February 10, 2019 sermon

Posted by on Feb 17, 2019 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

February 10, 2019

This story occurs near the end of the first century. It is almost 100 years since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and close to 65 years since his death on a Roman cross in the city of Jerusalem. A lot has happened during the time between Jesus’ death and now.

Those first disciples who had followed Jesus while he lived and taught throughout the land of Galilee and Judea have managed to expand the number of people who now believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah the Jewish people had been hoping for. Through the work of the apostle Paul, possibly Jesus’ greatest evangelist, and the work of Jesus’ other disciples and followers, the Christian church, for that is what it is now beginning to be called, has spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Yet, Christianity remains a faith that is on the fringe of society and its adherents often need to meet in secrecy, depending on where they are located, out of fear of being persecuted. All of those first disciples, followers, and apostles are now dead and it is the second and third generation of Christians who are carrying on the message of and about Jesus.

The city of Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman army about 25 years ago, the temple was destroyed, and the Jews have been dispersed across the Roman Empire. The Jewish people now worship in synagogues in various cities in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and beyond. Often the Jewish Christians worship in the same synagogues as they are part of the same Jewish families. For many years, those Jews who are leaders of these synagogues have tolerated their fellow Jewish Christian worshippers but the message of Jesus as the Messiah has opened a deep rift or wound between those Jews who believe Jesus was simply a great Rabbi or Teacher and those Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah or Anointed One.

The letters of the apostle Paul were written over 40 years ago and are well-known within the Christian community. The Gospels known as Mark, Matthew, and Luke are only 20 years old at the most, and some were only written 10 years ago and are not as well-known and certainly not universally approved of by the Christian community. All of the Gospels were written after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the Jewish people. A more recent document, known as the Gospel of John, was begun by a Jewish author a number of years ago and gone through two revisions by now as the Jewish Christians in the city of Ephesus prepare to begin their worship lives outside of the Jewish synagogue. The Jewish religious leaders have made it known that they will no longer tolerate this disruptive group of Jewish Christian members in their midst and have expelled them from their worshipping committee. It is in this situation that the fourth and final revision of the Gospel of John is being written. The fourth author is adding a prologue and an epilogue to the Gospel to reflect the current state of affairs in his community and give what he feels is a necessary explanation to this mystical Gospel which has been misunderstood by too many who read it.

We pick up the story as this Author who we will call John, even though that is not his real name, puts the final touches to this Gospel or Good News of Jesus and prepares to share it with his Christian community. Almost twenty people are gathered in John’s house on a Sunday morning and have sung some hymns from the Jewish book of Psalms and read a passage of scripture from the Jewish Torah. They have even read one of the passages from the Apostle Paul’s letters. But now they are eagerly waiting to hear from this Gospel that their religious leader has been working on.

“My fellow followers of the Way,” John begins. “We have read from this Gospel before and have discussed its words many times. I have tried my best to explain to you why it was written and how it came to be. You know that it is meant to be a writing that will help point people to Jesus as the Messiah, the One the Greeks call the Christ. Both words describe Jesus as the Saviour of the world. He is the One we follow and worship and believe in.”

A few of the people give voice to their approval of what John has said before he continues.

“This Gospel was first written by a dearly beloved and wise leader of our community who is no longer with us, but lives on. It was then reviewed and edited by another two wise teachers of our faith community who have also gone on. Now, I have put what I hope are the final touches to it so that it can be copied and shared beyond our own faith community. It must be read by all people who follow Jesus so that his life and message will not be corrupted or forgotten. Already that is beginning to happen and we must put a stop to it.”

A young man sitting near John speaks up, “Rabbi, what false teachings are being said about our Lord? Who is spreading rumours and lies?”

“Nobody is intentionally doing this,” John replies. “At least not that I know of. Much of the misinformation is the result of the many new Christians who are not from the Jewish faith. The Greeks and Romans understand the world and God differently than we Jews do. Our differences have given rise to teachings about Jesus that we do not agree with.”

“Explain this further,” a young woman says. “What teachings are you talking about?”

John smiles at her before continuing. “Some of them come from the other Gospels that are being circulated among the non-Jewish Christian communities, of which there are many now. These Gentile Christians now greatly outnumber us Jewish Christians. But they speak of Jesus in ways that we know are not realistic or in line with what was passed on to us. For instance, those Gospels speak of miracles performed by Jesus but our Gospel refers to them as signs. I believe whoever wrote those other Gospels may have understood them to be signs as well but those who read them without Jewish eyes take them as literal events instead of mystical stories. Because of our own Jewish interpretations of the Jewish scriptures, we know that there are always deeper meanings hidden in the writings and we need to be careful about reading them as such. These new Christians have not been raised in our tradition and fail to see these stories for what they are. This Gospel of our community is meant to address that failing.”

“What are you telling us, Rabbi?” another voice asks. “Are you suggesting that the writings about Jesus by others are wrong?”

“No, I am not,” John says quickly. “I am not saying that at all. I am telling you that without the proper understanding of any writings about Jesus and his life and teachings, the Good News he brought to the world will be misinterpreted. I have already heard stories about him that are not accurate. Because of that some of his followers are making him more than he was but also less than he was. My hope is that this Gospel will be so obviously a writing that should not be understood literally that it will open people to seeing that the other writings are also not to be taken literally. Jesus was a Jewish mystic and this Gospel is a mystical writing in honour and recognition of Jesus. All the Gospels include parables told by Jesus, which everyone understands are not historical events but stories with great spiritual teachings within them. This entire Gospel of John is also to be understood in much the same way. We would be wise to consider the possibility that the other Gospels include some of this pattern too. That is what I am saying.”

“Are you suggesting that Jesus was not crucified and was not raised from the dead?” a voice says accusingly.

“No, no!” John says, loudly. “This is what happens when we mistake mystical writings for literal events. We begin to think that the written word is an accurate recording of history but our scriptures were never meant to be that. You cannot explain spiritual truths by attempting to describe historical truths. Why, even two people who witness the same event will describe it differently. Why do you think it is that the various Gospel writers have different versions of the same events? They are not meant to be a historical record but a faith record that contains great spiritual teachings. Let me try to explain by sharing with you the words I have added to the beginning of what we refer to as the Gospel of John.”

“These are words that you have added, Rabbi?” asks someone.

John nods his head in affirmation. “I have added these words at the very beginning of the Gospel. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

An elderly man with a long white beard interrupts, “I know those words. They come from the Book of Proverbs where the author writes about God’s Wisdom. It says, ‘“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth.’” (Proverbs 8:22-31)

“I know them, too,” an elderly woman says. “Only they are from the First Book of Moses. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’” (Genesis 1:1-3)

“Exactly,” John says, smiling. “Thank you for recognizing the similarities because it makes apparent right from the start that this Gospel of John is not to be understood literally but from the viewpoint of a mystic. The Breath of God or the Spirit of God was involved in creation right from the start, as was the Wisdom of God, as is the Word of God. And so when I write that, ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us,’ do not take it as a literal, historical event but as a mystical, spiritual reality. Jesus was a very real, person but not in the way some are speaking of him. This is what the rest of this Gospel will attempt to show.”