Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fathers, Places, and Freedom

Fathers, Places, and Freedom
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 7, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 8: 31-38

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.
Amen.

Now deciding where to set the boundaries of this passage we are studying this morning was difficult. In some ways you want to keep it short so it can be focused, but in other ways you don't want to leave anything out of the context that may be important. This problem , I have found, since we began this study back in January, is particularly an issue in the Gospel of John, where everything is related and connected in terms of the overall rhetorical and theological message of the gospel. Unlike the other gospels that are set up Chronologically, John's is set up in a very different way, connected by idea and argument much more so than tied to events. What also is important, and I want to bring this out this morning, is the literary and linguistic character of the gospel that is often lost in translation. I want to this morning study the second half of chapter 8 in its entirety because here in chapter 8, we see again Jesus pushing the issue on exactly who he is, what his mission is, and how he has been sent by the father. These are the issues at question again, just like they have been at question throughout. Here again they reach the head of anger and violence, for Chapter 8 closes with "So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple." We are dealing with really difficult teaching, Jesus holding the line amidst real harsh criticism, that is getting worse and worse, to say the least. . . if you have your Bibles with you, or there are some pew Bibles around, keep a finger on this page because you might want to look back at the text. . .  and I'll be referencing beyond what I read here, but all of the issues that are raised in the chapter are raised in these first few verses, so I wanted to start here before going forward, so John 8: 31-38

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”z
[1]
I decided to title this sermon Fathers, Places, and Truth, because those are the three issues raised here. Jesus starts with  the famous line, "The Truth will Set you Free. . . . " and from this the issues begin. The people ask, set us free from what, we are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. . . . Not even the Romans I would guess? But there we are introduced somewhat to the question of Fatherhood, ancestry, children of Abraham, but Jesus clarifies, and says no I mean free from sin. . . and then goes further and starts to talk about places. . . . Slaves and their places. So these three issues I want to talk about this morning: Fathers, Places, and Freedom vs. Slavery in terms of Sin. Three very strange things to be brought together, but Jesus does bring them all together here in this series of speeches, and the real depth is found when you look at the original language of the gospel because the parallels go much deeper than is seen in English.
Now on the surface, when I read it in English earlier in the week, I was like, wow here they are again, taking Jesus literally, and missing the point, just like back with Nicodemus and the born again, saying how can he go into the womb again. . . Here we have a problem based on fathers. Remember they are having trouble with the slavery idea. . . and then the idea of Abraham as their Father. . . then God as their Father. . . check it out, picking up with verse 39:
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doingaa what Abraham did, 40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. 51 Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ 55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”ab 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
[2]
So let's deal with the Father's first. . . did you keep a tally of how many father possibilities there are being thrown around by them here? First you have Abraham, then God the Father, then the Devil, who in turn is called a Father of lies. And they also accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan and having a demon. . . so that would include another Father per say, and we haven't even talked about Joseph yet. Now to us on the outset we all know that Jesus is talking about God the Father, when he is talking about the Father, and we wonder why the Jews would have so much confusion, but there in the real time,  you could almost see where their confusion would come from, especially since they are already pushed in their religious beliefs to the edge, and have reason to be on the extra defensive against Jesus. Again he is either a crazy man with a Demon, or is telling the truth and is the Son of God. And this behind this question of Father's is identity and mission. . . in their culture who your father is, what tribe you come from, what ethnic background you have is closely tied to fathers and sons. Your way through the world is very much determined by who your father is and has been, because it is all wrapped up in tradition. So being a Son of Abraham says something, or closer a son of a Samaritan, a son of a Carpenter, the son of David, the Son of man, and Jesus claiming to be the son of God, would very much shape his status, his message, and how he was to be seen by the people. Likewise being a accused as the son of the devil, having a demon, would also put Jesus in a definite and inescapable place.
And that is connected to what I found most interesting in the reading, not in Jesus and the peoples' descriptions of Father's and identity, although that is certainly important and related, but instead his descriptions of place because place is really important, and it is something that could really be missed because it is so basic to us, that we don't even question it, and I didn't really notice it either in my drive-by English initial reading, but when I slowed down and started looking at the original Greek text I found some details that I found really interesting, important, and profound to the argument and points that John the Evangelist is making. In one aspect, who your father is determines your place. . . and that makes sense from a Jewish aspect. Their identity, their religious status, and even their position as righteous is connected to their ancestry and their adherence to the law. Jesus is challenging this position, and this special place.
Let's look back again to the second half of our text, verses 34-38.
34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”z

So you see all of the place words in there, you have - - "permanent place - in the household" -- the son has a "place there forever" then  later - - "there is no place in you for my word" and then "Father's presence." The first two, permanent place, and place there forever are both the same word, "meno", which means to live and abide, but "household" is "oikos". . ., which is an interesting word, meaning home, our English word economy comes from this. . . , and maybe the most important parallel is that it is the word used in the 23rd Psalm in the Greek translation, for "house of the Lord", so you can see the parallels forming, and "there is no place" is a different word entirely, "choreo" which means to move forward, advance. . ., and that is good because it would be hard to understand the concept of place in what Jesus says, there is no place, "choreo" in my Word, that Logos, word we remember from the first chapter. . .
Now that is all pretty technical stuff, but it comes down to a real specific claim, and actually makes more sense in Greek than it does in English. . . Jesus is saying, it is the truth that sets someone free, makes someone free, free from what, free from sin. . . why would you need to be free from sin. . . because as a slave you have no place in the household, you work in the household, but you are not a part of the household, as a slave to sin, you work and work, but never advance, never get anywhere. . . you have no place in God's house, you cannot dwell in the house of the Lord forever. . . but the truth sets  you free from that, giving you a place, and Jesus is claiming to be that truth, coming directly from the presence of the Lord to let us know, and therefore such truth gives advancement, a place in the Word, advancement from slavery to a real place in the household of God. These connections are somewhat lost in the clunkiness of literal English translation. These are major claims also because not only is oikos from the 23rd Psalm but it is also connected to being within the Lord's protection in general. . . what God does when he creates the world is he divides the waters setting up barriers and creating a space for us to live in. . . this place is in the presence of God. . . . so you see place is really important, place, and space, and household, and presence. . . these are the important things that God the Father brings into existence, and being connected to the Father through the Son is the ticket to them, it is the truth, and as Jesus says the truth shall set you free.
We spent alot of time last week talking about truth, and finding truth. Jesus claims to be the light of the world, the source of all knowledge. Jesus also claims to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. . . which shall set us free. And Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd, taking care of his sheep within the sheepfold, caring for us in his place. These are the claims that Jesus makes. . . he says it is the truth. . . the simple way to be affected by the truth is simply to believe, else is darkness. So the big question remains, why would such a message cause people to pick up a stone?



z Other ancient authorities read you do what you have heard from your father
[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 8:31-38). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
aa Other ancient authorities read If you are Abraham’s children, then do
ab Other ancient authorities read has Abraham seen you?
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 8:39-59). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
z Other ancient authorities read you do what you have heard from your father