Trust is something we are asked continually to do in the New Testament, though we translate the word “trust” as “belief.” Belief feels abstract, but trust is personal. One place where we run into the problem of trust is the Bible itself, but even more when it comes to Jesus. Do you trust what Jesus has to say about God, the world, you, and himself? This question may be more difficult even than “Have you been born again?”
Trust Jesus. He tells us that God loves us and wants us to be made new, to have his Spirit within us to live as his children. Jesus tells us how to live and what to do. It is pretty simple, really, but it is not easy.
A couple of these passages are not simple exactly. They are complex and layered stories that need thought and attention. Only occasionally does a little historical knowledge help.
This last week I talked about Mary Coloe’s connections between Jesus’s words about the Water and the Spirit and the temple. The Water and Blood that flowed down from the altar in the cleansing with spring water at the Festival of Booths will flow again from the side of Jesus on the cross when the soldier pierces him to be sure he is dead. He becomes our temple, and the cleansing of his sins is our actually our sins being cleansed.
We all know that we need cleansing from sins. I know I do. We may not talk about them in public, and in private we may excuse them, but we all have sins. And we all have sin, that condition of humanity of having separated ourselves from God and his purpose. We often hear or think about that in sin-debt comparisons with Jesus paying our debt to sin. There are some great gospel songs along that line.
But what I want to offer to you tonight is the picture of Mary Coloe’s books that suggest along with other scholars that a better lens is the temple and the Passover. The temple because our sins are not merely taken up in an act of self-sacrifice, as Jesus takes on the role of temple victim by allowing himself to be killed to bear the sins of the city, nation, and world. This would be enough. But we are not only supplicants in this act, we become Levites sent out with the good news that in Christ Sin is conquered and death has no reign.
We are joined to Christ in Baptism (see last week) and so now we are the temple as the living Body of Christ, imbued with his Spirit, and living as he would live in our world, our lives.
We embody and practice that reality in the weekly Eucharist. We are rejoined with Christ when we take in his body and blood, whether we hold to physical claims or spiritual ones does not matter. We are one in Christ as we receive.
This was miraculous in the early church where strict rules of social order kept people apart, and so it is rightly celebrated and protected in the New Testament, see especially Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. The rule of the Eucharist that most concerned the early church teachers was keeping the aspect of everyone eating together and eating a common meal as a sign of being joined in community in Christ. Everyone equal in Christ, no matter their status in the social world.
Today, that is still the practice of communion. Every baptized Christian is welcome to receive communion in both kinds. In that act we are doing something declarative today as well. We are proclaiming that we belong to Christ and to one another. This is our first allegiance and identity. We remember what he has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection, overcoming death and the grave, and we look forward in hope to that day when all will eat and drink together on the Holy Mountain of the Lord. (see Isaiah 11)
Jesus was a historical person in a real place and time. We have recently discovered two Roman sources from the time of his life and just after that affirm that he was a Nazarean Jew who lived, performed miracles, and was crucified around 33 ad. We affirm in our faith that he is the Son of God just as he taught that he was the Son of Man.
Son of God is another multivalent phrase. It means that he came from God in a unique sense (a better translation of the Greek word behind only or only-begotten). We often point here to the virgin birth, but we should just as much point to his unique sinless (that is undivided) relationship with God, who perfectly represents the Father. The beginning of John’s Gospel tells us that he perfectly exegetes or reveals the Father to us, and that through the Spirit he gives us power to become the children of God. This means that through him our sins are forgiven, but more than that, we have life, new and abundant life in God.
We proclaim this every week in the creeds, in our prayers, and in our receiving communion together. This is our faith. This is what we trust in a world of doubt.
Reading for the Second Sunday in Lent, 15 March: John 3:1-17
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Reading for the Third Sunday in Lent, 22 March: John 4:5-42
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”