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.

An Act of Great Love

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:16b-19, 25-30 (NIV)

As we remember the act of great love which Jesus did on this day, I share two songs with you today. These songs contain words which make Jesus’s actions very personal to me. Listen, watch and reflect.

Enough said.

Want to See

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

John 12:20-21 (NIV)

Have you ever had the privilege to see a celebrity person in a close setting? Maybe you were part of a reception line. Even better, maybe you had a conversation with them and even had a picture taken. Most of us have few, if any, opportunities like were just described. Many celebrity individuals have such busy schedules and numerous demands that they are unable to spend time with the average person. People like the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, and the President of the United States have to have individuals who manage all the requests for an audience with them. The requests are many and the time is limited.

Today’s passage presents a time when a group of Greeks desired an audience with Jesus. They had to go to one of the inner twelve to ask to see Jesus. It is probable that this occurred many times after Jesus became known throughout the region. Apparently, Philip was not sure about going to Jesus with the request alone so he co-opted his brother, Andrew. We are told they make Jesus aware but we are not told if the request is granted or not. Jesus instead is recorded as discussing his death and what is necessary to follow him. The request just sits there.

Like the group of Greeks, we also would like to see Jesus. One of the challenges of our Christian faith is not being able to physically see or audibly hear the One who we follow. Yet we can have our request met if we realize that Jesus is a part of those around us. As the line from a praise song says, “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.” (Open the Eyes of My Heart, Paul Baloche) We need the Lord to open us to seeing and hearing him in those around us. We have been granted an audience with the Lord through the lives of one another.

A Journey Companion

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

John 11:28-44 (NIV)

Having someone who can empathize with you and assist you in removing those aspects which hold you back in life is a great gift. We all need a person in our life who will walk the journey with us. The person may only be a part of the journey for a short period or for the whole of the journey. Who the person is may change as we continue down life’s path. These particulars are not important. What is important is recognizing the blessing we receive from having such a person on our journey with us.

For Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Jesus was such a person. We are not told how Jesus became so close to Lazarus and his two sisters. John records two stories in regards to Lazarus and Luke mentions Lazarus once. The first story John records is the one we read from today. Later in John’s Gospel he will tell of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. In the second story Jesus eats at the house and Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. Luke shares another story of Jesus coming to the house but does not mention Lazarus, only Martha and Mary. There is definitely a bond between Jesus and the three individuals.

Two aspects of what we read today stand out. The first is verse 35. Often referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible, it contains only two words, “Jesus wept.” The significance of these words is they demonstrate to us the empathy and love Jesus has for these two women and those who were mourning. This empathy and love make Jeans someone who is valuable on life’s journey. Even though Jesus clearly knew what was about to happen, he still stood beside those grieving and spent time with where they currently were before leading them forward.

Second aspect which stands out is found in verse 44. The final sentence of the verse when Jesus instructs the grave clothes to be removed so that Lazarus may go, or be free to live again, is important. Jesus is telling them to remove the things which bind Lazarus to his previous life and hinders the man from living the new life which Jesus has now given him. Again, Jesus as the companion on the journey is a blessing because he assists in removing that which holds a person back from living life to the fullest.

Jesus is always the right companion to have on the whole of our journey. He empathizes with us exactly where we are. He weeps with us, laughs with us, lies awake with us, and celebrates with us. Jesus has given each of us new life. With the gift, and as he journeys with us, he assists us in removing the grave cloths from our lives so we are able to experience and enjoy this new life.

Invite Jesus to be your companion on life’s journey. You will not sorry that you did!

Being Fair

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 (NIV)

Imagine attending an event where there are many vendors who have booths set up in an attempt to sell you their product or services. You might be at a fair, a convention, or a festival. The booths are side by side in multiple rows. There seems to be a variety of products to choose from and some vendors are selling similar products or services. Each vendor tries to entice you to stop so they can convince you why you need what they are offering. The noise and the endless amount of sales pitches can be mind-boggling.

Jesus enters the courts of the temple and witnesses a scene like described above. Added to the vendor booths are booths where the Jews can exchange their Roman money for Jewish denarii. There is a practical side to all of this. First, the Jews were required to use the coin of the occupying government, Romans, for transactions outside the temple. Inside the temple and among Jews, they needed to use denarii for offerings and transactions since that is the money of the Jews. Being able to make exchanges both ways was the job of the money changer. In regard to the animals mentioned here, they were needed to make the required sacrifices as prescribed by Jewish law. Since some Jews had to travel a long distance to the temple, it was often more practical to not bring animals along but instead to purchase them when arriving at the temple. The issue which Jesus raises is the corruption and greed which prevailed among the vendors. The vendors were taking advantage of the people and their needs.

Here we are given a warning and a call to action. The warning comes in how Jesus responds to the vendors. If we are providing necessary services in or out of the community of faith, we must avoid the temptation of allowing greed to enter our transactions with others. Attempts to get ahead or benefit beyond our own needs are not acceptable in the eyes of our Lord. The call to action is in the example Jesus sets here. When we witness greed, corruption, and injustice, we must speak up. We cannot be silent witnesses. We must engage in change. Our call and authority to act is found in the One who allowed the temple to be torn down and raised again in three days.