John 20:1-18 – “…a lot of running…”

“John’s Easter account begins with a lot of running.  When Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, she runs to tell Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple.  Her words, like a shot of the gun that begins a race send the two disciples running to check it out for themselves.” 

 Martin B. Copenhaver, “Feasting on the Word; Year A, Vol 2”. p. 370.

Good Friday – The Cup

 Grapes have been cultivated throughout human history.  When they bear fruit, the cluster of grapes is a thing of beauty.  But it is the end of a long history.  The vine had to first be planted, which takes several years to grow before it can bear fruit.  Then the gardener needs to know how to prune and tend the vine.  If it grows wildly, there will be little fruit.  If it is pruned too severely, there will be no fruit.  But with skill and good weather a crop of ripe clusters is ready in the late summer.  This involves time and skill

            Jesus’ sacrifice was also long in the development.  God began the work as far back as Eden, when he gave the first word of the Gospel that was to come.  Then as he called Abraham and made him a nation, and as they were finally planted  in the Promised land – there the vine grew, and God pruned the nation with discipline and blessed it with his grace.  When Jesus arrived he came as the fulfillment of God’s plan for his people – he is in this way like a cluster of grapes – Long in planning, careful in execution, with constant care.

            The life of Christ is a living demonstration of the Fruit of the Spirit that is described in the New Testament.  In this way his life was as beautiful as a grape cluster is to our eyes.

                   Once the clusters grow, they are cut off, cluster by cluster.  These clusters are then crushed.  In the ancient times they were placed in vats, sometimes carved out of stone, and people crushed them with their feet.  The juice then flowed from the vat and was collected.  Grapes are not grown to be admired, but to be crushed.

            Jesus lived for about 30 years in the background, working as a carpenter.  All this time he was prayerfully reading himself for the ministry he was to have – the very same ministry that was written in the book.

            Then for three years the fruit of his life was evident in Galilee and Judea.  People saw his grace, they saw his majesty, they marveled at his wisdom and they found power in his touch.

            Then, on one day, which we call Good Friday, he was cut off.  He was cut off from his people.  He was gathered in and he was crushed.  Just as the people used their own feet to crush grapes, Jesus was crushed by the fists, the whips, the nails and the spear of political and religious power.

             Why was this?  Was it a tragic mistake? No this too was the plan of God, known from ancient times.  The Prophet Isaiah said, (Is 53:4-6)

4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


            Jesus did not live to be admired, he lived to be crushed. Not for his sins – he had none.  But he was crushed for our sins; he was pierced for our iniquities.  He carried our infirmities and our sorrows; he bore the punishment that brought us peace.

            We come to the Cup of the Lord’s Supper to remember the beauty that was crushed, so that we could have life.

Good Friday Kvetch

So I found on Facebook and in emails various comments to the effect that Good Friday and Earth day, which happen to coincide this year, are in conflict. 

Good Friday is about the Creator coming in person to redeem his Creation from all the effects of sin: individual and cosmic.  (check Romans 8, Colossians 1, Revelation 21,22)

The Good of Good Friday for me is Salvation – it is John 3:16.  But it is also Ephesians 1:10, which is Good for heaven and earth.

Zechariah 9:9 – Peacefully

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!

Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

             Scholars say that the section of Zechariah where this verse is found describes the future conquests of Alexander the Great.  But when the King whom God sends comes, he will not come with a war-horse, but he will come on a donkey.  He will remove the instruments of war and proclaim peace to the nations and he will establish a kingdom of peace over the world.

             Compare Jesus with Alexander the Great, or with Herod the Great or with Caesar. What do you see?  Alexander conquered the world with bold and brilliant strategy, with the power of the sword.  Herod the Great ruled by keeping the Romans happy with his way of keeping peace and collecting taxes.  Caesar, well he told the world that he was a God to be worshipped.

            What did Jesus do?  He arrived without arms – no swords and no soldiers.  He had no friends in high places, because he told the truth.  And he did not demand worship at the point of the sword, but accepted it from the hearts of the people.  He did not overwhelmed, but he rode into the city in humility.

            How does Jesus enter our lives?  With humility.

Active Meditation – a personal note

When we talk of meditation, the mental picture is of quiet detachment.  Well, that does not work for me.  I am not critical of a more monastic approach, but it is not the only way to think extensively, deeply and connectedly about the word.  So here are a few ideas that I have used over the years.

Sit in church.  I used to sit in the sanctuary of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, when I was a student at the U of Washington.  Once I got in this space I would sit and let my mind go to wherever it wanted to go.  I would stay there until the ringing sound of city noise had subsided.  This is the effect of living in a city like Seattle (or Chicago, New York or Madison), where there is a sort of hum residing after you are away from the noise.  This took about 15 minutes usually. Then when I re-entered the world, I was surprised at how loud and busy it was (a state I had been part of merely 20 minutes before.)

Chop wood.  Three of us lived in Montana in an apartment heated by wood, and so we had to chop firewood.  There were times when I could not sit and think or pray, so I would “pray with my axe.”  This was a very therapeutic way to think about frustrations.  I also discovered that wood flies apart when you chop it at sub-zero temperatures – if the axe does not bounce off the surface, that is.

Carve wood.  I like to go to the “man cave” and work on a carving project, the best for this is something of my own design, which has no particular deadline attached to it.  Being active with a physical craft (maybe you paint or play guitar, knit or quilt) frees up the conscious and subconscious to have little conversations about life and the sermon text.

Take a walk – basically the same idea as above.

Take the sermon text to the gym – there is nothing more boring than exercise, so often I will print out the text and look at it while I am grinding out my 3-5 cyber miles on the exercise bike.

Write creatively.  I find a little free verse poetry, free association, brain storming on paper with words and images or telling a story is another outlet.

Listen to Jazz – I have some music on my work computer – and anything that is jazzy, and that is either without words, or is in another language, is helpful.  sometimes classical music, for me Baroque is good, or instrumental versions of hymns are also good.  In Advent, I usually give Handel’s Messiah a spin.

Here is the bottom line, what does not work is to sit and stare at a piece of paper for hours on end.  when I get to the end of the usefulness of that method, it is time to try something else.

Oh, finally, Blog.  One reason for Fresh Read is to talk about the scriptures in a non-churchy way toward a fresh view of the text.  The other is to think with the keyboard.

There you have it – a combination of advice and confession.

Lazarus – John 11:43-44

Jesus asked for the stone to be removed from in front of the tomb.  Martha, the practical sister, pointed out that after 4 days the body would smell.  But Jesus persisted.  Then after a brief prayer, he turned toward the tomb and shouted,

“Lazarus, come out!”

Lazarus came blindly stumbling out of the tomb, still wrapped in the grave clothes.  So Jesus commanded those there to un-wrap him and set him free.

This is a parable.  This raising of Lazarus tells us something about new life now and new life in the future.

Now – when a person hears the Gospel and comes to new life, it is a miracle from the Lord.  Yet in this life we start out blindly and dressed in the clothes of death.  Lazarus did not look glorious at his new life, but he was in need of help.  This is one reason the Lord gives us Christian Fellowship. We are here to listen to the Lord’s command to “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Are you surprised by the sins of fellow believers?  These are the grave clothes.  So it is our task to help un-wrap the old dead things from our lives and to all the freedom of new life to take place.  We do this by love, patience and prayer.

In the Future – When Jesus came forth from the grave, he was clean and glorious.  He left his grave clothes behind in the tomb.  And so when he returns to raise the dead, the dead will be raised like him – clean and glorious.  At the Shout of God, we will come forth in victory and righteousness to the new life God has prepared for us.



John Walton on Genesis – part 2

The main theme of Walton’s treatment is that Genesis 1 is not about the material origins of the universe. (He holds to the idea that God created all things, but not from this text.)  Instead, Genesis one is about assigning functions.  Those things, such as the sea and the desert (in ancient thought) that were wild and uncontrolled were non-existant in a sense. So God gave functions.  So then light is created as day and night, which has the function to divide time and seasons. 

this is a short and dirty summary.  However, what I find intriguing is that this is how I have come to teach Genesis 1.  First of all there are a wide variety of opinions from young earth to theistic evolution among peole who love the scriptures.  Second, it does not seem that Genesis 1 was written to settle the debate about origins (or it might be settled by now.)  However it is clear that Genesis 1 talks about material things (they are good), the role of humanity (to rule, to tend, to multiply), if we include Genesis 2, the role of gender (towards marriage and multiplication), the sun, moon and stars (objects not god, to mark time not to be worshipped) and so forth.

It makes sense that Genesis 1 is about “how should we live” rather than “how does the universe work”.  And one of the functions of humanity is to discover and develop the capacities of the world – what for a long time has been called the cultural mandate.  Art, technology, human organization, agriculture, zoology, and many other fields of knowledge show that humanity was created with this function in mind.

Ancient Stones – Proverbs 22:28

“Don’t move the ancient boundary markers, put in place by your ancestors.”  Pv 22:28

See this article on –


MIYAKO, Japan – Modern sea walls failed to protect coastal towns from Japan’s destructive tsunami last month. But in the hamlet of Aneyoshi, a single centuries-old tablet saved the day.

 “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the stone slab reads. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”

 It was advice the dozen or so households of Aneyoshi heeded, and their homes emerged unscathed from a disaster that flattened low-lying communities elsewhere and killed thousands along Japan’s northeastern shore.

 Hundreds of such markers dot the coastline, some more than 600 years old. Collectively they form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts along major fault lines have made it a repeated target of earthquakes and tsunamis over the centuries.

 The markers don’t all indicate where it’s safe to build. Some simply stand — or stood, washed away by the tsunami — as daily reminders of the risk. “If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis,” reads one. In the bustle of modern life, many forgot.

“The Lost World of Genesis One” – John Walton

I am starting a new book.  John Walton teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College.  He has several writings on the meaning of Genesis 1, the most accessible so far is probably this book “The Lost World of Genesis One”.  I have just begun to read it, but it is so far a case study in how to do a fresh read of scripture.

Walton wants us to remember that the Bible was not written to us, but to ancient Israel.  So we need to do what we can to listen to what it was saying then – with careful translation of both text and culture.  He says we need to leave aside our modern questions and our own framework and listen to what the text was saying.

the book comes with 18 propositions.  #1 is “Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology.”  So while we hold the Bible to be distinctly the word of God, it was written in the framework of the Ancient Near East.  He rejects “concordism” which tries to tie the Biblical account to science.  “Which science?” he asks, since science is always changing.

I have as yet no conclusions, only interest in the concept.

Long passage; two languages

So what about preaching with translation with a long story?

We are in John 9, the man born blind.  It is a long story that would be difficult to read in both languages, either all or once or piece by piece.

Solution:  retell it as a story.

It is a story after all, a true one, and everyone likes stories.

Let’s see how this works.