Born Again…and again…and again…

John 3:1-21Contemporary English Version (CEV)

3 There was a man named Nicodemus who was a Pharisee and a Jewish leader. 2 One night he went to Jesus and said, “Sir, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not work these miracles, unless God were with you.”

3 Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!”

4 Nicodemus asked, “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?”

5 Jesus answered:
I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. 6 Humans give life to their children. Yet only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God. 7 Don’t be surprised when I say that you must be born from above. 8 Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.

9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied:
How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things? 11 I tell you for certain that we know what we are talking about because we have seen it ourselves. But none of you will accept what we say. 12 If you don’t believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you possibly believe if I talk to you about things in heaven?

13 No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there. 14 And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as that metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert. 15 Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.

16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! 18 No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son.

19 The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. 20 People who do evil hate the light and won’t come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. 21 But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.

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I like Nicodemus. He has guts. He takes risks. Above all, he is curious. He is a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a bit like a church council and a bit like a supreme court. In Nicodemus’ time, the Sanhedrin was made up of two groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the wealthier of the two groups, were more theologically conservative, and did not believe in eternal life. They were also the group who kept peace with—or collaborated with—the Romans, depending on your point of view.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were more devoted to keeping the law, to studying Scripture. They also believed in eternal life. You might say that the Sadducees were more political and the Pharisees were more religious. Even though the Pharisees held a minority of the seats in the Sanhedrin, they often controlled decision-making because they were more popular with the common people.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He came to talk to Jesus about religion, about beliefs, about being in relationship with God. He is curious. Jesus immediately takes charge of the conversation and Nicodemus struggles to understand what Jesus is saying.

Nicodemus begins by expressing his respect for Jesus: “Sir, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not work these miracles, unless God were with you.”
Jesus immediately narrows the subject down to the Kingdom of God. That is natural because that is the subject of many of his sermons and he assumes that Nicodemus, being a Pharisee and scholar, understands the concept of the Kingdom of God. He does’t need Nicodemus’ flattery or endorsement.

3 Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!”

Nicodemus, perhaps to stall time, perhaps to gather his thoughts, treats Jesus words as literal:
4 Nicodemus asked, “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?”

This concept of being “born again” has been a point of contention in modern Christianity.

For some, it denotes a specific moment in life, a specific date and time when one’s life was turned over once and for all to embracing a Christian life. Those who have experienced such an event describe the moment as making the difference between black and white, as being life-changing in an instant. It’s like going from black and white television to color television. It’s like going from winter to summer. It’s like going from oatmeal to fried eggs. I can think of two historical figures who were dramatically born again: Paul, on the road to Damascus, and Martin Luther, when he was nearly struck by lightening and decided to become a priest.

For those of us in certain traditions, being born again seems too—harsh? too sudden? too deliberate? And the other thing is this: once one is born again, does one stop sinning? Does one take on new habits and priorities?

One source I read explains this so eloquently:
“Being born of the Spirit is talking not about a new mystical height of experience but about a way of living out the life of God in the world. When you see like this, you see the connection between Jesus and God and you see God in Jesus not trying to compete for adoration in the market of miracle workers, but seeking to establish a relationship of love and community. The focus is life. The means is relationship. The motive is love.”

According to another source I consulted, being born again consists of five things: confession, change, compassion, conflict, conduct.

Aren’t those the hallmarks of everyday Christian life? I need to confess daily. I need to change daily, that is, I need to remind myself of my baptism, of my claim to be a Christian. I need to consciously, intentionally “love my neighbor.” Everyday I see conflict between the Kingdom of God and the actions of those around me. And everyday, I screw up and need to remind myself how Jesus would act if he were in my shoes.

Being “born again” has, to some, become synonymous with a naïve fundamentalism… a rejection of science… an inability to process nuance… a narrow, intolerant world view. People who experience that one,significant born again experience seem like Super Christians. What I like about them is that they can’t stop talking about Jesus. I probably talk about Jesus more than a lot of people—-but that conversation can morph from The Way of Jesus to religion and theology and go off track. Jesus stays on track.

He continues to witness to Nicodemus. He takes Nicodemus seriously. Sometimes when Jesus argues with one of the Pharisees, he points out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus truly wants Nicodemus, who considers himself pretty knowledgable in the religion department, and, in fact, he is very knowledgable, to understand the Kingdom of God.

5 Jesus answered:
I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. 6 Humans give life to their children. Yet only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God. 7 Don’t be surprised when I say that you must be born from above. 8 Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.

Here is another important point: a person doesn’t change on his or her own. The Spirit changes us. The Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is out of our control, just like the wind is out of our control. In other words, our faith and everything it entails is a gift from God.

It occurs to me that the church is like a windmill. We try to catch the wind with windmills, so that we can use the wind as energy. In the same way, we use the church to catch the power of the Spirit. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the Spirit blows far beyond the walls of the church.

We can’t read this Scripture without looking at John 3:16-17. My grandson can rattle off John 3:16 without having a clue that it has any meaning. Not too many years ago, when you watched a football game, you’d see someone holding up a sign that said “John 3:16” or just “3:16.” The purpose was to spread the gospel. In 2009, quarterback Tim Tebow wore eye black with the inscription “John 3:16” when he led the Florida Gators to the national collegiate championship over the Oklahoma Sooners. Tebow said that 94 million people Googled “John 3:16” during the game.

This is interesting because it is another example of trying to connect Christianity to a secular entity. It’s not unlike adding the words, “under God,” to the Pledge of Allegiance. I wonder though, do we impose our personal relationship with God on others because of our great faith or because we feel safer when everyone believes as we do? Or is it a safe way to witness without having to explain what John 3:16 really means?

I like Jesus’ method better: one on one conversation. That’s why I like small congregations: it’s easier to talk about faith in a small group. When we talk about faith being personal, we don’t mean that our faith is only important in our thoughts and in our hearts. Or do we? For some of us, keeping our faith to ourselves is a way of protecting ourselves from rejection. If you talk about church at the Dixon Fish Fry, is it about a scripture that recently inspired you or is it about bringing dessert to the church’s dessert table? What would people say about you if you asked them, as you sliced into your baked potato, what Scripture they’d been reading this week? Would you be labeled a religious fanatic and end up sitting alone at a table for eight? And yet, what’s so fanatical about reading Scripture? In this country, in this community, nothing. Yet we draw lines—because we don’t want to offend anyone (even that that someone may be craving spiritual affirmation), because we do’t want to force our beliefs on anyone (even if they might be the same as ours), because we don’t know for sure what we believe (and we’re afraid to find out). There are lots of reasons to keep the conversation away from our Christian faith.

We fall back on the philosophy of the old hymn: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Here’s the thing: being a Christian is work. Once the Spirit enters you and makes you new again, the Spirit does not roost like a pigeon in a barn. The Spirit stirs you. The Spirit is like the wind. Who knows where it will be blow you.

I don’t come to offer you comforting words, words to make you feel good about yourself. I’ll do that at your funeral. Your family will appreciate it. But right now, you’re still very much alive, and you are challenged to be born again everyday, because the Spirit is in you and you are working—not relaxing—-working—in the Kingdom of God. Amen.

You Have to Start Somewhere

John 2:13-25Contemporary English Version (CEV)

13 Not long before the Jewish festival of Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 There he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves in the temple. He also saw moneychangers sitting at their tables. 15 So he took some rope and made a whip. Then he chased everyone out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins.

16 Jesus said to the people who had been selling doves, “Get those doves out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace.”

17 The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, “My love for your house burns in me like a fire.”

18 The Jewish leaders asked Jesus, “What miracle will you work to show us why you have done this?”

19 “Destroy this temple,” Jesus answered, “and in three days I will build it again!”

20 The leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple. What makes you think you can rebuild it in three days?”

21 But Jesus was talking about his body as a temple. 22 And when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered what he had told them. Then they believed the Scriptures and the words of Jesus.

23 In Jerusalem during Passover many people put their faith in Jesus, because they saw him work miracles. 24 But Jesus knew what was in their hearts, and he would not let them have power over him. 25 No one had to tell him what people were like. He already knew.

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You may not have noticed, but we don’t sell cattle, sheep, or doves here. We also don’t have an ATM machine so that you can convert your plastic to cash, so you can pay for cattle, sheep or doves. That’s one of the traditions that has been lost over the centuries.

Furthermore, if you want to go theological, Jesus gave his life as the ultimate sacrifice, so that God no longer needs us to sacrifice our best anything.

Jesus’ objection was not that people were offering sacrifices, but that people were not sacrificing their own animals. The ritual of sacrifice had deteriorated into buying an animal when you got to the temple. If you were from a another country and didn’t have the right kind of currency, you had to exchange your money for the temple’s kind of money. It’s like trying to buy something with Russian rubles. when the buyer only accepts Mexican pesos. The whole concept of sacrificing your best animal had become a for-profit business that had little to do with pleasing God and much to do with merchants making a profit from visitors to the temple.

So, Jesus cleared out the temple, upsetting business as usual. Imagine the scene. The temple property covered about 35 acres, and was divided into various courtyards. If we sold cattle, sheep, and doves, we’d probably have them tied to the railing outside.

But imagine the noise and the mess of animals, and all the people coming in at the last minute to choose an animal they could afford. The doves were for people who were too poor to buy a bull or a sheep.

It’s hard to imagine any such scenario for us, so that means Jesus will never have to come in here and chase out any animals or salesmen.

However, it doesn’t mean that churches can’t get confused about priorities and become money makers themselves.

Remember Robert Schuller and the Crystal Cathedral? Remember Jim and Tammy Baker and the Praise The Lord television show? Remember Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority? All of them struggled with excess, whether it was an excess of money or an excess of physical desire. When I look at the lives of these financially successful preachers, I wonder if Jesus would have chased them out of the church. In fact, their own greed and arrogance and human weaknesses caused them to lose much of what they gained.

Does the church still need cleansing? Are there elements of the modern church that need to change to reflect the message of Jesus and his followers? That will always be the case, because we all have human weaknesses, mostly based on fear of losing our influence in the congregation. That’s my simple analysis. Church fights are power fights—who gets to call the shots. That’s not very pretty. But it’s how we humans think and act when we try to defend what we have.

I don’t want to talk about making the church more holy, though. There are other places that need cleaning. In fact, how many of you voted in the last election for people who promised to clean up Washington? It doesn’t seem to be working, but it was worth a shot. But I don’t want to talk about cleaning up the government, either. I don’t think we have much chance to influence what happens in Washington. Des Moines? Maybe.

Instead. I want to talk about another temple: the temple of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20Contemporary English Version (CEV)

19 You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own. 20 God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.

I used to believe that I could make a difference all they way to the top by my participation in political campaigns, by writing letters to the editor, by attending meetings. I still want to believe that, but I have to start at the beginning, at the core of where good triumphs over evil. That core is what we Christians call the temple of the Holy Spirit. If I truly belong to God, I need to intentionally examine my own life.

Especially in these days when I despair of living in a country that provides justice for all, I need to find a starting point. If I want to be an activist whose actions reflect my belief that individual citizenship is important to the greater good, I have to know my own motives.

In the last election, many of us voted against executive and legislative issues rather than for what we wanted for our ourselves, because there were only unacceptable choices. We voted out of fear of losing what we had, we voted out of fear of what would happen to us if the wrong persons were elected. Will we ever again be able to vote for something?

During my life, I have learned that preachers should stay far away from politics. No politics in the pulpit. Preachers are to be neutral, to not influence the people in the pews. That is both good advice and terrible advice. It is good because our constitution still says that “church and state” are separate. It is bad advice because we think that as Christians, we can’t comment on injustice. That is awkward, because Jesus is all about justice.

If you had been living in Germany in the 1930’s and if you had gone to church every Sunday, many of the people communing with you would have been employed as an SS officer or a Nazi party member. In fact, Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag on March 23, 1933 in which he described Christianity as the “foundation” for German values.

Does that sound familiar? What could possibly go wrong?

Many Christians in our own time have ignored the purpose of the separation between church and state, and have worked hard to impose their particular beliefs on every United States citizen. That is foolhardy, because we Christians are a diverse group. Our beliefs have subtle differences depending on the congregation we call home. What our neighbors in the next town over believe is often different from our own beliefs. If one group takes control of the government or the media, where does that leave all the other Christians?

I don’t want our church to take over the North Scott Press or Channel Six. But—dare I say it?—some Christian groups have taken control of our government and our media. I personally find them lacking in the grace and mercy that Jesus modeled—when he wasn’t causing turmoil at the temple. I worry when Christians profess hatred toward those who are different from themselves. And look what happens when I worry! I am guilty of the same sin—the sin of separating myself from those Christians who believe differently from me.

So how do I remain true to Jesus? How can I follow Jesus without bullying others into following Jesus the way I do? And what will happen to me and those I love?

I see two paths, two possibilities. I can follow Jesus and mind my own business. Or. I can follow Jesus and share His example among those I know. But my activist self still hungers to wield power beyond my local community. I want the administration, both state and national, to see things my way. I want justice for all. I want justice to run so deeply that no one has a reason to be hungry or afraid or uneducated. You who know me, know what I’ll do.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be attending “meet & greet” meetings, possibly shaking hands with the next president of the United States or the next governor of Iowa. I’ll be attending one county convention, because we live in a two-party system that says we can only belong to one party at a time. I’ve been toying with the idea of joining both parties, but I don’t think that’s possible. But I’m ornery enough to think about it. But I have to start somewhere, and so do you. It doesn’t matter what party you prefer; what matters is where you start.

So start with the knowledge that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Then remember what Paul wrote to the Phillipians.

Philippians 4:12-14Contemporary English Version (CEV)

12 I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. 13 Christ gives me the strength to face anything.

Christ gives me strength. But I know myself, and I know that I must, daily, return to my own self examination and remind myself that I am the temple of the Holy Spirit. I am the hands and feet of Jesus. I am the spokesperson for Jesus. If I argue for one position or another, I must argue based on my personal constitution, written in the Bible, quoted from Jesus by those who heard him speak those words: Love God. Love your neighbor.

I do not expect, nor do I want you to think, that political activism is the answer to everything. It backfires a good deal of the time. It backfired for Jesus: he was, with the collaboration of the Jewish clergy and the Roman authorities, arrested, sentenced, and executed. But this connection between church and state, no matter how much we quote the constitution, is real. How we use that connection requires prayerful consideration. My hope is that the connection is based on love, not bullying, that love of neighbor supersedes love of country, and that we find the strength and the wisdom to walk with Jesus, not behind, not ahead of, but with Jesus, intentionally, every day.

If you find this topic inappropriate to our worship time, don’t be afraid to tell me. After all, I’m not afraid to tell you my hopes and fears; I want to be your pastor, the shepherd-type person, who keeps you safe from fear, keeps you fed with faith, keeps you happy with each other. Amen.

 

First Miracle, but Not the Last

 

2 Three days later Mary, the mother of Jesus, was at a wedding feast in the village of Cana in Galilee. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited and were there.

3 When the wine was all gone, Mary said to Jesus, “They don’t have any more wine.”

4 Jesus replied, “Mother, my time hasn’t yet come: You must not tell me what to do.”

5 Mary then said to the servants, “Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.”

6 At the feast there were six stone water jars that were used by the people for washing themselves in the way that their religion said they must. Each jar held about twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told the servants to fill them to the top with water. Then after the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now take some water and give it to the man in charge of the feast.”

The servants did as Jesus told them, 9 and the man in charge drank some of the water that had now turned into wine. He did not know where the wine had come from, but the servants did. He called the bridegroom over 10 and said, “The best wine is always served first. Then after the guests have had plenty, the other wine is served. But you have kept the best until last!”

11 This was Jesus’ first miracle, and he did it in the village of Cana in Galilee. There Jesus showed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

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This is one of those times when I wish I could have been a time-traveling fly-on-the-wall. What would I like to see? I would like to see “the look” Mary gave Jesus when he told her to mind her own business.

Moms have “a look” that can stop a locomotive. I know. I used to have that “look.” Picture a a sanctuary full of people worshipping on a Sunday morning. The choir loft is up on the altar, so that the choir faces the congregation. Imagine a father and mother sitting in the choir loft. Imagine their three children sitting in the congregation. The children are probably about 4, 7, and 9. It’s the four-year-old, a little boy, who attracts his mother’s attention. Some people would call him “active;” others would think him “squirrelly.” Even though he is surrounded by serious adults, he is way beyond the reach of his mother’s arm, so he has some freedom to amuse himself during this boring, tedious hour. In the midst of his private, possibly innocent, activities, he and his mother make eye contact. She gives him “the look.” He freezes; and slumps back in the pew, immobile for the rest of the service.

Mary gave Jesus “the look.” The Son of God is not immune from his mother’s love and discipline. Who knew Jesus better than Mary?

They were invited to a wedding. By then, Jesus had gathered his disciples, and they were invited, too. Wedding celebrations in those days lasted for a week. Imagine feeding all your friends and relatives for a week! I’m guessing they didn’t have cash bars then; you’d have to foot the entire food and wine bill! Do you know how much a one-day four-hour celebration costs? I do! We would be living in my car if I’d had to stretch Laura and Ben’s wedding out for seven days.

Given that the wedding in our scripture lasted several days, it’s not surprising that they ran out of wine. Sometimes people overindulge. Or sometimes more people show up. One of my friends had a terrible experience with that scenario. It was a country wedding, so you never know how many will show up, but she had estimated 300 and gave the caterer that number. Imagine the surprise and chagrin when 800 people showed up! The caterer was humiliated, of course. My friend was helpless. The silver lining: obviously the family of the bride was well-loved and respected in the community, even if some of the guests did go home hungry.

I do love the interaction between Jesus and Mary. So Mother-Son.

3 When the wine was all gone, Mary said to Jesus, “They don’t have any more wine.”

4 Jesus replied, “Mother, my time hasn’t yet come: You must not tell me what to do.”

Apparently, Mary knew Jesus had super powers. Otherwise, why did she tell him about the wine running out? And Jesus, like almost every child in the universe, responds with a contrary view when he is told to do something. (Why is that? I’ll let my psychology professor child explain that to me someday.) I wonder how he pronounced “Mother.” MUH-ther. We know, from studying the gospels, that Jesus is edgy about his super powers. Sometimes he commands, after performing a miracle, that the observers should not tell anyone.

I’d also like to see the eye-roll Mary gave Jesus after he scolded her. “You must not tell me what to do.” Eye-roll, because she knows him well enough to know that he’ll indeed take care of the wine problem.

Let’s get serious. Why is this story included in John’s gospel? What are we supposed to learn from this catering disaster?

Lucky for us, the Gospels contain more than a record of miracles. If Jesus were only a magician, He wouldn’t be much use to us. But what we learn from Jesus is the core of our lives: Jesus taught us how to be in good relationship with God and with our neighbors. Our relationship with our neighbors is sweet and healthy and beneficial when we follow Jesus’ example. Our relationship with God frees us from the burden of sin and assures us that we are never abandoned by God, even after death.

I return to my question: what are we supposed to learn from this besides the fact that Jesus performed his first miracle with his Mom in the audience. That was considerate, wasn’t it. Like the first time your kid makes a basket or performs a solo—you want to be a part of that. Mary was not only present, she was the instigator of Jesus’ first miracle.

The first miracle. He didn’t feed 5,000 people right off the bat. He didn’t cure an incurable leper. He saved the wedding host’s reputation. It’s like if you ran out of milk and He turned the bathwater into cold, frothy milk. I say bathwater because that was what the water in those jugs was reserved for.
When the guests arrived, they were dusty and dirty from walking on the dusty and dirty roads, so the first thing a host did was offer them some water and a cloth to clean their hands and face and feet. So this water was not for drinking, by any means. These jugs did not ordinarily hold anything you’d put in your mouth. But there they were and the host was out of wine and Mary had dropped a BIG hint: “They don’t have any more wine.” As if Jesus were the caterer, the sommelier. As if Jesus was responsible for the continued celebration of the his friends’ wedding. As if Jesus didn’t need to use his divine power on more pressing, social justice-type problems. This was what he needed to do? Make sure that people who had had plenty to drink could keep on drinking? When the people of Israel were suffering under Roman occupation, the best Jesus could do was do create a new vintage? The guests did appreciate his effort: The best wine is always served first. Then after the guests have had plenty, the other wine is served. But you have kept the best until last!”

Is this supposed to teach us that miracles can happen? I take away something else from this text. Jesus uses his power in a very ordinary, forgettable, small town, at one of many ordinary, forgettable family weddings.

From one of my sources (https://jonpredica.blogspot.com/2018/01/john-21-11-water-to-wine-wedding-story.html):
Jesus is not just about the ‘spiritual’ issues of our lives. He is concerned about the common, the ordinary…things like whether we have enough wine for our guests. He is about redeeming ALL of our life…not just the interior, prayer, soul-related stuff that we may be too tempted to focus on. This makes me think of those folks who get it, who have enough faith to pray for their car when it doesn’t start, to pray over electronic devices that don’t work, to pray for food for the rest of the week, to pray that their child can have shoes for school. They’re not ‘crazies;’ they simply get what we may not have gotten—Jesus is concerned about the ordinary, common things of life.

This reminds me of a little story going around Facebook. It’s about a little Cub Scout. We’ll call him Herbie. He is about to enter his first Pinewood Derby. He has the piece of wood, the wheels, whatever it takes. The only problem is, he doesn’t have a dad to help him build it and his Mom works two jobs to support them, so the little boy is pretty much on his own. He does his best and ends up with a little car that meets the basic requirements. The night of the big derby, he and his mom enter the room to a room full of little boys and big dads and a great variety of little pinewood cars. Some of the cars have fancy paint jobs. Some are aerodynamically sculpted. Herbie’s is really just a block of wood with wobbly wheels. The cars are raced two at a time until only two are left. Miraculously, one of the final two cars is Herbie’s! The rest of the crowd can hardly believe that Herbie’s homely little car has made it to the final rest, but there it is. The tension in the room is great and Herbie is scared. He asks the Cub Master if he can say a prayer before the final race. Being the Cub Scouts, who subscribe to basic Christianity, the Cub-master can hardly say, “No,” so Herbie closes his eyes and bows his head and silently prays….and prays…and prays. Finally, he lifts his head and says, “I’m ready.” The two little cars take off, and, again, the crowd is surprised when Herbie’s humble little car wins the final race.
Now is this how prayer works? We ask to win and God says OK? The Cub-master asked, “Herbie, did you pray that you would win? God answered your prayer!” Herbie said, “No, I didn’t pray to win. I prayed that God would keep me from crying when I lost.”
There is the miracle. We can ask for God’s help in the most ordinary times of our lives. God shows up for everything, the weddings, the ballgames, the bad weather, the good weather. God is standing beside you when you brush your teeth, when you climb in your truck, when you wash dishes, when you sit at the bar, when you shop for groceries, when you get gas. And God is quite ready to join in whatever conversation is going through your head, whether it’s mundane, silly, angry, worried.

This same article asks this question in response to this first miracle:

How are we doing as a church, as Christians, when it comes to turning water into wine? How are we doing about taking the ordinary and—by God’s grace and power and gifts—turning it into something that has body, color, texture, depth…that brings joy and levity…that takes the edge off of life? Are we content with ‘water’…and forcing everyone else to be content with water? Or, are we stepping in where we can and bring about joy-making, face-saving, reputation-reviving, respect-giving, honor-bestowing changes in the lives of others?

I think we are doing pretty well as a church. Remember what we did with water at the Dixon car show? We turned it into gifts for hurricane survivors. Remember what we did with eggs and flour and sugar at the Legion Fish Fries? We turned them into good will and love and welcome. Remember what we did with songs and candles on Christmas Eve? We united friends and families in joy and love. Remember what we do with this space when someone dies? We celebrate their lives and mourn with their families. And don’t forget our prayer shawl ministry. From pieces of cloth and thread, we individually bring healing and hope to those who need that healing and hope.

11 This was Jesus’ first miracle, and he did it in the village of Cana in Galilee. There Jesus showed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. This was Jesus’ first miracle, but not his last. Jesus performs miracles everyday, not because He gave us his super powers, but because he gave us love.

Let us pray. Sweet Jesus, help us to see the miracles we perform each day, through your love and in your name. Amen.

Getting the Gang Together

John 1:35-51
35 The next day, John was there again, and two of his followers were with him. 36 When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, “Here is the Lamb of God!” 37 John’s two followers heard him, and they went with Jesus.
38 When Jesus turned and saw them, he asked, “What do you want?”
They answered, “Rabbi, where do you live?” The Hebrew word “Rabbi” means “Teacher.”
39 Jesus replied, “Come and see!” It was already about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him and saw where he lived. So they stayed on for the rest of the day.
40 One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.”
42 Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter.”
43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he met Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.”
45 Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Philip answered, “Come and see.”
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel. And he isn’t deceitful.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
49 Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God and the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus answered, “Did you believe me just because I said that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see something even greater. 51 I tell you for certain that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.”
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Did you ever wonder how the twelve disciples scored such great jobs?
They did not fill out resumes. They did not go through a “temp” agency. They did not sit through interviews, worrying about whether they looked okay. They weren’t even looking for jobs. How did they end up being apostles and saints? Where did they come from?
According to the Gospel called John, John the Baptist, had been preaching about the arrival of someone important:
15 John spoke about him and shouted, “This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am, because he was alive before I was born.”
16 Because of all that the Son is, we have been given one blessing after another. 17 The Law was given by Moses, but Jesus Christ brought us undeserved kindness and truth. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like.
19-20 The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and temple helpers to ask John who he was. He told them plainly, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 Then when they asked him if he were Elijah, he said, “No, I am not!” And when they asked if he were the Prophet, he also said “No!”
22 Finally, they said, “Who are you then? We have to give an answer to the ones who sent us. Tell us who you are!”
23 John answered in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I am only someone shouting in the desert, ‘Get the road ready for the Lord!’”
John had lots of followers, because what he had to say resonated with the Jewish population. They had spent centuries expecting the Messiah, so when John made it sound like the Messiah might show up at any minute, people listened to John. Whenever and wherever he spoke, they made sure they were there to hear him. Think of it has having season tickets. If the Hawkeyes are playing at home, you are ready to go watch them because you have season tickets. Just as some of us follow the Hawkeyes, so some people followed John. After weeks of preaching about Jesus, Jesus actually showed up and John pointed him out. Naturally, John’s followers wanted to know more about John’s favorite subject, the Messiah, so they paid attention when Jesus appeared in town.
One of the two men was Andrew, who told his brother, Simon. Simon wanted to know more, so he went to see Jesus, who immediately enlisted Simon by changing his name to Peter
43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he met Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.”

It was as simple as that. It reminds me a little of my college days. In the English Department were three professors whom everyone adored. Whenever one of them went up to the student lounge for coffee, and said, “Want to come along?,” I thought I had achieved celebrity status. After that, I hung around the coffee shop just in case. Being invited to hang out was different from attending class. When I sat at a little round table with one of my professors and a few darling students, I achieved a new kind of education as they discussed current events—at that time it was the Viet Nam war. I soaked up facts and opinions unlike those that were contained in class syllabi. I imagine that was what it was like for the early disciples.
The next person to be tapped by Jesus was a little skeptical.
45 Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Philip answered, “Come and see.”
How did Jesus convince Nathanael to stick around?
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel. And he isn’t deceitful.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
49 Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God and the King of Israel!”
Jesus seemed to have superpowers. That’s all it took.
The other Gospels tell the stories of other disciples. By the way, if you try to name the twelve disciples by going through the Gospels, you will end up with more than twelve. Nathanael appears only in the Gospel of John. Thaddeus appears only in Mark. You’ll find Bartholomew and Judas, son of James, in the other gospels. Twelve? Fourteen? Does it matter? If God gave out numbered membership cards, what number would be imprinted on yours? The names of Jesus’ disciples now number in the millions.
One of the concepts we can discern from this particular passage is that Jesus meant different things to each disciple. I think that’s important to us, because I think we all have different ideas about who Jesus is and why Jesus is important to each of us.

Andrew wanted to learn more. “Rabbi, where do you live?” He was looking for a teacher.
Peter was looking for the Messiah. Andrew tells him: “We have found the Messiah!” Enough waiting already—-let’s get this show moving!
Phillip was looking for something to do: Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.” Perhaps Phillip was between jobs or newly widowed and he needed some purpose in his life.
Nathanael was looking for an argument: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I imagine Nathanael always looking for what was new in town.
It’s easy to rattle off creeds and Sunday School lessons and sing the same words to all the hymns. And those are important parts of confessing our faith. But each of us, in our own hearts and souls, has a unique perception with Jesus.
I tend to be curious and skeptical and downright hungry for absolute proof about everything. I want somebody to argue with me or change my mind.
Other believers find strength in the first stories they heard at the feet of our teachers. Still others can point to a specific instance, a revelation, a moment, when Jesus became more than a picture on the wall.
Some of us connect our faith with specific family members or specific places, like this sanctuary.
I connect my faith with my Dad, because he talked more about faith than anybody else I knew. I think it would be fun to list all the people and places I connect with my faith. That may be a pastor’s idea of fun, but I know you all well enough, that I think you would enjoying doing that, too. Remind me to have us do that sometime. I also like hanging out with people who also believe what I believe. That’s the great thing about church—it puts in a safe place and space to talk about our faith or simply to express it through study and song and confession.
I want to conclude with the last verse, verse 51, of today’s Scripture.
50 Jesus answered, “Did you believe me just because I said that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see something even greater. 51 I tell you for certain that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.”Following Jesus is not one thing or another. Following Jesus is everything. Following Jesus means acting like Jesus in this life, praising Him, listening to his teachings and loving His brothers and sisters. Following Jesus also means we get to follow Jesus to heaven. Jesus is the bridge, the transition, the path from our earthly life to our heavenly eternal life. Amen.