Category Archives: a bible study

Saint John and the Cubs.

Nancy and I walked past Arnie’s Jerseys and Stuff. It’s the local sports memorabilia store. We usually ignore it, not being fans of the teams, the old players, or the markups. This time I stopped, staring at the Ernie Banks Cubs uniform shirt. It was part of a display of Cubs items. After they won the World Series, everyone became a fan. But the price on the Banks jersey made me stop.

As I stared, I heard a voice behind us.

“Chicago fans are irrationally faithful. Just like my friend Nathanael.”

It was Saint John.

“What do you mean?” I said.

relationship“Year after year, Cubs fans kept watching for a winning season. They kept showing up to worship at Wrigley, even when there was no hope of a positive outcome to the season. People learned the names of people who would never wear rings, never hold pennants, never play baseball in November.”

I grinned. “Billy Williams, Don Kessinger, Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Ron S…”

John held up his hand. “You learned those when you were 9 years old. How many more years after than before they won the World Series?”

“Forty-eight years.”

“Irrationally faithful,” he said. “Like Nathanael. We grew up together. He was looking for the Messiah, learning details, memorizing Torah, keeping faith. But like you and the Cubs, I’m pretty sure Nathanael thought Messiah would ever come.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“Because when Philip told him that Jesus was the Messiah, Nathanael pushed back. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ was his first question. Can anything of value come from around here, from where we grew up.”

“But if Nathanael was such a doubter, why did Jesus accept him?” As I said it, I realized that we almost always talk about accepting Jesus, not the other way around.

John smiled.

“Jesus knew his heart, knew that Nathanael wanted to believe in someone. He just didn’t want to be disappointed again. And Jesus knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

I looked at him, uncertain.

“Jesus was the certainty for irrationally faithful people. Nathanael’s healthy skepticism about pretenders was grounded in a desire to be proven right.”

“Like the people who wept when the 2016 Cubs won,” I said.

John smiled. “Ah, but so much more.”

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The story is based in John 1. The post is day 7 from Saint John of the Mall.

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John the recognizer

One day, John looked up and saw Jesus walking toward him. I’m not sure that he recognized his relative. As far as we know, they hadn’t seen each other ever.

But we know that John had been given instructions on how to recognize the king. How to recognize the one he had been pointing people toward. It’s not that he’d be wearing a carnation, or carrying a newspaper, or dressed in white.

“When you see someone drenched in the Holy Spirit, that’s the one you are expecting.” That’s what John says that he’d been told.

And on the day we read about, John recognized Jesus.

We know that Jesus came to John asking to be baptized. Not because he needed it, but because he wanted to identify with all of us who need it. John knew him because Jesus was dripping with the Spirit just as much as he ended up dripping with the river water.

I know people who are looking for Jesus. They want to touch him. They imagine that if they could just see him, or touch him, they would believe. They are looking at everyone, trying to recognize Jesus and not ever seeing him.

But here’s the thing.

IMG_1392.JPGMuch later in his work, Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

And the people around him said, “When?” “How did we miss you?”

Jesus said, “When you did all those things for the least of these,” gesturing to all of those people in need, at the fringes.

While we are expecting Jesus, working to prepare the way for him, we can open our eyes to recognize him in the people we are serving and loving and caring for.

As we care for them as IF we are caring for Jesus.

Who knew Simeon?

The researcher was curious about Simeon. Who was he? What kind of man would understand the words of Isaiah and apply them to a baby being carried into the temple? Was he one of the religious leaders? Did he belong to one of the reclusive ultra-religious groups?

It’s possible that Simeon was a man without a known background. But the researcher wasn’t willing to have his account say, “Some man walked up to Mary and Joseph.”

old woodHe started thinking through the kind of person he needed to talk with. It would have to be someone who was in Jerusalem when Jesus wasn’t. It would have to be someone who spent time in the temple, who was knowledgeable about people with spiritual understanding. And it would have to be someone willing to talk to a follower of Jesus.

None of the Galileans were possibilities. They had spent time away from Jerusalem. In fact, none of the remnants of the Twelve would be helpful.

Mary had said that she had looked for Simeon when she was in town. If he had been around for the crucifixion, she would have seen him.

But there was a name that John had mentioned.

Nicodemus.

Nicodemus would know about someone with a righteous reputation.

John had said that Nicodemus came privately to talk with Jesus early in his ministry. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, part of the ruling council. If anyone would have known religious people, it would be Nicodemus. A couple of years later, he recommended that the Council be less violent in their attacks on Jesus. And after the crucifixion, Nicodemus sealed his division from the leadership when he helped Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus in the tomb.

Nicodemus was the perfect person to talk about Simeon.

“I remember Simeon,” Nicodemus said. 

 

The opportunity to obey the directions we’ve been given

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Luke 2:21

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IMG_2484.JPGWe’re talking about opportunities for commitments this week. And the third is,  obey the directions we’ve been given.

For Mary and Joseph, obeying meant following the Jewish law given by God to Moses a couple thousand years before. And it meant following God’s directions given nine months before.

God speaks both ways. There are the things that all of his people are called to obey. Love one another. And there are things that just I am called to obey. Love Nancy as Christ loved the Church.

Too often we want to throw off the old rules because we want to follow the next new thing. Or we ignore a specific direction because we prefer the abstract.

Mary and Joseph did both. The word to them was to name this baby Jesus. Not ALL babies were intended to be named Jesus. And they named him in the context of the rules that had been given to Moses for everyone who was Jewish: circumcise.

I have lots of conversations with people who are waiting to find out what God wants them to do. “God still wants me around for something.” “I wish I knew what job he wants me to do.” And we live however we want to live while we wait for a specific message.

We miss that God told Moses, and Jesus affirmed, “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

This year, keep that law. Look for every possible way to love God and to love others. And when presented with a specific act of love, do that TOO.

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The Sermon on the Mount helps us understand how Jesus invites us to live. Read more in my Kindle book Learning a New Routine.

Advent 17: Camping with Saint John

That evening, we went to the address John had given us. As I thought, it wasn’t a house. It was a campground not far from the mall. The sign said that the campground was closed, but even from the parking lot, I could see a couple of tents attempting, unsuccessfully, to hide from view. And a small fire.

fireAnd John. He was sitting by the fire like he was the one keeping it burning.

We were a hundred yards away so I couldn’t see details. But I knew it was John. There’s something about the way he carries himself. Confident without being arrogant.

We sat in the car. It was warm. And I wanted to see what was happening.

A young couple crawled out of one of the tents. She was expecting. Another guy crawled out of the other tent. They walked toward the fire.

Apparently, John had a pot in the fire. He reached for a bowl, filled it, and handed it to her. John took another bowl and filled it for one of the guys.

John stood up. He looked across the empty campground, across the parking lot, straight at us. He tilted his head in what may have been a nod. And turned back toward the fire and the young people and spread out his arms, just for a moment. And they all sat down.

We left, not saying a word. A little later, I heard Nancy whispering. “God, hide them in your hand.” After some recent stories about homeless camps being cleared out, I understood her fear.

When I asked him about it a couple days later, all he said was, “as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

That night, we put some blankets in the car and went back to the campground. It was empty. “Loving one another is going to take some looking,” I said.