Daniel 7: 9 – 10, 13 – 14
Revelation 1: 4b – 8
John 18: 33 – 37
Several years ago, while I was still a parish priest, some parishioners came to me with a question. Robin and Anne were actually Baptists, but since we were the only church on the island where they lived, they attended the Church of the Good Shepherd. Some of the things that we as Anglicans took as a matter of course, were of concern to them, or else simply puzzled them. On this particular occasion, they had questions about the use of the lectionary.
Since the lectionary was, they felt, simply a human construct, what would happen if I believed God desired me to proclaim a certain message that in no way related to the appointed texts on that particular day. Would I, they wondered, be free to choose other readings? I don’t remember my answer. I think it was pretty wishy-washy. What I do remember, after nearly forty years, is the question. It still haunts me.
Were Robin and Anne to appear today and ask me the same question, I would have a very different answer. The real question is not, what if God wants me to address something outside the scope of the readings on any particular day. The real question is what to do if the lectionary forces you to look at something you would rather not!
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
When I was a pastoral intern in Nebraska, we gave a Bible to each third grader on a particular Sunday. The Bible is a good gift; it’s a source of hope, love, encouragement, inspiration, and life. I told the congregation: pay attention. We are giving children a knife. As we heard this morning from the letter to the Hebrews: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.”
Scripture is sharper than a sword. Like a scalpel, it cuts through what is diseased and damaged, cuts through lies and confusion, cuts through the stories we tell ourselves to reveal the truth. The stories of scripture surprise, disturb, confound and with good intention cut. We and our children need help and practice to listen, to receive powerful, sharp, healing words of life.
Numbers 21: 4 – 9
Psalm 107: 1 – 3, 17 – 22
Ephesians 2: 1 – 10
John 3: 14 – 21
If it feels as though you have walked into the middle of a conversation today, it’s because you have! No wonder, then, if you are shaking your head, and thinking to yourself, where on earth did all this come from? You’re not the only one to feel that way today. I bet a number of people are thinking to themselves, did I miss something?
Our gospel lesson today is the second half of that famous encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. You’ll remember the story. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in a sense secretly, declaring Jesus to be a teacher who has come from God. It is the first glimmer of faith by Nicodemus, who we will see again at the end of the gospel, when, with Joseph of Arimathea, he makes provision for the Lord’s burial, by bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  But all of that comes later, much later, almost at the end of the story. Today we’re near the beginning, and Jesus and Nicodemus have that mysterious, almost mystical conversation about water, and being born again, and entering a second time into a mother’s womb.
Acts 1: 6 – 14
Psalm 68: 1 – 10, 33 – 36
1 Peter 4: 12 – 16, 5: 6 – 11
John 17: 1 – 11
I am not naturally inclined to poetry. It’s not something I read a great deal of. I don’t spend my time reading the great poets or memorizing poems. When I was in Grade Eleven, we were given a choice of a number of options to choose from in our English literature class. One option was Canadian Literature. The other option was poetry. I of course, signed up for the Canadian Literature section. The problem was, so too did a number of my classmates. The end result was that I, and several others, were simply reassigned to the poetry section in order to even out the class sizes. I remember distinctly that one of the assignments of this class was to write five poems during the course of the term. I wrote my first poem at the end of the first class and handed it in. I still remember it:
O God, why me?
I chose Can Lit,
But got stuck in poetry.
‘At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…’
Who are “the wise and intelligent” to whom Jesus is referring? Any one of three groups who held power. One, the scribes and Pharisees who were the educated, Jewish elite. Second, the Greeks, whose intellectual prowess was recognized even by Rome. And thirdly, Rome, which was the occupying and controlling force in Palestine. To a Roman ear, when Jesus, the peasant, prays aloud to the God whom he calls “Father,” – Papa – I thank you, Papa, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things – his revelation – from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants – Jesus is an idiot to the Greeks[i], blasphemous to the Jews, and treasonous to the Romans because Caesar, only Caesar Augustus, was called “God from God.”[ii]
The disciples of John came to [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”15And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17
John’s Gospel likes to be obscure at times. What was the name Jesus made known to the disciples? The pronunciation of the Hebrew name for God was supposedly only known by the High Priest; he only pronounced it, whispering, once a year on the Day of Atonement inside the Holy of Holies. Is this the name Jesus made known to the disciples? How did he find out the divine name? Does that mean he was conferring a kind of priesthood upon the disciples? Who knows?
This day in the Christian Year marks the day after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven when the Disciples knew that Jesus was no longer with them in the way that he had been.
Today’s Gospel is a flash-back to Jesus preparing his Disciples for that time when he would no longer be with them physically. After speaking of pain and joy Jesus said to his Disciples; “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (Jn 16:22)
I wonder how many of you remember Kathryn Kuhlman. Ms. Kuhlman, who died in 1976, was a well known evangelist and faith healer. Her television program featured a now familiar mix of preaching, music (with Dino at the piano) and faith healings. Ms. Kuhlman began each of her broadcasts with these very carefully enunciated words, “I believe in miracles” or more precisely in Ms. Kuhlman’s own inimitable pronunciation, “I believe-a in miracles.”