Archives for March 2015
Jim Jarrard is currently chair of Pullen’s coordinating council. He is a former Baptist minister, and recently retired from the NC Department of Health and Human Services where he served as deputy director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.
Text: John 3:18-21
When you wander the streets of the Government complex in downtown Raleigh, especially during the season when the legislature is in session, you notice the cars parked along the curbs and in the covered reserved spaces in the municipal lots. It’s pretty easy to pick out the legislators, because they have “Vote for Me” bumper stickers and license plates that say “House” or “Senate” along with a low number befitting their rank. Members of the Council of State, and of course the governor and lieutenant governor and attorney general and others have very low plate numbers. As a rule of thumb, the lower the number on your license plate, the farther up the government food chain you probably are.
I simply mention this to observe that Nicodemus would have had a very low license plate number. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. A “leader of the Jews,” he was in one of the two major parties in the political and religious landscape, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the primary legislative and judicial body in the city. He comes to Jesus by night, in the dark. For John, the themes of darkness and light pervade the Gospel. The Gospel begins with a revisitation of the beginning of Genesis, “In the beginning” was the Word, the LOGOS, the creative and intentional act of God. The Word becomes flesh, lives here on earth, and brings life itself, that life is the light of all people.
Jesus had been going from town to town, doing remarkable things like healing people and changing water to wine, and these things were impressive enough for the likes of Nicodemus to pay a certain deference to Jesus. “We know you’re somebody,” Nicodemus says, “because of the wonderful things you do,” kind of like the Wizard of Oz. Nicodemus recognizes that you can’t ignore somebody like that, but that’s not the same as understanding them. Now all Pharisees may not have been as literalistic and clueless as Jesus takes Nicodemus to be here. They were more in touch with the common person than the Sadducees, who considered themselves more elite, centering their faith in the Temple as opposed to the Pharisees who centered their focus on the Law and the laws. Jesus has lots of confrontations with them in the gospels, but Nicodemus is mentioned only in John.
Lent IV // Sunday, March 15 // Jim Jarrard Preaching
Sermon Title: Choosing the Light
Scripture Text: John 3:14-21
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
Notes for Reflection
John observes that most people prefer the dark, as a way to hide, or to be anonymous. But we are encouraged to seek a life of light, or transparency, or authenticity, even if that is a little harder to do.
Why would we be drawn to darkness?
What would commend the light as a personal choice?
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Text: John 2:13-22
Before I tackle Jesus dismantling the temple in what the gospel of John portrays as a fit of anger, I want to say a word about this historic weekend in our nation. Fifty years ago yesterday foot soldiers and freedom riders changed our nation forever as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for civil rights, specifically the right to vote. Bloody Sunday the day is now called. It marks the day that courageous men and women—black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew—were beaten, bloodied, and tear-gassed as they silently and non-violently attempted to make their way across the bridge. Over 300 people marching, risking their very lives—risking death—for life, liberty, and justice for all. You know the history; eight days after Bloody Sunday President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a historic address that led to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, fifty years later, our country is in danger of overturning the Voting Rights Act.
Fifty years ago a young man named John Lewis, then 25 years old, led the march from Brown Chapel to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was on that bridge that he was beaten and bloodied as he tried to make his way across with his fellow foot soldiers. Yesterday afternoon at the fiftieth commemoration of Bloody Sunday, speaking at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Representative Lewis, now a US congressman, stood beside the first African-American president of the United States and spoke these words: “We are here to celebrate the distance we have come…and to use this moment to recommit ourselves. There is still work to be done. Get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America. We come to Selma to be inspired. Don’t get lost in a sea of despair. Stand up for what you believe. We all live in the same house. The American house. We are one people.”
President Barak Obama followed Rep. Lewis with one of the most powerful and inspiring speeches of his presidency, in my opinion. There are several things I took away from his speech that I think are worth repeating here this morning—any one of which could be a sermon in and of itself. One of the points he made will serve as a transition to our lectionary text for this morning. But first, let me repeat these lines from the President’s speech. President Obama said, “Those who marched showed that non-violent change is possible.” Something our world needs to hear over and over. He said, “What has not changed [in the last fifty years] is the imperative of citizenship.” Throughout his speech he reminded us that “our work is never done” repeating that phrase several times. He said what America does not need are more “feeble attempts to define some Americans as more American than others.” “There are more bridges to be crossed…our march is not yet finished, our union is not yet perfect.” And in all his brilliance he noted that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that was fought hard for by both Republicans and Democrats, was renewed by Ronald Regan when he was president and by George W. Bush when he held the office of the presidency. With the cadence and passion of a preacher he ended his speech quoting Isaiah 40: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.” He concluded: “We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.”
It was, however, the president’s reference to Susan B. Anthony that links yesterday’s event—yesterday fifty years ago and yesterday twenty-four hours ago—to our text this morning. Speaking of those foot soldiers and freedom fighters who beat the path to the bridge so that others, fifty years ago, may cross over it so that today we may run over other bridges, President Obama said, “We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.” Shaking the system—that is what Susan B. Anthony did and it is what Jesus did centuries before her.
A careful reading of John’s Gospel will reveal that his account of Jesus’ temple escapade is significantly different from the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Rather than placing Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple at the end of Jesus’ public ministry, as the other gospels do, John places it at the beginning of the Jesus narrative.