March 2009


The Gospel text for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Sunday March 29) is John 12:20-36.
What strikes me as I marinate in this story is the dualing images of Jesus as Messiah that were obviously in dialogue with each other both during the time of Jesus historical life (30CE), and during the time of the community of John’s writing (90CE). Is Jesus the one who dies on the cross, or is Jesus the one who lives triumphant forever?

Of course, this debate is framed by John with the inquiry from the Greeks in 12:21, “We want to see Jesus.” Jesus response is almost a little sassy: “You want to see me? I’ll show you who I really am!” Jesus, it turns out, is the one who must die in order for their to be life.

I have to note here that both John and Jesus are within mainstream Judaism here, presenting again the ancient hope that the nations will stream to Zion in the day of the Lord (though in this case it is Jesus of course, and not the community). (See Isaiah 2, 56, 60 & Matthew 2:1-12) for the image of the nations streaming). John presents the nations coming to see Jesus, and Jesus in 12:32 presents all people coming to him because of the cross.
The idea of people actually being intrigued enough by Jesus (and the church???) is what guides the majority of my questions this week.

• Do we agree that there are still ‘Greeks’ looking for Jesus in Houston today? If so, what are we doing to be like Phil/Andrew and bring them to Jesus?

What are the Greeks looking for? And why will the nations stream to Jesus like he says they will in 12:32?

• Is our church (corporately and as individuals) a place where ‘Gentiles’ can come and see Jesus? What is the Jesus we present to them? Do we present the suffering savior like Jesus suggests in vss 24, 25, and 32? Or do we, like the crowds in vs 34, only present a popular Jesus with a gold crown who makes us happy in return?

• What cultures, traditions, practices must die at Houston Mennonite before we can ‘bear much fruit’? Greg Boyd says we must die to our cultural baggage as Menno’s and embrace the treasure of our own tradition (Jesus-centered, peacemaking, service, community, kingdom-shaped). Otherwise, we will become a “geriatric society” and our churches “museums.” In essence, Mennonites should embrace their theological distinctives, which are really the core teachings of the gospel for everyone, and let go of their cultural baggage in order to survive. What cultural baggage do we need to let die?

• The last thing Jesus says in John before he dies is, “It is accomplished/completed.” What do you think he was referring to? How do verses 31-32 answer that question? Do they give us a clue to help us know why people will stream to Jesus?

• What worship and devotional practices will form us to be the type of people who “hate their life in this world”?

Both of our texts for this week (John 3:14-21 and Ephesians 2:1-10) can be summarizd in similar ways.

Ephesians looks like this:
Grace/Gift= new creation = good works as way of life.

John 3 looks like this:
Grace/Gift = salvation/eternal life = deeds done in God.

And both of those look remarkably like our church vision statement: Being transformed by God to Transform the World.

So, my question this week is, Is our vision statement an accurate reflection of reality, or of our wishes and hopes? Are we being transformed? And if so, how? In what ways?

Our two passages both suggest it is a gift from God. So does that mean that we as humans have no say in our own transformation? What role do we play in our ongoing transformation?

I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for myself, and let this be my testimony. But I feel like I am being transformed in the present, that the tectonic plates of my soul are shifting inside me. I see this too in the life of our congregation.

Given this testimony, its too easy to say that I’m on the side of the new creation and of the saved, and to assume the judgment bits of our texts refer to an entirely different category of people. But maybe this isn’t quite the case. Maybe we’re always a mix of both good and bad, light and shadow, redeemed and in need of redemption.

Maybe that’s what John 3:20 means, when he says people do not want to come to Jesus because they don’t want their deeds exposed. Is that just for non-Christians, or do we all struggle with our secrets? DO we all have rooms in our hearts we don’t let anyone into? Sunday night at the Anabaptist Learning Seminar we talked about checking certain parts of our lives at the door (namely, sexuality). Is that what Jesus means here? That even those of us who are redeemed have parts of our lives we don’t want exposed?

Along the same lines, noted Black pastor/author/civil rights leader Howard Thurman prayed the following prayer:

 

My ego is like a fortress.
I have built its walls
stone by stone
to hold out the invasion
of the love of God.

Michael Casey, Orthodox pastor/author says, “There is much within us that is resistant to God’s love… too often we are overwhelmed by the negative inertia of our Un-evangelized zones.”

If Thurman and Casey, two respected Christians from quite different Christian communities, both experience blocks to God’s love in their already converted hearts,
Does it make sense to talk about those things in our own already-converted hearts & minds that are resistant to God’s love? If so, what blocks us from being transformed? What form does your resistance to God’s love take?

How might you/we go about removing those blocks you’ve identified, so we can nurture the transformation already at work in our lives?

The text for this week reminds me of a curious experience I had as a youth pastor years ago. This text was the base for a Wednesday night bible study soon after I arrived on the job. I did my best to experientially teach my new group what Jesus was saying, and how it might look to live this out at the local high school. Afterwards, one of the brightest and most dedicated students came up to me and said, “I still don’t get it. What does it mean to pick up your cross?”

The bluntness of her question has sent me on a years-long search for deeper understanding of this text. And still, it puzzles me, amazes me, challenges me, orients me, and inspires me! I invite you to dig more deeply with me, to set aside easy answers, and to search together for what God is saying through this interesting text beloved by Mennonites for centuries.

Scripture for Sunday March 8, 2009 is Mark 8:31-38. Some of my own questions about this text include:

  • What are examples today of what Jesus called “setting our minds not on divine things but on human things”?
  • What did “pick up your cross and follow me” mean to the disciples, who heard this before Jesus was even crucified? What did it mean to Mark’s original audience? What does it mean for us?
  • Peter in 8:32 rebukes Jesus, seemingly because Jesus pushed him too far out of this comfort zone. What are your thoughts about this James McLendon quote? “Had [the disciples] had their way, there would have been no cross; had [Jesus] had his, there would have been thirteen. They declined the honor.” 
  • How through our worship and devotional practices can we form one another to be the type of people who “lose their life for Jesus sake”?
  • How do we live this text out in March 2009 in Houston, Texas, USA?

We’ll meet for the first time at my house on March 3 and study the texts for Sunday March 8th.

In true Anabaptist fashion, let’s together discern this text. Feel free to write in here on the discussion board your responses to these questions, or other questions this text brings up for you.
And/or, feel free to join a group of people interested in meeting at the pastor’s house to discern together what these texts are saying to us in Houston. Tuesday night, 8-9PM.