John 7:53-8:11 Then the meeting broke up, and everybody went home…But early the next morning Jesus was back again at the Temple…As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus…the law o Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger…The accusers slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest…Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Psalm 113:5-7 Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high? He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
Garbage. That’s how the Jewish leaders viewed the woman they brought before Jesus to trick him. Umm…did she manage to commit adultery by herself? Where is the guy?!
Since her accusers left in order of age, beginning with the oldest and thus most respected, my husband thinks Jesus wrote names in the dust—names of women whom these men lusted for, whether they had acted on their thoughts or not (see Matthew 5:28). The crowd wouldn’t have been close enough to see as Jesus gave them a chance—a wide open opportunity—to repent of their own sin and hypocrisy and find freedom for themselves. They weren’t willing, though, to admit they were the poor and needy ones in need of God’s help and forgiveness. I picture Jesus feeling great sadness as he stood back up, for not one of them chose the option of restoration, of leaping into Life.
With this beautiful story, John illustrates his thesis that Jesus is just like his Father, stooping down to lift us up. “I know him. He sent me to you.” Jesus knows us, too, inside out. God sent him to us to open opportunities for us to acknowledge our need so he can free us as well from the enemy’s accusations and our own soul-poverty.
Lent is just such an opportunity. I commend to you our youth director Alex’s sermon from last Sunday. Spoiler alert: it involves a flung tangerine. You can listen to it here.
John 7:37-52 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit … But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory. [The crowds began arguing about who Jesus was.] Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem.” … So the crowd was divided about him. Some even wanted him arrested. … The Pharisees mocked, “This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law … no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”
Have you ever been in a conversation where the original point gets lost in a ridiculous argument? In this case we the readers know what the contentious crowd did not know: Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem, not Galilee. “Fake news” is at least two thousand years old!
But back to the main point: Jesus is reprising his conversation with the woman at the well in chapter 4. If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water … Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life (v. 10, 14).
Let’s you and I leave the confused and quarrelsome crowds and RUN to Jesus! Don’t you long for the Spirit’s fresh, bubbling stream to ease the dryness of your soul today?
John 7:16, 25-36 People who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “How could Jesus be the Messiah? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from. While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.” … The leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus. But Jesus told them, “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me.”
Colossians 1:15 NCV No one can see God, but Jesus Christ is exactly like him.
When I met my husband Dave in college, I was appalled at his Spanish. I thought but didn’t say, “How could someone who grew up in Latin America speak Spanish so badly?”
Then Bolivian friends came to visit him. And they spoke exactly like he did.
I didn’t tell Dave what I had thought until years later. I was embarrassed because I hadn’t realized Spanish is spoken differently in different countries. My standard was what I knew, the Spanish of Guatemala—which, it turns out, is not considered “standard” by anyone except Guatemalans.
And I was embarrassed because I had made assumptions about Dave and his family based on my learned prejudices connected to language. Both my parents were linguists. It was a point of pride for them to speak both Spanish and Ixil (the language of the Mayan-descended people among whom we lived) correctly. My parents were quick to be critical of missionaries who “didn’t care enough” about the people whom they were there to serve to overcome their horrendous accents and mangled grammar. I had judged Dave to be one of “those” people.
Where are you from? What are the standards and prejudices you’ve been taught or absorbed from your culture, and by which you make judgments? I’ve been asking myself those questions as part of my desire to understand people who think and believe and behave differently than I do right here in Pittsburgh. It’s no use telling myself I don’t have prejudices. We all have them, most of them as unconscious and unchallenged as my opinion about Dave’s Spanish. Usually, we don’t even notice when we’re making judgments. It’s as automatic as breathing. Yet our assumptions affect our relationships.
Jesus, John tells us, is the one to look to if we want to understand God the Father, because they are exactly alike. The compassion we see in Jesus is the Father’s compassion; his power is the Father’s power. (This conversation started because Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.) To understand God in the Old Testament, we must start with Jesus. At the same time, the Gospel writers show us from the Old Testament who Jesus is, the fulfillment of all the ancient prophecies. You and I are one, Jesus said to his Father in John 17. You are in me, Father, and I am in you.
There’s a lovely word in Portuguese, saudades, that doesn’t have a single-word translation into English. I hear saudades in Jesus’ statement in verse 33, I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. Saudades is longing for what is familiar and dear and highly esteemed. It’s like homesickness. It’s what washes over me when I interact with one of my beloved Brazilian friends. It evokes place and culture and memories of a zillion events and the nuances of relationships.
For Jesus, home was not Nazareth; it was Heaven. As Jesus told Nicodemus in their secret meeting at night, and now declares publicly, “If you want to know my Father, listen to me.”
John 7:1-13 Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death. But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters. Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. Jesus replied, “… You go on. I’m not yet going to this festival, because my time has not yet come.” After saying these things, Jesus remained in Galilee. But after his brothers left for the festival, Jesus also went, though secretly, staying out of the public view. … There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. … No one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.
Jesus was in control. He didn’t allow pressure from his family, from those who were actively trying to kill him, from those who wanted him to be popular politically, or even from those who loved him to force his decisions. He wasn’t a people-pleaser. His motivation was to please his Father. When he does begin to speak at the festival, his main theme is God who sent him: the source of his message (v. 17) and his miracles (v. 21-23). The one who sent him speaks truth, not lies (v. 18—how much political pressure is rebuffed here!). “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly,” Jesus says to those trying to kill him (v. 24).
What pressures do you feel? Are you able to look beneath the surface and judge them correctly, anchored in your “audience of one,” the only One to whom you’re ultimately accountable? I don’t find that easy to do. I easily allow myself to be unduly influenced by what I think are other people’s preferences and expectations of me, even though no one else sees or understands the whole picture of what I’m dealing with.
I wish I had been capable of the Jesus kind of control when I was mothering four young children: my eyes so fixed on God, my desire so strong to follow his direction, that I could make decisions in favor of my children and against the intense pressures I felt. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were critical of me, both telling me I was “spoiling” my children and not disciplining them appropriately. Karis’s illness, frequent hospitalizations, surgeries, and crises put immense pressure on me to care adequately for my other three.
When we moved to Brazil, schoolteachers judged me for challenges my children experienced with adaptation to their new environment, and our mission team didn’t expect us to survive the first year. Too often I tried to please everyone else (I AM a good mother—can’t you see how hard I’m trying?), rather than focusing on my children’s needs and what I could do to ease their way through the pressures Dave’s and my decisions and our circumstances put on them.
My spiritual director is fond of telling me, “There’s only One you need to please. And He is so easily pleased. He delights in you, as a good father delights in his precious child.” Perhaps these words can encourage you today, as they do me. He knows your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and immaturities, but offers support and encouragement, not scolding and criticism. As I anchor myself in him today in the secret place I share only with him, everything else will shrink to its proper dimension of influence over me.
We have an anchor that keeps the soul Steadfast and sure while the strong winds roll, Fastened to the Rock which cannot move, Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.
John 6:26-71 [After he fed the five thousand] Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you … Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because he had said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” … But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said. … Yes, I am the bread of life! … The very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
A pastor’s wife in Curitiba, Brazil said to my husband Dave, “Stop talking about emotional healing unless you’re going to do something about it!” So Dave sent out an invitation across Brazil: “Anyone interested in a conversation about emotional healing, come to São Paulo for a weekend in mid-January. Let us know in the next week.”
By the time we left on vacation a week later, six or seven people had responded, including the woman from Curitiba. No problem! We could house and feed them in our own home.
But by the time we dragged home from two weeks of camping with friends at the beach seventeen hours’ drive from São Paulo and checked email, the number of people coming three days later was close to forty! Such was their hunger, some were coming from as far as forty-five bus hours away!
Now, I know that doesn’t hold a candle to Jesus asking the disciples to feed five thousand men, plus women and children, in a remote place. But it felt overwhelming to me, trying to deal with two weeks of stinky laundry for a family of six, clean, dry, and put away three tents, etc. etc. How could I find housing and prepare food for forty people in three days’ time? How could Jesus say to me, “Don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food?”
Yet, he provided. And the words he spoke to us that weekend were spirit and life. I doubt anyone (including me!) remembers what they ate, but none of us can forget the spiritual food God used to nourish and heal our souls.
That first weekend became a monthly event for the rest of that year, birthing the REVER movement which by God’s grace has brought spiritual and emotional healing to thousands of people across Brazil and in other countries, since 2002 under the direction internationally of Luciene Schalm. The acronym REVER in Portuguese and Spanish means “to take another look”; it stands for “restoring lives, equipping restorers.” Our four kids grew up surrounded by this ministry as it frequently occupied our home and took Dave and me around Brazil. REVER ministry in our home church in São Paulo continues to bring many nonbelievers to the healing arms of Jesus, as well as healing to families, marriages, and individuals within the church.
Of the forty times John uses the word “life” in his Gospel, eleven are in this chapter. Seven other times the words are “live” or “living.” In every case he refers to himself, the Father, or the Spirit as the source of life, eternal life: Jesus himself the bread from heaven. The sustaining, energizing, fecund dance of the Trinity that fuels our flourishing. This Lent, God invites us to give less attention to physical food so we can devote time to nourishing our souls in him.
John 6:17-20 As darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, his disciples got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Mark 6:51 Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped.
With a passenger, a man rode his motorcycle on a highway near a town about an hour from Bogotá, Colombia last week. His passenger had a seizure, which threw the motorcycle off course, hitting two cyclists. Three people stopped to help the four victims of the accident, lying on the road in varying states of injury.
A drunk driver came along and hit all of them. As I write this, three are dead, three are critically injured, and one has more minor injuries. The drunk man, it turns out, is not a customary drinker. He had been drinking because he lost his father and his uncle to Covid the same week. Further, he is related to two of his victims.
Where, you may be asking, is the “But God” in this story?
A close friend of my sister Jan’s, a Colombian who now lives in Mexico, is also a relative of the drunk driver and two family members involved in the accident. She offered to pray with anyone from the extended family, their friends, and their neighbors, all of them reeling from this accident. The first call extended to another, so that now Jan’s friend is praying with them at 6:00 p.m. daily, via Zoom from Mexico, communicating Jesus’ words every day: “Don’t be afraid. I am here!”
Horrible things happen, as unexpected and unmanageable as a storm at sea. “I am here. We can face this together.” This message bookends the Gospels, from the angel telling Joseph to name his son Immanuel, “God with us,” to Jesus’s last words, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 1:23, 28:20). I don’t say any of this lightly–you know I don’t. In my own life, healing has come when I’ve been able to “see” Jesus with me, even in the valley of death. Not a bandaid; a profound release, one traumatic memory at a time.
G. K. Chesterton said, “There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally.” Jesus wants us to know he is with us even in the darkest times. Often he does that through the presence of a friend, through physical touch. But it can happen even through Zoom.
From wherever you are, you can pray for this family and their neighbors. And for my sister’s friend in Mexico, who is turning her own grief into an extension of care across cyberspace.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me (Psalm 23:4).
John 5:16-26 [On the Sabbath, Jesus healed a man ill for 38 years.] So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” … For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. … The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son.
Everything seemed so bleak. The man ill for 38 years had given up hoping to get his life back. But Jesus…
Those first three months of her life when she screamed with colic, we couldn’t have imagined the happy child my granddaughter Talita has become. She doesn’t know she’s a Covid baby. But I believe she knows she is loved. Yesterday we celebrated one year of life. And today she took her first steps!
When I read ever more disheartening news about the devastation of Venezuela, it’s hard to imagine health and freedom can ever be restored there. Yet my friend Idagly asks me to pray for her faith, for gratitude, for contentment with God’s life-giving work, even in horrible circumstances. The Father has life in himself and grants us life through his Son.
As I look out my window at ice and snow, everything seems dead. But I have enough experience living in this climate to know it’s not so. Under the ground where I can’t see, roots are alive and growing. When conditions are right, courageous crocuses will poke their little heads through the snow, the heralds and hope-bearers of spring. Incredibly quickly, at least where I live, our city will transform from shades of black, white, and grey into living color, all the colors of the rainbow.
I’m thinking about all this as today we head into Lent, the forty days before Easter, weeks in which we’re tasked with considering death and all that is deadly in our lives. The point is not to be morbid, but to clear space for the bursting of new life. If I never clear out what is dead in my garden, the potent loveliness underneath won’t be able to express its full glory.
Even while I do the work of Lent, I will know—my soul cherishes this mystery—the roots of LIFE are there, strengthening, expanding, preparing to nurture new growth. The more courageous I can be in allowing God to root out what is not life-giving in my heart-garden, the more he can nurture the beauty that pleases him.
So—let it snow. The Father is always working, always life-giving. Even in winter. Even in Lent.
John 4:43-54 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he [a government official] went to Cana and begged Jesus to come to Capernaum to heal his son, who was about to die. Jesus asked, “Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?” The official pleaded, “Lord, please come now before my little boy dies.” Then Jesus told him, “Go back home. Your son will live!” And the man believed what Jesus said and started home. While the man was on his way, some of his servants met him with the news that his son was alive and well.
Luke 9:28-36 As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white…Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”
In the first chapter of Karis, All I See Is Grace, I tell the story of meeting God in a park, at a time the doctors told us there was no hope six-week-old Karis could live. God asked me to trust him, to believe he would never leave or forsake me. He gave me the ability to believe what he told me. That weekend, while I was away from the hospital, God worked a miracle. Karis’s intestine functioned for the first time. The nurses and doctors started calling her “Miracle Baby.”
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thanked God this morning for a talk he recently had with my husband, showing him something he had never understood before about his relationship with me. After 43 ½ years of marriage, that felt, and still feels, miraculous. It untangled some knots between us we didn’t know how to unravel, though we tried many times. It showed us God cares about us even in small things. And it helps me trust God to show me what to believe and what path to take in other challenges of my life right now.
In his Gospel, John doesn’t include the Transfiguration, the event in Jesus’ life Anglicans remember today, the last Sunday of Epiphany. An interesting omission, given John’s theme of revelation! But one of the main “lessons” of the Transfiguration is right here in John 4: Listen to what Jesus says. The official listened and believed him. Later, his entire household believed, and John calls that miraculous too.
Perhaps, like the official in this story, and like Thomas, I need “signs and wonders” to believe when times are tough, and God graciously provides what I need. Maybe you don’t. Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29-30). Either way, what is Jesus saying to you? Ask God to let you hear the word of love he is speaking to you today.
John 4:1-42 Jesus said [to the Samaritan woman], “Please give me a drink.” The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water… a fresh, bubbling spring, giving you eternal life.” [Later he said to his disciples] “You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.”… [The people of the village said to the woman] “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard Jesus ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Enmity between people in the same land—people who claim to worship the same God—is at least as old as Israel and Samaria. Jesus didn’t let that deter him. He both used and broke through accepted social conventions because he saw this woman’s heart. He understood her story. He saw her need. And he used her cultural setting (the well) and custom (drawing water from the well) to offer what he had to give, living water.
Hmm, sound like a description of missions? In the Anglican tradition, today is World Mission Sunday. Having grown up in Guatemala as an MK (“missionary kid”), I’ve never known life apart from missions; it frames the way I think and understand everything—maybe that can help you make sense of things I say. For me, borders between countries are in a sense artificial constructs imposed on this world God loves. His family—our brothers and sisters—live in every nation. It’s as impossible for me to embrace one country as being “first” as it is to imagine God having favorites among his children.
I thought it would be fun to share a couple of worship songs from countries I have lived in. Don’t worry about understanding the words; just try to enter into their spirit, their heart.
From Guatemala: Julio Melgar died in 2019 at age 46. Here’s an example of the worship legacy he left, Tus Cuerdas de Amor (Your Cords of Love), recorded in 2018 in the middle of a two-year fight with cancer (Lord, you never lost control...Your cords of love have fallen on me… this is my security, my peace…your love sustains me…).
His son Lowsan later sang this song like this.
From Brazil: When she was a little girl, Dave took board games as gifts when he stayed with Ana Paula Valadão’s family on visits to her city of Belo Horizonte. Ana Paula and her group, Diante do Trono (Before the Throne) has had an incalculable influence on worship in Brazil. Here’s one of my favorites, a song first recorded in 2002, Águas Purificadoras.
Oh! I just found this video of Ana Paula singing Águas Purificadoras last year in English!
John 3:1-21 [Jesus said to Nicodemus] I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony…No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven…For God loved the world so much…God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
This morning early, I lit a candle and listened to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue as we did seven years ago when three angels and Michael escorted Karis to Heaven.
Heaven. When Jesus talks about heaven, we should pay attention. Because he lived there.
This week a friend in Chicago asked me whether I had heard of capoeira and the berimbau. Her son in Seattle is learning them.
Her words immediately conjured happy days at Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo pressing into the crowd to watch in fascination the blend of martial arts, play fighting and choreographed dance/gymnastics of a capoeira group showing off their skills, to the thrum of the berimbau and the shake shake shaking of the caxixi.
Yes, I’m familiar with capoeira and the berimbau. It takes a lot of practice and highly developed skills to do it well. I know, because I lived in Brazil for years and saw capoeira many times.
Suppose someone tried to tell me capoeira is a type of hmm, a type of Brazilian chocolate. I would just look at them and shake my head, maybe laugh a little.
I had an experience like that once. I was at a conference in Arkansas and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting across from me at lunch. When she found out I lived in Brazil, she immediately started telling me what I needed to understand about Brazil and how to do effective work there. Had she ever been to Brazil? No. But once she had talked to someone who had heard a speaker who said… My new acquaintance was not interested in my experience from having lived there, at that point, more than ten years. She “knew” what my husband and I ought to be doing, and how, and why. She took the rest of the meal to explain this to me. All I could do was shake my head and laugh a little.
Jesus knew about heaven. He had lived there since before our world was even made. Nicodemus thought he knew. As a Pharisee, he thought God was all about rules and control, of himself and of other people. No, no, no, Jesus said. It’s about freedom, the Holy Spirit dancing like the wind, birthing life, life that is unending, into people’s spirits. It’s about love, God loving people so much, so much that he gave them what was most precious to him. It’s about light, dispelling the darkness of judgment and fear of condemnation, of not measuring up to all the rules. “Come into the light—true light from heaven,” Jesus invited Nicodemus. “Then you’ll see what God is like, what he actually wants.”
I heard on NPR an interview with Steve Bannon in which he was chuckling over how vulnerable people are, how easy it is to exploit their fears and make them believe anything. I couldn’t believe it. I looked up the interview later to see whether I had heard him correctly. He said these things with no shame, no attempt to cover them up. This was no underground operation. He reveled in his power to take advantage of people for his own ends. He could make people believe anything, he said, if he played on their fears and repeated it often enough.
No, no, no. No. Evoking and exploiting fear is NOT the language of heaven. There is nothing remotely like God in that. So what makes us vulnerable to it? Paul offers an antidote: Let your roots grow down deep into the soil of God’s wonderful love to keep you strong (Ephesians 3:17). I’ve chosen that as my 2021 year verse. Then you’ll have the ability to know, to understand and experience, the dimensions of God’s love, Paul continues. You’ll be able to speak the language of heaven.
More than anyone I’ve known, Karis learned the language and culture and values of heaven while she still lived on earth, the language of love and joy, freedom, and grace. I have no doubt she’s very much at home there.
And God’s given me a “vision” of her this week: welcoming into heaven those who have died from Covid, helping heal their trauma, helping them transition into wellness. She can do this because she knows what it’s like to die from a horrible virus. In her case it was H1N1, but from what I observed of her last illness and what I’ve heard about Covid deaths, it’s not much different. As I grieve our friends who have died from Covid, it comforts me to think of Karis meeting them and caring for them in their new home, her sparkling blue eyes and that irresistible smile even more radiant because she’s free from pain, as they will be. Are.
I have to share what appeared at our door this week, accompanied by a note from Karis. Photos don’t do them justice—the roses are glorious. My husband outdid himself. Every time I’ve felt a wash of sadness this week, missing Karis, I’ve looked at my roses and soaked in the love they represent. A tangible, visible sign of God’s love. Sacrament. And I echo Karis’s poem, “Lord, make my life sacrament.”