phillip answers, probably much as we would, Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.    Phillip breaks out the calculator and figures out it would take at least $12,000 to feed them all.   So Andrew, Peter’s brother, speaks up.  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?   Andrew immediately feels silly for saying out loud that a little boy has five barley loaves and two fish for such a vast multitude of people.  When he hears himself say it out loud, and there’s such multitude of people, but what is five barley loaves and two little fish for so many people???   But it turns out he’s onto something.  

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”   Jesus says, I think we can work with this.  Have everybody sit down.   Now there was much grass in the place.   Let them sit down in the green grass of this lovely place.  Now let’s go back to Psalm 23.   What does it say?   “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.   I shall not…what?  I shall not…come up lacking.  I shall not be insufficient.  I shall not be the victim of scarcity.  I shall not…not have enough.   “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”   We should see that the Shepherd is present here.   He sees these people as his flock, and the Shepherd knows he needs to feed his flock, so he has the sit down.  So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.   The little boys lunch of five barley loaves and two fishes are given to him, he takes them he gives thanks to the Father.  He gives a prayer, thanking God that he is the provider.  He gives a prayer of thanksgiving, because God is the king of the universe, God brings forth bread from the earth.  Jesus blesses the meal, and begins to give it to the disciples, bread and fish, bread and fish, bread and fish….Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.   He keeps reaching into the basket.   It seems as though he keeps reaching, but where’s he reaching to?   There’s five to start with, but He’s reaching into something that seems to be infinite.   How long does it take to distribute 1, 2 ,3, 4, 5 barley loaves and 1, 2 fish?   One, two,  three, four, five, six, seven, you should be done, but he’s not.  It just keeps coming.  Where’s he pulling from?   He keeps passing it out, giving it to the disciples, and the twelve are passing it out.   And it just keeps coming.  Maybe this is not a closed system after all.  It just keeps coming, He keeps reaching in and giving and giving, and he’s giving, and he’s giving….

It’s his first hands on miracle.  Water to wine, the healing of the officials son, the healing by the pool are all spoken word miracles, but Jesus has got his hands on the bread and the fish.   He’s giving out these McFish sandwiches, there you go.   And people start eating.  And they have seconds, some have thirds.  They’re not worried about their low carb diet, they just want more bread!  They eat and they’re happy and they’re having a good time, and they eat until they are filled.  And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 

They eat until they are filled.  Jesus says let’s not let anything go to waste, let’s take up the leftovers.   So from the leftovers of five barley loaves and two fish that had fed five thousand men plus women and children, there is now gathered up of the leftovers twelve baskets full.   When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”    Of course it’s a sign.  And of course it’s twelve baskets full.  It’s a sign of Israel being reconstituted.  Twelve tribes.  Twelve apostles.  Twelve, the number of God’s people.  There’s twelve baskets full, and John tells us this is what the Kingdom of God looks like!  The kingdom of Cain says there’s not enough!  We’re convinced there’s not enough!  There are only five loaves and two fish, and there’s not enough, and you better believe we’re gonna fight, because  I’m taking four…and both the fish!!!  Here, you can have this little loaf, I’m getting mine over here.   If you try to take mine, there’s going to be trouble…

And Jesus gives us a sign, another way.  There’s another way.  You’ve been lied to.   You’ve been told there’s not enough, but there is.  You’ve been lied to.  You’ve been told that scarcity and insufficiency is the paradigm through which you must view the world, but it’s a lie…

The fourth sign in Johns Gospel tells us this – we no longer live in a zero based, closed system universe.  In the incarnation, the Infinite has made contact with the finite…
 
So much more to say…
 

 

John Lewis

There’s Just Not Enough

There’s Just Not Enough

Back to the feeding of the five thousand.
 
In John’s poetic prologue to his gospel, which is so important, John tells us something about the beauty of the Infinite entering into the finite.   “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14, 16‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  The word became flesh, we are told.   The logos became human, incarnation.  Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…this word could also be understood as beauty.   We have seen his [beauty], the beauty of a Fathers only Son, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.   

From the fullness of Christ we have all received grace upon grace.   But the human condition, as a problem, suffers from a kind of emptiness.   We can ask the question What’s wrong with us?   There are many ways we can answer this question, but one of the ways we can answer this question is to say we suffer from a kind of emptiness.  Not just spiritual emptiness, there’s that too, but we live with a pervasive mentality of scarcity and insufficiency, this is very important.   We are infected in the way we think about life itself.

As human beings, we can only survive in a social structure, our lives are intensely social by necessity.  So here we are, thrust into this social structure that is the human condition, but we come with a problem.  Or at least as young children we are scripted in such a way, unknowingly, that there’s just not enough.  There’s not enough to go around.   There’s not enough for everyone, you know?   This, really, shapes the way we view the world in a very negative way.  There’s just not enough.   So we have a paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency.   There’s not enough, because there’s just not.  So I have to make sure there’s enough for me and mine, because there’s just not enough.

So this is our problem.  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Seriously, why did Cain kill Abel?   Was it because he thought there just wasn’t enough?   Was there not enough land?   There’s not enough land for Cain’s crops and Abel’s flocks, at least that’s what Cain thought.  So Cain has to get rid of the competition, even though it’s  his brother.

We are the sons and daughters of Cain.  It is not Abel’s legacy that we have inherited as a human species, but Cain’s legacy.  Certainly we are the sons and daughters of Cain, why else do we covet and why do we fight and why do we exploit?   Because we view the world through Cain’s lens of scarcity and insufficiency.   We don’t see ourselves as blessed with abundance, we perceive ourselves as cursed with scarcity, so we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of the void, we’re afraid of emptiness, we’re afraid of insufficiency, we’re afraid of empty bellies, we’re afraid that there’s just not enough.

We are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and that creation is a closed system.  I don’t think we are formally taught that at any point (although I do work in sales and deal with a company that absolutely believes in the concept of zero-based budgeting…so maybe the world is starting to formally encode this belief).   At some point philosophy may creep into exploring this line of thought, but by the time we are three years old we already know this.   We may not know any of the words at three years old, but we certainly are raised to believe that reality is zero-based, and creation is a closed system.  Or, as we might say, that it is finite, that creation is limited.

Now we are getting to it.  The jumping off point I spoke of previously.  This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency lies at the heart of our systemic sins.   Stay with me here.  There are personal sins, and that is what we mostly focus on,  because we feel so hopeless in doing anything about our systemic sins. But the real problems of humanity stem not from our personal sins, but from our sins as a whole, as a human race.   As human beings, as we build our societies, we build them in sinful ways.  No one person or group is responsible, but are are all culpable in it.   We are all implicated.  It’s because of our paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency that we build systems that are in and of themselves sinful.

We fear that there won’t be enough oil.  There won’t be enough land.  There won’t be enough food.  There won’t be enough water.  There won’t be enough money.  There won’t be enough labor to go around, so we build and maintain sinful structure to guarantee that WE have OURS.   We fear that there’s not going to enough for us, however we define US, so we use force against THEM, to guarantee we have enough for US.

Still with me?  Try.  We create an organized, slow motion version of anarchy.  You know anarchy, think of lawlessness, the rule of law thrown out the window, it’s every man for himself, people are smashing windows, just grabbing whatever they can.  Think about times during riots when suddenly when all law and order dissolves, it’s pandemonium,  it’s anarchy, the zombie apacolypse comes upon us…

What we have done in our systemic sins is to create a slow-motion version of anarchy.  We don’t recognize it for what it is because it takes place over decades or centuries.  Native Americans were victims of the slow motion, organized anarchy known as Manifest Destiny.   Just grab what you can and the rest will just have to get by as best they can

This way of viewing the world is absolutely dominant.  We take this to be truth.  If there is a truth we believe in, this is it.  That there is not enough, there is not enough so we have to be committed to our side and we have to grab and clutch and hold on and fight and make sure we have enough for ours.  We view this as truth, as reality, as the way it is.   But it is not…

It is into this sad world dominated by the paradigm of scarcity that the Son of God appears.  And on a grassy hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gives us a sign of just how mistaken we are…

Again, that’s enough for now, to be continued.
 
 
“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
‭‭John‬ ‭6:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

John Lewis

It’s a Time Machine

It’s a Time Machine
So the Spirit of God just blows where it will.  It is not beholden to our borders and boundaries, but just blows through at will.  Back to the text at hand.  And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.””    They are prosecuting Jesus as a sabbath breaker, and the defense Jesus gives is doubly provocative.  He says, first thing you need to understand is that my Father is God – immediately this will get his persecutors bent out of shape.   The great thing in John’s gospel that he never departs from is that Jesus is the revelation of the Father, that if you see Jesus you see the Father.  If you see Jesus, you know what a God is like.  The second thing that Jesus on this phrase is “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”   In other words, when Jesus is being prosecuted by these Judeans for violating their interpretation of the sabbath, Jesus’ defense is the reason I am working today is because God is my Father and  He is working today.   So you see how provocative that is?  They say “It’s a sabbath, nobody can work!”   Jesus says “My Dad is God and he’s working today.  Since he’s working I’m working with Him.

Jesus knows this is provocative and challenging, yet he does this on purpose.   Jesus knows that with statements like this, he is forcing people to make hard decisions about him.  But he doesn’t back off, because he’s not the convenient Christ, he’s the controversial Christ.   The Jewish idea was that God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh.  Well fine, so be it, but Jesus indicates that God is not inactive in the world.  God is at work, and the work of God is to heal the world.  So whatever extent we are working today to heal the world, whatever that means, to heal sick bodies, to heal sick societies, to heal massive injustice, to heal broken relationships, to heal people’s relationship with God, with one another, to heal people’s relationship in their own mind with themselves, to whatever degree we are working to bring healing into the world, we are doing God’s work.

Because God created in six days, rested on the seventh, then things began to fall apart, began to be broken, and God has been working ever since to heal the world.  Those that work with Him in healing the world are doing God’s work.  That’s one way of looking at this story, and it’s true.  But there is a deeper, more mysterious sign fir us to see.

Jesus says My Father is working, and I’m working.  But the Judeans say, No it’s the sabbath and it’s the day for resting and not for working.   If you’ve spent any time in the gospels, you know this happens not one, not twice, not five times, but it comes up over and over, this issue of Jesus doing things on the sabbath that they think shouldn’t be done.   There’s a discrepancy.  The Judeans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the religious lawyers and scribes, they say “It’s the sabbath, you can’t work on the sabbath, you can’t do that.  Not this day!  Don’t come for healing on this day!   Don’t work on this day.”   Yet Jesus keeps doing it.  Jesus is intentionally breaking their idea of the law.  He’s breaking their rule.   What’s going on here?

Maybe we can describe it like this – Jesus and the Judeans are on different time zones.   The dispute is you can’t do this on the sabbath.  It’s  like they are in different time zones.  If you make friends around the world, they might be led to reach out to you at 3 pm New Delhi time.  Which might be 3 am your time.  It can pretty inconvenient if you think about it.   The world is round you know!

We have times zones, 24 of them.  That’s how we divide it, because the world spins in its axis, and the sun is always shining somewhere.  London is a couple of hours ahead of us, they are in the future.  Denver, Los Angeles, they are in the past, for me.  Sydney, Australia is so far ahead of us they are sleeping, dreaming of tomorrow morning..  They’ve gotten up, had coffee, gone to work, had lunch, finished work and are home for dinner and gone to bed.   They are in the future…

It’s because we are in different time zones.  Our Sunday is their Monday.   Jesus and his Father were on different time zones than the Torah-bound Judeans.  The Judeans were saying it’s the seventh day, it’s the seventh day, it’s the seventh day, it’s a time for rest.   But Jesus is saying it’s the first day, better yet it’s the eighth day, it’s the time for New Creation.  Jesus is anticipating the age to come, the resurrection.  In other words, Jesus is from the future.  Jesus is watching football in Sydney on Monday morning, because he’s from the future.

Jesus is from the future, and so are the baptized.   We could say every baptistry in every church is a time machine.  You’re not really a Christian until you have been baptized, it is our initiation.  We baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  When you are baptized into the Christian faith, into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you have joined him in the age to come.  You have passed beyond death, into life.  You are already projected into the age to come.  You are thrust into the future.  You now belong to the age to come.

We are from the future.  Why did Christians begin to build hospitals?   Because health and healing belong to the age to come.   By the help of the Holy Spirit, we meditate, we imagine, we anticipate, In the age to come, what will life be like?   Will there be sickness and disease ruining people?   No?  Well then, let’s work to be there now.  Let’s anticipate that, and work toward healing people now.

Why did Christians eventually come to champion the abolition of slavery?  Because Christians came to realize that emancipation belongs to the age to come, and they should be there now.  Because we are from the future.

Why should Christians turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks?   Because peace belongs to the age to come and we are from the future.  Our task is not to accommodate ourselves to the way things are, but “…as he is so also are we in this world.”  1 John‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   We are to be the anticipation of the age to come, the embodiment of the reign of Christ here and now, because we’ve gone into that time machine that is baptism.  And sometimes we are at odds with the society around us because we are in different time zones.   While some are still getting out of church, others are going to work in Monday.  These are time zone conflicts, and we are from the future.  We are to imagine, then embody, the reign of Christ here and now.   Whatever belongs to the age to come, we seek to embody here and now.   We join Jesus in doing the work of the Father, even right now!
 
John Lewis

Seeking Signs

Seeking Signs

Jesus is the word of God translated into human flesh so we can understand it, so that it doesn’t remain abstract, ethereal, theoretical, distant.  Jesus is the word, the logos, the wisdom of God translated into a human being so we can understand him.

In the beginning the word spoke creation into existence because the word is with God, the word is God.  The word is the second person of the trinity.   But in the incarnation the word that spoke creation into existence is now spoken into that creation Himself.  So in the beginning, the word speaks creation into existence, but in the incarnation, Christmas, Bethlehem, virgin birth, Jesus in a manger, the word of God is spoken into creation.   How do you do?   God does not stay distant from his creation, but writes himself into the story so that we can know what He’s like!   Jesus is what God has to say. As we look at Jesus, we see the divine logic of God translated into a human being so we can know what He’s like.

More from John, this time from his first letter.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV.   John says “Look, I’ve seen him.  I’ve touched him.  I’ve heard him.  The word, the logos of God that became a human being.   And I’m going testify of Him.  I’m going to tell you what Jesus was like so that you’ll know what God is like.”   God writes himself into the story so that we can know what he’s like.  Jesus is the full, complete, final, eternal self-disclosure of God.  If you want to know what God is like, you look at Jesus.  Into our world of death, God has spoken the word of Life, and that word is Jesus.  And John is going to give us a sign to see how this works.

Jesus is returning from a tour of Samaria and Judea.  He’d gone all the way to Jerusalem.  He’d worked a miracle in Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine at the wedding.  Then he went in a tour through Jerusalem, up through Samaria, meeting the woman at the well.  Now he’s come back into Galilee, but instead of returning to his newly adopted hometown of Capernaum, he goes high up in the hills of Galilee, which is where we find Cana, only 5 miles from Nazareth.

25 miles away from Cana, in Capernaum down by the seashore, there is a royal official employed by the king, King Herod.  This is not the same Herod from the birth of Jesus, but one of his grandsons.  Point is, this official is employed by the king, he’s part of the Herodian elite.  He’s wealthy, influential, and powerful.  Maybe he’s in Capernaum because it’s an important taxation town, where all the taxes from the fishing that goes on on the Sea of Galilee is gathered, but we don’t know.   He’s wealthy, powerful and influential, and he has a little boy, let’s say 2 years old.

This little boy has a fever.  Fevers can be dangerous even now, but through all human history before the advent of antibiotics after WWII, fevers were often deadly to small children.  His little boy has a fever and it’s not coming down.  He’s burning up, he’s become listless, his breathing is shallow, his pulse is weak.  He’s afraid his little boy is going to die.  He’s waiting for Jesus to come because he believes somehow that Jesus can do a miracle and heal his son.  So he’s waiting for Jesus to come back to his newly adopted hometown of Capernaum.

But then word comes that no, Jesus has not come to Capernaum,  but instead gone to Cana.  So this royal official goes as fast as he can, up, up ,up into those Galilean hills, 25 miles up, to reach Cana as quickly as he could.  He finds Jesus, and begins to beg.  This royal official is not accustomed to begging.  He’s rich, he’s powerful, he’s used to having his way.  He’s used to giving orders and not begging.  But now he begs.   “Please sir, please sir, please come down, come with me back down to Capernaum and heal my little boy, he’s at the point death.  I’m begging you Jesus, come heal my little boy.”

Jesus response is surprising, befuddling, confusing, ambiguous.   Why does he say that?    So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”    What Jesus wants people to do is to believe in Him.  He wants people people to believe that He is revealing to them the Father.  He wants people to believe in Him, but he knows that unless people see signs they won’t believe.  But the signs become a problem, because they have to have the signs in order to believe that he can reveal the Father, but as soon as he starts doing signs people get confused and they become distracted by the sign instead of seeing what the sign is pointing to.

The sign is not the thing itself.  If we see a sign for Washington DC, with an arrow pointing north, that’s not Washington DC, that’s a sign pointing to  Washington DC.  Jesus says “I have to do signs or they wasn’t believe,” but there’s a hint of exasperation in his voice.  Because he knows people then get distracted because they just focus on what Jesus can do instead of what the sign points to, who he is, the one who reveals the Father to us.

This is a recurring theme of John’s Gospel.  We see after the feeding of the 5000 that they saw the sign.   “Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” John 6:26 HCSB.  You saw the sign, you loved the sign.  You ate the fish and the bread.  But you missed what it’s pointing to.  It’s pointing to me as the bread of life.   But all the people could see was a free lunch.

This problem reaches its culmination in the story of Thomas at the end of the Gospel.  “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.””  John 20:25 ESV.   So a week later Jesus gives Thomas his sign.   “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””  John 20:27-29 ESV.  Ok Thomas, here’s your sign.  Look, give me your hand, here are the holes.   So Thomas believes.   But blessed are those who have NOT seen yet have believed.

So there’s a frustration for Jesus.  He has to do signs, but the signs can be distracting.   People can be obsessed with the sign, instead of what the sign is pointing to.  Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.   But the father in this story is not really interested in a theological discussion at this point.   God bless him, he just says  “Sir, come down before my child dies.”    So Jesus tells him “Go; your son will live.”   Go, your son will live.   Ok, this father is gone on his way home.  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.   He leaves without a sign from Jesus, just the command to go.  He travels down, it’s a long journey longer than he can go in a day.  It’s 25 miles, rugged terrain, difficult travel.   He travels as far as he can, he’s up at first light the next morning.   As he’s going, he comes across some of his own slaves (he is a rich, powerful man).  As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.   Your son is alright, he’s well.  He’s going to be fine, he’s recovering.   So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”    The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household.    

The official and his whole household believed in Jesus.   Believed what?   That Jesus could heal the sick?   They already believed that.  That’s why this man made the 25 mike trek up to Cana, because he believed Jesus could heal his sick son.  No, they did not just believe Jesus could do stuff, they believed in Jesus.

Which is what Jesus is after all along.  They saw the sign and were not distracted by it.  They allowed the sign to point them to faith in Jesus.  What do they believe about Jesus?  They believe he is the Messiah.   Which means king.   King of what?   King of the Jews, the king of Israel.

Who is this man in this story?   He is a royal official.   Who does he work for?   He works for King Herod.   And King Herod is the king of what?  He is the King of the Jews, the King of Israel.   But suddenly this man has changed, and now he says “I believe the real king, the true king, the king I’m going to put my faith in is not Herod, but Jesus.  I’m not putting my faith in that anymore.  I’m putting my faith in Jesus.”   He and his whole household.

The bible almost always thinks of salvation as an individual thing as we do, but a household thing.  A whole household believes in Christ.   That’s why we raise our kids in our faith.  We raise them as Christians.  We don’t ask them what they’d like to be (or maybe we do).   Let’s just sample it all…Here’s a little Islam, a little Buddhism, a little Confucianism, a little atheism, a little other-ism.  A little make-it-up-as-you-go-ism.   No we, we raise our children as Christians.   We dedicate them as babies, we baptize them,  bring them to church, put them in Sunday school, vacation bible school.  Because we raise them as Christians.  Because it’s not just an individual thing, it’s whole household  believing in Jesus.

Some days it all seems so much harder to have faith, to believe.  Some days we just take a sucker punch to the gut.  It is on these days when we find out what we really believe.   Do we really believe in Jesus?   Or are we distracted by the signs?   Will we hike that 25 miles uphill,  sometimes through the wind and the rain, and ask Jesus, plead with Jesus please come??!!   Or will we just seek out all the other -isms of the world, especially my favorite, that my-way-ism, do it our own way, then wonder how we wound up making the whole thing worse??

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”

John 4:46-54 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.4.46-54.esv

Please Come.

One last thought on Jesus’s first miracle, turning water into wine.  Short and sweet, I promise.

Jesus doesn’t just turn any old water into wine.   Jesus turned water for ritual purification into wedding wine, and this too is a sign.  The sign is that there is about to be a huge shift in how we understand our relationship with God.   Instead of always washing, washing, washing, mikvah, mikvah, mikvah, ceremonial cleansing, over and over, repeatedly, several times a week, instead of always washing and never really feeling clean, now the Kingdom of God is going to be more like eating and drinking with close friends with nothing to prove.  Because you know you belong and you know you are welcome there.

To be involved with God, Jesus says is not going to be like always bathing but never getting clean. It’s going to be like sitting at a table with your best friends, enjoying good food and drink, with nothing to prove.  Things are about to shift from purity rites to shared table delights.

Instead of are you clean enough, are you pure enough, are you holy enough, are you kosher enough, the question is now going to be will you come to the table?   Want to come to God?   The question has changed.  It used to be that the question was are Holy enough, pure enough, kosher enough, clean enough???   But Jesus says that’s not the question any more. The question isn’t are you holy, clean, or pure enough, the question is will you come to the table??

That’s the standing invitation Jesus gives to you.  He invites you to his table. And he says I’m not asking you if you’re clean enough.  I’m not asking you if you Holy enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re good enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re pure enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re religious enough.  I’m not asking you if you’re kosher enough.  I’m just asking, will you  come?

That’s all Jesus asks of you, is that you come.  Just come.   Just come to the table and then things will happen.   But know that you are welcome here.  You are loved here.  You are accepted here.   Just come as you are.

Amen.

John Lewis