Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1st John: Light

sermon notes from the vineyard church of milan 06/12/2011

Awesome May Sunset (9)

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

John 1v5-10

The invitation of Jesus is to live lives grounded in true reality, in the good news of God’s kingdom, the good news of eternal life, the life of the ages, the aionios zoe. This is the reality in which God lives. All who experience this kind of life live in fellowship with one another. That is, there is a profound sharing of life happening.


Sharing implies three things. One, we are connected to the same reality. [people growing up in completely different family systems, or playing for different coaches, connected to different realities…] And two, we are in common relationship to that reality, co-owners of it you might say. [Captiva Island…] And sharing implies that we are openhanded towards the other. Life isn’t being hoarded, defended, grabbed – it’s being generously shared, multiplied, given away, growing, vibrating, echoing, resonating. [some workplaces vs. church…]

At the center of this text is “Light.” Both here in 1st John, as well as in the gospel of John. Light is one of the prominent themes in the gospel of John, and it’s always connected to Jesus, and always connected to Zoe-life, the life of the ages, the deep, joy-filled, inextinguishable, outside-of-time and present now life that comes from God.

In Him was life, and that life was the Light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1v4-5

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

John 8v12

Those who walk in the dark do not know where they are going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”

John 12v35-36

Light lights things up. Allows you to see them as they really are. Light reveals reality. Light uncovers lies.

God is light. In him there is no darkness at all. No darkness in God.

Which means he sees everything clearly as it really is. Which means there isn’t anything he doesn’t see clearly.

And Reality apparently, according to 1st John, and to Jesus, is the kind of thing where love – and the life that flows from it – thrives / prevails / has its way / wins.

Everything that suggests anything to the contrary is a lie…

[magic trick illustration…]

John is constantly describing the miraculous works of Jesus as signs. Signs that point to the truth Jesus is trying to shed light on. The seven signs in John’s gospel, starting with turning water into wine and ending with Lazarus being raised from the dead, are leading up to the ultimate sign of true reality at the end of his gospel. And that sign is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

For the first Christians, and for all who follow in their footsteps, the resurrection is the ultimate sign of true reality, the light of Jesus shining most brightly on the truth of the kingdom of God. In fact, shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus says to Pilate, the Roman Governor who sentences him to death: “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to bear witness to the truth.” Everything about Jesus’ life, and most especially his resurrection, is light shining on the reality of the world, on the reality of the Kingdom of God, that has been shrouded by a web of darkness and illusions.

People walking in darkness murder the son of man. The sin of the world on his shoulders, piercing his hands and feet, its weight pressing the psuche life out of him. The illusion that darkness has produced is that this is where love gets you. This is where obedience to God gets you. This is where a life of service and humility lead. The empire will always win. The love of power always defeats the power of love. The effects of this illusion perfectly illustrated by the community formed around Jesus (his disciples) grieving, hiding in fear, cowering in the days after his death.

But what the crucifixion is doing is bearing witness to a lie. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad lie. A lie that has shaped the world we live in up until now. The lie might be summarized this way: You can’t trust Love.

Every fear except the fear of the Lord is rooted in this lie and the illusions that spring from it.

The fear that you will not have enough. (you can’t trust love…)

The fear that something bad will happen. (you can’t trust love…)

The fear that it is too late for you. (you can’t trust love…)

The fear that your past has too strong a grip on you. (you can’t trust love…)

Illusions, every one of them. Psuedo-reality. (psuedomai / deception / lie)

In part because our conception of the future is an illusion.

[tell me about tomorrow…? Tomorrow I am taking the day off… everything I say about tomorrow as if it is real is a well-intentioned lieI can say things about my present intentions with regard to my imagined tomorrow, I can say things based on my best estimates of certain variables, but Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle suggests that even if I knew every variable, at best I can know the probability of a certain outcome…]

Even if our imagined futures are right as far as they go, they can never go far enough. Because none of us will ever experience “tomorrow.” By the time it gets here, it will no longer be the future, but instead will be now. This may sound like semantics, but it’s more than that. It matters. When we experience what we call in the present moment “tomorrow,” it may resemble what we imagined it would be, but it will nonetheless be fundamentally different as a present reality than it was as an imagined future.

Different specifically in that God is present with us in every now. Because all of reality is always now to a God who created time itself. His power is available to us now, in this moment, for this moment. But his power is not available to us in our hypothetical futures. Nor is his power that is available now something we can store up for our hypothetical futures. Because God is the God of reality, and our hypothetical futures are not reality. And so God is, by definition, absent from them. Leaving all sorts of room for fear. We cannot experience his real presence in our imagined futures. [pain imagination exercise…] All we can have is faith now that when tomorrow becomes now, he will remain present to us. As Jesus promised, “And I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

And the future from which our fears spring is also an illusion in that the unknown future is the domain of the enemy. In our imagined futures, in which God is, by definition, fundamentally absent, the evil one can make himself look to be powerfully present. He can inhabit our innocent and unknowing lies with his malevolent lies. And if we accept the picture the father of lies gives to us, we, like so many before us, will walk in darkness. We will live and act and hoard and defend and cower and grab and move with tentative, halting steps at best, because that’s the way it makes sense to live in the illusion. And we get dirty with sin living that way. And the world gets dirty with sin.

This too, is why every judgment that comes from anywhere but God gives rise to fear. Judgment always tells a fundamentally false story about our present reality, heightening the darkness of our illusion. Even if at some level our judgments are technically accurate. Because any time we place ourselves above another person to judge them, we have already been blinded to the reality of who they are and who we are in relation to them, and so our judgment comes out of that blindness, telling a false story about who we are and who they are. And those false stories are the devil’s playground, the illusions he multiplies to weave a blinding web of illusions. We get dirty with sin living as if those false stories are true, walking in a darkness shrouded world.

And then resurrection happens. And resurrection speaks the truth like the sun rising on Sunday morning sheds light on a dark night. It says God’s love has overcome death. It says forgiveness of sins is the order of the day. It says this is where the way of love leads – incorruptible, eternal, resurrection zoe life. It says this is where obedience to God gets you. This is where a life of service and humility lead. The power of sin decimated, the wind knocked out of death’s belly, the evil one foiled and made to look the fool. The resurrection says the only power that matters in the new creation is love. The resurrection says you can trust love.

The resurrection is vindication for every one of Jesus’ signs. It says water becoming wine, psuche-life transformed into zoe-life, the best being saved for last tells a true story about the world. It says the fish and loaves being multiplied to feed the crowd with plenty left over tells a true story about the world. It says the blind man’s sight being restored after Jesus rubbed spit-soaked mud in his eyes tells a true story about the world. It says Jesus’ friend Lazarus being brought back to life after being left in a tomb to rot tells a true story about the world.

The resurrection is vindication for everything Jesus has told us. About himself as the light of the world, about us as beloved children of God, about the promise of life eternal that death cannot take away from us, about the way of love. About not worrying about our provisions, or how others perceive us, but seeking first the kingdom and righteousness and everything else being added to us.

The resurrected Jesus is the light of our world now. He is the truth that shows us how things really are, no deception, no shadow, no ugly underbelly. Jesus. Fix your eyes on him. That’s what every true thing in the new creation really looks like. See everything in his light. His light will show you what your neighbor looks like (hint: someone worth Jesus dying for). What the future looks like (hint: it looks like resurrection). What you look like (hint: you look like Jesus, the firstborn from among the dead). Walk in the light, as he is in the light.

Which means, very simply, live, act, speak, make decisions in the way that makes sense based on Jesus, the light of the world. Live, act, speak, make decisions like Jesus lived, acted, spoke, made decisions in the way that made sense based on what he knew about the good news of God’s kingdom. Live, act, speak, make decisions in the way that makes sense based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, based on everything Jesus taught us and teaches us through his Holy Spirit.

If we practice living this way, we will be increasingly sharing in God’s reality with him, experiencing reality as he experiences it, complete with the full complement of joy and compassionate, redemptive suffering that leads to new creation life. And along the way all of the sinful dirt and dirty sin we’ve accumulated from knocking around in the darkness and illusions of non-reality will be washed away.

[explain aspect of sacrificial system that the blood of the sacrifice showed viscerally the violent nature of our sin, brought it into the light and before God, so that we were no longer under the dark power of sin but under God’s mercy…Jesus death on the cross was understood by the first Christians to a symbol of this happening once and for all, shining such a bright and powerful light on our sin that we have been cleansed (purified) now once and for all of all our sin, past, present, and future.]

Practical Tips:


1. Lose Your Illusion. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you one way in which you are living, acting, speaking in response to an illusion instead of the good news of Jesus. One way in which you are not practicing the truth. Working without rest… Harboring unforgiveness… Taking for yourself (out of fear) instead of giving generously… Judging someone else or a group of others instead of looking for ways to love and serve them… Embracing fear about the future as if it is true instead of embracing the God who is present to you now and learning how to trust him… Nurturing angry or lustful fantasies instead of learning to embrace what God has given you today as a gift, trusting that he is a giver without limit instead of trusting in yourself as one who must take what you want or need…


2. Confess (say the same thing as) your sin. Write it down to make it concrete before God and say it out loud in his presence. If you have someone you trust to be your confessor (someone who will kneel as your servant to receive your confession instead of standing over you in judgment), say it out loud to them. This will bring the part of your life that has been subject to darkness and illusion into light and God’s reality, and mercy will triumph over judgment, and you will share in the forgiveness and cleanness of the children of the light. It will be part of setting you free to walk in reality, to practice the truth.


3. Invite the Light. For those who have a specific fear about themselves or another person, especially fear of abandonment or horrible suffering or death: Confess to God that you have welcomed a pseudo-reality into a place in your heart that is holy and meant to be occupied by the Lord, and invite the Light of God to take its place.

That thing – abandonment, horrible suffering, death – may come someday, maybe even in a manner similar to what you imagine. Or it may not at all. No matter. The truth is that the resurrected Jesus is with you in reality now. And he isn’t going anywhere. And no matter what comes, he is bigger than it is and he loves you. And the truth is, the only sure thing about the future is resurrection, because we’ve already seen that aspect of the future in the resurrected Jesus. So if you are looking forward at your life, and you are not seeing resurrection, you are looking at an illusion born of the enemy. Don’t welcome it as reality! If you are looking forward at your kid’s life, or a spouse’s life, and you are not seeing resurrection, you are looking at an illusion. Don’t welcome it as reality!

But if you have, confess it. Say the same thing as it. God, I have welcomed an illusion into my heart in place of you. Shine your light on that illusion, so that I would be cleansed of this sin. You are with me, always, to the end of the age. You are with _________, always, to the end of the age. You I trust above all else. Because you are the light of the world, and I am a child of light.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Zoe Awaits

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/29/2011

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1v1-4

The life described in this passage – the life that was from the beginning, the life they have experienced with their senses, hearing, seeing, touching, the life they have a message about, the life that was revealed and that they are now proclaiming, the life that is eternal, the life that when we share in it together is something we share together with God, the life that makes joy complete – this life is the particular kind of life indicated by the Greek word “zoe”. [dzo-ay] Which is different from the other kind of life indicated by the Greek word “psuche.”

As you may remember from a couple of weeks ago, when we first looked at this passage, psuche life is the kind of life we all experience on a daily basis. Breathing, eating, working, playing, suffering, celebrating, striving, struggling, winning, losing. It can be threatened, thrown away, taken from us, defended, destroyed; it has a beginning, and it has an end. [Chris Webber timeout…]

Zoe life is larger and more potent than psuche life. It’s the life that gives life to life, the life that gives life, life. It’s the life of God, the life of the age to come, the life that all other life flows from. Zoe can give life to dead things. It doesn’t have a beginning, and it doesn’t have an end. It can’t be threatened, thrown away, taken from us, doesn’t need to be defended or striven after, it can’t be destroyed. It is the life at the heart of joy, and it is life with joy at its heart. [Jesus on cross…]

As you may also remember, when the letter of first John is talking about zoe, it’s talking about zoe in light of what the gospel of John teaches us about it; so we’ve been exploring what John’s gospel has to say in order to help us understand 1st John.

But before we dive back into the gospel of John to look at a few stories about Zoe, let’s briefly consider this word John uses all the time in conjunction with it: eternal. In Greek, “aionios.” [ahee-o-nee-os] We hear eternal and we tend to think forever. So when we hear “eternal life,” we think about life forever in heaven after we die. But “aionios zoe” means something richer, and more nuanced than that. It might better be translated in this context “the life of the age to come” or “the life that comes the place where God dwells” or “the life that has the same qualities as God’s life.” There’s no need to be a Greek scholar to get the main point though, and that is this: “aionios zoe” or “eternal life” is life that we are invited to experience now, right in the midst of our psuche lives; it’s not just for the future if we are good enough boys and girls.

So, three stories to help us to understand “aionios zoe” or “the life of the ages”. Each story a story filled with surprise, intrigue, and the unexpected, opening our hearts to receive aionios zoe from the one who came that we might have zoe, and have it to the full.

The first never mentions zoe specifically, but it is profoundly important for understanding it.

John 2: the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine.

2 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples put their faith in him.

The water, and the inferior wine that was served earlier, are like psuche-life. They weren’t enough for the party. The guests were going to go home unsatisfied, and the host was going to be ashamed. But Jesus takes water, liquid like wine, but inert, flavorless in comparison, and transforms it into the best wine anyone has ever had. This new wine is like Aionios zoe-life. It gets better with age. It takes the joy of the party to another level. It is experienced with the senses – touch, smell, taste, sight, sound, and lifts the spirits. It comes straight from God, like a miracle, and unknowingly the guests are enjoying the drink of the feast of the age to come during a wedding in the age already here.

The second story comes in the next chapter, John 3. It’s about a Pharisee (in almost every other case, a group of people in direct opposition to Jesus) coming to Jesus in the middle of the night to talk.

3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

4“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The conversation is a theologically and philosophically intricate one, but that’s no surprise, considering Nicodemus’s background as a highly educated Pharisee. The surprise, of course, is that Jesus tells Nicodemus if he wants the aionios zoe, he’s got to let go of the complex system of answers he’s spent a life-time mastering, and be “born again” – start all over, like a baby, and put his trust in Jesus to show him the way.

The third story comes from – can anyone guess? – the next chapter, chapter 4. The story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well.

4 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4Now he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

13Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

After this, the conversation takes a turn not unlike the one Jesus had with Nicodemus. The woman asks for this new kind of water, and Jesus reveals himself to be more than meets the eye, and reveals to this woman that he knows her better than she could ever have expected, and she leaves her water jar at the well, runs back to the town, and brings the whole town out to meet Jesus. And in the end, it seems likely, becomes one of the first church planters in the history of Christianity. She, the one with the least psuche, becomes a vessel of zoe.

What do these stories tell us about zoe-life?

It’s never too late for Zoe.

The party has run out of wine. Nicodemus is an expert. The Samaritan woman is the wrong religion and an outcast in her own village because of her disreputable life.

It doesn’t matter what the course of our psuche life has been, or how much of its course our psuche life seems to have run, or how little psuche we seem to have left. Zoe is here, and there is more of it than we can fathom. Zoe is here and it’s as if the past was just prelude, and everything starts again now that it’s arrived.

This is what Jesus is saying to some of us today. It’s not too late for zoe. Ask him to do something about your life that has run out of wine. Set aside your pride and come to him in the middle of the night for help. Ask Jesus for what he’s offering to you, even if you aren’t sure exactly what it is, even if you don’t think you’re the kind of person qualified to receive it from him.

Also, these stories tell us Zoe’s source is always Jesus.

Sometimes we don’t know it came from him [the guests and the master of the banquet…]. Sometimes we don’t know how to get it [Nicodemus…]. Sometimes we don’t know that he has anything for us [Samaritan woman…]

This is what the Spirit is saying to some of us today. For some, the zoe you’ve seen and tasted in your life has a source, and that source is Jesus. If you want more, you’ve got to come to him (like his disciples, who after seeing what he did, put their faith in him.). For some, the zoe you’ve seen in Jesus isn’t something you can get by learning the secret from him; it’s only something you can get by believing in him and starting over as his disciple. For others, you’ve only seen Jesus as someone asking you for something you feel unworthy to give him; the Spirit wants you to recognize that he has come to where you are in order to give you something that will change you from the inside out, and allow you to give away what he has given you to everyone in your life. Maybe Jesus is asking you for your psuche-life so that you will ask him for his zoe-life.

And finally, these stories tell us there is a connection between receiving zoe-life and a willingness to cross lines that are sacred to our psuche-life.

Jars used for holding water for ceremonial washing, defiled by storing wine.

Pharisee coming to Jesus at night, risking his reputation with the powerful in-crowd. Samaritan Woman crossing social taboos, leaving water jar behind, summoning the very people who ostracized her.

Come to church for ceremonial washing? But does it contain the life it’s meant to hold if it’s only ceremonial washing? What if you allowed it to defiled with the wine of the Spirit? What if you came up for prayer? What if you allowed yourself to be vulnerable to God in worship in different ways? What if you prayed before the sermon, “God, I’m listening for your voice, and if you speak, I will do what you tell me.” Maybe this is how the zoe-party starts for you. Cross the line. Zoe awaits.

Have you got your theology and way of practicing Christianity all worked out, and now you just listen for what you agree with, because someone you respect might not respect you if you surrendered your expertise in favor of coming to Jesus saying, “I’m willing to be born again if that’s what it takes to have aionios zoe.” Cross the line. Zoe awaits.

Have you counted yourself out from having transforming encounter with Jesus because you’ve listened to the voices that tell you you aren’t worthy? Have you hidden your transforming experiences with Jesus from others who knew you in your past life because you didn’t think they would believe something has happened to you? Jesus is counting you in. He wants to give you water that becomes a stream of living water others can drink from, welling up to aionios zoe. Cross the line. Zoe awaits.