Archive for March 2017

John 11:1-45

Jesus is friends with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. It is a relationship that exceeds the one he has with the twelve disciples. The intimate phrase that Martha uses when she calls Jesus to come to Bethany is “the one whom you love…” The disciples don’t question Jesus’ love for Lazarus. They simply think that going to a village two miles away from Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin is insane. Love for our friends can be insane. 

I suspect that Jesus has known these people from childhood. I am currently working on a novel about this friendship titled “Bethany’s People” (look for it in Lent of 2018). John’s Gospel has Jesus going frequently to Jerusalem; and Jesus doesn’t go as a tourist. He seems to know the place like a native. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem. It was Jesus’ habit to stay there. 

The village name, Bethany, means house of poverty. It lies on the edge of the Negev where the rain fails to come regularly. Jesus has always identified with the poor. Jesus did his ministry in Galilee just outside the posh city of Tiberius. But, we have no record of his ever going inside the place. Instead, he called fishermen to leave their nets and walk with him.

    Such friendship precedes faith. You have to believe that Jesus shares your pain before you can believe that he is Messiah. Many people have a fact-based, I-believe-it-because-I-was-taught-it, belief in Jesus. The Gospels never show Jesus asking for this kind of belief. He instead, looks for those who will be intimate with him. The reason we have communion as frequently as we do, is because friends eat together. Martha cooks and Jesus eats. Who comes to your house for dinner?

    It is the known friendship of Jesus with the Bethany people that makes his going there dangerous during the weeks before his passion. “If we go to Lazarus’ funeral, we will die,” Thomas soberly reflects. This is a high stakes friendship.

    It is in the context of this friendship that Martha verbally slaps Jesus on the face. She says, “Where were you?” Only friends and spouses have the right to say this. It is the deep hurt of someone with high expectations.

    Those who take Jesus into their darkest experiences, and even risk yelling at him when he fails to meet their expectations, are brought to the place where they can believe.

    Jesus asks Martha to believe that he can conquer death. This is the one thing we all want to believe. You hit pause at this point in the scripture. Do I believe this? Without Jesus, we simply die. With Jesus, we die in hope. We rise because He is the resurrection.

Jesus wept for his friend
Lent 5
John 9:1-17

In the classic Sci-Fi book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein imagines a world where people train to become “fair witnesses.”  A fair witness is prohibited from speculating or repeating what they haven't seen for themselves. They only speak about what they know from direct experience. For example, when asked to describe the color of a house seen in the distance, the fair witness responds, “It’s white on this side.” 


The blind man who is healed and made to see by Jesus is a “fair witness.” When asked by the Pharisees to explain how he came to see, he says, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed. Now I see.” The Pharisees don’t like this. Mud hasn’t been approved as a treatment for blindness by the FDA. Nor was Jesus a healer they could believed in. 


Often what we believe interferes with what we need to see. Life is showing us that we need healing in some area, but we would rather see ourselves as victims. I like Dr. Phil’s question whenever someone is stuck in a rut, “How’s that working for you?”


An alcoholic will refuse to see the treatment options that are available for her. A workaholic can’t see that his family really is needs to see him. An anorexic teen may be unable to see the beauty already present in her body. You might have an opportunity to learn a new skill or enter into a better relationship, but the rut of prejudice and self-victimization keeps you from seeing.


What would a fair witness say of you? Let’s break it down; body, mind, and soul:

+ Are you caring for your body? Do you eat right, get enough rest, and have a habit of regular exercise?

+ What about mind and heart? Are you a life-long learner? Are you curious and open minded, or do you like being blind? Are you attempting in your relationships to love others as Jesus would? Are you putting mental boundaries around those who want to suck you into a toxic swamp?

+ What about Soul? Jesus asks about your soul. Many of the religious people of his day were spiritually blind.

Close your eyes. Imagine that Jesus has put mud on your eyes and you are not going to wash them off. When you open them you will see yourself as a fair witness would see you. What will cause you return to Jesus and ask to be healed?

Also see:

What do we see when we see ourselves?
Lent 4
John 4:5-42

Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I am a person who hates interruptions. Telephone solicitors are the worst. Then a friend of mine was out of work. After a year, the only job he could find was in a call center. I encouraged him to take it. “It’s a stepping stone to something better. You need to get back in the process of working everyday.” Sure the job wasn’t his goal. But, it was the next step on the flow of life for this person. Often obstacles and interruptions get demonized, when really they are part of the journey. Often the people who distract us from our task get abused. How hard would it be for us to be compassionate? To see the world, not as an obstacle, but as the way to God?


People from Galilee, as Jesus and his men were, saw the territory of Samaria as an obstacle on their way to Jerusalem. The disciples assumed that the people that lived there weren’t worth talking to. Jesus saw things differently. He had compassion for the woman at the well. Jesus’ mission was to save the world. This woman wasn’t an obstacle. She was the way of this work.


Three things: 


  1. Life is a continuous process of undoing the prejudices and stereotypes that we accumulated in the first eighteen years of our lives. Growing up in a white, upper middle class, suburb of Pittsburgh, I have had to unlearn many of the things I was taught about race, poverty, and the role that immigrants play in our country. Part of why Jesus stopped by the well in Samaria was to challenge the prejudices of his men. When we get to Easter, we will see Jesus revealing himself first to the women. This, I believe, was a lesson to their sexism.
  2. There is never a justification for failing to be compassionate. Jesus pushed back against those who were abusive in his society, but he treated even these “bad hombres” with respect. It is appropriate to warn others when we see someone taking advantage of the system. Our mission is to have a free and safe society for all. When we catch someone misbehaving in our neighborhood, workplace, etc, we call them out and look for the appropriate legal actions. We don’t demonize them. In all things, we must behave compassionately. As the military saying goes, “People first, mission always.”
  3. There is a paradoxical nature to the kingdom of God. The woman with a disastrous home-life becomes the best witness Jesus could have asked for. You never know. Sometimes what we do to quell our fears makes us less secure. How do we treat those whom our culture has taught us to see as obstacles? What if the way to make America safe is to welcome the Moslems who are fleeing the brutality of Syria? We can demonstrate our values by example, or we can stigmatize these victims until they join radical group that hates us. What action furthers our mission? People first, mission always.
Buber: the great I-thou thinker of human & divine relationships
Lent 3
John 3:1-17

Jesus says in John 3:5 that we come into the Kingdom of God by water and spirit. This makes me think of baptism, both the water kind that is common in worship, and the baptism of Pentecost that is less common these days. Water and spirit, here might also be related to the birth process. Water surrounds a baby for nine months. It gives way at birth to the spirit — in greek the same word also means breath and wind. When a child takes that first breath, they are inspired. We each re-spire until we die, or expire.  The word spirit and the words we use to talk about being creatures of the air, have deep linguistic connections. Think of it sequentially. The world was dark and void and God parted the waters. Then he breathed his breath into each creature and made us born again to a new life.Physical birth and spiritual birth have much in common.


Jesus goes on to say about the spirit that it is like an unexplained and unexpected wind. God is constantly involved in our world. We don’t stop to think about this as often as we should. What events are purely natural, and what events are spiritual?


In 1938, Enrico Fermi left a highly successful physics lab in Rome, and came to America to escape fascism. Since the early 30s, the Mussolini government had been generously supporting his work. He and his brilliant assistants won a Nobel prize for work at that lab. But since Enrico’s wife was Jewish, he had to flee to America, where he became fundamental to the Manhattan project and the development of the first atomic bomb.


So where does the Holy Spirit come in? In 1933 Fermi was doing experiments that should have led him to discover fission. If the process for the bomb had been discovered then, the Italian/German Axis would have had it first and that would have changed everything. Instead, the Holy Spirit allowed two Germans to discover the process just before Fermi left for America. It was published just ahead of the news blackout that would have given the Germans the bomb, first.


Am I wrong to see the mysterious moving of God’s Holy Spirit in this?

Hatred, xenophobia, and anti-semitism sent Enrico Fermi to US
Lent 2