Experiential Discipleship
2011-01-11 by Stephen Schuette

John 1:29-42

Our experiences are always layered with stuff that we bring to them.  To illustrate, the point you are trying to communicate in your sermon may be clear “Green” while your listeners are thinking “Red.”  What they ultimately understand is some shade of “Yellow.”

John attempts to get through those layers in a unique and creative way by actually relayering some of the things that are familiar to us from the Synoptics.  For instance, in this story two disciples of John seem to “find” Jesus whereas in the Synoptics Jesus clearly chooses the disciples.  This relayering has the amazing effect of helping us to see things newly and differently and sort out the circumstantial from a deeper message about Jesus

We’re further disadvantaged because we live in an age when our communication is increasingly constrained by forms.  I’m aware that this is debatable, but my take is that Facebook and emails are restrictive rather than expansive in our communication, although I use one of them extensively.  In other words, we’re coming to expect less rather than more in terms of communication and are less expectant of the possibility that our communication will break through the layers and convey something essential, basic, or truthful.

So the declarations are quick to come in John, (“Here is the Lamb of God…” and “We have found the Messiah”) and yet the meaning is too full to be immediately clear.  It could be that these disciples don’t know what they’re looking for when Jesus asks although they may be aware that they are indeed looking for something.  The best they come up with is, “Where are you staying?”  The colors of communication are co-mingled from Jesus’ question to theirs.

And yet John is drawing us into the genuine experience of Jesus.  The story moves forward experientially.  They do “stay” with Jesus.  They bring Simon to Jesus.  They live with their hunches and continue to measure the assumptions they’ve brought against the reality of Jesus himself.

There's the task of discipleship.  It takes time and patience to really know Jesus.  But the invitation is extended, "Come and See."

Wise Men and Baptism Pilgrim's Progress
2011-01-07 by David von Schlichten

This Sunday I will invite people to imagine being a wise man/woman who, having been baptized, embarks on a journey of following the star to the birth, then baptism, then life, then death and resurrection of Christ.

Something like that.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

The Way Up
2011-01-04 by Stephen Schuette

Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

A rich discussion with colleagues this morning led us to explore servanthood and observe that Jesus does not give in to John’s attempt at role reversal but submits to John’s baptism, in order to, as Matthew puts it, “…fulfill all righteousness.”

It also led us to the truth of how difficult it is to help someone.  I think of the film The Soloist or the journalist who unsuccessfully tried to sponsor a young man from Afghanistan in the United States.  Genuine servanthood is not easy.  We get wrapped up in our need to be needed, clearly a hazard for clergy, but for others as well too.

We also may hope that others will be helped along to a life that resembles ours, for don’t others desire what we have, or seek the wisdom we’ve garnered, or otherwise desire to emulate us?  All of this puts us in a position to offer “help” while we get to keep our position, or even be honored for keeping our position.

But Jesus goes down…down, below the water, submerged, under, releasing himself to be used for a larger purpose than his own fulfillment.  It is a cleansing of ego that allows one to be more fully oneself. At the same time it is an openness to others that does not seek to impose our hopes on them but desires for them the pure grace of coming to their sense of God’s hope in their life.

The way up is first down.

(PS 1 - The symbology in the title is consciously linked with this season of Epiphany which begins with baptism and concludes with transfiguration on the mountain, which seves as prelude to the rest of the gospel story too.)

(PS 2 - Grace and peace to you, David)

Shari Paul Ruggiero, New Year, and John 1:1-18
2010-12-31 by David von Schlichten

On December 21 at 5 AM, my mother, Shari Paul Ruggiero, died in front of me of multiple blod clots to the brain. She would have been 65 on Christmas Eve.

That week was the longest and most emotional of my life. It was full of great pain, surrealism, and exhaustion, but it also contained moments of scintillating grace as people supported those of us who had been closest to Mom.

The death of a loved one often jerks us awake to what really matters, and John 1:1-18 also directs us to what really matters. I will join the two somehow in Sunday's sermon as a way of inviting people to embrace Christmas and the new year with the understanding that our lives have supreme value because of the Word-made-flesh, who challenges and empowers us to be the Word-made-flesh in miniature.

Have a holy new year. Thanks be to God for 2010 and 2011.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Preaching John 1:(1-9), 10-18
2010-12-28 by David Howell

How apt that on this particular Sunday, we have the New Testament’s "Genesis" story in John’s gospel. At the opening of a new year on the "secular" calendar, John reminds us that nothing that has being exists "without him"—the Word. "In the beginning…" takes us back at the same time as it points us forward.

Are we reading history, or poetry? Is the proclamation for this day an earthly record, or a heavenly paean? Did the writer himself know? Five verses from "In the beginning" to "The Light shines..." describe the ineffable; followed by three verses giving biographical data on the baptizer. Another verse on the ineffable, how the true light enlightening everyone was entering the world, precedes five more that dance on the boundary between what might be termed historical narrative (vv. 10-11, 14a) and theological reflection (vv. 12-13, 14b). Finally, another interlude characterizing this one who lived among us is followed, to the end of the pericope, by an assertion regarding the grace we have all received. John, a mortal recorder of something barely describable in human syntax, slips back and forth between the timeless and the time-bound, "Word" and "light" almost inextricably interwoven.

We too, like John and with John, are pulled in separate directions or challenged to hold together two disparate parts of ourselves: the holy and the earthly, Word and flesh. That our lives are like that, a spirited amalgamation, is the deep and sturdy truth running beneath the soaring eloquence. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote from his prison cell "Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another?"1 We are dust with diamonds in it, made of a little of both. The light, however, is the constant.

Lovers of scripture through long ages have found that it is often the verbs that open a subtle window of revelation. The pivotal announcement of this magnificent narration, and the statement forming a linkage between primeval origins and the baptizer whom God sent as a witness, is anchored by an eternally present verb: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."(v. 5) One might puzzle over this abrupt shift to present tense and back to past in the space of a single compound sentence: the light "shines" and the darkness "did not overcome." Is it an unintended scribal glitch? Or is it one of those inspired "mistakes" that inadvertently reveals a deeper truth?

The light shines, we are reminded; as if to signal to us that what we have here is not an ancient history or a religious etiology but a word intrinsic to us—now—in our own time. It is as if we claim, in the face of the worst ecological disaster in human history, that the light continues to shine. Or gazing into the bleak maw of ongoing financial devastation dogging millions long after a great recession, we affirm that the light overcomes the shadows. Or in the midst of the horrors of genocide fueled by long tribal hatreds, the overarching quality of human life is that this holy light shines. Or in spite of the ceaseless global warfare that robs all nations of their best and brightest, we proclaim that light reigns over darkness. Yet we do, and it does. Certainly, this unfathomable hope has also been the historic stance of the world’s seers—the Tutus and Mandelas, and all the lesser-known faithful whom the preacher will recall from the particular community and legacy of the local church. Although we still mark the Christmas season, it is not inappropriate on this day to name the great cloud of those who witness the invincibility of God’s light that has entered the world in Christ.

There are other paradoxes here in John’s attempt to speak the unspeakable, and they weave a fabric that is strangely familiar to us from our own experience: the interplay of the timeless and time-bound is an authentic facet of our own lives as well. The world did not know him (v. 10); and yet we who are creatures of that world, even if citizens of another, have seen his glory (v. 14). ("It’s a conundrum," wrote Ronald Goetz2: that "the light by which everyone sees came into the world, yet the world didn’t see it...Shouldn’t someone have noticed?") The Word that became flesh gives power to those who receive him to become children of God, who with that identity are not born of the will of the flesh (vv. 12-13). Ultimately, the truth that captures John is that the paradoxes of this life are pervaded and superceded by eternal light. Rather than attempting to parse in detail John’s attempts to describe the grace bestowed on our lives by this Word-become-flesh, we who preach might best help our hearers sink, at last—as Bonhoeffer did—into the blessed ambiguity: "Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!"3

Gail A. Ricciuti



1. From the poem "Who Am I?" published in Christianity and Crisis, March 4, 1946.

2. In "Penetrating the Darkness (Jn 1:9-13)," Christian Century, December 7, 1988, 1118.

3. Ibid.

(from Lectionary Homiletics/GoodPreacher)

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