Monday, February 22, 2010

The King: Pushing the Boundaries

Preached on February 21, 2010

Scripture readings: Psalm 33: Matthew 9:9-17

In the Gospel of John (John 2:1-11) we are told that the first miraculous sign that Jesus did was to turn water into wine.

When I was on the Oregon coast, one of the industries in the area was commercial fishing. Now those fishing people were solid people, but it was rough work, and a rough life-style grew around it. They tended to live and play rough.

My friend and mentor Dick Cochran (who pastured a church in the neighboring town) would joke that the first miracle of Jesus was not to turn water into wine, but to turn commercial fishermen into disciples (like Peter, and James, and John. You need to know that they would not be offended by that joke.

Commercial fishermen weren’t the only rough people Jesus turned into disciples. Jesus turned a traitor into a disciple. I mean tax collector! I mean Matthew!
Matthew was a traitor, not because he was a tax collector, but because tax collectors either worked for the Romans, or for the puppet kings, like the Herod family, who ruled as a cover for the Roman rule.

The Romans considered Judea and Galilee to be legitimate Roman territories. The residents of Judea and Galilee considered themselves to be conquered territories, and those who worked for the Roman occupation, or their flunkies, were traitors. Matthew either worked for the Romans, or for their flunkies. Therefore he was clearly a traitor.

Why would Matthew have decided to be a traitor? Why would he do something to make himself hated by almost everyone? Why would he bring such shame upon his family? Probably he did it for the money!

Under the Roman system tax collectors collected legal and assessed taxes, and tariffs, and duties; and they turned the money in to the jurisdiction of the government that employed them. But they could legally collect more money than they turned in. That was legal payment for their services to the government.
They didn’t receive a salary for their work. They worked for tips; and they tipped themselves to as much as they could get away with taking.

Tax collectors were notoriously rich. This served Rome purposes because the more they made, and the more they made themselves hated, the more they depended on their masters for protection. And that dependence made their loyalty to their masters unquestioning and absolute. Rome liked that quality in her servants.

If everyone hates you or looks down on you like dirt, then (as happy as the benefits make you) you will have no friends; unless there are other people around (beside yourself) who are hated or looked down on like dirt, just as you are, but for other reasons. That is where you will find your friends.

The chances are that any group of people who are hated or looked down on like dirt by everyone else will not try to live up to the standards of those who hate them. They will live down to the low expectations of others. And so Matthew and his friends were labeled “sinners”. And I am sure that that was exactly what they were.

It wasn’t only the Pharisees or the super religious people who did the labeling, and looked down on Matthew and his friends like dirt. Jesus’ own disciples would have agreed with the Pharisees.

Jesus’ own disciples would feel sick in the pit of their stomachs when they saw Jesus reclining next to Matthew, at a party with Matthew’s friends. Jesus’ own disciples would hate Matthew’s guts. They just would.

There was a pretty clear line, they thought, that shut Matthew out of fellowship with them. Matthew had made his choices. He had chosen the wrong side of the boundary.

It is true that Matthew had left the tax office and thrown this party for Jesus. But his sin was not an isolated sin, and Matthew’s way of life was a pattern of long standing. There was no record of change yet. Let them watch Matthew, over the next weeks and months, to see where his loyalties really were. Let them watch and see if he measured up: see if he would give up all that old life; all that low-life and rough life. They expected the kingdom of God to be marked with clear no trespassing signs, and with clear requirements for admission, before people like Matthew could come in.

Even God seemed to set clear boundaries in the scriptures. The First Psalm says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.” (Psalm 1:1) God says, in Leviticus (11:44), “Be holy, for I am holy.”

Yet God seems to have a different idea of what it means to be holy. Psalm 33 makes it clear that God has a different basis for judging than we do. The things we think of as strength do not impress God. “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.” (33:16)

God’s purposes are different than ours. “He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.” (33:10)

The key to the different kind of holiness of God is in a Hebrew word for a certain kind of love. There is a Hebrew word (“hesed”) that is hard to translate. In Psalm 33 (in the New International Version) it is translated as “unfailing love”. “Hesed” is what we would call a “covenant love”. It is fundamentally gracious. It is fundamentally undeserved. It has sometimes been translated as “mercy”. “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love (or his mercy).” (33:18) “The eyes of the Lord are on those who reverence him, on those whose hope is in his mercy.”

In other words, the eyes of the Lord are not on those who have won the right to it; but on those who need his eyes upon them to help them. The eyes of the Lord are upon the weak, and the small, and the needy: even when it is the patterns of sin that make them weak, and small, and needy.

Even though Matthew was rich and powerful; spiritually he was bankrupt, and he knew it. He was haunted by this, though he barely let himself think about it. He knew he was the poorest and weakest man in the room.

Jesus knew that Matthew knew this. He knew it when he looked in Matthew’s eyes in the tax office, on the road by the lake at Capernaum. Jesus knew what would happen if he said to Matthew, “Follow me.”

Jesus quoted from the prophet Hosea in order to push back the boundaries that people tried to draw to keep certain people out. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6)

Sacrifices were all about the right rituals, and following all the right rules. Mercy was about mercy; even mercy for those whose lives are horrible, even mercy for those on whom everyone looks down.

The Pharisees thought that the Messiah would come for the sake of the righteous, not for the sake of Matthew and his friends. Jesus told them that just the opposite was true; and he used a scary word to do this. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And the word “call”, here, is a special word for an invitation to a feast. And “feast” is a word for the kingdom of God (Isaiah 25:6ff). It was not the righteous but sinners whom Jesus came to call to the feast of the kingdom of God. And just who are we?

The secret of the kingdom of God is mercy. Mercy is the way into the kingdom for those who know they need it. Mercy is the way out of the kingdom for those who think they are so good that they can draw a line to keep others out. Jesus taught us that mercy is one of the fundamental truths of the kingdom when he taught us to pray: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” or “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

For those who think they are inside the kingdom of God; they need to know that belonging has nothing to do with what we deserve; it only has to do with our need, and with God’s mercy, and with God’s unfailing love. His disciples needed to learn this. Matthew already knew.

The Pharisees teach us some mistakes to avoid. Don’t use your faith as a reason to look down on others. Don’t think your faith is there to help you, and not to help others. Don’t think your faith entitles you to escape from others.

Remember the lesson of the power of Jesus to look at a single person, or a whole crowd of people, and call them and welcome them in. The people who were labeled, the people who were looked down on, liked Jesus, not because he tried to be like them, but because he respected them enough to not be afraid of them.

He accepted them as they were; he loved them even as they were, because they were made through him. He was their king even when they didn’t know him, and he was not afraid to be himself when he was around them.

Surely the secret of this power was the fact that Jesus knew he was going to offer himself on the cross to take away the sins of the world. Jesus knew that he had taken human life upon himself in order to do the greatest thing in the universe.

God came in Christ to die and rise for the sins of the world; so that a whole world that had drawn a line and raised a boundary against him could also die and rise to a new life through him. The message of the gospel is that we are invited to die and rise with Christ into a life of fellowship with God. This is the sort of king Jesus is.

We are called to share Jesus with others. The key is to be, not ourselves as we would like to appear to others, but to be like Jesus and accept others as they are, and love them as they are, and not be afraid, because we know the power and mercy of Jesus for ourselves and for them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The King: Someone Strategic and Tested

Preached Sunday, February 14

My life was not conducive to writing the kind of sermon I would have liked, but I wrote down some thoughts and stood away from the pulpit and spoke along the lines below.

Scripture Readings: Psalm 51; Matthew 4:1-17

Matthew, in his genealogy and parables and in many other ways, goes out of his way to show us that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised King. Matthew’s gospel is sometimes called “The Royal Gospel.”

Our first sample of Jesus’ teaching is found in these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” (Matthew 4:17) This is really a way of saying not that God’s kingdom is right around the corner, but of saying that God’s kingdom has come upon you. And the reason why Jesus could say this was the fact that he, himself, had come upon them; because Jesus is the King. In sense he is ruling by coming to them and saying and doing what he does.

We don’t understand the first thing that Jesus says to us as a crowd because we live in an age of government. For us government is a matter of regulations and forms and congresses and councils and bureaucracies.

For the people who first heard Jesus, government was the personal function of the king. Government was what the king said and did. Sometimes the kingdom worked because the king sent one of the people who stood around him on a mission. The kingdom worked when he gave a friend or a servant a job to do. Or the kingdom worked when the king went where he was needed.

When Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum it was because events required his presence there. The kingdom of God is Jesus and the kingdom is at work wherever Jesus is, and it will always be that way.

Jesus rules by wandering around, and he wanders everywhere, and his wandering is not by chance. He wanders where he is needed. He comes to deal with the situation at hand.

This is what Jesus does with you. He wanders among the scenes of your life (what you think, and do, and say) and he comes ready to give you his input. He moves strategically to do something about what is going on with you. Or he moves strategically in order to get you to move strategically: at least to require you to think.

Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come upon you,” because he had dealt with two great issues that concern us.

The place of baptism is the place where human beings need to come to terms with their alienation from God (which affects everything in our life) and receive a new heart and mind and life. Jesus stood at the river with his people (and with us) in our recognition of need (even the need of our babies) to become “beloved”; to receive the gift of “belovedness”.

The place of temptation is the place where we fail. The temptation of bread is the temptation of what we feel we must have and what we cannot do without. Whereas what we need is to be people who cannot do without the words of God in his faithfulness and holiness.

The temptation of the leap from the temple is the temptation of winning other people. If Jesus had been gently carried by angels in a leap from the cornice of the temple down to the pavement below, everyone would have been greatly impressed. And Jesus would have fit his people’s expectations of a Messiah.

We are tempted to win and please others by taking the easy way, by going along with what others want even when what others want is not right. We know that kids deal with this a peer pressure, but grown-ups have peer pressure too.

The temptation of the kingdoms of the world is the temptation of power. In our own lives we are tempted to manipulate and wheedle and bully to get our own way and be in control. The unhappiness we feel when we don’t get our way is the measure of how powerful this temptation is for us. It is a sign of what we may be doing without knowing it, but others probably know it about us.

The answer to temptation and the way to pass the test of temptation is a life of loving communion with God.

We often misunderstand what Jesus asks of us. He says repent, and we think this is something we do on our own before we can be acceptable to him. Jesus says repent, because his presence with us is available. His presence works for us and with us.

The “because” is because he is at hand. Repentance in the biblical languages is a new direction and a new mind (not just a new brain but a new inner self).

We can come to him because he has come to us. He died for us and rose for us so that we can die to ourselves and live through him.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jesus and Genesis: Gardens of Intimacy

Preached February 7, 2010

Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:18-3:24 and John 19:41-20:23

There was a sound. There was a voice. It was the Lord God in the garden, in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8) It made our first parents run and hide. It made them afraid that they were about to get caught. They had lost the gift of intimacy in the garden.

I remember the sounds and voices in the garden, in the cool of the day. I remember when I was a kid; on long summer evenings, first doing that last bit of work in the vegetables or on the lawn, and then me and my sisters playing some game with our parents in our yard. All the while the shadows gathered in the orchards around us, and then we would sit under the walnut tree, at the back of the house, drinking something cold until it was too dark to see.

Those were good hours. Those were times of intimacy; times of work and play, when we were happy, relaxed, and close.

That is one of the best things that gardens are for, after working and playing together; the place to be happy, relaxed, and close; the place of belonging. That is what the first garden was for: the Garden of Eden.

God designed us and created us for a garden life, with him and with each other. Eden was the garden of God. (Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 28:13) God was the parent in the garden, who laid it all out as a place to work and play with us; to be happy, relaxed, and close. God, even as he is in himself (as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is a god of intimacy, and he wants us to know him well in this intimacy.

But our first parents shifted the course of human nature away from intimacy when they ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil without God’s permission. The first time they ran away from God was not when they heard the sound of God in the garden, in the cool of the day. The first time they ran away from God was when they ate the fruit that God had told them not to eat.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life are very mysterious. There has been a lot of speculation about them. But I think we can learn a lot about the meaning of these trees and what they stand for by noticing what God, and Adam, and Eve said and did.

Some people think that the knowledge of good and evil simply means the knowledge of everything. “Good and evil” simply mean ‘everything from “A” to “Z”’.

I think that’s a part of it. The serpent made Adam and Eve suspect that God was not telling them everything. He made them suspect that God was concealing things from them; out of a desire to hold them back and keep them in their place. But this was a lie, and they should have seen through it.

From what we read, God showed no inclination to hide things from them. On the contrary, in the beginning, we see God carrying out a program of education. We see God bringing all the creatures to Adam so that he could see them and give them their proper names.

We have to understand that, in the Bible, the ability to name a thing comes from the ability to understand what it truly is. An example of this is something we all learned in school, but most of us have forgotten. That is the scientific names of things. We learned about the Latin names of the phylum, and genus, and specie of living things. These are names that describe the nature of the form of life they stand for; like vertebrate or invertebrate (having a backbone or not).

When Adam named the creatures, he gave them names that revealed their true nature, just as the names of the seven dwarves reveal their true nature: like Sneezy, and Grumpy, and Bashful, and Dopey. The first people called things according to their real nature, because they could see what God intended them to be.

The first time Adam met Eve he knew exactly who and what she was, where she came from, and what she was there for. God showed himself to be truly interested in giving human beings this kind of knowledge.

The interesting thing about all of this knowledge is that our first parents knew everything they knew in partnership with God, in communion with God. They knew everything with God, and they knew nothing without God.

The serpent suggested that they start knowing things a different way. He suggested that they learn to know things separate from God and without God.

There was nothing in God’s previous behavior to show that he would not teach them about the knowledge of good and evil, in his own way, when the time was right. But there was a way, Satan suggested, for them to be in charge, and in control of their own lives.

Now think: what happens to us and the way we live with others, when we treat knowledge as something we can use in order to be in charge, and in control? And what happens when everyone is doing the exact same thing? What happens is that intimacy is lost. Peace is lost. Love is lost.

There is another very practical thing about the knowledge of good and evil: and God is very practical. The Bible is God’s word to us, not to give us pure information, and not even understanding in the sense of something that happens mostly inside our brains.

The Bible is designed to give us the kind of knowledge that we call experience. The Bible is a gift from God to help us to experience God, and to experience our true selves (as God sees us), and to experience God’s desires and goals for us humans, and for the world he has made.

In the Bible, to know something is to experience it in a personal way. And this is true of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now, our first parents had the knowledge of good already. They knew nothing but goodness. They were good, and all their experience was good.

When they gained the knowledge of good and evil, this changed. They now experienced evil within themselves, as they once had experienced only goodness. Evil became as much a part of them as goodness was. And they passed their experience down to us, as their children.

We can see what this means in this part of the story of Genesis. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God. They had known nothing but trust. Now they felt a reason to fear. They had never felt this way before. They wished with all their heart that they could be somewhere else; and so they willed separation and division from God.

They were also divided from each other. Adam had known Eve as God’s greatest gift to him. Now Adam knew Eve as someone to blame. He was afraid of God; afraid of the possibility that he was in danger. Adam was wrong about his immediate danger, but he deliberately put Eve into the danger that he imagined, and he put her in the place of what he feared. Adam never raised a hand against Eve, but his betrayal was the first act of violence in the world as we know it.

Adam stopped answering God’s questions about the truth. “Have you eaten from the tree I told you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11) And Adam did not say, “Yes, and I am so sorry. God forgive me.” That would have been the truthful answer. That was the answer God was looking for.

Instead, Adam’s answer was a half truth that amounted to a lie. Adam blamed Eve, even though he knew that this was not the answer God was looking for. Adam ceased to be interested in the truth, unless it served himself.

Adam did not want to be found or known. What happened to him was more important than what might happen to Eve if his blame stuck to her.

All true knowledge is experience, and this is what the knowledge of evil makes us. This is the life that human beings have come to know. It is a kind of death in life.
What about God’s knowledge of good and evil? How is evil a part of God’s experience? God personally experiences evil in the same way that loving parents experience evil through their children. How does a parent experience evil when they find their child telling a lie? Or how does a parent experience evil when their child is in danger?

There is a story from the earthquake in Haiti, about a Dutch couple who had adopted a Haitian child, and came to claim this child in the days before the earthquake. They had the joy of meeting this child and earning the trust of this child. And, at last, they prepared to go home as a family. The parents were in the hotel room, with their new child, packing for home in the Netherlands, when the earthquake struck. When their bodies were found, the child’s body was enfolded in the bodies of his new mother and father who, in their final moments, had tried to shield that child as the building collapsed around them. This way of experiencing evil is unique to parenthood.

God clothed Adam and Eve in the skins of animals. These skins were not created out of thin air. They came from animals who died to cover the nakedness of the people who had brought evil into the world.

This is a shocking thing, when you think about it. But it means something very important.

Adam and Eve expected to die, but they found that (in this case) something had died for their sake. In the first place it was an animal of some kind; but that animal was only a small part of larger pattern that God has put into his design of the whole universe.

The pattern of the universe is this: that, when evil came into the world, God was ready to provide a sacrifice to cover and heal the sins of the world. God himself was that sacrifice. That is how God would experience evil. God would not only be the creator, but also the re-creator of a new creation through the cross.

A lot of blood has been shed for the evils of this world, and it has only showed the world for what it is. God has come into this world in Jesus to shed his own blood by the force of a love that would change human beings from within.

That brings us to another garden. John tells us that, “At the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid…They laid Jesus there.” (John 19:41-42) The people of the New Testament were familiar with crosses because crosses were a common form of execution in the Roman Empire.

By and large they hated crosses because they had seen people die on them. They hated the very word “cross”. It was a hard word for them to say. And so, sometimes, they used a euphemism for “cross” by calling it a “tree”. (Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24 and others) So there was a tree that brought sin into the world, and there was a tree that has the power to put an end to the rule of sin. Eden has gone, but the cross is now the tree of life.

There was a garden where death came to the human race, and there was a garden where life was given to us; where God, in Christ, rose from the dead. In the first garden we lost our faith in the faithfulness of God. In the second garden faith in the faithfulness of God was reborn.

The God who came in Jesus made us for peace, in the beginning, and breathed into us, at our creation, to make us living souls. (Genesis 2:7) In our recreation, in Jesus, God says, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19-21) And Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, and upon us, and makes us alive in a new way, and sends us out on a mission of life to bring the good news of the forgiveness of sins, and the healing of evil, in the world. (John 20:21-22)

In the first garden our intimacy with God, and with others, and with the world, and with ourselves was lost. In the garden of the resurrection we find our lost peace and intimacy again; with God, and with others, and with the world, and with our own souls. The God who created us for a garden of intimacy helps us find it again in Jesus.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Jesus and Genesis: Freedom

Preached January 31, 2010
Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:4-3:7 and John 8:31-59 (RSV)

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31) Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase goes like this, “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”

Jesus came to set us free. So the question is: are you free?

This is the question I have been asking myself this past week. I have been studying God’s word about this, and being in conversation with God about this, and asking myself this question: am I free?

My answer to this question is: it all depends on what it means to be free. And so my answer is: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

There are obvious reasons for this. For one thing, I’m a worrywart. I worry a lot. I worry about you. I worry about me. I worry about a lot of people. I worry about making decisions that will be helpful to others, decisions that will be successful, decisions that will be appreciated and understood by others.

Worry does not fit my idea of freedom. It doesn’t fit my idea of faith. And I think I need both freedom and faith in order to be happy.

On the other hand, if I didn’t worry, I think I would be a lot more like a bull in a china shop than I am. I would cause a lot more mess and a lot more breakage, if I didn’t worry. And that would make me really, really unhappy. I would not feel free. I would feel trapped.

Why would freedom from worry make me unhappy? Well, if I care about other people then I want to do well for their sakes, and I want to do them good. If I care, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be free from worry.

So I should be happy that I worry. It produces results that make me happy. Worry gives me a kind of freedom that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I am half-way joking about this. I am also half-way serious. There is a great temptation for us to misunderstand what freedom means. It is tempting, because a false understanding of freedom can be so very convenient.

Imagine that freedom was an important thing. That’s what Jesus does. Now imagine that the real meaning of freedom is the ability to be whatever you want to be, and to do whatever you want to do. And then, on top of that, imagine that you are married, and have a family, and that you want them to be happy and safe.

To love others and be loved by them, and to live in faithful devotion and commitment to them, will constrain you and limit you. Sometimes it will seem as though it limits you a lot.

On the other hand, the gift of loving, and being loved, is a great gift. No one will come to the end of their lives wishing that they had been loved less, or that they had loved others less.

Genuine love, with all its commitments and constraints, is the ultimate freedom. More and more, genuine love (with all its commitments and constraints) grows into wonder, and laughter, and thankfulness, and these are the fruit of freedom.

Love loves to make promises, and love loves to keep its promises. This is what makes love really alive. This is what gives love a sense of freedom.

We can see this in one of the most personal issues of human freedom. The world usually tells us that one of the main tests of personal freedom is sex.

The physical union of a man and a woman is designed to bring a child into a little world where those who have given it life have bound themselves to each other for each other’s sake, and have bound themselves to their child, for that child’s sake, by loving and lasting promises. The physical union of a man and a woman, when no promise or commitment has been made, does not really have anything to do with freedom, unless we don’t believe in the importance of love for the health of human life.

Sometimes, a young woman will seek to get pregnant without taking the time of finding a husband, because she thinks that the presence and the love of a baby will set her free. But, she has sought her own freedom at the expense of her baby’s freedom. That is not a good start in a life dedicated to freedom. She will find that the needs of her baby will be in conflict with the study and work she needs in order to give that baby a secure home.

She has gotten into this predicament because she has done what we all tend to do. We all tend to get confused about what freedom is for.

There are guys who want the freedom of sex without the greater freedom that comes from loving to be a husband and father. This happens because we all tend to get confused about what freedom is for.

The fact is that no one can fully understand freedom, unless they know who they are and what they are made for. We are made for freedom.

The Garden of Eden was designed for freedom. There were ten thousand things in the Garden of Eden that you could choose and say “yes” to. And there was Eve, in all her beauty. And for her there was Adam. And there was so much to say “yes” to.

And there was only one thing in the whole Garden of Eden for you to say “no” to. And it was not Eve. And it was not Adam. It was only the fruit of one single tree.

We are made for freedom, and we will reach out and try to grab freedom for ourselves without even knowing what true freedom is. And so we are likely to grab for something we think will give us freedom; but it only makes us worse and less free. We don’t know what freedom is until we let God show us.

We find this in the scene in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is talking to people about freedom. Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

The scene is a debate. It is a debate between two brands of freedom. And both brands claim to be spiritual.

The truth is, if we want to understand freedom, we have to look at the freedom of Jesus who claimed to be able to make us free. We have to see how his freedom is different from the freedom claimed by the people who blamed Jesus for interfering in their lives, and in their claim to be free.

The freedom of Jesus consisted in knowing that he was sent here by his Father to set others free. Jesus was here in order to be good news. Wherever Jesus went, you could look at the world around him the way God looked at the world during creation, and you could say, “It is good”.

The freedom of Jesus’ competitors was their right to be unmoved by the needs and the worth of others in God’s creation. Their mistake was that they had no right to be disconnected from a God-given commitment to others, but they claimed that right and freedom anyway. Jesus stood against their claim to freedom.

In the previous chapters of the gospel of John, Jesus had healed an invalid on the Sabbath (5:1-15), even though that was the wrong time to do it, and he had forgiven a woman who was guilty of adultery (8:1-11), even though she didn’t deserve it.

Jesus gave them both the freedom of a new life: a healed life, and a forgiven life. His opponents found reasons why Jesus should not have done these things.

Jesus found reasons to faithfully commit to others. Those who claimed a different kind of freedom found self-righteous reasons for not committing to others. Jesus found reasons to do something good. Those who claimed a different kind of freedom found reasons for not doing something good. For Jesus there was no wrong time and no wrong person for his grace.

Jesus’ willingness to bring good news to others knew no boundaries. Those who claimed a different kind of freedom knew far too many boundaries, and they still thought they were free.

Jesus knew where his freedom came from, and he knew that those who were against him had a freedom that came from some where else. The people who hated the freedom of Jesus were holy people, spiritual people, whose freedom came from their sins: from their pride, and from a righteousness that only served themselves. They did not know this because they did not know themselves at all.

Their freedom was a deception and a lie. Their freedom was hurtful and destructive to others who were made in God’s image.

So Jesus told them that their father was the Devil, because the Devil is a liar and murderer (8:44-47). In the Garden of Eden the Devil lied in order to make the first humans feel unfree and discontented. The Devil lied in order to murder our freedom and trick us into being his slaves. The people who talk the loudest about their freedom to do what they want are really secretly slaves to the enemy of life and freedom.

Jesus told them about the hidden motives that made them slaves. It may sound harsh, but Jesus told them this in the hope that they would listen to him and let him set them free.

When Jesus tells us to continue in his word, he means for us to listen, and contemplate, and regurgitate, and not let go of his message to us, because we are always at risk for being like those who were against him.

We can imagine that we are free when we are not. We can imagine that we are being faithful to God when we are being faithful to our own sins, and self-deceptions, and our instinct to hurt and destroy: and we call that our freedom.

We tend to forget that the sons and daughters of God are here to be givers of grace and freedom to others. To keep us right, we need to hold onto Jesus words, and listen, and obey, and not let go; until his words get through to us and open our eyes so that we can see the truth, and be set free.

Let’s look at one more thing.

To hold onto Jesus’ word is something we do, and we can find freedom through doing that. But something more has to happen. It is not our wonderful job of continuing, and holding on, and obeying that does the trick.

Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (8:39) Jesus’ words are more than something for us to do. They are the message that Jesus must do something for us.

Jesus does the work to set us free in his living for us, in his dying for us, and in his rising from the dead. In his dying and his rising, his life becomes our new life. He makes us a new creation.

Jesus becomes our partner and our brother; as well as our Lord and Savior. This is the heart of the truth that sets us free.

And it is as if Jesus becomes our own Garden of Eden where there are so many opportunities, so many trees to harvest, and so few to avoid; so much to love, and so little to fear. Jesus is our new land where we have the freedom to find what we are created for, and bring others to that land to live with us there.