Tag Archives: Jesus

More thoughts about John 10:11-18

So the Good Shepherd cares and the hired man doesn’t. The Good Shepherd can die for the sheep because the sheep belong to him and because he was given the power from God to take his life up again if he dies for the sheep.

I am still struggling with this passage!

Here’s the thing: I think the hired man isn’t being given proper credit. I work for a living and don’t often enjoy my job. But I do it as well as possible out of my own integrity not just for fear of not getting paid. On the other hand, I wouldn’t die for my job. I’m definitely not a first responder or brave like that. On the other other hand – that’s a pretty high bar. I’m not sure it is fair to judge the hired man as bad for not giving his life, to say he is only in it to get paid. I bet he likes the sheep, or some of them. I bet he has sunshine-y beautiful days where it is just plain fun to lead the sheep to still water and green grass.

Let’s not judge the hired man too harshly ok?

But let’s rejoice, absolutely rejoice, in complete amazement that Jesus knows us as completely as God knows Jesus. It is “The Message” version that shimmered this passage to me:

“I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

And this knowing and loving — this being seen and understood — is for everyone! Somehow to me being seen and known and loved (anyway) is the true gift from God.

FTGOG

Advertisements

First thoughts on John 10:11-18

In a few weeks, when it might maybe be actually spring, I’m the layreader for the first service and doing John 10:11-18. It is a beautiful passage, but the very song-like repetition makes it hard to learn by heart.

More sheep/shepherd stuff! So the book of John often poses challenges for the modern biblical storyteller; this passage does not. In fact, this passage seems so bland as to be meaningless. Help me Lord, help me find a way into this passage. At the most surface level, Jesus is saying he is a good shepherd, of us the sheep, because he is willing to die for us. He in fact is not being forced by some angry God to die for us, but is willingly ready to do so, as God commanded. Okay, that is good, of course. But shouldn’t there be more?

I find that I am wondering about the wolf in verse 12. The hired man, in my opinion, would in fact try to protect the sheep from the wolf, don’t you think? Isn’t that his job? Of course I say this but I would be very afraid. A wolf! Is it correct to think that in verse 15, Jesus is saying that he would die from the wolf, to defend the sheep? But how does dying — whether it is the Good Shepherd or the hired man — actually protect the sheep? Aren’t the sheep then utterly defenseless? Completely without hope?

Perhaps it is something to do with the voice, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, they come when called. I am hearing a bit of an echo of John the Baptist, who was the Voice of one crying out in the wilderness. That is he was the voice of God, a message from God.

Jesus is the “logos”, which is the Word but more than that — push and press on that. God is the Verb that starts the world up — that’s a big Voice.

Maybe we’re sheep but we can hear God speak, we can follow God and perhaps that leads us out of danger, even more than the dying God who says ” I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” If (or when) the wolf gets him, it is only to allow him to be restored to his full Glory of God. Now this is pretty deep into the weeds maybe?

Such a small passage with such a simple first layer to have me completely frustrated in trying to go deeper.

FTGOG

Mark 8:31-38 and gifts of God

In a few weeks or so I’m the layreader at church, and so I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart. Telling the story — feeling the power and witness of the history of storytellers before me — is so much more powerful than reading. Some readers are excellent at putting expression into it and that is a wonderful thing. But going one more and making eye contact makes the story come alive. And learning it by heart enriches the storyteller, and brings the story to life.

As so often I started out pretty bored. This story is so familiar and it doesn’t seem to offer much. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd who he is and what is going to happen and it doesn’t seem to be good news. There doesn’t seem to be a puzzle to sort out or a misdirection to unveil or anything except truth — I’m going to suffer, they are going to reject me, they are going to kill, says Jesus. Then I’ll rise again.

As anyone would, expecting a savior and getting this bad news, Peter thinks it is time to speak frankly. Unfortunately for Peter, it was Jesus who got to keep talking, seeming to make a bad situation worse. As often as we chuckle about how Peter and the disciples never seem to understand what was going on, in this passage at the beginning I feel that Peter thinks the same of Jesus, something like hey I love you but let’s get the story right. These visionaries. You have to watch them like children or they will just go off script and say anything.

Worse, now it wasn’t just himself Jesus was talking about being killed, but the rest of them. What sort of hope was this? What sort of saving was this?

I’ve spent about five or six weeks with this passage, and reading The Story of Mark  by David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, which break downs this gospel in a narrative analysis. One little passage talks about Mark’s technique of using questions, often rhetorical questions, and often duplicate or double questions asking the same thing in different angles.

Anvil falls.

Suddenly for me (at least for right here-and-now) I have found my center in the story in verses 36 and 37.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

These are rhetorical, double questions, because if you are dead, it does you no good to have all the world’s riches. Of course. And no matter how rich you are, you can give nothing to live longer, to not die, to be alive in the first place.

Life is a gift.

When I do this as a tell, I’m going to deliberately tweak the words just a tiny bit:

“For what will it profit you to gain the whole world, and forfeit your life?”

“Indeed, what can you give in return for your life?”

I want each of my listeners to feel as if they were there, in the crowd, listening to Jesus and going from crossed arms and “I’m not going to follow you if that means dying or even just suffering” to “following you will be the richest and most joyful life I could have, the most alive I could be.”

And how I pray for that joy to fill us up, all of us, with an abundance of love.

 

My story, part 5

Now I seem compelled to share a story about middle school. Did you just shudder? Yes, for anyone not familiar with American school, middle school is about when you are 13, maybe from age 12 to 14, it differs a little for everyone and depending on where you live. But of course that is a terrifying time (was that just me?) because everything is different! And scientifically, I have since learned as a parent, that is when the brain takes a leap. That is when (I think) more “critical thinking skills” can begin.

That is when kids at the bus stop started telling me that I was going to hell for not believing in Jesus.

Telling someone they are going to hell is really not a way to convert anyone, by the way, can we all agree?

Nor is fear, yes?

But I was made of pretty tough stuff.

“There’s no hell,” I said, eyes rolling.

“Jesus was maybe a good teacher, but seriously — God?”

“A God who would put me in Hell for not believing but put a killer in Heaven for believing at the very last minute of life — that’s not a God worthy of faith.”

The poor bus stop kids started leaving me alone about going to hell.

All of those responses are still a part of me, somehow, even though now I would say that yes, Jesus was/is/will be “very God and very Man” and it’s over my pay grade to explain that. It is, after all, the stories about the walking, talking, healing, human Jesus that fascinate me, and stories/parables he told, and, above all, the amazing mysterious willingness to die for us, all of us, even me, even me back in middle school. And you can take the Unitarian out of the girl, but never the Univeralist. God’s got us, each of us, and she won’t let any of us — be nothing?– because ultimately “love wins”.

May you, all of you, feel God-beloved right at this moment — a moment of stillness perhaps, or a moment of joy, or a moment of rest, or a moment in the midst of a busy day. May you feel beloved.

Back to Matthew 20:1-16

So back to Matthew 20:1-16 — time to look at what comes before and after. And time to confess that I am a little bored with this passage. What is up with that? I’m also “stuck”. I have it pretty much by heart, which is good because I tell it on the 24th. So I have time to keep polishing and to find some guinea pigs to let me practice. Yet, I’m feeling a little stuck, as if there is some vitality to this parable that I am not getting. May be that’s what the feeling of boredom is about as well. This parable isn’t zinging with me.

So what comes just before it, in 19:27-30 is Peter saying, “hey we’ve given up everything for you, what are we going to get?” And Jesus gets mysterious yet again. “Peter, you and the other 12 are going to get thrones! At the renewal of all things — the end? the beginning? — you will be a judge! And everyone who has left their home and their people to follow me, will receive hundredfold — and eternal life. But maybe not everyone, maybe some of the first will actually be last.”

This sort of seems very concrete, but also very — “do x and you get y” — which almost sounds like a bribe or a payment. I reject any notion that God is a vending machine in the sky or Santa Claus. So this passage makes me feel uncomfortable. I myself do not love Jesus in order to gain something after this life. In fact, loving Jesus and worshiping God and studying the bible enrich my life right now, can bring me feelings of joy and gratefulness. So far, even in the storms of life or when I’m angry at God for the suffering I see around me, so far anyway, I can feel deep down that certainty of being held in his hands. Of being beloved. I don’t need to be promised more in the after; certainly not a throne.

I mean actually — a throne!? Judging? I wonder if this is really a reward for Peter and the others! Maybe it is a warning. “Stick with me, and eventually you will have a lot of work to do.” Yikes!

What has prompted Peter to even ask about what’s in it for him? (And don’t you love the honesty and human-ness of Peter to be recorded saying this!) It is story of the Rich Young Man, and Jesus saying about camels and eyes of needles and the rich. Since back then, being rich was (as I am told), considered a sign that God favored you, the disciples were astonished. If the rich — those favored and blessed by God already — would not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, then who could?

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible,” said Jesus.

I hear an echo of Sarah here, a hint of laughter in the air. I like the idea of the disciples not asking these questions out of greed or whining or fear but maybe out of confusion, out of a need for hope maybe. I like the idea that this conversation is taking place with Jesus with laughter in the air — maybe laughter of like “thrones, ha, he’s going to put us on thrones” or maybe laughter like “I’m so embarrassed to be in this conversation” or maybe laughter like “what crazy thing can we get Jesus to say now.”

And besides laughter, perhaps we and the disciples are also hearing more than a hint of the power and glory and grace of God. Not our will or our doings, but God’s grace and mercy.

Well good news, I’m not bored with this anymore. I am feeling some zing! I love finding something unexpected in the Bible.

FTGOG

 

 

 

Luke 2:21-40 — and sadness

At the recent wonderful Network of Biblical Storytellers yearly Festival Gathering — worship and lectures and workshops and stories, stories, stories for 4 days! — one of the featured stories was Luke 2:21-40. This is the one about Simeon, a righteous man, and Anna, a prophetess and how they greeted the baby Jesus as the savior. Reading the story, Simeon did not resonate with me. I just thought it was a story…. at the gathering, well, it brought me to tears.

One piece of why I reacted that way may be, when Simeon (who is holding baby Jesus), says to God, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel.”

Simeon was told he would die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Now he can die and, moreover, he can die happy and full of hope and trust.

How beautiful that seems to me. What a blessing!

The news headlines today, and personal sorrows in family and friends, swirl about me: everything looks dark and hope flickers at best. Yet the thing is, we do not know the “end of the story”.

And that is what Simeon thinks he has, “the end of the story” — God through this baby’s life is going to bring salvation, light, glory to Israel and to the Gentiles. It’s all going to be good.

What, I wonder did Simeon think the next day? And the next week? Did he live another year or more? Did he keep track of the baby since (as we learn in the next story) his parents came every year to Jerusalem for Passover? Did his peace stay with him?

See in your mind’s eye the picture of Simeon holding baby Jesus (imagine holding baby Jesus!) and feeling — knowing in his bones — that this was the one, this was the Messiah. That picture just rips my heart in two with some strange combination of love and hope and pain. May we all feel “dismissed in peace” and not the bitterness and regret of old age.

FTGOG

Mountains in Matt 28:16-20

So as a storyteller, this passage sort of “gelled” when I realized it was on a mountain — not in the temple, or a locked room, or around a table — it was on a mountain. And Jesus is saying to “Go, therefore, to all nations” — from a mountain you can see (at least on a clear day) a long way. You have a feeling of seeing the whole world and far more, anyway, than your normal daily paths. I got a sort of picture in my mind of Jesus sweeping his arms out to the whole world. Or maybe even he pointed to Phillip and pointed in the direction of India and so on.

And then this verse — “And Jesus came and said to them…” Where did he come from? Wasn’t he there on the mountaintop? What’s going on?

“When they saw him, they worshiped him….

And Jesus came and said….”

I visualize that Jesus was floating in the air, descending down to the mountaintop. All could see him. And while some doubted — maybe something is wrong with my eyes — they all worshiped him. If we saw someone floating down to a mountaintop, clearly worship is a fine reaction!

So in giving the Tell, I tried looked up at “When they saw him…” and I swept my arms out and a little down, at “Go, therefore” to all nations…”

Just a tiny bit of movement to expand the story. I think it did anyway!

Plus there’s more.

I think.

What mountain near Galilee would this be? Perhaps the mountain where the sermon on the Mount took place?

Or perhaps being on a mountain is to free the disciples from temple-worship — God is everywhere?

Moses went up to a Mountain and came back down with the Ten Commandments. Mountains are important imagery in Matthew.

So — may we have a chance to get to a high place and breath in the view and feel the air. And worship God!

 

FTGOG

John 9:1-41 a bit deeper

So remember my upset about how this story starts? Let’s review:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

And I was upset because the idea that God caused the man to be born blind just to reveal God’s glory is …. upsetting to me.

Well it turns out that, if I had remembered to read the footnote, that might not be how the lines “really” go. It might be:

So instead Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; we must work the works of him who sent me …. ”

That it doesn’t matter to Jesus “why” the man was blind, nor does it matter to him “why” is this world so broken”. It just is. So Jesus aims to hurry and work to fix the problem.

A pastor friend of me, not knowing I was studying this, wrote about this in her blog and then there it is in the footnotes. Well. Don’t you love that? God found a way to “answer” me. 😉

I know that, just my life experience anyway, that “why” can be a trap. “Why did you do that?” says the parent to child. “I dunno,” says every child everywhere. “Why” can have you going around in circles. Instead, I can imagine Jesus (once again) shaking his head a bit at the disciples, smiling gently, and basically saying, “Let’s not waste time. Let’s get to work on healing.”

___

I also want to point out that right after the healing the point of view changes from Jesus to the blind man. So when I told this story at church, I put my hands over my eyes to “wash” them and then moved them away (like jazz hands a little bit) to reveal my sight — and to “show” that I was now a different character in the story.

For the glory of God!

Luke 2:25-38 and a woman’s voice

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

I think often Jesus, in his ministry, used “masculine” and “feminine” imagery to get the same point really across. For example, the Kingdom of Heaven is like: yeast and will multiple the dough; or it is like a net which will catch a large amount of fish. If you don’t know something about yeast and dough, then maybe the fish will catch your imagination.

So — the widow, Anna, also praises the baby Jesus. If you do not trust the words of a proper righteous man, that’s ok. You can listen to Anna. It isn’t exactly equal time here, but I am told that in that time and place the word of a woman was not “trusted”, especially legally, the way a man’s word was; a widow could not own property; a widow on her own, as Anna was, would have a very hard time. She would be perhaps invisible to people, or perhaps she would be useful, perhaps she kept things clean? We do not know a lot. I am sure that if she was not truly nice and truly thoughtful and helpful, and truly worshiping God with a shining and inspiring sincerity, they would not have let her stay at the temple all those years of her widowhood. So she earned some right to be heard. She chooses to speak to “those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Meaning those who were seeking justice from oppression politically, perhaps from the Romans, perhaps in other ways that oppression can occur. If you are looking for redemption, then you have something that needs to be sorted out, reclaimed, redeemed, remade…..

“At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Perhaps Simeon spoke to those of power. Perhaps Anna spoke to those without.

Jesus, I hope, speaks to us all.

FTGOG

Luke 2:25-38 and joy

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

So I think perhaps Simeon and Anna were joy-struck. Somehow (the Holy Spirit…) of all the babies they had seen brought to the temple for blessing, this baby, Jesus, stirred their hearts and made them think he was the one: a light, a blessing, a sign. Not just another life, not just another good life. Perhaps not a “good” life at all because being “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel” does not sound safe and secure and happy to me. There’s going to be conflict, so much so that Mary will suffer, because we suffer when our children suffer. This child was the one.

And they are delighted. They were struck with relief and thankful joy to have lived long enough to be in the presence of the babe who would go up and bring Israel’s light to the whole world. It is not a gift for them that is making them happy, it is a blessing for the world.

Just as Luke’s angel declares to the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people”. You can hear it as just one set of people or you can take that “all” seriously and I take it seriously indeed. This joy is a love for all — a radical love that has no boundaries, that has no limits, that wants everything made whole, that shares and grows and is full. An abundant love.

This harks back, so my footnotes say, to Isaiah 49:6:

[The Lord] says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to restore the survivors of Israel;

I will give you as a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

It would be too easy to just save Israel. God wants the whole world to be saved. Saved from battles and strife and hunger and pain and suffering. Saved from economics that separate and hurt. Saved from a yardstick that only measures by “worldly riches”. Saved by giving.

I think it says a lot that Simeon and Anna were full of joy and thanksgiving at this news from the holy spirit, instead of bitter and anger that it didn’t come sooner. By their joy, the good news of redemption was already a treasure they had, yes? Just as we do: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand, Jesus will grow up to say. Not yet, but here.

FTGOG