Saturday, May 29, 2010

Time and Sacrifice in the Gospel of St. John (Part2)

Then, in the upper room, he tells his disciples, that he must leave them. He knows who will betray him and who will deny him. Jesus tells Judas that he will be Christ’s betrayer, and he tells Peter that he will disown his Master. Evidently, the time is near because Jesus tells Judas to go ahead and do what he has to do. There is no aggression in Jesus’ voice. Judas thinks that he has everything under control, but John will remind us soon that this is not at all the case. At the right time, as predicted by Jesus, before the rooster crows, Peter does in fact deny Jesus three times.

Finally, Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (17:1b). The time finally has come. Before, when people tried to trap and kill him, he escaped from their grasp. Now, though he knows that Judas will betray him, he does not resist. When he is arrested, he does not try to escape, but submits. Judas thinks that he has shortened Jesus’ life, but in fact, he has not decided this, but the Master. It is the Son who has decided when he will die, not Judas.

Before he breathes his last, Jesus proclaims, “It is finished” (19:30b). Jesus was in complete control of time as he has been from the very beginning of the world. Peter reminds us that “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8b). God’s time is not our time. Although Jesus came into the world, he was not of the world in that he did not see the world the way we do. He urged others to see the world the way he did, and many did. Many became Christians on Pentecost which we celebrate today.

After Jesus’ death, while still on the cross, “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34). This reminds one of the wedding at Cana when Jesus transfigured water into wine. Now, this wine (his blood) flows out of his body with water. The communion imagery is not imagery anymore but reality. Christ has died and he has sacrificed himself for the sins of the world.

John brilliantly notices the connections between God and time. Jesus' coming, ultimately, was to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to die for humanity, and no one could dictate for him when he would do these things. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Time and Sacrifice in the Gospel of St. John (Part 1)

Have you ever thought about the relationship between time and God? One morning it suddenly dawned on me (no pun intended) that God has complete control over time. Certainly, you say, everyone knows that, but I wonder if we have ever noticed this when reading scripture. I love all the gospels but my favorite is the Gospel of St. John. Here, the evangelist shows us this truth in the actions and life of the incarnation, Jesus Christ. In addition, the whole of the gospel is centered on Jesus’ sacrifice although the Last Supper is never mentioned. By weaving together communion imagery and time, though, John attempts to impress upon us the power and significance of the Sacrificial Word made Flesh.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2).

At the start of the gospel, the first thing the evangelist does is speak of Christ in relation to the history of the world. In the beginning was the Word. Of course, we can compare this line to Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Thus, when the heavens and the earth were being created, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is seen from the onset as there in the beginning, before the world was created, before time had any significance. But, what makes this Word truly special is that He came into the world, and subjected himself to the limitations of this world. However, what John will go on to show us throughout his gospel is that time, as seen from a solely human perspective, never has a hold on Christ. Christ controls time because He was created before time; in fact, He created it with the Father and the Spirit.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, he changed water into wine at a wedding. Here is the passage:

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4)

The wine that Jesus is speaking of is his blood that will be poured out for the sins of the world. Here, Jesus reminds his mother that it is not his time to die yet. He knows when the time is right, and at the wedding when his ministry has just started, there is much that he still needs to do before he is sacrificed. His time has not yet come.

Only in the gospel of John is the feeding of the five thousand shown to be almost sacramental in nature. Here, the people do not understand Jesus, and come back for perishable food, and not for the eternal food that Christ wants his people to consume. Once again, communion is shown to be central to Jesus’ message. Although, the Last Supper is not celebrated in this gospel, in chapter 6, after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (6:48-51). Jesus, again, points to his death which will come. He desires to correct everyone’s erroneous beliefs that material goods are the only things necessary for survival. He corrects them by reminding them that eternal life is found only in God through His Son. As a result, of Jesus’ radical proclamation, followers are confused and angered. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus’ response to this angry outburst is even more enigmatic. So, everyone gets into an argument over the nature of this Jesus of Nazareth, and once again, John reminds us of time as seen through the eyes of God.

Who is this Christ anyway? Jesus replies, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”(8:58b). Jesus is not just a prophet or a good man; he is YHWH, the great I Am. Immediately, John writes, people “picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (8:59). I believe this is a clear indicator that Jesus' time has not yet come. Though people have surrounded him, and are trying to stone him to death, he escapes. Humanity wants to kill him, to control time, but Jesus has complete control. Jesus will die when he is ready, and not only when others want him to die.

At the end of chapter 10, Jesus continues to explain his identity, and again, people “tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp(10:39). His time has not yet come. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Uniqueness of YHWH

In 1959, the Protestant theologian Walther Eichrodt did a comprehensive study on the Old Testament in his book Theology of the Old Testament. I am in the process of reading the first volume and I must admit that it is quite challenging for me. I can’t stop reading it though because he is absolutely brilliant. In his book, he explores all aspects of ancient Judaic life and ideology. He sees the Old Testament as not only leading to the New Testament and essential in understanding the latter but also finds that the New Testament gives us a better understanding of the Old Testament as well. For the ancient Israelites, Eichrodt argues, the covenant was the central focus of the nation and explains all the actions of the Jews. Even though the Israelites often borrowed customs from the pagans around them, they always adapted these customs to their understanding of YHWH. In other words, although their liturgical celebrations, law, or lifestyle sometimes seemed to be the same from the outside, from the inside, the way the Jews perceived their God was very different from the way the pagans viewed their gods. For the pagans, the gods served man and not vice versa. Baal did not need man, but man needed Baal if he wanted healthy crops. In comparison, YHWH needed the Jews because after all, He had created a covenant with them; both sides needed each other for there to be an agreement. The Jews would follow their God and God would protect His chosen people.

 In war, the pagan gods were always on the side of the Canaanites, Hittites, and Jebusites. However, by the covenant established between YHWH and the Hebrews, He only helped the Israelites when the latter held their portion of the covenant. Over and over again, YHWH, it says in the OT, abandoned the Jews and supported their enemies when the Jews were unfaithful. Nothing like this happened in the pagan world.

And it is not only amongst the pagans that the Jewish God stands out. Eichrodt compares Moses with other great religious prophets like Zoroaster and Mohammed. While Islam and Zoroastrianism are centered on the life of one particular prophet, Judaism is not centered on Moses. Rather, it is not Moses himself who is exalted but God. It is God who spoke through Moses and he is only seen as a mediator. After Moses, there were other, equally important prophets who emerged like Elijah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. The lives of these prophets were not as important as the message they gave. The Passover is a celebration of what God did for the Hebrews and not a celebration of the man Moses and his great accomplishments. Once again, YHWH was the sole being who was deserving of praise. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Canned Sermons: The Truth About the Sermons Given on Sunday

Have you ever felt as if you have heard your pastor/priest give a particular sermon before? You might find the article below interesting. Remember: the lectionary cycle starts over every three years. There are of course those, in addition, who reuse their own sermons from year to year. 

Nice Sermon, Pastor-Who Wrote It?
by Hal Gordon
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story on members of the clergy who buy sermons off the Internet. The Journallisted five websites that offer sermon ideas, and even entire transcripts, for modest fees. One of these sites, amusingly titled,, offered this comforting quote of the day from Henry David Thoreau: "Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life."
Indeed, the morality of using canned sermons does not seem to weigh heavily on some of those who labor in the Lord's vineyard. One clergyman quoted in the article, the Rev. Steve Sjogren of Cincinnati, actually advised his fellow preachers to "get over the idea that we have to be completely original with our messages, each and every week." Instead, they should recycle the best material they can lay their hands on. "Don't be original," says the good reverend. "Be effective."
As a speechwriter, I readily agree that if someone else can get a point across more wittily, more profoundly, or more effectively than I can, it makes sense to use that other person's words. But I also believe that I should attribute those words to their author and not try to pass them off as the speaker's.
Yet, astonishingly, some of the ministers quoted in the Journal's article don't see anything unethical about quoting without attribution in a sermon. According to Rev. Sjogren, it doesn't count as plagiarism. "Real" plagiarism, he says, "is taking stuff out of a book and putting it into another book." But "taking people's material and putting it into a speaking forum, is not plagiarism."
Then what is it, pray?
I once worked for the CEO of a major corporation who scrupulously removed quotes from speech drafts, even when they were properly attributed, because, as he put it, "I don't quote authors whom I haven't read." This man—who graduated "with distinction" from the U.S. Naval Academy—thought it was dishonest to appear more learned than he actually was. Maybe he should be lecturing divinity students on the ethics of rhetoric.
Fortunately, the Journal article quotes other preachers who are disgusted by the casual attitude toward attribution displayed by Rev. Sjogren and his ilk. They worry, with good reason, that parishioners will feel betrayed if they find out that their pastors have been passing off canned sermons as their own. When this happens, the erring shepherd is sometimes driven from his pulpit by his outraged flock.
Thomas G. Long, a preaching professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, suggests that too many preachers have succumbed to the sin of pride. They want to be clerical superstars, like the ones who attract millions of viewers on television. "Our churches have turned into theatres," sighs Mr. Long, "and our preachers have turned into witty motivational speakers with high entertainment value.
"Call me old-fashioned, but I think that if a preacher can't find the inspiration he needs to preach the gospel without surreptitiously borrowing from the sermons of others, he ought to find another line of work. As St. Paul—no slouch as a preacher himself—once said: 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.'"