First Congregational Church
February 25, 2017
Second Sunday in Lent
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Last week, to begin this Lenten series on the “I AM” statements of Jesus, and because of that week’s passage from John, chapter 6, where Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life,” and because there was the celebration of the Benzie County Water Festival, I offered all of you one of the very most top drawer fishing jokes, about Sven and Ole ice fishing.
To begin this morning’s message, I offer the second very most top drawer ice fishing joke. It was a cold winter day when Ole walked out onto a frozen lake, cut a hole in the ice, dropped in his fishing line and began waiting for a fish to bite. He was there for almost an hour without even a nibble, when a young boy walked out onto the ice, cut a hole not too far from Ole, and dropped in his line. It only took about a minute and WHAM! A walleye hit his hook and the boy pulled in the fish. Ole couldn't believe it, but figured it was just luck.
The boy dropped his line in again and within just a few minutes, pulled in another one. This went on and on until finally Ole man couldn't take it any more - since he hadn't caught a thing all this time. He went to the boy and said, "Son, I've been here for over an hour without even a nibble. You have been here only a few minutes and have caught a half dozen fish! How do you do it?" The boy responded, "Roo raf roo reep ra rums rrarm." "What was that?" Ole asked. Again the boy responded, "Roo raf roo reep ra rums rarrm." "Look," said Ole, "I can't understand a word you are saying." So, the boy spit into his hand and said, "You have to keep the worms warm!"
This morning’s scripture passage can certainly stand on it’s own - without a need for prior context setting. But, if we don’t take a minute for setting the scene, as Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach says, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that certain je ne sais quoi.”
To get to that je ne sais quoi, we have to go back to the first chapter of John, to the very first verse, where it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:1-9)
After that, and Jesus’ baptism, and calling the disciples, changing water into wine, clearing temple courts, a whole lot of teaching and talking, feeding and water walking, John gives us this passage.
12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
13 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”
14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”
19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.
Thank you, John. At a Wednesday evening church meeting a man rose to give his testimony. "I'm a millionaire," he said, "and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday: I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God's work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today."
As he finished it was clear that everyone had been moved by this man's story. But, as he took his seat, a little old lady sitting in the same pew leaned over and said: "Wonderful story! I dare you to do it again!”
Whoever it was that made the final decision about what verses would be included and in what order, did a brilliant job in giving us this connection between John 1 and John 8. The theme of “light” is as bright as day. It is interesting, however, that in the book of Matthew, as Jesus preached his famous Sermon on the Mount, he told the crowd before him, “You are the light of the world.”
In fact, after he told them that they (we) were (are) the light of the world, he went on. “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mt. 5:14-16
In some opaque way, we get that Jesus lived his life on a stand, giving light to everyone, and that is our job, too. But what is this light-living really about?
In today’s passage, what comes right after Jesus’ proclamation of being the light of the world - is the discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees - about testimony. Apparently, two people agreeing on a statement was enough to qualify for a statement being true. I wonder how well that worked out in practical terms, because we are surely still struggling with “he said” and “she said,” all these centuries later.
Timmy didn’t want to put his money in the offering plate Sunday morning, so his mother decided to use some hurried creative reasoning with him. “You don’t want that money, honey,” she whispered in his ear. “Quick! Drop it in the plate. It’s tainted!”
Horrified, the little boy obeyed.
After a few seconds he whispered, “But, mommy, why was the money tainted? Was it dirty? “Oh, no dear,” she replied. “It’s not really dirty. It just ‘taint yours, and it ‘taint mine,” she replied. “It’s God’s.”
At the end of our scripture passage, the Gospel writer said that Jesus wasn’t arrested by his words, because it “twasn’t” his time. And it ‘taint our time, since we’re all still here. But I wonder how often we try to appear as our own witnesses as followers of Christ, and thereby making a less-effective testimony for God’s work in our lives.
One of the big deals about these “I AM” statements from Jesus, aside from them being the same “formula” that God used in giving us a name for God, is that they help us in that wondrous, mind-boggling understanding of God becoming flesh, revealing Jesus’ full identity.
Associate Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN, Karoline Lewis said, “Lent is the season to remember one very important thing about what it means to be a Christian: that when Jesus goes to the cross, there goes God.” She also said, “that to believe in Jesus is to hold the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and Jesus’ divinity together.” And then she put out this great zinger: “The challenge of Lent is to negotiate these simultaneous truths -- and how to admit our own truth regarding which Jesus we prefer. Otherwise, all too often, Jesus ends up being trotted out and used to justify moral claims as if God were not a part of the picture.”
Sometimes it is so much easier to understand that the One we follow was like us - skin, bones, emotional, irritable, joyful, witty, prone to getting tired and hungry. Maybe it’s easier to grasp that side of Jesus, because we like to be in company with those similar to ourselves. But this unique One, this Jesus that we follow is also divine, part of God’s own self, having made post-death appearances, raised into heaven before people’s very eyes. The divine side of Jesus is harder to admit to, because it can make us a little crazier in the eyes of the world - following One who is capable of such other-worldly activity. And human beings tend to not be comfortable in that which is not of this world. And yet, that is our Savior.
It’s interesting that Jesus’ testimony as the Light of the World in our passage today was not for the disciples, but for the skeptics. It was first for those who questioned it and condemned it, refused it and rejected it. It was first for those who, even if they didn’t know it, needed to hear it the most. What part of you needs to hear Jesus’ declaration of being Light? And why does it matter?
Because, as Karoline Lewis also said, “Light that exposes people and systems and institutions that have used darkness to hide what they don’t want to be seen.” Now that starts to get us squirmy. Our testimony, as followers of Christ, is one that is plagued by our humanity, our failures and frailties. But when we are reminded to be the light as Christ is the light, then we can lean on Christ’s divinity, his forgiveness of the darkness when forgiveness is asked for, his mercy and grace. That’s when our light, because of Christ’s light, shines brightest. So shall we pray?
God of Light and Life, thank you for giving us standards and testimonies - those of your Son and those you give us. Help us to live into them with all of our beings, that we might be inspiration for those who are living in darkness and hopelessness. Forgive us for the times we prefer to hide in darkness, for the danger our darkness has been to others. Help us to deepen our understanding of your Son - his divinity and his humanity - that we might become better at testifying for the largesse and blessing of living a life devoted to you. And thank you for your Son, who not only have us the ultimate of testimony, but showed us how to lean not on our own witness but to rely on you. For all that you give us and for all which you call us to do, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.