John 1:1-5,16-18 Summer Series Conclusion
Elizabeth M. Deibert 21 August 2016
In the beginning was the Word and by the Word of God all was created. Out of nothing but sheer creative love of God, the world was made. Land, water, sky. Stars, moon, sun. Animals, fish, birds, creepy crawly bugs. God created them all, and God smiled and said….“It was very good.” And last of all, as God’s crowning creation, God made human beings. In the image of ….God we were created, and we were given the awesome responsibility to care for the earth and all its creatures. And God put the first humans…..Adam and Eve in the beautiful Garden of Eden, and all was good, until they decided they wanted as much knowledge as God, so they stole fruit from the one tree they were told to leave alone, and after that, they felt embarrassed. Life was not the same after sin, because they had not followed God’s plan but gone their own way.
So bad things began to happen. Their sons fought and one killed the other. And it got so bad with everyone ignoring God and the earth filled with meanness, so there was a flood was all the evil away, and the only people saved were Noah and his family, and the animals they had taken with them on the big boat two by two. And what was that big boat called…..“Noah’s ark” And the rains stopped and the floods diminished, God said, “Never again.” See my rainbow in the sky after the rain, and know that I promise this will not happen again.
And then the people of God again grew in power and knowledge and they were determined to make a name for themselves by building this great tower in the sky. The name of this great Tower was….Babel. God did not want everyone speaking the same language and feeling so powerful, so God scattered the people and mixed up their language, and God continues to thwart all who become too powerful for their own good.
And then God called Abraham and Sarah, and made covenant with them, promising the gift of Isaac. And Isaac had a half-brother named Ishmael, who was the son of Hagar, the one born because they were impatient about God’s promise. And Isaac married Rebecca, and they had twins, Esau and Jacob.
Jacob stole the blessing from his brother and then married Leah and Rachel, but Rachel’s boys were his favorites, especially Joseph. So Joseph had quite an ego, and bragged to his brothers about how special he was, and his brothers hated him and his big-headed dreams. So they sold him into slavery in Egypt. But Joseph had quite a talent with interpreting dreams, so he became powerful in Pharaoh’s court. When there was a famine in the land, Egypt was the only country with food, thanks to Joseph, so the brothers came requesting food, and how shocked they were to learn this powerful man in Pharaoh’s court was Joseph, who after a struggle, decided to forgive his brothers, saying, “You intended harm but God meant it for good.”
So the twelve tribes of Israelites (these brothers and their families) settled in Egypt, and after a while, a new Pharaoh turned them into slaves. And when they were numerous and a threat, the Hebrew baby boys were systematically killed. Except for Baby Moses, who was put in a basket and found by Pharaoh’s daughter. With his birth mom Jochebed as his nanny, he was raised as Pharaoh’s grandson, and when he was a young man, he ran away, because he could no longer live in this conflicted identity. He hated the way the Hebrew people were treated by the Egyptians.
God called to Moses through a burning bush, and God said, “I have heard and seen my people’s suffering. Moses, tell Pharaoh to let my people go.” But Moses was scared, and said, “I’m not a good speaker, so God said Aaron would help him.” And Moses agreed, saying, saying “Here am I…. Send me. But God, the people will want to know who sent me to lead them out of Egypt.” “I am the God of their ancestors,” and then God said something mysterious, “I am who I am.”
It was not easy getting away from conniving Pharaoh who said “yes” and then said “no” about letting them ….go. So there were all kinds of plagues, horrible things like frogs and blood, and body sores and death, and finally, Pharaoh let them go, but then sent his armies after them. When they came the Red Sea, they had no idea what to do, but Moses lifted his staff, and they crossed through the mud, but the chariots of Pharaoh got stuck. Hurray for freedom! Miriam danced on the other side.
Yet it wasn’t long before God’s people forgot the joy of freedom and complained about everything under the sun. “We’re hungry. We’re thirsty. Life was better in Egypt. When are we going to ….get there?” They lost their faith in God and began to build idols like golden calves while Moses was on the mountain talking to God. God realized that free people needed a covenant of laws to keep their relationships healthy. So Moses came down with two Ipads – I mean tablets – with these rules. God first. Not second. Watch your words, especially God’s name. Rest on the Sabbath. Honor your parents. Do not murder. Be faithful in your marriage. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not be greedy. And the people placed these commandments in a special box called ….the tabernacle, which they carried with them everywhere they went and worshipped God in tents.
Moses died before they got to the Promised Land, but Joshua led the people all the way to Jericho, blowing the trumpet, and the walls came atumbling down. Joshua’s spies had lots of help from a woman named Rahab. As they continued, the Israelites were led by Gideon, who with God’s help did well, without fighting. Then there were other strong leaders like Samson and Deborah. There were people of great loyalty like the one who stayed with her mother-in-law Naomi, whose name was…Ruth. There was Hannah who prayed every day at the tabernacle, and she had Samuel, whom she gave to God, to serve Eli the priest. Samuel, who heard God’s call in the night, was a great spiritual leader, but the people wanted a powerful king, so Samuel chose Saul, a shy man who was a good king for a while. When he stopped listening to God, David was his replacement. Now David was just a boy, who killed a giant meany with five smooth stones, and the giant’s name was…. Goliath. David was very close to Saul’s son, Jonathan. David was a musician and shepherd who wrote prayers, which we call ….Psalms. David had a big heart for God, but he made equally big mistakes, which Nathan helped him to confess. His son ….Solomon was wise, and so he was chosen to be the king who could build the temple for God.
After Solomon came many kings who loved power and did not love God, so there were prophets sent to get God’s message across – first there was Elijah, who could hear the still, small voice of God in the wilderness. And Elisha, who saw the sweet Chariots of God swing low. There were Ezra and Nehemiah, who tell the story of returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple.
And there was a courageous Queen, who saved her people from that mean guy, named Haman (boo!) and her name was….Esther, and the poor guy who lost everything but his faith and his name was…Job. Don’t forget about Ezekiel who saw the desperation of God’s people as a valley of dry… bones and Daniel, who prayed to God fervently even at threat of his life, so got thrown into the …..lion’s den, and yet lived! There’s the comical story of Jonah, who ran from God and got swallowed by a ….whale, and when he agreed to preach to Ninevah and got them to turn from their sins as God wanted, Jonah was mad that God forgave them.
There was only one faithful King for many generations, and his name was Josiah, and there were many foreign powers, coming in and defeating the Israelites. So through the year, the prophets helped the people to see how they had contributed to their own demise, failing to listen to God. These prophets called the people back to the covenant of faithfulness and reminded them, that despite their defeat by foreign countries, and their deportation to foreign lands, God was still with them. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” they said. The two major prophets were named….Isaiah and Jeremiah, the prophet of comfort, and the prophet of tears. Both of these challenged the unfaithfulness of God’s people and promised the hope and future of a life with God. There were also minor prophets – Amos, who said in frustration, “Take away your false piety and sacrifices, but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” And Micah who announced what the Lord requires is justice, kindness, and walking humbly with God. There was Hosea who said no matter how desperately unworthy we are, God will still love us. Joel promoted returning to God, with the sound of a trumpet, and with egalitarian worship, hearing the dreams and visions of young and old, male and female, servants and leaders. Malachi promised the refining fire, which would make the people holy.
Yet despite all the efforts of prophets, God was still frustrated. So at the right time, after a long silence, God decided to come, be one of us, to break down the walls that divide us from God and one another. So God’s Holy Spirit filled Mary’s womb with a child to be named ….Jesus by his earthly father, Joseph, who was engaged to Mary. The Messiah, the Savior, the Christ came into the world as a tiny child to be the light of the world, the dawn of a new day, the opening of God’s covenant to all, the Redeemer of the World, who leads us into faithfulness.
So the Word of God became flesh, as we read today in John’s Gospel. Growing up in a Jewish home, Jesus learned the ways of his true Father. He was baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin named….John, and after being tempted in the wilderness to abuse his power, he did not. But he began his ministry with these words of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus called a group of unusual people to follow him, inviting fishermen and cheating tax collectors, women of ill repute and those who were sick. He healed the sick and taught all who would listen. He challenged the religious authorities of his day, breaking their rules and regulations, living according to a higher standard of love and mercy and truth. He summarized the 10 Commandments into 2, saying that we should ….love God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, and love our neighbor ….as we love ourselves. He challenged people to deny themselves, be willing to suffer, and follow him. He surprised with claims like the last shall be first, and the greatest is the servant of all or the child. In a famous Sermon to a large crowd, he said, “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, and those who weep, for they will belong, be fed, and be comforted. He said “Watch out if you are rich, full, or laughing, or popular now, because the tables will turn.” His mother, Holy Mary, full of grace, had announced the same reversal of fortunes in her Magnificat.
Teaching in parables, Jesus challenged all who would judge others and not consider their own weaknesses. He took time for people who were condemned or ignored by others, including the sick, and women and children who had little respect or dignity in first century days. He spoke of familial ties stronger than blood – that his true family are those who seek God and God’s righteousness first.
Religious authorities were threatened by Jesus’ mysterious power and teaching. They were offended as he challenged their authority and called himself Son of God, so they conspired to trap him and with the approval of the fickle crowd, who cheered for him on Sunday, but yelled crucify him on Friday, they killed him. But before he died, he shared a Passover meal with his faithful followers, inviting them to re-member him every time in the bread and the wine, this sacred mystery: his presence in his body and his blood.
Jesus was crucified on a cross on Friday, saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” After he died, the women saw cave where he was buried, so they returned early on Sunday, and found the stone was rolled away from tomb, and they saw an angel who said Jesus was there not there but has risen. Mary Magdalene lingered and was the first to see the Risen Christ, whom she mistook for a gardener until he spoke her name. Jesus appeared several times to the disciples saying “Peace ….be with you.” Once on the road to Emmaus, he made himself known in the breaking of bread, and again in the Upper Room, he invited Doubting Thomas to touch and see that he was real, and again by the sea, where he helped the hungry fishermen to catch a mess of fish and gave Peter an opportunity to renew his love and commitment. After forty days, Christ ascended, promising his peace and challenging his followers to share the good news and baptize people of all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
About ten days after he ascended, the startling power of the Holy Spirit came upon the people as Jesus had promised. They were so overwhelmed, some thought they were drunk, but truly they gained the power to be Christ-like, healing and sharing good news. The budding church began to hold meetings in their homes, and to grow in number. They prayed and shared all they had, worshipping God with glad and generous hearts. Peter, called …the Rock, was one of the leaders of the early church. One of the Jews who was killing Stephen and other followers of Christ was Saul, who became ….Paul, when he was blinded by the light of Christ and became the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia, and more helped the church to develop in cities like Philippi, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessaloniki, and Rome. This story is recorded so we would know the wonder of God’s amazing love. It is promised in the book of Revelation that our Savior will return one day, and that there will be no more tears or pain, that all who call on the Lord will be saved. We believe God’s truth and grace has the power to melt away our rebellion and sin. We believe that we are called to work with God toward that holy day, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and peace will reign over all the earth. Until then we put our hope in the Triune God - Creator, Savior, Sustainer - trusting that God’s love and mercy seen so clearly in Jesus Christ, will triumph over all sin and death so that in the end, there will be endless life and joy.