Sermon for January 6, 2019

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton
January 6, 2019

Scripture: John 8:12-20; John 1:1-19

Like any book, Gospels in the Bible have intended audiences and intended messages. They all tell the story of Jesus, but they are all different. Some include almost exactly the same version of certain events, other events occur in multiple Gospels and have some similarity – but are also distinct, and some things are unique to a particular Gospel. So while all the Gospels clearly want to document the life and times of Jesus, the Gospel of John is very interested in documenting the life and times of Jesus with emphasizing a specific detail – the divinity of Jesus.

John 20:30-32 states the purpose for the “book:”

Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing you may have life in his name.

For John, it is very important for his readers to know that Jesus is divine. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Christ – remember Christ is a title. Jesus is the messiah that the Jewish scriptures foretold.

This is the central issue. Is Jesus the one or isn’t he? Scholars note that the Gospel of John seems to be written by a Jew and addressed to other Jews. Jesus was a Jew. Jesus didn’t walk around saying forget Judaism and follow me. Instead he walked around saying practice Judaism in a new way, follow me and learn how. Come and see. It’s unclear to me if Jesus believed he was the messiah. But clearly those who continued to follow him after his death believed he was. And so eventually the followers of Jesus take on a new distinct religious identity and are no longer Jewish.

In the Christian Calendar, 12 days after the birth of Jesus we mark epiphany. Epiphany traditionally celebrates the magi visiting Jesus and revealing his divine identity to the world. So while this morning’s scripture reading is not a traditional reading for Epiphany, it fits the bill. This morning’s reading focuses on the identity of Jesus.

This part of the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees particularly caught my attention, John 8:12-13:
Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.”

The Pharisees are the experts on the Jewish law and so the statement about Jesus’ testimony not being valid refers to the specifics of the law. Remember that the beginning of the Gospel of John talks about the Word being with God and the Word having the light that gave life. This is the very light that Jesus is claiming. Jesus is claiming to be God and the Pharisees are crying foul – this can’t be right Jesus, you are not following the rules.

I have a friend who is at the end of her medical residency and is faced with making a choice between two really great job opportunities. She called me to talk about how she might go about making the decision. We both have scientific backgrounds, so I started with the obvious, have you made a list of the pros and cons? Yes. Have you weighted the factors? Yes. After doing that analysis, do you have a winner. No.

She had done all of that, but funny enough the two options were basically even after this exercise. And then she said to me – what about discernment, what about God? There is no checklist for discernment. Rather discernment is time spent listening for what bubbles up when you are quiet. What speaks to you from within. You can’t coax it. You can’t tell it when to appear or how you want it. All you can do is try to create conditions that are conducive to receiving it and then you wait. And if you do happen to receive something, to discern something – you are the only witness. No one else can vouch for what you now know. You are the only witness.
I have to say, I like the Pharisees idea of having other witnesses to verify something much better. And yet, in this interaction with the Pharisees Jesus is clear – not everything has multiple witnesses. And while we, of course, are not God, I don’t believe that Jesus is unique in being able to access light within. I believe that access is part of what is available to us because we are created in God’s image. We can have this kind of knowledge, it can be true, and the process can be a bit of a mystery.

I prefer sure things. I prefer ideas that have been well vetted and extra double triple verified. But this morning’s scripture reminds me that not everything in life is like that. Sometimes we are nudged by God’s still small voice and God is speaking to us alone. And as I considered the scripture I wondered, why am I so reluctant to follow my own instincts. Why am I so desperate for witnesses, for others to verify. Clearly, I’m not a Pharisee, I’m not looking to fulfill a religious law – and yet, I am often hesitant to follow what is likely God’s light.

In The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, Ruiz talks about the fog that clouds our internal judgment. The fog is made up of all of the rules that cultures have set up regarding what is right and what is wrong. Ruiz reminds readers that these rules are cultural constructions – they are not universally definitive. And yet, when we decide how we will act in the world, often our actions are affected by the fog. While our center, our gut, the divine may be whispering to us to do one thing – too often the fog leads us astray. The fog makes me want others to verify. The fog tells me what others think is as important or more important than how I might be being led by God.

This morning’s scripture is a reminder that the light can cut through the fog and leads us in God’s ways. We may be met with resistance. We may be scared. But may the power of Epiphany inspire us to take a risk and follow the illumination. May God bless us on the journey.