The Big House

Read John 14:1-3

There are many varieties of houses in this world. Some people live in small, one-room homes while others have places to live which have over twenty rooms. The materials used to build houses may depend on factors  such as location, climate, resource availability, financial resources, and/or the owner’s needs. Some houses are single-storied, while others have two or more stories. Just as individuals vary, so do the houses in which each person lives.

In an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his disciples, Jesus tells them about a house with plenty of room which he is going to prepare for them and others. Prior to this passage, Jesus had told his disciples that he would not be with them much longer. After having followed Jesus around for almost three years, the disciples want to follow him wherever he is going next. They are afraid of being left on their own. So Jesus assured them that he is going to prepare their place where the Father dwells. He also tells them that there is plenty of room for them and he will return to take them to the place.

During Advent, part of our focus was on this promise of Jesus’s return. In today’s passage we hear of this promised return. The promise speaks of a big house where all are welcomed. Through other passages in Scripture, we gain an understanding that there will be abundance at this place. Sadness, pain, and suffering will be replaced with joy and uninhibited life. The place of Jesus’s promise is clearly a place we all would desire to experience. This place is also a home to which we should want to invite others.

Audio Adrenaline captured the promise of Jesus and created images to which we can relate today in their song, Big House. I invite you to consider the promise, the invitation, and the images which form in your mind as you listen to this song today.

Incarnation

Read John 1:1-14

John’s gospel account does not contain the narrative of Jesus’s birth like Matthew and Luke have done. Instead, the incarnation story is contained in what biblical scholars refer to as John’s prologue. In the prologue we hear of the Son, or Word, existing from the beginning. John tells us that the Son and God are one. The other significant aspects of the passage are the concepts of light and flesh.

John refers to Jesus as light shining unhindered into the darkness. This reminds us that the incarnation was an abrupt intrusion into the world. There is power in this light shining into the world. The light spreads to others as well. One of the reasons the Church chose to celebrate the incarnation on December 25 is because this is the darkest time for those living in the northern hemisphere where the Church was centered. The idea of light shining into their darkness was a meaningful illustration as presented by John’s gospel.

In this passage, John also speaks of the Word, or Son, becoming flesh. That is what we know as the incarnation, a deity taking on human flesh. No other faith tradition records an occurrence of this. There is a distinct separation of a god and humanity in all other religious systems. The concept that God became human and lived among humanity as Jesus is beyond understanding outside of Christianity.

John may not include the narrative of Matthew or Luke which included Jesus’s parents, shepherds, a stable, angels and a chorus of praise but John tells of the incarnation. God has become human and lived with humanity. God is as a bright, unquenchable light piercing into the darkness of the world and the lives of humans. This is what we celebrate on December 25.

The Well

Read John 4:11-15

In our family there are stories of the many times my dad would run out of gas when driving the car. He seemed to like to wait until the last possible moment to put gas in the car. Probably he thought he could find it at a cheaper price at the next station. Mom enjoyed telling one particular story from when they had lived in California. They had decided to take my visiting grandparents up into the mountains to see the beauty. Before they went, grandpa told dad that he had better fill up the car with gas but dad said it was not necessary. As they passed gas stations along the way, grandpa would mention getting gas and dad would refuse. The car made the trip up the mountain but as they started the descent it ran out of gas. They had to coast down the mountain with the engine not running. Dad ran out of gas. The good news was there was a station at the bottom where they were able to fill the tank.

Like the car of my parents, we can run out of gas. Our spirits may be running on empty. We may be physically and emotionally exhausted. Jesus gave an invitation to the Samaritan woman which exists for us today — come to the well. The well of Jesus is full of living water which quenches the thirst of our souls. We can refill our dry lives with this water from the well. We can be renewed and restored. The well never runs empty. Just come to the well of Jesus.

Attaching the Name

Read John 14:12-14

In the mid-19th century, comprehensive trademark laws began to emerge internationally. The concept behind trademarks laws is to protect names, labels and icons from being used by multiple people, organizations or companies. The originator of a label, name or icon desires to protect the trademark  from misuse and misrepresentation. The trademarks are intended for individuals to easily associate the person to the company, organization, product or service in their mind when it is seen. Understandably, if the trademark is used by someone else, confusion may occur at the very least or harm of the entity’s image may be the greatest damage. Attaching one’s trademark to something communicates ownership or, at a minimum, endorsement.

The passage from John’s gospel account speaks of attaching Jesus’s name to a prayer or request. Jesus is in a conversation with the twelve about his leaving but returning later to take them with him. Thomas is confused about knowing where Jesus is going so they can follow. Then when Jesus states  he is the way, the truth and the life, along with providing access to the Father, Philip asks to see the Father. Jesus tells them if they have seen him, they have seen the Father. This leads to the three verses we have just read.

Often these statements, and similar ones, by Jesus have caused people to conclude that anything we ask will occur if we attach the phrase, “in Jesus’s name.” When young children are taught to pray, they are taught to end each prayer with “in Jesus’s name. Amen.” This practice is directly related to conversations as we find in this John passage. Unfortunately, the perception that this is some magic incantation to make all desires come true exists in many minds. Cynics point out how often this does not work. Believers can become disillusioned when it appears to fail.

There are many reasons why a prayer request appears to go unfulfilled. The issue may be that God knows the request will not benefit the petitioner in the long run. Maybe the requestcould bring a negative impact on the well-being of another. Or the problem with the fulfillment could be the motivation behind the request.  The timing of the request may not be right and it may be fulfilled later or throughout a period of time. Truly, only God understands why some requests are not granted immediately after they are made.

A valuable measuring stick in regard to requests a person might make of the Lord is to ask what it means to attach Jesus’s name to the request. Is what I am asking for in alignment with how Jesus lived his life? Does this request fit in the teachings Jesus shared? Are my intentions behind the request in agreement with the love and service heart Jesus demonstrated? Would Jesus be proud to have his name connected to this request? These questions will help a person determine if the request should be made. The answers may also provide some insight into why some requests are not fulfilled.

Focus On You

Read John 21:20-23

People who live in a small community have easy access to the personal aspects of one another’s lives. Having grown up in a small, rural, Midwestern town of less than a thousand people, I knew that my parents would know anything I was a part of or the opposite end of town before I could even reach home. This unfiltered sharing of personal activities is a double edged sword. On one hand, it lends itself to a sense of safety and immediate crisis response. On the other hand, it can lead to the possibility of personal information being shared too freely among individuals who are not involved in a situation. A town of busy bodies can arise with people attempting to interject themselves where they should not.

Our passage today appears at the end of the Gospel according to John. Jesus is talking to Peter about feeding the sheep. Peter sees a disciple who was next to Jesus at the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus what will happen to this disciple. Jesus responds by saying Peter should not worry about the other disciple’s future, if Jesus wants him to live until Jesus returns that is what will happen. Peter is told to focus on following Jesus.

Jesus is telling Peter something which can benefit us at times. There is a clear difference between being concerned about a person’s well-being and attempting to interject ourselves into a situation which does not concern us. Jesus makes it clear that our first priority is to follow him. Before we concern ourselves with the spiritual health and welfare of others, we care to focus on our own spiritual health. We can play a support role for others as they follow Jesus but it is not our place to play a judgment role in how they are following Jesus. Jesus said it well when he said, 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Jesus’s point here in today’s passage is to focus on following him and let him focus on how another is following.

Recognizing

Read John 10:22-30

Dogs are terrific animals to have as pets. Their loyalty and bonding with their human families create a sense of security. Each dog has its own personality which becomes visible in a relatively short amount of time after they enter a home. A dog is keenly attuned to his/her human’s voice, routines, and emotions. The dog is able to identify their human even before seeing them with their eyes. Where a cat shows a high level of independence, a dog appears to be very dependent upon the owner.

In today’s passage, we encounter Jesus in the temple courts during the Festival of Dedication. A group of Jews are asking Jesus to plainly state whether he is the Messiah or not. Jesus indicates that he has demonstrated the answer but they failed to believe since they were not his sheep. If they were his sheep, they would recognize him. He continues by telling them that his sheep will receive eternal life and never be taken from him.

Jesus uses the image of sheep because most of his listeners had sheep which they tended or were familiar with owners of sheep. Today, I imagine Jesus would reference dogs instead of sheep because few of us own or are around sheep. The concept of recognizing the owner applies with whichever animal is used.

We are to be Jesus’s sheep/dogs. Jesus has claimed us through the acts of love on the cross. As his own, we strive to recognize Jesus. This recognition develops as we see the Lord in the lives and actions of others. Hearing his voice in the words of other people and seeing his love in the midst of actions taken are how we see and hear him. As we witness and join in these things, we follow the Lord. Being one of the Lord’s own offers us eternal life. We have security in this life and what follows because nothing or no one can snatch us from the Lord.

Give It All

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:36-38 (NIV)

This is the day of the year when we pause to remember those women and men who have died while serving their nation. Memorial Day has changed a lot since it first began. There have been various dates and times which nations have set aside to honor the deceased military. Our current holiday came out of some local practices within communities. The former confederate states set aside a day to honor those who had died during the Civil War. Northern states soon followed suit. In 1868, General John A Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic which was a northern Civil War Veterans organization, issued a general order setting May 30 as Decoration Day which was “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” This became the starting seed of what was declared a national holiday in 1971. Today the holiday has been moved to the last Monday of May and has become a day when all who have died are remembered and graves decorated. However, the original purpose of setting aside such a date must be remembered. This day is meant to recall those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863) by giving their lives for their country.

Our passage from John comes in the midst of whatwereferto as the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at a meal with his disciples. The ones who are closest to Jesus are beside him at the table. Judas has just left after Jesus identified him as soon becoming the betrayer. Jesus tells the disciples that he is to leave soon. Simon Peter asks Jesus where he is going and Jesus tells him that Peter cannot follow him now but will later. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow now and declares his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus questions Peter’s true willingness since he knows Peter will soon deny knowing him.

It is easy for us to identify with Peter. Peter’s love for Jesus is strong, so strong that he declares his willingness to give his very life for Jesus. He is eager to give his all. However, Jesus knows the weakness in Peter. When the time came for Peter to risk his own life by acknowledging being a follower of Jesus, Peter was unable to follow through. Few of us have ever been put in such a situation so we are unable to say if we would choose as Peter did or not.

In the brave men and women who we honor on this day, we are given an example to follow and a challenge to accept. These military women and men loved their country and its ideals so much that they were not only willing but did give their lives in defense of them. This is an example for us to admire and emulate in our lives. The challenge set before it is to not only be willing to do this for our nation but also for our Lord. Are you willing to physically and/or metaphorically give your life because of your love for the Lord and the ideals which the Kingdom of God sets forth?

Spirit Birth

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:1-8 (NIV)

One of the aspects of growing older for many adults is the changing of their eyesight. When my parents reached their 50s, each of them ended up having to wear glasses due to a deterioration of their eyesight. Both of my siblings experienced the same need at about the same age as my parents. When I also crossed this age threshold, I joined the rest of my family in needing glasses some of the time. An optometrist explained that the reason for this was as our eyes age, the flexibility of our lenses reduces which impacts how we see. Since wearing glasses, I have noticed a change which allows me to see where before I struggled. The glasses have brought new life to my eyesight.

In John’s recording of the Gospel, we hear of a late night encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Jesus tells him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Nicodemus asks how an adult can be born again. Jesus explains that this would not be a birth of the flesh but of the Spirit. Jesus explains that only through a spiritual rebirth can a person see spiritual things such as the kingdom of God.

At times, our vision of the world and God can become inflexible like the lenses of our eyes. We need something to help us with our vision. Glasses provide that for our physical sight. The Spirit provides that for our spirit. We must be born again in the Spirit so that we can see the spiritual things of our God. Only by the Spirit can we see the true spiritual realm of the Lord.

Standing Accused

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:2-11 (NIV)

There are rules which are necessary to ensure order and safety within a society. Where there are rules, there are usually consequences for anyone who breaks a rule or set of rules. This is the basis for a legal system which then has courts and judges who interpret the rules, determine if a rule has been broken, and if so, establish the consequences. On the surface this appears to be rather cut and dry, simple to understand and enforce. However, anyone who has experienced or observed the legal system knows there are a lot of nuances and mitigating circumstances which come into play. Additionally, interpretation and appropriate consequences can lead to quite differing opinions.

Jesus is presented with a rule and consequence situation in the passage for today. This passage is part of a section of John’s gospel which is not included in all the ancient manuscripts but the actions of Jesus here seem to fit how we witness Jesus respond elsewhere. The experts on the Mosaic law bring a woman to Jesus who they claim has committed adultery. We are not told about any evidence or details to support their accusations. Instead, we hear them ask if the prescribed consequence as decreed by Moses should be administered. Based on Jesus’s initial reaction toward them, it seems Jesus is aware of their attempt to entrap him. After continued effort is made to get Jesus to give an answer, Jesus stands and says that the one who is without sin should begin the delivering of the prescribed consequence. No one begins stoning the woman because no one can claim to be without sin. After all have left and the woman acknowledges to Jesus that she has not been stoned by anyone, Jesus, the only one without sin, shows mercy.

Humanity is eager to judge, condemn, and exact punishment upon one another. Often we act as judge, jury and executioner when in our opinion someone has broken a rule. Jesus’s actions and statements should stop us in our tracks. Jesus reminds us that before we are so quick to pass judgment and exact punishment, we should examine our own lives. One can almost hear Jesus say the words we  were told when pointing at someone else’s actions as a kid, ” Remember when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.” Like in this passage, we frequently do not even know the whole story. We may not be privy to the aspects of another’s life and circumstances. Rules are established for the good of everyone but caution should be taken as we interpret those rules, apply them to others, and punish those who we judge to have broken them. It is best if we enforce rules in our own lives first and foremost. 

The Path and Father

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:1-7 (NIV)

Remember a time before GPS and navigation systems when you had to be able to read a paper map on your journeys? This past week a person posted on social media that this is how we came to call the passenger to the right of the driver the navigator. Whoever sat in that seat had the responsibility to follow the route on the map so the driver knew which turns to make and which roads to be on in order to arrive at the destination. Today we use GPS and applications such as Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps on our phones. Some newer vehicles come with navigation systems built into them. All of this allows us to know the path which we must take to get to the place we are going.

Prior to Jesus’s arrest, he is having a conversation with his closest disciples. He has been trying to prepare them for his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death. They are becoming very unsettled and confused as the tension is building in Jerusalem. Jesus starts by trying to bring them comfort. He assures them that they can believe in him just as they believe in God. He tells them that he will return for them to take them to the place which the Father has prepared. Jesus even says they know the way to get to the place. Thomas assures Jesus that they cannot navigate to the place because they do not even know the destination. Then Jesus shows them the road map. Jesus is the road map. Since they know Jesus, they not only know the way but they also know the Father.

Thomas speaks so often on our behalf. We may feel like we have no idea how to get to the place which God has prepared for us. We do not know which road map to grab or what to put in our navigation system. How can we know the place when we do not even know the one who has prepared it and invited us? Yet Jesus tells Thomas and us that we do know how to get there and we do know the one who has prepared us a place. By knowing Jesus, we know this information and we know the Father. How we know Jesus is by hearing and reading the stories found in the Gospels. We expand our understanding of who Jesus is through conversations with other believers and with the Lord in prayer. When we know Jesus, we know the way, the truth, the life, and the Father.