Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent Midweek Sermon

Lent midweek 2 – John 8

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Let me talk a bit about how John's Gospel works. John does a few things that are unique with his Gospel, how he tells the story of Jesus. For one, John gives a lot of commentary - “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That's commentary. John likes to explain a lot of deep stuff – in fact, John records a lot of conversations where Jesus is explaining deep stuff – like our Gospel tonight. But also important to understanding John's Gospel is the old Jewish idea of two or three witnesses. If you were going to make a legal case under the Jewish law, you needed at least two witnesses, and three is even better. That was proof. And in John's gospel, John doesn't talk about Jesus performing miracles – Jesus performs signs – big visual proofs of who He is – witnesses, as it were. After Jesus changes water to wine at Cana, we hear, “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.” When Jesus heals an official's son in chapter 5, that's the second sign. Then there's other healings, the feeding of the 5000... but these are all gravy. Jesus has demonstrated His bonafides as one sent from God, one to whom the people should listen.

And then we get our Gospel lesson tonight. Jesus is in the temple preaching, and He is just getting all the goodie-goodies riled up. They've already tried to arrest Him once, and He's just stopped them from stoning a woman caught in adultery – and who doesn't like a good stoning, especially if it happens to tie up any loose ends on what could be a scandal against your pristine reputation. Nope, Jesus comes, and all our self-centered fun stops. And then Jesus says, “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Now, let's ponder this imagery here. The classic way of distinguishing between good and evil was light and dark. That's pretty near universal. And let's face it – bad things are much more apt, even now, to happen in the dark, in the night. That's when it's much easier to get up to no good. You shine a light, and that's when all the cockroaches scurry away. Light casts out, banishes darkness, and then, when there is light you can see. When you can see, you can be useful, you can do good. You can see beauty. You understand, you know where you are going. And so when Jesus says “I AM the light of the world” He is saying that He is God come to banish, drive out all sin and wickedness – and instead He will lead, He will show us what is good, right, and salutary – that He will make life worth living. In Christ we will know our purpose, in Christ we will be able to serve rightly. In Christ we will be protected from Satan. There will be life – the light of life – the light that rescues us from our sins and the darkness of death. And God Himself, the great I AM, is here to do this.

This is a pretty awesome statement, is it not? And yet, we hear this: “So the Pharisees said to Him, 'You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.'” Oh, there was a subtle shift that turned this into a really bad legal argument on the Pharisees' part. Yes, Jesus here is talking about Himself, He is explaining who He is. And in a Jewish court of law, your own testimony about yourself wasn't enough – you needed other witnesses. The thing is – Jesus has given them other witnesses – the folks at the wedding at Cana, the 5000, on and on – more than enough. Now, once your bona fides are established, then you do get to talk about yourself and explain what is going on – but the simple fact is, the Pharisees don't want to hear it. So they duck, they dodge.

Why? Why don't they want to hear it? Jesus basically says that they know nothing of God. Of course they don't – they can't see and recognize God standing in front of them! “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I AM the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness about Me.” Jesus does it again – says “I AM”. Asserts that He is God, then refers to the Father almighty. And the folks, they have no clue. “They said to Him therefore, 'Where is Your Father?'” Alright, where's you dad? We need to have a little talk with pops cause his son's talking a bit of crazy talk here! That's what they are thinking. And so Jesus lays it out - “You know neither Me nor my Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” Do you get what Jesus is telling them? You don't have a clue, you don't even have an idea of who I am or who God is – you've been walking around in darkness, in love with yourself and with your own sin.

And then He spells it out even more bluntly. “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” And so, the folks think, “Well, he's going somewhere we can't go – um – obviously he's going to kill Himself because that's where we being good Jews wouldn't go. Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of logical sense – it's a bad mental leap. Grasping at straws. But here's something to remember. Sin is stupid. Seriously. Sin is dumb. There's never been a time where we can sit back and look at something sinful we've done and say, “Oh, that was a brilliant idea.” But when we are trapped in sin, in love with ourselves and our sin, we don't make sense. And that sin leads to death. Jesus tells them, “You are from below. I am from above. You are of the world. I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Guys, I can't spell it out any better. I'm dropping I AM's all over the place – I said I am light, I am from the beginning, I am from above. I am God, and I am here to bring light and life and salvation – but if you refuse to believe... you're up the creek without a paddle.

And then we hear the Pharisees say, “Who are You?” Now, that's not an honest question – the way it's phrased in the Greek is dismissive – more like, “You're... who?” Yeah... right. They just don't get it, they are dismissive, they don't even want to understand. There's more back and forth, and then finally Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I can do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me.” One more I AM. Guys, when it boils down to it, you're going to see and know only after you have crucified Me, that I'm God, that I'm the Messiah, that I AM. 
Here's the thing about Jesus. He's God, and He comes to win salvation and forgiveness. And that really just tramples on what our old adam, what our sinful flesh wants. In so far as we are sinners, we like sin, we like the darkness – and when we are in our moods and up to no good, we don't want God around. We'd much rather prefer a distant God who happens to give us stuff but doesn't mess with our lives - dare I say, not to pick on you guys, but sort of like the stereotypical teenager – holed up in her room all angsty, leave me alone mom unless you're giving me food or money, blowing off everything dad says, thinking he must be the biggest idiot in the world. We've all been there. In fact, we're all still somewhat there, because that's what we're all like by our sinful nature. We want to brush off and blow off God and just be left alone and do what we want to do. But that's not what happens. Christ Jesus, the Light of the World comes – and you know what? He does shine on our sin. And a part of us hates that. But it is for our own good. And you know what? All our whining, all our being difficult, all our sin, doesn't stop Jesus from doing what He's going to do. He is the Light of the World, and He is going to bring light back to this world, and nothing will stop Him. And so to shine upon this world, to shine upon us, He is lifted up, He goes to the Cross – because that's what the Heavenly Father wants – your redemption. And He does that upon the Cross.

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him.” And here is the beautiful thing. Christ Jesus is the light of the world, and even though you are and remain sinners, my dear friends, and even though you will remain so until you die – you have heard the Word of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you believe. You have been given new life in the waters of Holy Baptism – you are no longer just old man, you are new Man as well, a Christian, a little Christ, who knows Christ Jesus, the Light of the World, and who rejoices in that Light that brings you forgiveness, that rescues you from sin and death, that rescues you from yourself. Christ Jesus has broken through your callous and dark heart, and by His Word and Spirit He has given you light and life, given you Himself, tied you unto Himself in Baptism. Over and against the darkness of this world, Christ Jesus is the Light of the World for you, all thanks and praise be to God.

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