Think About It

thinking, please wait
Photo credit: <a href="">Karola Riegler</a>

1 John 1:1 – 2:2

We announce the origin of things to you. What we heard. What we witnessed with our own eyes. What we examined and touched with our own hands. It’s about life. Life that was revealed, that we’ve seen. We swear to it, and we tell you that life forever with the father was made known to us. And we’re telling you what we’ve seen and heard so you, too, can be together with us. Surely, we’re together with the father and with his son, Jesus. We’re writing this so our joy may be complete.

Here’s the message we got from Jesus and pass on to you:

God is light. There is nothing whatsoever dark about God.

If we say we’re with God while hiding our conduct in the dark, we’re lying. Our actions are false. But if we conduct ourselves in the light full disclosure, we’re together, and Jesus’ blood will take care of whatever’s wrong.

If we say nothing’s wrong, we’re fooling ourselves. We’re lying. If we admit to what is wrong, Jesus’ commitment to fairness will forgive us and make us right again.

If we say there’s nothing wrong, though, we make Jesus out to be a liar. We’ve missed the point.

My little children, I’m writing these things so you won’t continue to mess up. But, if anyone does mess up, we have someone to help us patch things up with God: Jesus. He’s a righteous dude, and he’s laid it all on the line to make things right with us again. And not just for us, but for absolutely everyone.

[See also, previous comments on 1:1-4 (Troubled Community), 1:5-10 (Confession), and 2:1-6 (You Can Do It).]

Anyone who is familiar with 12-step programs such as AA can tell you that the first step to getting your life back on track is admitting that you have a problem.

John’s first letter is about your first step. Life is to be had, and had in abundance and great joy, but first you have to take care of a few problems. Fortunately, says John, Jesus has offered to mentor us so that we can get through the problems and on to life.

With John, it’s a take it or leave it proposition. Here’s an offer. The decision is yours. The help is free, and it’s available for everyone, but you have to want to work the system.

Maybe you think don’t need it, John says. But you’re probably just fooling yourself if you think you can make it on your own.

So think about it.

Decision Time

playing the violin, in-group in background
Photo credit: <a href="">Luis Hernandez</a>

John 12:20-33

Some heathens also went up to the Temple to worship during the festival. They came to Phil, who was from from Fishermans Wharf in Galilee, asking for an appointment with Jesus. Phil went and told Drew, and together they went to ask Jesus.

Jesus said, “It’s time for the authentic human to be recognized. I’m telling you, really, if a seed never falls into the earth and disintegrates, it remains just a seed. But if it disintegrates, it produces fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. If you let go of your life as it is, your horizons will expand forever. If you want to serve me, you have to do what I do. You have to go where I go. If you do this, God won’t let you down.

“I’m troubled. What am I supposed to say? ‘God, keep me from my fate?’ No! I won’t deny the reason I came here in the first place! God, make yourself known!”

Just then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I’ve made myself known, and will do it again.” When people heard it, they thought it was thunder. Some said that an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “The voice wasn’t for me. It was for you. It’s decision time. The world’s ruler is about to be sent into exile. I’ll be upheld, and everyone will come to me.” (This was how he hinted at the way he expected to die.)

This passage begins and ends with people coming to Jesus. All the wrong people.

It’s the gentiles – the heathen- who approach Phil, the one with the Greek name, to ask for an appointment. They’re not the ones who are supposed to be “in the know” about right religion. But somehow they know that Jesus is the one they should talk to. When Jesus talks about being raised up, it’s not the people who are already on the inside, the “right” people, who are drawn in. It’s everyone else who will come to him. In the very next verse (omitted from the lectionary) the crowds (of insiders) don’t get it. They want to know how Jesus can say he’ll be raised up. This doesn’t fit their expectations of religious protocol.

The people on the outside get it. They come. The people on the inside don’t. They go.

At the center is this saying about the seed, and the paradox of keeping your life and losing it, or losing it to keep it. This is the great truth that the religiously inside so often fail to grasp. It’s not just about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s about being willing to follow Jesus into death and resurrection. What’s true for him is true for everyone. You can’t move by standing still. You can’t grow by remaining the same. You can’t reach your destiny by refusing to participate in the moments that are meant to define you. You can’t be great by playing it safe. You can’t stand out by staying with the in crowd.

It’s decision time! Will you stay on the inside, comfortably numb and self-assured? Or will you follow Jesus, face your fear, and forever expand your horizons?

Are You Saved? Is the Wrong Question

John 3:16 billboard
Photo credit: <a href="">Doug Floyd</a>

John 3:14-21

In the same way Moses raised the snake as a banner before the people in the desert, the authentic human must be a banner of real life for everyone to rally around. God loved the world so much that God gave God’s only child to make a way for anyone to follow out of certain death into real life. Certainly, God intended this child to be the world’s rescue, not it’s doom. Those who embrace him are not doomed. But those who don’t embrace him, because they refuse to embrace the way of life, are doomed, by definition.

The verdict is that the spotlight is on. People hide in darkness when they’ve done something wrong. Those who do wrong hate to be exposed and will do anything to avoid being exposed by the spotlight. But if you’ve done right, you’ll want to be in the spotlight so everyone can see the awesome things you’ve done.

Too often, the famous John 3:16 is lifted up (in the end zones at football games, for example) as if it were the magical snake in the wilderness, as if reciting this magical formula would change anyone’s mind.

What the gospel has in mind, though, is that people live authentically human lives as a banner for new life to gather around, and the gospel points to the life of Jesus as being the touchstone of that authentic humanity. It takes more than reciting a theological proposition – even a scriptural one – to lift that banner. It takes embracing a life-giving way of life. It means turning and walking away from life-diminishing activity to life-affirming activity. It means living honestly enough that you have nothing to hide.

The spotlight is on. Forget about “Are you saved?” the more important (and useful) questions are: Are you really who you say you are? Are you really who you appear to be? Are you the same person when (you think) no one is looking? And when you are who you really are, are you authentically human, or are you trying to be something else?

Just Do It

child reaching with leaf
Photo credit: <a href="">Oleg Sidorenko</a>

Romans 1:15-17

This is why I want so much to tell the Jesus story to you Romans. I’m not bashful about the Jesus story. It’s God’s restoring power given to everyone who embodies it. It came first to the Jews, and now also to everyone else. When people embody the Jesus story God’s justice happens, and still more embody the story. The sacred writings say: “One who is just lives by embodying.”

Let’s dispense with the traditional translation that renders the Greek, pistis with this over-used word, “faith.” Faith, by now, is too bland a rendering. It’s too easily relegated to propositions, pie in the sky, and namby-pamby sentimentality. Paul believed in pie in the sky, of course, but even Paul wanted his new Christians to do something about Jesus. Faith goes beyond thinking in the abstract or working up the proper emotional adjustment.

Let’s recognize that to live by faith means, in essence, to embody the Jesus story in oneself. In other places, Paul talks about “putting on Christ.” This is what he means. Embody it. Live it. Do it in the way those who spoke the truth did it when they said, “Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.”

In this sense, Jesus (and maybe even Paul) isn’t really a religion. Jesus is a way of living well. It’s a way of living that demands justice be done, not just in theory, or on paper, or eventually, but in reality, here and now. Live and do like Jesus, bring his story to life in your own life, and you may soon find the religious people are all against you. Live and do like Jesus, and even if you don’t believe in God, you’ll be closer to living the life you know deep down is yours alone to live.

Don’t let faith be just an idea or a belief. Make it a life. Embody the Jesus story. Do it.