I know I know…you’re probably humming the song…but this isn’t about that! Today’s reflection comes from John 1, and while I preached through the Gospel of John last year; I did not cover this very interesting text sandwiched between the witness of John the Baptist and the Wedding at Cana. Here is the text:
John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”
49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”
My initial thoughts here centered on how a story starts as a “poking-fun-at-rival-towns” in the area and then ends with the heavens open and this Jesus being the stairway to heaven! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Well, I think it is Jesus just being Jesus…
You have to love the faith of Philip in the story…after Jesus’ invite to be a disciple, Philip is trusting and acting in faith. But then there is the more skeptical Nathanael, and hew really makes the story interesting. I mean, we have read the introduction to John in which Jesus is introduced as the very WORD of God, the LIGHT of the world, and that Jesus has come to create a new people who will be given the power, through the Holy Spirit, to live the abundant life of God. Apparently Nathanael doesn’t read…just kidding…but he is caught up in where this guy is from…Nazareth.
You see, important people are supposed to come from important places. Leaders come from Jerusalem, not Nazareth. Linebackers are developed at Penn State, not Rutgers (yikes). And good quarterbacks play at big high schools, not the little ones. Politicians need to be from metropolitan centers, not podunk rusty has-been towns. The promised one coming from Nazareth…that is surprising. But Philip just invites…Come and see…
So Nathanael does go and see this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus. Jesus immediately offers some encouraging words to Nathanael. In contrast to Nathanael’s response about Jesus, Jesus calls Nathanael a man of integrity and a genuine son of Israel. I laughed at Nathanael’s response…how do you know about me? (I was thinking of him smirking and saying, “Yep…you got that right buddy! But prove it!”)
Then this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him…not from a distance, not just now, but under a tree…not just any tree but the fig tree. Jesus claims that before Philip found Nathanael, he knew where Nathanael was…under the fig tree. While Nathanael’s presence under a tree probably meant that he was learning from a rabbi or other teacher, the fact that Jesus has supernatural knowledge takes center stage in the story. In fact, this revelation leads to Nathanael’s proclamation, “You are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
Yet Jesus is somewhat stunned at the proclamation given that he really didn’t do all that much. What comes next is of utmost importance because Jesus recaptures the image of Jacob’s ladder and places himself as the mediator between heaven and earth. Therefore, we can assert that just as Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became a symbol of the special relationship the people of Israel would enjoy as God’s chosen people; now Jesus is a new Jacob, establishing a new people who will share access to God through Jesus.
I must admit that as I read this, I wonder what all my eyes will behold because of Jesus. When he tells Nathanael that he hadn’t seen anything yet…I can only imagine Jesus needs to say that to me as well. I sometimes get stuck in the smaller revelations of God that I forget the larger picture…renewing all things, true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sure, Jesus saw me first…before I was found and brought to him. But he wants me to see so much more…and Jesus wants you to see so much more. Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus in glory!
Today’s reading has me thinking about 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 in which Paul expresses concern about what the Corinthians have come to believe and practice. It seems that the gift of grace that God provided has been used to perpetuate a notion of liberty that was not intended in the gift. What I mean to say is that Paul is concerned that ideas about the body, sexual relationships, and our relationship with Christ must be addressed among the Christians at Corinth.
They seem to love maxims, short sayings to live by, or proverbial statements. Paul references a few in our passage:
“I am allowed to do anything!” or “Everything is permissible for me!”
“Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food!”
These slogans or maxims were referenced by Paul, we assume, because the people knew them and lived by them. Yet, Paul qualifies these sayings because, as you probably already know, a proverb or maxim is helpful in certain contexts and situations, but are not entirely universally true. And so Paul qualifies “I am allowed to do anything,” with “but not everything is good for you,” and “I must not become a slave to anything.” Paul goes on to qualify the maxim, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” with a more chilling response, “someday God will do away with both of them.”
Yet, this moves Paul to what seems to be the real point. Apparently some of Corinthians christians live by a maxim that says, “Our bodies are made to have sex, and so having sex is what our bodies must do!” And there were many opportunities for sexual activities in that city. If you would like to understand more about the city of Corinth and sexual practices, there has been much study done about that. But for this moment, Paul is not concerned with the cultural practices surrounding the Christian church, but Paul asserts the reality that they have entered into a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is not haphazard nor is it flippant…it is a covenant relationship that looks a lot like marriage (see Hosea 1-3; Ezekiel 16). Here is the entire passage from the New Living Translation:
12 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 13 You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.
15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
I like this contemporary reflection on the passage: “In our individualistic society and culture, Paul’s claim that ‘you are not your own’ will seem decidedly alien. Are we not in charge of our own lives? Can we not do as we see fit? Our own self-control is a fiction that we struggle to maintain. For Paul and indeed for everyone in his time, nobody was without a master, a lord to whom they were in some measure responsible…Some modern people, giving lip service to equality, find a horizontal image preferable; but in reality modern culture is stratified—and that not just economically—much more severely than we sometimes may want to acknowledge.” (J.P. Sampley, New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X, 866-67)
I think modern Christians must wrestle with the same notion that our ancient brothers and sisters did…We are not as independent and strong as we think we are, and perhaps sex and sexual experiences have us torn between faithfulness to Jesus and thinking that we are just participating in what our bodies were made to do. Paul’s words still ring true, “Glory God in your body!” Freedom is not without a lord (aka “is not free”), but the Lord offers freedom in that you, me, the self, our bodies, can be rescued from shame to the splendor and magnificence of that which God created! For Christians: your body is a temple, a sacred space where God lives.
As I continue to read the little book on the Holy Spirit by Lois Malcolm, I am challenged to think about the ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the church, and in my personal faith, love and hope.
In a chapter entitled, “The Spirit Creates Faith” Lois explains the freedom the Spirit gives us to live the life of Christ. I want to share with you a couple quotes and allow you to simmer on them a bit.
“We do not lose our unique individual identities when we enter into Christ’s life; we do not become Christ. Rather, we become more fully ourselves. Christ’s life-giving Spirit gives us the power to deal with destructive patterns in our lives—patterns that keep us trapped in destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—so that we can be all that God has created us to be, so that we can, by faith, step into the possibilities God would have for us. Where destructive patterns in our lives have abounded, now grace can abound all the more!” (56)
Here’s why I like this--I get the feeling that a current trend in Christianity is that we know a lot about different personalities and then seem to prefer particular ones over others. We have expectations of how men and how women should be (and act)…and in the call to be more like Jesus, we need to be careful not to place our personality preferences on others. We are to walk in the way of Jesus Christ, but we are also to truly be more ourselves and to learn to appreciate who we are in Christ. While the destructive patterns need to cease, introverts filled with the Spirit and extroverts filled with the Spirit may both seek Jesus and do so in ways that are unique! I could go on…but my point is that in being a Christian…you don’t have to fit a “mold,” you are free to live in the Spirit’s guidance of your individual identity! That is a great thought, especially as I (or you) live out my (or your) faith prompted by the Spirit’s work!
A second thought from the book is this:
“Thus, with faith comes profound self-love. Through the Spirit’s power, we are able to love ourselves—and accept even those parts of us we are most ashamed or guilty about—precisely because God knows and loves every part of us. Indeed, it is only when we re no longer so buttressed by the incessant demands of our own fears and desires—when we can actually become an integrated rather than a divided self—that we can truly attend to what others need, that we can truly attend to their interests and not merely to our own.” (59)
Here’s why I like this--I think many people learn to hate a part of themselves, and I think some Christian circles teach this self-hate as way of dealing with sin and making sure that a believer will not return to that sin; thus returning to shame and guilt and all things evil. Yet, how wonderful is the love of God that declares “I love all of You” including the deepest and darkest places of our hearts, minds, and souls. And this love, instead of making us fearful and embarrassed, provides us with freedom from the very sin curse we participate in…and in so doing we are accepted into the family of God. I also like to think that as we are made whole by the Spirit, we join with other people who are made whole by the Spirit and then we have a group of people joining together to make the world whole by the Spirit…and that group is called the church. And it is the church in which we can attend to the needs and interests of others. The opposite of this approach is the all too familiar consumer approach to church…I will sell the good parts about myself and I will only be a part of the church if it serves my needs. This type of faith doesn’t end with “profound self love” and “attending to the needs of others.” Only the Spirit does that!
I have been reading a little book by Lois Malcolm on the Holy Spirit. I met Lois at the Rochester College Streaming Conference, and her book, Holy Spirit: Creative Power in our Lives would serve small groups well if you have a group that is interested in thinking about the Holy Spirit and its representation in the Bible. In chapter 3, she starts off by stating, “Something happened after Jesus’ death. His disciples experienced his presence among them as one raised from the dead. They announced that God had vindicated him by raising him from the dead, making him both ‘Lord and Messiah’ (Acts 2:36). And, they experienced the presence of the Spirit within and among them. They affirmed that the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead also dwelled within them and gave life to their mortal bodies(Romans 8:11). As they reflected on their memories about Jesus in light of the Scriptures and what they remembered about his life, they interpreted Jesus’ death to be something he offered through ‘the eternal spirit’—the indestructible life of God—so that they could, with clean consciences, worship the living God (Hebrews 9:14).” (35)
She continues, “Throughout Acts, we read how members of the new community were ‘filled with the Spirit’ to move and act in certain ways. The Spirit directed the affairs of the community (Acts 5:3; 9:31), guiding through prophetic utterance (Acts 11:28; 13:2; 20:23; 21:4,11) and through mutual discernment (Acts 15:28). And the Spirit gave individuals power to perform certain tasks for the community…” (38)
As I think about Dr. Malcolm’s writing that connects the church with the Spirit as an extension of Jesus, I find myself deeply drawn to this ecclesiology (that is a way of “doing church”). Here are a few of my observations to think about:
Malcolm asserts, “As Jesus’ living presence with us, the Advocate will give us a deeper and an even more expansive—a more vital and more life giving—understanding of the truth. Jesus told his disciples, the Advocate will not only ‘teach you everything’ (Acts 14:26), but also ‘guide you into all the truth;…and…declare to you the things that are to come’ (John 16:13). Nonetheless, what the Advocate will disclose would always be rooted in Jesus, reminding the disciples of all Jesus has said to them. The Advocate would always only ‘testify’ on Jesus’ behalf (John 15:26). Just as Jesus did not speak on his own but only the Father’s words, so the Advocate would not ‘speak on his own,’ but only ‘speak whatever he hears’ (John 16:13)—from Jesus and the Father.” (45)
A few weeks ago I preached a sermon exploring the different generations and what they add to the church. One sweet person asked me to share this information with them in a different form that could be accessed, so I’m going to do it here. I hope this is helpful and while there is good research behind these statements, they are not meant to be comprehensive, but more summery statements that spur further conversation.
A cultural generation, defined, is "a cohort of people whose youth was shaped by a particular set of events and trends. Because of these shared experiences, cultural generations develop similar values and approaches toward life.”
GI or Greatest Generation was born between 1901-1926 and were children during the WWI generation, fighters in WWII, and young in the Great Depression…GIs are important to the church because they have a strong work ethic and the wisdom of many life experiences. They know what community is and how to build a strong one.
The Mature or Silent Generation was born between 1927-1945 and were children through years of suffocating conformity, but also during the postwar happiness: Peace! Jobs! Suburbs! Television! Rock 'n Roll! Cars! Silents are important to the church because they tend to be team players who are loyal to organizations. They have a huge knowledge legacy and a strong work ethic.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964 and are usually split up into two sets: The save-the-world revolutionaries of the '60s and '70s; and the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ‘70s/'80s. Baby Boomers are important to the church because they tend to be optimistic and driven by success. Boomers excel in tackling issues and finding solutions.
Generation X, commonly called the Latch Key Kids, was born between 1965-1980 and grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents. Often they would go home from school to an empty house. Gen X is important to the church because they thrive in situations that minimize rules and maximize flexibility and participation. They value feedback and are looking for meaning in their service/work.
Generation Y or Millennials were born between 1981-2000 and they prefer digital literacy, and have never known a world without computers! They get all their information and most of their socialization from the Internet. Millennials are important the the church because they are self-confident and achievement-oriented. Technology has surrounded them from birth, and they are more techno-savvy than any previous generation.
Generation Z or the “Boomlets” were born between 2001-Present and the number of births in 2006 far outnumbered the start of the baby boom generation, and they will easily be a larger generation. They don't understand the world without technology. Boomlets are important to the church because they supply us with hope, future-orientation, and such joy as we watch them grow.
A Church that upholds the notion of the family of God should desire to incorporate each generation, in their life stage, into participation in the life of faith. The church must affirm that, “We will all listen to each other with deep love, humility, and the desire to grow in our relationship with God, our understanding of Scripture, and our experience of oneness in Christ.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.