Readings John 3:1-15 & 4:1-15,25-26
As I said last week. John’s Gospel is very different from the other three. Even the geography being set mostly in Jerusalem rather than Galilee. The ministry of Jesus is quite different in this Gospel. In the other Gospels there is much secrecy around the Messianic Jesus whereas here early on John has two very different people with equally different backgrounds and expectations confronting the Messianic Christ.
There are no parables but again as we seen last week there is lots of symbolic language that goes beyond the word on the page. There is no driving out of demons or testing in the dessert. There is no account of the transfiguration. Even the Lord’s Supper looks very different with Jesus washing feet and speaking of being betrayed. All of John’s Gospel firmly fixed with an emphasis on Jesus. All of this is a deliberate piece of writing by John as he challenges the false prophets of his day who were denying the incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus having such saving significance. This is a post resurrection Gospel. Jesus is rooted very much in historical settings with his flesh and blood humanity also central. Jesus weeps we are told, Jesus grows tired and goes thirsty. Blood and water flow from his side at the crucifixion. And we turn to our readings this morning. Once again there are so many things to preach on but I want to try and look at them together from a different angle than we would normally do. Staying with this ‘knowing who are you’ theme. We have Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, he most definitely knew who he was, a member of the main religious committee, the Sanhedrin. This group made up of seventy members exercised authority over all Jewish religious matters. Roman governors ruled on civil matters but allowed the Jews to oversee their religious affairs, with the proviso of course that this would be allowed as long as they did not challenge nor oppose the Roman government. We have the woman at the well, a Samaritan.
Once again she knew who she was, one whose people stood very much in opposition to the Jewish way of life. There was a time in history when they were as one but following defeat by Assyria who brought into Samaria many foreigners to settle in the land marriages took place between the different peoples and this caused the Jews to name the Samaritans as unclean and impure. Here we see this flesh and blood description of Jesus as he is described as being tired and thirsty. These two encounters are remarkably striking in how Jesus crosses over barriers that are put in place in life. Let’s put these meetings side by side and highlight the differences that occur. One held in the darkness of night, very much in secret. One held in the brilliance of daylight and in a very public place. The one in darkness between Jesus and a very devout Jewish ruler and teacher. The one in broad daylight between Jesus and, not only a woman which was contentious enough, but a woman from the sworn enemies of the Jewish people. The Samaritan woman returns to her village to tell others. Nicodemus we learn later stood up for him at the Jewish ruling council, then following the death of Jesus he asks for his body that he may prepare it for burial. At the end of the first reading Jesus speaks of a time that is in the future when he will be lifted up and all who believe in him will have eternal life. At the end of the second reading Jesus speaks in the present tense. When the Samaritan woman says she knows the Messiah will come and explain all things. Jesus answers her by saying he is the one they are waiting for and he, the Messiah, is with them now. We discover how Jesus takes those most common everyday simple words and fills them with such deep meaning. He speaks with Nicodemus about birth, he speaks about the human flesh, the wind blowing through the air. Things that we all know about but Jesus takes us to the next level, being born again, born not of the flesh but of the Spirit. The blowing wind becomes the unseen Spirit of God. He speaks with the Samaritan woman about being thirsty and the need for water. Remember she does not live in a place of plentiful water on tap.
No long soaks in a deep bath for her, no sprinkler to water her vegetables but a daily trudge to the well laden with heavy water jars. This is all powerful imagery. Jesus takes this everyday water and describes himself as the water of life. He becomes water that will never allow you to be thirsty again. Those who accept will experience a spring of water leading to eternal life. There are differences in the people and their encounters with Jesus but John gets that Jesus message across clearly during both encounters. Some beautiful words and memorable messages delivered amidst very ordinary conversations. It is what John gives us. Jesus conversing more with individuals rather than large crowds. A nervous religious leader and a promiscuous woman. Very different people and judged by others accordingly. Jesus meets with them and speaks with them showing no bias nor favouritism. Both carry away from their conversation a simple but yet profound image, second birth and living water. Individuals who respond to Jesus following close personal contact with him. Some others will follow too and yet others will be sceptical and even hostile. And as John tells us there are those who just do not understand despite the use of clear visual imagery. I wonder what our private conversations with Jesus would be like. Would we go to him secretly? Would we try to avoid him in the public places? Would we hear his message clearly and wish to tell others? Would we walk away still unsure? What is our relationship with the one who offers living water and eternal life?
Reading: John 2:1-11
We all know the Gospel of John is quite different from the other three gospels. John it is said had a close spiritual fellowship with Jesus and was known as the beloved disciple. In his Gospel we read some of the deepest thoughts and sayings of Jesus. In this Gospel we glimpse in a bit more depth the mind and spirit of Christ. John gives us some explanation as to the detail of the nature of Christ. We learn something of the teaching of Jesus from Jesus himself with the ‘I am’ sayings which we will explore at a later date. I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, and a few others. There are conversations between Jesus and his disciples, one of the deepest being at the last supper. There is more said in the Gospel about the Holy Spirit and how without that Spirit of Christ dwelling within us we can do nothing. The empowering Spirit fills the lives of believers who can then continue the work of Christ. It is when we place the other three Gospels alongside this Gospel of John we see a more complete picture of the life and work of Jesus. Just as the other three authors had specific audiences for whom they were writing and therefore their style and content was more focused on those audiences making their Gospels relevant for them to understand and take on as their own. John does likewise with his Gospel which could be broken into four sections; The opening verses of the first chapter, known as the prologue, where the word becomes flesh and the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus. From there it moves into the ministry of Jesus to the world then it focuses on the ministry of Jesus to the disciples before the concluding section on the suffering and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In John’s penultimate chapter, chapter twenty, we discover his purpose for writing the Gospel in the manner in which it was done, ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name’. Written sometime around 70 and 90AD by the Apostle John who was the son of Zebedee. John lived to be a grand age for many years in Ephesus and it was there that this Gospel is believed to have been written. He also wrote three letters which are included in the New Testament. Then towards the end of his life whilst exiled on the island of Patmos John received his revelation of Christ, The Book of Revelation being the final book in our Bibles. We have already covered chapter one during Advent and the last service before I went on holiday so now we enter into chapter two with a very well-known and much preached on passage that is referred to in various ways.
‘The wedding miracle’ or ‘Jesus turning water into wine’. Both titles making reference to what Jesus does.
It has been about three days since Jesus called his first disciples that we heard about a couple of weeks ago at the close of the first chapter. They have arrived at Galilee and the village of Cana, the hometown of Nathanael one of his newly called disciples. They are invited to a wedding there and as I said already many a good sermon has been preached around this reading over the centuries. The significance of Jesus saving the embarrassment of the hosting family. The filling with water of these water jars used for cleaning hands before eating. The relevance of the wedding steward discovering the best wine had been kept to last. These and much more could be and have been focused on. I think this morning’s reading is a good link passage to move us on from our thinking during Advent and the earlier weeks of the New Year when we were thinking about who we are, before thinking about what we do. That is the part of the story I want to focus on this morning. Mary knows that her son is the Messiah and can save the day but did not grasp that the time for showing this was not now. Jesus knows he is the Messiah and he can save the day but he does grasp that the time for showing this was not now. When he saves the day, he does so in the background, no fanfares no great announcements, simple instructions to those behind the wedding day scene, away from the limelight. I’m sure many, if not all of us, have had to deal with something similar in our journey through life. You have discovered who you are, aware of what you can do. You have to decide when the time is right for this to be put into action. Maybe we find ourselves in a job that we know we have reached the limits of what we can do in it or what it can do to expand our experiences, we come to realise the time to move on and discover more about who you are and what you can do. Maybe living in a house, knowing that it is not going to be the place where we will see out the next part of our journey, we come to realise the time when we need to move on and find the right place for that stage in life. I was speaking with a colleague the other day and telling them we were going to be travelling through the Gospel of John over the next while. I keep a copy of all the readings I have preached on over the years, the hymns that we have sung during those services and I keep the sermons preached on these readings. It is a record of my journey of faith and ministry. When I looked back I discovered that I have preached on thirteen of the twenty-one chapters in the Gospel of John. When sharing this with my colleague we both agreed this was the most exciting and amazing thing about scripture for us. It is not simply books written a long time ago that can be read as often as you like with nothing new to say. But how these books, these words on the page, become the living word of God and it doesn’t matter how often you visit them God is always able to tell you something new and fresh written within the word. As John puts it in the opening verses of his Gospel. Truly indeed the word became flesh.