Sunday, May 10, 2015

Public and Secret

Public and Secret
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 10, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 7: 1-13
Deuteronomy 13:1-11
This morning's anthem. . . . 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. 2 Now the Jews’ feast of Tabernacles was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. 4 For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his brothers did not believe in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. 8 Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 So saying, he remained in Galilee.
10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. 11 The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” 12 And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” 13 Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.[1]

I decided that it was time to leave chapter 6 behind, not because it was troubling so much, but that it was repetitive, and I talked about most of it last week. The big glaring detail from it is that at the beginning of the chapter Jesus feeds 5000 people, and they are all amazed, filled, in awe of Jesus, they want him to be their king, they want to force him to be their king. . . but then they seem to ignore him walking on the water, and by the end of the chapter, Jesus speaks, challenges the crowds, and then they all disappear, it was the talk about eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood that was so challenging to them, and the last straw, was it that they were taking it too literally, did they not have a concept of communion like we do, or is there something more to that story that we miss? We talked about that issue last week to some extent in Sunday School, but really did not come to any viable conclusion. But in the end, in the span of just chapter 6 Jesus goes from 5000 would be followers  back to 12, and then John goes out of his way to tell us, or remind us that one of these disciples is from the devil, and will betray Jesus. . . John's gospel does not have a lot of love for Judas.
Now we move on to chapter 7, and no miracle opens up the chapter, for the first time since the beginning of the gospel we have a new chapter opening up and no sign from Jesus. We are shifting into a new section of the gospel it would seem. . . so let's look at what we have here. We have secrets. . . now this isn't the first time that we have had secrets in the Gospel of John, remember Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, and remember there was the part about darkness and light, that the light of the world had come but the people preferred the darkness instead, and then there was people who want to keep things that they do in the dark a secret, but then the light comes and all is revealed. . . , but now we have Jesus being accused of being too secretive, and that he is hiding his light under a bushel as it were, for here we have Jesus' brothers telling him that he should go out of Galilee, but down to Judea because if he is doing things, it would be better for people to know about them. Stands to reason right, if you are doing great things you want people to see you, to know about it, so that you can get credit, and move the ball forward, fame buys followers and followers buy power. They say, "Don't work in secret, be known openly, if you are going to do these things let people know about it. . . but Jesus says to them, it is not my time. . . and this isn't the first time he has said this either, and the last time was also to family members. . . last time it was Mary at the wedding telling him to do something about the lack of wine, and he says, but mother it is not my time, and then he turns the water to wine. Now his brothers are asking him to do things, show people, get a move on, and he says it isn't my time. . . but what is interesting was that here it also says that they did not believe in him. . . his own brothers. . . does this mean that they are just baiting Jesus. . . echoes of Joseph and his brothers. . . perhaps. . . why do they want him to go to Judea, when there is obviously trouble waiting for Jesus there?
Quite interesting. . . but the secrecy does not end there. In the next paragraph, Jesus ends up going down to Judea after all. . . but it says he does it privately rather than publicly. . . again more hiding of what he is doing. . . and then it seems that the jury is out for the people on what they are supposed to think about Jesus. Some believe that he is leading the people astray, and some believe that he is a good man. . . but here again more secrets it says, that no one is willing to speak about him out loud because they are afraid. We have a culture of secrets emerging. . . one of danger, and fear, and mistrust, and lies and darkness, but yet Jesus is supposed to be the light of the world, but we get this notion that it is not, Jesus' time yet. Now we have the blessing of hindsight, which they say is 20/20, we know what happens, we know what Jesus' time means, we know about Calvary, and the cross, and all of that, the darkness of all of that, but the great shining light of Easter morning. . . we get to see the story for all of its glory, but imagine all the secrets, worry, and doubts surrounding Jesus here. Now he has just lost 5000 followers, a veritable army, and now he is secretly walking around Judea, and no one knows who is on what side, who is on Jesus' side, who is not, who thinks Jesus is a good man, and who thinks he is a false prophet leading the people astray, no one can speak or hear the truth. . . man it sounds familiar, it sounds a lot like our times. There is division and secrets, and people have opinions, but no one shares their true ones, unless  it is an extreme, or in the anonymity of the internet, but there is no building of coalition, no building of consensus, just secrets and darkness and division. . . but we believe the time for Jesus will come. It must if he is God. . .
But look at what these people are trying to understand. What Paula read this morning from the Old Testament I found to be really important. . . and I stumbled on it almost by accident. But it comes from Deuteronomy, the great sermon of Moses, and we have had a lot of parallels between Deuteronomy and John, as the division between these followers of Jesus and what John calls Jews continues to grow more and more on edge. Moses and the Law have shaped the culture, have given them their identity as a people in Diaspora for over 500 years. Moses told the people that these laws are important, that they should never be forsaken, that they are the mark of the favor of God, that the living within the promised land is based on following them, all of them, without question, even things like resting on the Sabbath, but Jesus has challenged that. . . . God gave the people through Moses bread from heaven, manna, in the desert for them to eat, and Jesus claims to be that bread, and he makes the distinction that Moses did not give the bread, God the Father did, he says that you think that you know your scriptures and know the laws of Moses, but if you did you would know me because the Law, the Torah, the books of Moses, the preaching of Moses all points to me. . . books like Deuteronomy.. . . I am the one spoken of by the prophets, it is quite a claim, especially in light of what Paula read this morning from that very book, and these words on secrets. . . I did a search on the word "secret" in the Old Testament, and got this passage as an important hit:
1 “If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder

I don't know like feeding the multitude or walking on water, or seeing into your souls, speaking the truth. . . etc.
which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’

Jesus takes it one further, he says follow me I am God, I am the son of God, God's annointed,

 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4

You can't really blame them, it is almost as if Moses is speaking about Jesus, but not in a good way and not in the way Jesus seems to say. . .

You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death,

On a cross perhaps?

because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

Now check this out it gets much more intense, because here is the family part, and here is the secrecy part. .  .

6 “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 some of the gods of the peoples that are round about you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, 8 you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him; 9 but you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 11 And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.[2]

So Jesus' brothers are trying to get Jesus to not do things in secret. . . they seem to me are appealing right here to this passage from Deuteronomy. . . If we are supposed to believe you Jesus, you shouldn't be doing this in secret, only a false prophet would do it in secret. . . so you must be. . .and so it says that even his own brothers do not believe him.
It is easy for us as Christians now, with two thousand years of history, with the Resurrected Jesus running wild in the world, being present with us, being for us the living bread and blood, as we sing songs of praise, but you can almost see where the Jews were coming from here. But this is the interesting part. . .Jesus starts chapter 6 very publicly feeding 5000 people in the day light by the edge of the sea, but by the end of the chapter there were only twelve. Here in chapter 7 he begins very privately, but by the end of this chapter, here verse 40 of this chapter
40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This is really the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” [3]

There is a major difference. . . not let us make him king, but this is the Christ. . . but there were no miracles, no signs, and much of it was done in private. . . Curiouser and curioser. . . Can we say then that chapter 6 is a failure on Jesus’ part because it leaves him with so few followers, and that chapter 7 is a real success because it leaves him with more? Many in today’s world may wish to see it like that – that more people equals better church and therefore success, but instead is the only thing that matters this strange line, “my time has not yet come?” If that is the case, how are we supposed to judge success?
Thanks be to God. . .Amen.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 7:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Dt 13:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[3]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 7:40). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.