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.