Friday, August 13, 2010

The Crafting of a Sermon - #9

Double rainbow over
Munson Park

I took a long walk with my sermon notes yesterday. I just slow-walked through the park that is across from our home. I felt God spoke some new things to me. I wrote them down.

Now I have shaped Sunday's sermon into the notes below. I am, in a few minutes, going to ride my bike to Lake Erie (Sterling State Park) and ponder these notes, plus (I think) swim in the lake.

At this point in my sermon prep I have:

1. Meditated and soaked in the scriptures I will preach on.
2. Gone to three "John" commentaries that I respect.
3. Prayer-walked with my sermon notes, and received additional insights and revelations.
4. Put together those into the form below, which basically has 4 major sections:
a. Mary's deep, mourning grief. Her great loss. She's an exile who is remaining an exile.
b. The "recognition scene."
c. The new, stunning releationship Mary now has with Jesus ("My God and your God...")
d. The situation turns from grave robbery to the invasion of God's power.

After I go over the notes below, I may check out some other commentaries, using Google books to look at D.A. Carson, Jerome Neyrey, Ridderbos, Marianne Meye Thompson, Bauckham, et. al. I usually do this after much preliminary praying and studying and listening to God.

Finally, I may check out some other resources, like how other pastors have preached these verses. Sometimes that adds a nugget of wisdom to what God is putting together in my heart.

And, it has often happened that the message I had planned on giving changes as it is given on Sunday morning. I'm always open to that. But note that this is not "winging it" or "flying my the seat of my pants" (an odd metaphor, no?). It's precisely the hard prayer-and-study work I've done prior to the preaching moment that allows God's Spirit to be creative through me.


August 15, 2010

Today is Easter Sunday at Redeemer! Jesus is risen!

John 20:10 - 10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying.

Mary of Magdala… is wailing… is in deep mourning… for Jesus… and all she has lost.

• The disciples went back to their homes. Mary of Magdala stood outside the tomb crying. The term κλαίω (klaio) "denotes the loud wailing typical of people in the Ancient Near East." (Kostenberger, John, 567) Mary is wailing outside the tomb. (Note: I took two years of biblical Greek while in seminary. I know enough Greek to look words up, understand and read some sentences, but because I have not kept up with my Greek it's not what it could be. Here's the Greek Bible website I use.)

Mary of Magdala is wailing, not because Jesus has died, but because his body has disappeared. "Abuse of the dead was considered an abhorrent offense." (Ib.)

She was at the cross with Jesus. She saw him dying… she saw him die… she heard his words…

She was at the tomb… when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body in the tomb.
Now his body is missing. Someone, she is certain, has stolen his body.

Mary is sobbing… grief-filled… at this loss.

She is heartbroken. She thinks the body has been stolen. She doesn't know where Jesus' body is.

She refers to Jesus as "my Lord."

Now I've got a lot of thoughts going through me. How would I feel if Linda died, was buried, and grave-robbers stole her body?

Even though she was dead I know I would feel for her. The body of the love of my life is in someone else's possession.

I feel violated. I also feel for her, though she does not feel at all. I'm angry and sad and concerned.

Mary has lost… her compass. Her Lord.

She’s lost her healer and deliverer.

Mary had been delivered… of “7 demons”… which probably means she had given herself over to demonic spiritual activity.

The demonic was Mary’s drug of choice.

The One who had delivered her and healed her and led her and spoken to her… the One she has been following beginning way up north in Galilee…

…How is she going to live without Him?

N.T. Wright calls Mary an “exile.”

"Normal" life is death-inevitable. Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse. Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks. Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)

Mary lives in the land of the dead… not the land of the living.

She lives in the land of holding on to dead bodies and placing them in tombs and collecting their bones after a year and placing the bones in an ossuary…

…that’s got the family name on it… and storing and caring for the ossuary.

If there is a land where this does not happen… then Mary is exiled from it.

For you and me… if Christ did not rise… then we’re just left crying over dead bodies and holding on to dead bodies.

John 20:10-12 - Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

Mary bends down… and again looks into the tomb. Maybe she just didn’t see his body?

When you’ve lost something… you say… “I know I looked there already… but I don’t know where else to look… so I’ll look again…”

N.T. Wright asks us to stand with Mary, peeking into the tomb. We bring our cares to these angels, saying... "They've taken away... my home... my husband... my children... my rights... my dignity... my hopes... my life. "They have taken away my master."

Angels appear to Mary. I spoke a few weeks ago about angels, as we've slow-cooked in the empty tomb stories. I believe in the existence of angels.

I always have… since that day… 40 years ago… When God came to me…

I know there are many who are Jesus-followers who struggle with the idea of angels and demons. I interpret that as a matter of our Eurocentric, Western enculturization.

In preaching I do not want to come at the text from a Cartesian or Humean worldview.

Mary "probably did not recognize" that the two white-garmented beings were angels.

Mary thinks she's talking to two ordinary people, and not to angels. She does not have a response of fear, which is typical of people when they see an angel.

When John writes that Mary saw two angels this does not imply that she recognized them as such.

But… they were wearing "white!" So what?

I wore white a few weeks ago on Sunday morning and no one said “Look – an angel!”

"Worshipers wore white or linen in worship services," and priests generally wore white linen. So it seems that the mere wearing of white is not evidence that the white-wearer is an angel.

Craig Keener writes: "The angels were at the head and feet of where Jesus had been, marking the holiness of the site of the resurrection."

John 10:13 – They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him."

Maybe the angels know? What the heck has happened to my Lord's body!!! She cries this out amidst tears and desperation. Jesus' body is missing. With a trace. I.e., with grave clothes intact. I know the feeling of losing something or someone precious. It's gone. It's a very weird feeling. It can be accompanied by fear if you think you've been robbed. Who would have done such a thing? Who could have done such a thing?

John 20:14 - At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

• Mary turns around and there stands the Missing One. Only she does not recognize him. How is this possible?

 When you are not at all expecting to see something you might not really "see" it even if it is right before your eyes. (I never bought into the idea that Superman could disguise himself from the entire world by merely putting on a pair of glasses. I know that if I put on glasses and walked around the house everyone + my dog would know who I am, and especially my dog.)

• Her eyes are flooded with tears, so physically maybe she doesn't see so clearly.

• Jesus’ body is transformed. It’s a “resurrection body.” Not a “resuscitated body” (like Lazarus’s body).

• The last time Mary saw Jesus, his body was a wreck… perhaps almost unrecognizable…

• EXAMPLE: The photo of Linda and me. All of you recognized Linda. Some of you asked who was that guy standing next to you?

• So I don’t find this surprising.

V. 15 - "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Mary thinks this man is the gardener. They have a little dialogue. Jesus goes with the dialogue. Why? Why doesn't he take of his glasses immediately and say "Mary, it's me, Superman!" Why this little game? Or perhaps: Why not? There's no logical inconsistency here. And maybe this is not a game at all? Maybe Jesus is breaking it to her slowly? After all, Jesus once cast 7 demons out of her. He knows what's in her heart and what she is capable of.

Mary thought Jesus was a "gardener." That makes sense, since the tomb was in a garden (the word can be better translated as "orchard," or "plantation").

We read, in John 20:15 - Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." Craig comments: "That Mary offers to carry Jesus away if the present burial site was inappropriate suggests great devotion; to protect his body from the dishonor of an unmarked or unmourned grave, she is willing to exert what, for Mary by herself, would have likely involved tremendous physical effort." (Ib., 1190)

It's early morning. Other mourners could be there. Gardeners attending to the grounds would have been the only other people around.

• "The one whose body she is seeking is asked for a solution to the mystery of the empty tomb." (Ib., 568) That would be like you coming up to me and asking me where I am. In all of this it's important to keep in mind how distressed Mary is. She has just been agonizing and wailing.

John 20:16 - Jesus said to her, "Mary."

Jesus then calls her by name. "Mary." Now, right now, I feel touched by this. It feels beautiful and loving to me. Whenever I feel something like this in preparation for preaching I take it seriously, as possible revelation from-God.

It’s like God is saying to me: "Preach this, John."

The way Jesus says her name... it's unique. The fact that he addresses her by name... it's personal and intimate. However she hears this, it is enough and dead-on. Jesus says "Mary" and it's like turning on a light switch. It's the illuminative moment. Now I am thinking this. A person today thinks Jesus is not real, and then turns around and it's him and he calls their name, and they know it's him because of the way he says their name. It's a revelation of his real presence happening in the place of total non-expectation. I like this very much! In fact, it happened at my conversion. One moment I didn't believe in a God who was experientially with us; the next moment my world is rocked and I meet Him. (I am now thinking of checking out a book I have called Conversions, and re-reading some of them, looking at these kind of sudden revelation-moments that come in the land of zero expectations.)

Craig Keener calls Mary's encounter with Jesus one of several "recognition scenes" in the Gospel of John. (Ib., 1189) I like this. This is a "My Lord and my God!" moment. It's dramatic. The eyes widen. The heart beats faster.

Jesus reveals his identity to Mary by simply revealing her name to her. "Mary." Jesus has already said that "his own sheep would recognize his voice, especially when he called them by name (10:3-5)." (Ib., 1190-1191) This is a good connection. Thank you for commentaries (again)! it seems simple, but I might not have noticed it. This seems important to me, since I find myself touched when Jesus speaks "Mary," and that becomes the moment of recognition.

Craig points out that God has a history of calling people by name. For example:

• Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (Genesis 22:1)

• The angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. (Gen. 22:11)

• And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!"

"Here I am," he replied. (Gen. 46:2)

• When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." (Exodus 3:4)

• The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sam. 3:10)

• "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things... (Luke 10:41)

• "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. (Luke 22:31)

• He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4)

Craig writes: "In Scripture and in other early Jewish sources, God often secured his people's attention by calling them by name, often a double name." (Ib.) OK. But I call a lot of people by name. This seems important to me. Yet I imagine myself listening to a sermon that points out some kind of significance in calling a person by name. I might wonder, "What's the uniqueness about that?" Yet I remain touched, when Jesus says "Mary." My own father, at the end of his life, called me by name when he said, "John I love you." I can barely write that sentence... it means so very much to me... that he spoke my name.. the name he had given me. It feels far more powerful than had he left my name out and simply said "I love you." That would have been great. Yet the addition of my name, the personalization of this encounter, takes the words "I love you" out of the ballpark. What was already a home run has become a 700 foot home run. I am thinking something like this. I'm thinking about the importance of names and naming in ancient Hebrew culture.

I think I am so very touched by what Jesus does here… because I was once spiritually fatherless, a stranger with no hope… [that’s the “exile” thing]…

…Your kindness wakened me, wakened me from my sleep…

Personally, Jesus called my name. I am now on a first-name basis with Jesus.

Important – you cannot force this on people!

This is the tender, intimate moment. Jesus says, "Mary." Mary answers, "Rabbouni!"

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

John writes the Aramaic word, which serves to "create a heightened sense of intimacy." (Ib.) Kostenberger says that, because Mary calls Jesus "Teacher," she has not yet come to terms with the reality of Jesus' resurrection. Jesus is her teacher, but he is far more than that. We must keep in mind the fact that Jesus had saved Mary from a "dire condition." (Ib.; when Jesus cast out 7 demons)

Mary responds, very personally, with the words "my teacher." That's more intimate than simply "teacher." It's like "I am my beloved's and he is mine..." Mary is saying, "You, Jesus, are my guide, my instructor, my Rabbi... you belong to me... you are the one I take direction from... you are the one in whom I place my trust... You are my mentor... my Sherpa... my platoon leader... my coach... my Shepherd..."

EXAMPLE: A friend told me that once, in the church they were in, there was a time of worship & ministry at the altar…

She went forward. Then she had what she can only describe as a powerful, personal encounter with Jesus… right there… so that it was almost as if she saw Jesus with her own eyes.

It was so real, so startling, that her immediate response was: “Jesus, what are you doing here in church!”

17Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

"Jesus commissions Mary as his agent - although first-century Palestinian Jews rarely appear to have used women as agents - to his "brothers" (20:17)." (Keener, John, 1191) By "brothers" Jesus does not mean his physical brothers. Jesus' physical brothers did not believe him (John 7:5). Now, those who believed in Jesus were his "brothers" (see Mark 3:34).

Jesus' use of "my Father and your Father, my God and your God" is "fictive kinship language." (Ib.) It was "a way of emphasizing a common bond." (Ib.) It's a way for Jesus to say, "Mary, you are in my family!" This is a huge statement, and I cannot just pass it by.

EXAMPLE: I'm now thinking of my neighbor Dave, who is a very cool guy and a great neighbor. He plants a huge garden every summer that produces beans and peppers and other delicacies, to include the summer delicacy of all delicacies, tomatoes. Linda and I LOVE tomatoes fresh from the garden. Dave has told me, re. his garden, "John, everything I have is yours." So, just a few hours ago, I walked back to Dave's garden... no, it's my garden, too, since Dave has told me that everything of his is mine..., and picked fresh tomatoes and fresh hot peppers and a green pepper, right off the vine.

“My garden is your garden.” "My tomatoes are your tomatoes."

What's cool and amazing about that is I have done nothing to grow Dave's garden. But I am the recipient of its bounty. When Jesus tells Mary that he's returning to "my Father and your Father," it says she is the recipient of all that the Father has for Jesus. That seems big to me.

Jesus tells Mary, "Don't hold on to me." Or: "Don't touch me." "Don't embrace me physically." Craig Keener says that "touch" probably refers to "embrace."

I assume, as many scholars assume…, that Mary of Magdala has grabbed hold of Jesus… maybe she’s embracing his feet…

…clutching his hands…

Craig Keener says that the Greek wording suggests the translation as: "Stop touching me," or "Stop attempting to touch me," rather than "Don't touch me." Jesus' command is probably best translated as: "Stop holding on to me."

Which would imply, of course, that Mary was already holding on to Jesus' physical body.

Keener writes: "More than likely Jesus simply places a temporal limitation on Mary's embrace or wish to embrace: soon Jesus must ascend, so the post-resurrection rendezvous Jesus promised must be carried out urgently." (Ib.)

Like - "Stop holding on to me, because I've got things to do, like ascend to the Father who is, btw Mary, your Father as well."

Maybe Jesus is counseling Mary "not to become excessively attached to his physical presence... In any case, Mary seems to understand Jesus' message correctly, for she devotes herself immediately to bearing his message." (Ib., 1194)

Kostenberger interprets Jesus' words "Don't hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father," to refer to "the awkwardness that surrounds the interim between the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit." (Ib., 569) This is a transition period. The disciples are not to act like it's the good old days with Jesus. They cannot get a hold of "the nature of the new spiritual relationship with their Lord that soon will be mediated to them by the Holy Spirit." (Ib.)

• Had Mary already touched Jesus? Keener believes so. Scholars have debated this. Pause now and note: Scholars have so studied the Gospels in the minutest details that they've even spent big time effort trying to decide whether or not Mary of Magdala had already physically touched Jesus. If so, then Keener makes sense. Witherington, Raymond Brown, et. al. also think so. So... when Jesus said "Do not hold on to me," he said this because Mary was at that time holding on to him.

• Jesus says what he says because his permanent being-with her (abiding with her) in the near future is not to be physical, but in the Spirit.

• Jesus has not yet ascended. Kostenberger writes: "Jesus is not yet in an 'ascended' state; his process of glorification has not yet been completed. By salvation-historical necessity, Jesus must move on; the Spirit will take his place." (Ib., 570) This is helpful. I'll ponder it and re-word it, translating the scholarly language into language most will understand. This is but one of the ongoing challenges of preaching; viz., to take deep ideas and make them available to the common person. ("Common person" does not mean "ignorant person," but rather, in this case, "theologically untrained person," or non-scholar in this area.)

• For Jesus this is not the time for holding on to him; it's "not the time for sentimentalities." (Ib., 570) It's time for action. Jesus entrusts Mary with this very important message. Now watch how Kostenberger puts this: "The message to be conveyed by Mary to Jesus' disciples is that Jesus is 'in the process of ascending' to God the Father. That's beautiful! And, to be explained...

Jesus, in our passage of concern, gives Mary of Magdala a "stunning invitation." There she is, weeping, mourning. She is an exile. All exiles are now invited to join her. "Normal" life is death-inevitable. Mary's teacher is dead, and they have stolen his dead body. So things are worse, as if they could be any worse. Mary represents all people who have wept over this death-world that, frankly, at times just plain sucks. Here we have "the world's grief, Israel's grief, concentrated in Mary's grief." (Ib., 146)


Andreas Kostenberger writes: "In what follows the Johannine narrative turns the attention away from the possibility of grave robbers to the reality of the invasion of God's power, with angels adduced as witnesses to the activity of the Father." (Ib.)

Jesus asks her, "Who are you looking for?" Does Mary know? Yes, and no. Yes, of course, she knows Jesus. But Jesus is not alive "with a new sort of life, the like of which we'd never seen before." Wright then invites us. "Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you've brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today." (Ib., 146)

From grave robbery to an invasion of God's power - nice!