On Tuesday morning the pastors of Lutheran Saints in Ministry gather in Fairborn Ohio to discuss the texts for Sunday.

These are the contributions that are brought to the table.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Will it matter

“There was,” says the evangelist, not simply a messenger of God, but “a man.”
This he said in order to distinguish the man who shared only the humanity of the one he heralded from the man who came after him, the man who united godhead and manhood in his own person.
The evangelist’s intention was to differentiate between the fleeting voice and the eternally unchanging Word. The one, he would suggest, was the morning star appearing at the dawning of the kingdom of heaven, while the other was the Sun of Justice coming in its wake.— John Scotus Erigena, 9th cent.

  1. There are two sets of interrogators who were sent to John. One was from the priests, the other from the Pharisees. One wanted to know who this renegade priest was. After all, John, as far as we can tell, came from priestly blood through Zachariah. Renegade disenfranchised priests seem to have been common in the 1st century. There was a sort of cast system with the Jerusalem priesthood being the opulent and almost regal ones but the other priestly descendants in the rural reaches living in relative poverty and utter powerlessness. It seems that a number of them went rogue and sometimes threatened rebellion against the Jerusalem faction. In a way, John’s mode of dress as described in Mark last week is a commentary on the splendor and riches of the Jerusalem priests over against the poverty of their rural counterparts (Pilch) They come to figure out whether John will be one who will threaten action by gathering a faction or whether he is merely a preacher. They can dismiss the latter and would probably take action against the former. They must have deemed him harmless, since they took no action against him.
  2. The Pharisees come and ask about his actions. He baptizes, he administers a ritual, a common one at that. It symbolizes something and they are interested. John gives them an evasive answer. His is a water baptism. Messiah is among them somehow and Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit. As Joel 2:28 would put it: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” That Baptism with the Spirit will not come until the evening of the Resurrection when Jesus appears again to the disciples and breathes the Spirt on them. But baptizing, as in administering ritual washings, was always symbolic in some way of something very important and therefore not without controversy as John 3:25 reveals. 
  3. The very next day, John will further reveal to his own why he baptizes: He came baptizing with water so that Jesus might be revealed. As promised, by heaven (3:27) he had witnessed the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus and in that sign he had realized that his mission was now complete. With that, he begins to send his disciples after Jesus. (1:35-37)  His mission is done, he has seen his greatest joy in realizing that the Christ is walking the earth, he can and must now decrease so that the Christ can increase. (3:30)
  4. Much later, after the altercation in Jerusalem on the feast of dedication, when the Jews try to stone Jesus for blasphemy, but before he goes to raise Lazarus, Jesus will hide in the place where all these things we read about today were spoken. For some reason, John the Evangelist thinks that it is important that you know that. (10:41) Bethany, across the Jordan. (1:28) Problems in geography abound here. Bethany is only across the Jordan if you are outside of Israel. Perhaps it is a matter of being across the Jordan from Bethany because soon after, Jesus will cross into enemy territory to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus. In any case, in that place “many come to believe in Jesus.” (10:42)
  5. Further, those who came to Jesus there are reported as saying: “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” Cryostom commented that here we have a reversal. First, John witnesses to Jesus, now Jesus witnesses that what John had witnessed to was true: One greater had come. It is a sequence similar to the woman at the well. First she witnessed to Messiah. Then the witness is proven true by the encounter with Jesus. 
  6. We are still in Advent. Sunday is Gaudete — Rejoice — Sunday, a title that arose from he Introit to the day, Philippians 4:4. The Gospel of John ends almost enigmatically. A disciples “will remain until I come.” (21:22) And there is a post script: If all the things that Jesus did were recorded, the world would be too small to hold the books. (21:25) I am about to get far afield, bear with me. This disciple stood at the foot of the cross and was handed over to Jesus’ mother as she herself was handed over to him. The disciple had been handed to the Christ bearer to care for her and she became his mother to care about him. We see here a strange little juxtaposition: disciple — believer, Mother — church. Piepkorn posed that Mary was the archetype of the church and that we can learn to be church by watching her and understand her place in the Gospels by understanding the church. 
  7. Who is this disciple? Is it you? Well? Someone remains until he comes. Who? Somewhere, over Jordan, many come to believe in Jesus, for now outside the promised land, unseen, unknown. They baptize with water like John, alongside the Lord who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Their Joy is complete when the Lord is revealed in baptism and work of the Spirit. (3:29) They are in joy over the volumes of work that they witness but it is not their work, it is the Lord’s work. They strive to be less important so that this Jesus the Christ might become more important. I say: “they strive” because the temptation is always before them to be seen as important in the world. “Do you love me more than these?” has an uncertain referent. The “one who remains” has a hard road laid out before. Let the spirit do the good through you and take no credit but rather, like St. John say: “After me the one who is greater will come.” It is probably best that that road is traveled in humble clothes, if not a coat of camel hair, girded well for travel. 
  8. Yet, there is Joy on this road: the Spirit descends and the Lord is revealed abundantly enough to forbid the recording of all that is done. Maybe that is good. But what is more, the witness to Jesus that the disciple and the church engage in will not go unproven. The Lord gives witness to the truth of John’s proclamation, the woman at the wells witness, and in the end will give witness to the church’s witness. Take heart mother church, your struggles here on earth against the doubt and unbelief toward the incredible message of Jesus enthroned on the cross and raised from the tomb is not the end. The Lord of the church vouches for you and your witness will put the detractors to shame. Your words will be vindicated.

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