Tag Archives: Gospel of John

“I am” and Green Algae

Last week-end I participated in our ninth grade confirmation retreat at Camp Wapo.  The sixteen youth will be confirmed in October, affirming their baptismal covenant. This group had a few “energetic” boys who could be distracting at times so we had to find creative ways to teach.

The retreat focused on the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. At Friday’s campfire we introduced God’s name “I AM WHO I AM;” God gave this name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). The name in Hebrew became so sacred that later generations of Jews would not pronounce it. Yet Jesus utilized the “I am” name to describe himself. For example in John 9 when he healed a man born blind, he said, “I am the light of the world.”

The next morning we explored the other “I am” statements of Jesus. To keep their attention, we walked about the camp as we discussed, thinking about “I am the way” (John 14:6). We walked through the gate of the “Gaga Pit,” for a discussion of “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).

I am the vine, you are the branches.

As we stopped in a grove of trees, we listen to Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:1) and prayed as we grasped the trunk/vine in our hands. For the most part, the students seem to be connecting to Jesus’ words.

As we approached the swimming beach, I had planned to have the student remember their baptism and Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26). We were to walk down to the lake shore, dip our hands in the water and make the sign of the cross on our forehead. We would say the words, “I am alive in Christ.” The water would connect us to our baptism and our life in Christ.

However I had neglected to scout the beach prior to our approach. It had not been used for a few weeks, since summer camp ended. As I walked to the shore, I discovered that there was at least a half-foot of thick mud at the water’s edge and that the water had become a sickly green. Instead of life, the water reminded me of death. Uncertain what to do, I looked up to see one of the “energetic” boys walking out onto the dock. It stretched beyond the mud and green algae.

So there on the dock, we reached over into the lake water and renewed our baptism, water dripping from our heads and hands.

I hope someday that I can incorporate an actual immersion under the water as a way of remembering our baptism. I am still Lutheran in my embrace of infant baptism as God’s means of grace. God starts the covenant relationship. But I think many of us need experiential rites along the way to affirm and remember this covenant. Being dunked in a lake could help us remember that we are buried with Christ and raised with Christ in the waters of our baptism (Roman 6:3-4).

I will first need to find a lake without green algae.

Lord Jesus, I am alive in you. Thank you

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Jesus and the Temple in John

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple by Michael Smithers

With my recent posts on Isaiah and the Temple in Jerusalem, I am reminded that Jesus had some harsh words about the Temple. Solomon’s temple had been destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians. The temple was rebuilt in 515 BC but it was not as grand as the previous temple. King Herod had started a major rebuilt of the temple prior to Jesus’ birth.

Early in John’s Gospel, Jesus had a confrontation with the Temple leaders. After driving the money changers from the courtyard with a whip, he was asked, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  (John 2:19-21)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by He Qi

Later in the gospel, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman regarding the proper place of worship. Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim while Jews claimed Mount Zion as the one true place to honor God. Jesus responded,

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

Jesus redirected our understanding of worship away from rituals and places to the essence of worship, a transformed heart or spirit. When our spirit aligns with God’s Spirit worship becomes true and real.

Finally in John’s Gospel, after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room. Clearly this is not the Temple. But Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) The Spirit of God no longer resided in a building of stone, but in gathered human community. You are God’s Temple now. The temple of God has become the portable tabernacle again. Anyone have a tent?

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit into my life today! Transform me into one who worships you in spirit and in truth.

John’s Portrait of Jesus

St. John the Evangelist by El Greco

At the end of chapter twenty, John declares,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

Contemporary readers of the Gospels often compare them to modern biographies, but the Gospel writers did not intend this.  They were creating vivid portraits of Jesus that inspire and transform the reader.  The writer of John states that he could have included other material but chose not to.   The gospel writers were artists, not biographers.

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist?  I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush.  There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions.  These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists.  On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations.  Art is about intent and communication, not substances. (Seth Godin, Graceful, Making a Difference in a World that Needs You. 2010, p. 22)

The writer of John, inspired by God, created a masterpiece. 

How is your life touching others with creativity, joy and vibrancy ?

Prayer, Lord Jesus, inspire me to create beauty and joy in your name.