"See Things in a different light"
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “2020 Vision”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
January 5, 2020
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
I believe the greatest changes in our lives, changes for the good, come when we see things in a different light. How many of you love turnips? Let me retell a story. Rev. Donna Schaper is a wonderful writer and preacher. She tells a story of a time when she and her church in New York, on a cold Christmas Eve, at 4:00 p.m. when “a highly inebriated farmer rolled his truck up on to the front lawn of the church and dumped a full load of turnips. ‘I want to help the poor,’ he mumbled. They had to rush to get volunteers to put the dusty turnips into the cellar so people wouldn’t trip over them on their way in to the services. They didn’t know what else to do with them.” They left the turnips in the cellar until after the holiday, when an “interesting odor” came through the church building. It was the smell of rotting turnips. Anyone ever experienced that?
So what do you do when you have a load of turnips, some already rotting? Someone came up with the idea for a turnip cook-off. Anybody who wanted to could come to the church, haul a lot of turnips out of the basement and create a turnip dish. They also had to haul out a few smelly ones and throw them away. The “Turnip Cook-off” winner would receive a prize, something with a turnip look or feel. Kind of like our Chili – Cook off next week, where the prize winner gets an apron.
“They also came up with the idea to create a cook book featuring all the many dishes, including turnip cake, turnip casserole, baked, fried, stewed, as well as turnips with garlic, cabbage, apples and poppy seeds. The winning entry was” Donna’s husband’s “Turnip fries.” Long Island TV even covered the event, “and a good time was had by all.”
Some say if life gives you lemons make lemonade. I say if life gives you turnips, learn how to make turnip fries, or pies, or stew, casserole, or whatever you can out of it. I think doing that requires seeing things in a new light.
The beginning verses of the Gospel of John invite people to see Jesus in a different light. For the people of John’s era Jesus was a man crucified by Caesar, rejected by the religious leaders, and whose own disciples betrayed, denied, and at first did not see him for who he really was. But John shows Jesus in a very different light.
Remember, like each of the Gospels, John’s Gospel is not history as we think of history. It was not intended to show events in chronological order or to simply repeat the same stories others had told of Jesus. Each of the Gospels are written first from a theological viewpoint, and all were written in light of believing in Jesus’ resurrection, believing that Jesus was uniquely God’s son. John’s Gospel doesn’t begin with a birth narrative, but neither does Mark’s. Only Matthew and John talk about Jesus’ birth as a human event.
The Gospel of John starts with a very poetic and theological ode to God coming to life in the one we know as Jesus. His words echo the beginning of the Hebrew Bible: “In the beginning…” For John Jesus “was” with God in the beginning as something he called “logos,” the Greek word we translate as “word.” So Jesus comes as the word – very much like Genesis tells us God speaks the words that create all that is:
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God spoke, and there was light. God spoke, God saw, God called. John tells us that Jesus was with God who created in the beginning. And then he adds, nothing that was made was made without the Word Jesus. This one that some saw as a turnip, a rotten turnip in fact, worthy to die, unworthy to be believed or trusted was in fact the light that showed God, the Word that God spoke, a living source of truth and grace.
So John gave us a way to see Jesus in a new light, to look at him in a different way than some did, even different from some of the other Gospel writers. Remember each of the Gospels were written for and heard by different groups, what we would call congregations. They were not collected and shared in every church for hundreds of years after their writing. So the initial hearers, and readers were being challenged to decide, what was truth? Was Jesus truth and grace, a word spoken by God, one with God even in the beginning – or a sinner, an revolutionary, a false king duly crucified by Caesar?
We live in a time when truth has been under attack. Certain voices have decided to make up things they call “alternative facts” that are actually just plain untrue. News has become so weaponized that people seem only to listen to what they already believe with no interest in questioning its truth or even its factual content. I believe we are headed down a dark and dangerous path that demands we seek light and truth. Politicians say and do stuff that is recorded on audio and video and then they deny they said it. Self-proclaimed Christian leaders speak on behalf of Jesus but seem to ignore everything that Jesus valued, taught, and lived for.
It doesn’t help to simply quote the Bible without context or understanding its original meaning. People who claim to believe the Bible can’t be interpreted interpret its words to justify doing hateful things that look nothing like the actions the Gospels portray Jesus doing. And all the while they ignore the simplest things the Gospels report Jesus said: “love your neighbor as yourself,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” whatever you do to the least of these by sisters and brothers you do unto me.”
Some of our Christian sisters and brothers have made believing more important than doing. They use their “beliefs” to justify things as incredible as murdering doctors for performing abortions, supporting white supremacists and their actions, condemning people who are not heterosexual and worse. They would argue their “beliefs” were handed down through history as if that made them all perfect. The need to see things in a different light, the need to change has never been greater. The Scriptures like the one today that challenge us to see truth in a new light, to come to new understandings, to grow in faith because our human understanding of God is NEVER perfect, NEVER finished, NEVER complete. Every day we must be seeking to see more clearly, follow more nearly, love more dearly.
Instead of insisting that what we once believed must be true and digging in to hold tighter to it let us be people of faith. Faith requires a heart that seeks to grow in love, a mind that seeks to grow in truth and understanding, a life that is marked by doing what is right and just and loving. These things don’t stand in opposition to one another. The Christian way is about seeing truth, doing truth, and knowing the truth of Jesus and his way, his life, his truth. That will always require us to see things in new ways.
I want to urge us all to open our eyes – to have “2020 vision” in this New Year of 2020. Just as John begins his Gospel inviting people to see Jesus in a new way, let us seek to begin this New Year striving to see Jesus in a new way. Let our prayer be, “Lord expand my understanding, increase my faith, enlarge my spirit to do what you would have me do in all areas of my life.” Just as Donna Schaper’s church had to find a new way to think about turnips, let us think carefully about what is presented as truth when it only affirms our old assumptions. Maybe turnip fries could give McDonald’s a run for their money! Let us be willing to hear the difficult things that God may need to say to us to transform our seeing, our believing, and our doing.
When the United Church of Christ proclaimed that it stood for an open table, one where anyone was welcome it was considered by some to be wrong. They believe only certain people are welcome, those who believe a certain way. Within the limits of the theology that they have created their argument is sound. Let’s be honest. Let’s tell the truth. The problem is the limits of their theology suggest a God who would only accept at his table people who believe a certain way. Let’s use the most common test we could for God - “Would any sane, loving, human parent refuse a child who comes to her table hungry?” Would any parent say, “no you cannot eat here because you haven’t believed the righ things about me.” We say God welcomes all, not because of what you believe but because we are all hungry. We are hungry for the truth of God’s love. We say those who hunger and thirst cannot stop hungering and thirsting by not receiving food and drink. We say the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ reached out to all those who the proper religious and religiously trained leaders believed were unworthy. He welcomed them, loved them. The Bible doesn’t say Jesus did any exams about the faith of those 5000 men he fed with a few fish and loaves. John says “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” May that grace and truth bring new light and new vision to us today.
As we come forward today to receive the Sacrament, pray for a new way of seeing, because we all need to see some things in a different light. Pray that everyday, everything life in your life is shaped by the light that came into the world, the light that was truth, the light that we call Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. AMEN.