The Well-Remembered Word: Remembering the Promise of the Spirit

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

            This is the last sermon in a series called the Well-Remembered Word and I’m almost sorry to see it come to an end.  I have enjoyed thinking about how some of these biblical characters might have shared their memories of Jesus long after his ascension.  We’ve heard from Mary Magdalene, Doubting Thomas, those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the Apostle John—twice.  We’re actually going to hear from him one last time because he has something to say that may prepare us perfectly for the Day of Pentecost, two weeks from now.  And so, to close out the series, let’s welcome back the Beloved Disciple!


            Thank you.  And thank you for staying until the very end of this conference.  We’ve heard moving testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection and meaningful remembrances of his famous last words.  We could leave right now.  But I hope you will stay, because in closing I want to share with you one of the very last things Jesus said to us in that upper room.  He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” although for him there was always ever only one.  There were the Ten Commandments, of course, and all the other commandments that came along later.  There was Jesus’ insistence that the entirety of the Law and the Prophets could be summed up in the command to love God and love others.  But there was only one commandment that Jesus, himself, gave us, and you know which one it was: it was the command to love one another as he had loved us.  “If you love me,” he said, “you will love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” 

            “Do that,” he said.  It wasn’t a suggestion; it was a commandment.  But he also said, “If you do that, then I will do this: I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”  Another Advocate.  Those are the words I clung to on that night when Jesus was telling us goodbye, words I want us to look at a little more closely today, beginning with that second one.

            Advocate is not a bad translation.  If you were going to court you might want to have an advocate—a lawyer—who would stand beside you and plead your case.  But the English word advocate doesn’t begin to touch the depth and meaning of the Greek word Paraclete.  That’s the one I used when I wrote my Gospel, and it was only the closest word I could find to what Jesus implied in that promise.  Because Paraclete comes from the verb kaleo, which means “to call.”  Parakaleo means “to call alongside.”  And Paraclete is the noun form of the verb:  it’s the person you call alongside yourself in a time of need. 

Think about it like this.  When you were a child and had a bad dream that woke you up in the middle of the night, who did you call?  Your mother, right?  And when you were older, and some bully was picking on you on at school, who did you call?  Your teacher, right?  But now, now that you are an adult, who do you call when you are in trouble, when you are lonely, or sad, or afraid?  You may not know who to call and maybe that’s why Jesus said, “I’m going to ask the Father to give you a Paraclete: someone you can call alongside yourself when you are in trouble, when you need some help.”  But get this: Jesus didn’t only say he was going to ask the Father to give us a Paraclete; he said he was going to ask him to give us another Paraclete, and that requires further explanation.

There are two Greek words for “other.”  One is allos and the other is heteros.  Allos means another of the same kind; heteros means another of a different kind.  When Jesus said he would ask the Father to send us another Advocate he used an Aramaic word that had the same meaning as allos.  I don’t know what that says to you, but what it said to me on that night was that Jesus was the first Paraclete, and that if we would love him and love one another he would ask the Father to send us another Paraclete of the same kind!  In other words, whatever Jesus had been to us this new Paraclete would also be, but this time it wasn’t going to be temporary; this Paraclete wasn’t going to stay with us a few years and then disappear; this Paraclete was going to be with us forever. 

He was talking about the Holy Spirit.

If I can be honest, we were a little disappointed at first, because we had gotten used to having Jesus with us, and Jesus was God-in-the-flesh.  We could see him, we could touch him, we could hear his voice.  You can’t do that with a spirit.  But, as we would learn in the next 24 hours, you also can’t kill a spirit.  You can’t strip it and beat it and nail it to a cross.  That’s what they did to Jesus and I was right there when it happened.  I was standing at the foot of the cross.  I saw the whole thing, which means that I watched him die.  In my Gospel I described it like this: “[Jesus] said, ‘It is finished.’  Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  All I meant when I wrote it was that he let out his final breath, because in Greek the word for “spirit” and “breath” is the same word.  But since then I have wondered if there was something more going on: if when he let out his last breath he was actually letting out the Holy Spirit, as if that’s what had filled him up throughout his earthly ministry and given him his extraordinary wisdom and power.  I’ve wondered if that Spirit roamed the earth over the next couple of days, no longer contained in the person of Jesus, until early on the first day of the week the Father roused his only begotten Son from the deep sleep of death and filled his lungs once more with that life-giving Spirit, so that he could get up, and unwind the cloth from around his head, and strip off his grave clothes, and roll back the stone and step out into the cool, damp darkness of the garden.

He wasn’t there when I got there.  You may remember that part of the story: how Mary went to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark, and when she didn’t find Jesus she came running back to tell us the news.  She thought that someone had stolen his body.  Peter and I jumped up and ran to the tomb, and when we got there I looked inside, but all I saw was his empty grave clothes and the cloth that had been wrapped around his head, rolled up and lying in a separate place by itself.  Peter pushed past me and went on in, headstrong as ever, and then I went in, and as soon as I was inside I knew what had happened: I knew that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Or maybe I should say I believed he had risen, but my belief was so strong you could not have convinced me otherwise.  I knew, in my heart, that the Spirit of Love was alive in this world, and that Jesus was no longer dead.

Mary saw him.  Later that day, after Peter and I had gone back to the upper room, she saw him, in the garden, and came running back to tell us.  I wasn’t even surprised.  Overjoyed, yes, and vindicated, in one of those “I told you so!” kind of ways, but not surprised.  And then that night he came through locked doors to be with us.  One minute he wasn’t there and the next minute he was.  He held up one nail-scarred hand and said, “Shalom,” and that’s all it took.  That’s when we knew it was really him.  We were so relieved and happy!  Some of us were jumping up and down so that he had to say, “Peace!” again, this time almost laughing.  But then he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  It was a commission, and it held the hint of danger.  We saw what they had done to him.  If he sent us as the Father had sent him, and if they did to us to what they had done to him, none of us was going to make it out alive.  I think he saw the anxious looks on our faces.  I think he could tell we needed help.  So, he breathed on us and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  But this time he didn’t give it up, he didn’t even give it away.  He simply shared the Holy Spirit with us.  And if you’re thinking that makes us special, you’re right.  Others have received the Spirit in other ways.  You may have received it in another way.  But we received it from Jesus himself, and even as we did we could tell how much like him it was, as if all the things he had been to us his Spirit would now be.

The prologue of my Gospel says that in the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God, that he was in the beginning with God and all things were made through him, but a few verses later it says the Word became flesh and lived among us.  Some people have said it this way: that Jesus was “God with skin on.”  Well, this is what I want you to know, and what I hope you will be able to hear: that if Jesus was God with skin on, the Holy Spirit is Jesus with skin off.  I don’t know how that makes you feel.  It may sound a little spooky.  It may be why some people refer to the Spirit as the “Holy Ghost.”  But in my experience it has been anything but spooky; it has been enormously comforting.  That’s one possible translation of the word Paraclete, you know: comforter.  Like one of those big, fluffy blankets you people pull up over yourselves on a cold night.  That’s what it’s been like for me in those moments when I was missing Jesus the most, when I was feeling his absence.  Suddenly, there was this presence.  I can’t explain it.  These kinds of things rarely make sense.  But I could feel his presence with me through the Holy Spirit, just as he had promised. 

And that’s not all.  Jesus promised that the Paraclete would be a friend, a counselor, a comforter, an encourager, a teacher—in other words, all the things that Jesus was to us when he was with us.  But he also said it would be the “Spirit of truth,” which reminded me of something else he had said, that we would know the truth and the truth would set us free (John 8:32).  Do you remember when Philip asked Jesus to show us the Father, and Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”?  Well, I think he would say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Spirit.”  Because when he first told us about the Spirit of truth he said the world could not receive him because it couldn’t see him or know him, but then he said, “You know him,” and I think he meant that we knew the Spirit because we had known Jesus, that the same Spirit that was in him would now be in us.  In fact, that’s what he said: “You know him because he abides with you, and will be in you.” 

Jesus said all of that before he was crucified, before he rose from the dead and came to that upper room and breathed on us, but when he did we felt it: we felt that the Spirit that had been in him was now in us, and that it would teach us, comfort us, and encourage us, even on the hardest of days.  I have to tell you, those days came for me just after Jesus ascended.  I don’t think anyone has ever felt more alone than I felt.  But has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever loved someone and lost them and then, sometime later, thought about what they would say in a certain situation and found that you could almost hear their voice?  That’s how it was for me.  At first I thought it was just the memory of Jesus, but then this voice—this whispered voice—began to tell me things Jesus had never said.  And that’s when I remembered something he did say, at that last supper.  He said, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13).  Well, that’s just how it felt: like the Spirit was picking up where Jesus left off, and teaching us things that Jesus could no longer teach.

And that’s a good thing.  Because there are so many things that Jesus didn’t teach us: things he didn’t mention, maybe because they hadn’t happened yet, or maybe because we weren’t ready for them yet.  But the Paraclete is still with us, and the Paraclete sees everything that is happening in the world and whispers in our ears.  The Paraclete tells us the truth.  I’ll tell you the truth: sometimes that whispered voice sounds so much like Jesus that I sit straight up in bed and look around in the darkness.  I say, “Jesus?  Is that you?”  But then I remember that he isn’t with us anymore, and I remember what he said: that he was going to send us another Paraclete to be with us forever.  And that’s a comfort.  That’s the Comforter.  And so I lie down again, and pull the covers up to my chin, and fall asleep with a smile on my face knowing that I am not alone, and never will be,  And neither will you.

—Jim Somerville © 2023

The Well-Remembered Word: Remembering the Comfort of Christ

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Today we continue a series called, “The Well-Remembered Word,” in which we are imagining how some of the people who knew Jesus best and loved him most might have eulogized him.  So far we have heard from Mary Magdalene, Thomas “the Twin,” the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and last week from the Apostle John, the author of the Fourth Gospel, who had so much to say that we’ve invited him back this week.  Without further introduction, let me turn things over to John, the Beloved Disciple.


Well, thank you.  Thank you for coming.  And thank you for listening to my memories of the Word-made-Flesh.  Today I’m remembering what happened in that upper room on the night he was betrayed.  Most of you weren’t there, but if you have read my Gospel you know that Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a basin with water, and then washed our feet.  Of all the memories in my head that one may be the most unforgettable: that moment when he took my own feet in his hands, and washed them, and looked up at me with eyes full of love.  I couldn’t say anything for the lump in my throat, but if I could I might have said, “You’re leaving us, aren’t you?”  Because it was obvious that something was about to happen. 

After he came back to the table he asked us to wash one another’s feet, just as he had washed ours.  And then, a little later, he commanded us to love one another, just as he had loved us.  He didn’t say it out loud but you could tell that he was trying to get us ready to live without him.  I think that’s when the first tear rolled down my cheek, and I think that’s when he said:  “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”  Because I wasn’t the only one.  He could tell, just by looking around at us, that we were all troubled.  We were like family members gathered around the deathbed of a loved one, straining our ears for every last word.  And Jesus did not disappoint. 

He gave us some good ones.

After he said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” he said, “You believe in God; believe also in me,” as if belief were the remedy for a troubled heart.  Maybe it is.  And then he said something I almost wish I had never written down, not because it’s not true, but because it has been so misunderstood.  Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”  The reason I wish he hadn’t said it that way, and the reason I wish I hadn’t written it down, is that ever since my Gospel was published people have been asking me about the Father’s house, and how to get there, and what their dwelling place will be like.  That is, they have been thinking about it primarily as a place, and some of them have been thinking about it as a very nice place.  I understand one of your translations uses the word “mansion,” and some people can scarcely think of anything else.  “I’m going to have a mansion in heaven!” they say.  No matter how poor and pitiful their lives have been on earth, they seem to believe that when they get to heaven they will live in the most extravagant house anyone has ever imagined.  Well, I don’t know.  They may be exactly right about that.  But that wasn’t the point I was trying to make and I’m almost certain it wasn’t the point Jesus was trying to make. 

What he said was this: “I’m going to prepare a place for you, and then I’m going to come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.”  I don’t know what you hear in that statement, but what I heard in that moment was that heaven is not a place, but a person.  I didn’t care what it looked like, or where I got to lay my head.  I didn’t care if it was a ten-million-dollar mansion or a two-bit boarding house.  I only cared that Jesus was going to be there because wherever he was, was heaven.  Do you know what I mean?  Have you ever loved anybody like that?  Where you didn’t care where you were or what you were doing, so long as it was with them? 

And that reminds me of another thing I almost wish I had never written down, and that’s the verse people now refer to as John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  I mean, it’s true.  It’s beautiful.  But some people get so focused on the everlasting life part that all they want to know is what they have to do to make sure that they live forever, and suddenly it’s not about Jesus anymore; it’s about them.  “How do I get to heaven?  How can I have a life that never ends?  How do I get a mansion with a view so I can watch the sun set over the crystal sea?”  Does that not sound a little selfish to you?

What I was trying to say is that life begins in a whole new way when you get to know Jesus.  And when you believe in him, really believe in him and not just believe things about him, well, that’s living!  In the Greek language it is literally “the life of the ages,” which some people have translated as everlasting life, which some people have interpreted as life that never ends.  Let me just ask you: if you were sentenced to life in prison, would you want that life to last forever?  No.  Of course not.  But you also know about those moments when you felt so completely alive that you never wanted them to end.  That’s the life of the ages!  That’s what I’m talking about.  It’s not quantity; it’s quality.  And for me, that kind of life happened when I was with Jesus.  “God loved the world so much,” I said, “that he gave us his Son!”  Yes!  That’s what we were longing for!  That’s what makes life worth living, whether it’s a day, or a year, or a thousand years.  So, to believe in him the way you believe in those people you love most in this world is not a requirement for everlasting life: it is life itself.  But I also believe that life like that never comes to an end.

I think that’s what Jesus was trying to tell us on that night when our hearts were so troubled.  He said, “I’m going to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house, and when it’s ready I’m going to come and get you and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.”  It reminded me of how they used to do it back in Capernaum when I was growing up.  Some young man would ask a girl to marry him and then he would go back to his father’s house and start building on a room.  It might take as long as a year for him to finish it, because he wanted everything to be perfect when the wedding was over and he brought her back to the place he had prepared.  That’s what came to mind when Jesus said he was going to go and prepare a place for us.  And then he said he was going to come back and get us, and take us to himself, so that where he was we could be also.  And then, for some reason, he said we already knew the way to the place where he was going.  And that just confused us.  We sat there for the longest time until Thomas finally said, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going.  How can we know the way?” 

You’ve already heard from Thomas.  You know he had his reasons.  He was determined to follow Jesus.  He needed to know the way.  But Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  And again, if there is anything I wish Jesus hadn’t said, or I hadn’t written down, it might be this.  Because the same people who are so concerned about living forever in a mansion in heaven have used this verse to keep others out.  I don’t know why.  Maybe they think heaven will get too crowded.  Maybe they want to be sure they get one of the good mansions, one with a view.  Maybe they have forgotten that Jesus is the Gate—that he is the one who lets people in—and not them.  But if you were listening closely he didn’t say “No one gets to heaven except through me,” he said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Once again, heaven is not a place but a person.  Jesus is inviting us into life with the Father, into the “life of the ages,” and he is the way to that kind of life. 

Once you get that into your head the rest of what he said that night becomes clear.  He said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  And that’s when Philip spoke up and said, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”  I’ve been trying to think if there is another way I can put this to you and the best I can come up with is this: 1) that there is a Room called Relationship (as in, relationship with the Father); 2) that Jesus is that room; and 3) that he is inviting us to come in.

 Why would he need to do that?  Because some people still have such scary ideas about God that they need someone like Jesus to come to them, and love them, and reassure them that God is not like that at all.  They need someone to hold open the door of relationship and invite them in, and still they stand outside, wringing their hands and biting their nails.  Jesus might say, “What are you so afraid of?  The God you are about to meet is my Father, and I am his Son, and I am so much like him that if he were standing here instead of me you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between us.  What he tells me to say, I say.  What he tells me to do, I do.  My words are his words.  My works are his works.  If you’ve seen me you’ve seen him and if you’ve loved me then you’re really going to love him.”

It all started to sound so good on that night, in that upper room, that if Jesus had said, “Let’s go!” I think we would have jumped up and gone with him right then.  But that’s not what he said.  He said, “I’m going to prepare a place for you, and when I get it ready I will come and get you, and take you to where I am, so that we can be there, together, forever.”  Which meant that in the meantime we would be here, without him, temporarily. 

Friends, I’m still here, although I never thought I would live this long, and you’re still here, although you might rather be there.  So, what are we supposed to do with the time we have until then?  Well, here’s what I think: I think we are supposed to tell people about the God revealed in Jesus.  I don’t know how it is for you, but sometimes I find that people don’t want to believe in God because they are afraid of God, and if they can pretend that he doesn’t exist then they won’t have to be afraid.  But here’s a better way: convince them that God is love and then they will begin to look for him everywhere.  In the first chapter of my Gospel I remind my readers that no one has ever seen God: that it’s Jesus, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.  And this is what he has made known to them: that the Father’s heart beats with love; that they don’t have to be afraid of him.  I mean, he didn’t give his Son because he hated the world; he gave his Son because he loved the world.  He gave his Son because he wanted the people of the world to have life that is abundant, overflowing, and everlasting.  We find that kind of life in relationship with God and we enter that relationship through Jesus, who has shown us the Father.  He has shown us that we can love the Father and trust the Father.  He has shown us that we have nothing to fear, because God is love. 

So, there’s Jesus—a Room called Relationship—holding open the door and begging us to come in.  If we do, we may discover what he has known all along: that heaven is not a place; it’s a person. 

Thanks be to God.

Jim Somerville © 2023

The Well-Remembered Word: Remembering the Good Shepherd

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep…. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

            In the first sermon in this series I let my imagination run just a little bit wild.[i]    I talked about the Apostle John putting together a weekend conference in Ephesus called, “The Well-Remembered Word,” where he would invite people to gather for a memorial service for Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, decades after his ascension.  He would charge a small registration fee so he could afford to print the brochures and fly the participants in from faraway places: Mary Magdalene from her home in Galilee, Thomas from the mission field in India, and those two disciples from Emmaus (who agreed to come but said they would rather walk).  Since then I’ve been imagining what each of those speakers might have said at such a conference, and it’s been interesting, hasn’t it?  To hear from these biblical characters “themselves” rather than hearing things about them?  Today I want us to hear from the Apostle John, the Beloved Disciple, the author of the Fourth Gospel, the “convener” of this imaginary conference.  I want to let him speak for himself and see what he might have to say.  Let’s listen in.

            Friends, first of all, let me say thank you for coming to this conference!  It’s been an amazing weekend so far.  I’ve been grateful to our speakers for sharing their memories of Jesus: to Mary Magdalene, who (you may recall) delivered the very first Easter sermon and has been called “the Apostle to the Apostles”; to Thomas, who some people still call “the Twin” not because he looks so much like Jesus, but simply because he is so much like Jesus; and finally to Mary and Cleopas, those disciples on the road to Emmaus, with apologies for any confusion about their identities.[ii]  But now it’s my turn, and this morning I want to talk about one of the things I remember best about Jesus.  I want to talk about him as “the Good Shepherd,” which could have been the title of one of the chapters in my Gospel. 

Speaking of that: maybe it’s not fair to call it “my” Gospel at all.  You pastors out there will agree that in every congregation ten percent of the people will love you no matter what, and ten percent will not love you, no matter what, and eighty percent will appreciate you if they think you are working hard and doing a good job.  It’s called “the 80-10-10 rule.”  Well, when I retired a few years ago some of that ten percent that loved me no matter what presented me with something they called “the Gospel According to John.”  It turns out they had been taking notes on my sermons, writing down what I said almost word-for-word, so they could put it all together in a single book.  They wrote up an introduction and a conclusion and then presented it to me at my retirement celebration.  I was deeply moved, especially when I saw that everywhere I had referred to myself in my sermons they had substituted the phrase, “the disciple Jesus loved.”  Isn’t that sweet?  And it’s true!  Jesus did love me.  But I think he had that effect on everyone he knew.  When you were talking to him he had the ability to make you feel as if you were the only person in the world, and that you were worth all the attention he was giving you.  Yes, he loved me, but not only me.  He loved all of us.  I believe he loved Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.  That’s just the kind of savior he is.

            But I didn’t come to talk about the Savior; I came to talk about the Shepherd.  It’s how Jesus referred to himself once when he was in the middle of a heated argument with the Jews.  Oh, I know.  I know I’m not supposed to call them “the Jews.”  It sounds anti-Semitic.  But can I remind you that all of us were Jews: Jesus, and his disciples, and all of the people he preached to?  It’s not like I have anything against Jews—I am one!—I just have something against this particular group of Jews.  Maybe there are some people in your own religious group who have done you wrong, treated you badly, and maybe you talk about them in a way that is not entirely flattering.  Fundamentalists.  Liberals.  Moderates.  Conservatives.  Need I say more?  Well, these were people who were so proud of being Jewish I just started calling them “the Jews.”  But I can call them something else if it will make you feel better.  I can use the Greek word—Ioudaioi.  Will that work?  OK, then: 

Ioudaioi it is.[iii] 

            These are the ones I was talking about in the previous chapter of my Gospel, when Jesus healed the man born blind.  Do you remember him?  The other disciples and I were right there with Jesus wondering who had sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind, but Jesus wouldn’t even entertain that question.  He said, “It wasn’t this man or his parents.  He was born blind so that the works of God might be seen in him.”  And then he stooped down, spit on the ground, made some mud, smeared it on the man’s eyes, and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  After that we moved on.  We didn’t stick around to see what happened.  But what I heard later is that the man came back to his old neighborhood and everyone was amazed that he was able to see.  Except for the Ioudaioi.  They weren’t amazed; they were upset.  Who did this?  How did he do it?  Why did he do it on the Sabbath day? 

They asked the man born blind and he told them it was Jesus who had done it.  They said, “Where is he?” and he said, “I don’t know.”  So they brought his parents in for questioning, but they said, “He’s old enough to speak for himself.  Ask him.”  But according to my Gospel they said it partly because the Ioudaioi had already decided that anyone who confessed faith in Jesus would be put out of the synagogue. 

Now, let me just say, that’s not entirely true.  The good people who wrote up my Gospel got a little ahead of themselves.  That wouldn’t happen until after the Fall of Jerusalem, in 70 AD, when we couldn’t worship in the Temple anymore and had to conduct services in the local synagogues.  A group of priests got together and decided which scrolls could be read in worship and which ones could not (because there were a lot of scrolls out there in those days, and not all of them were divinely inspired).  But they also wrote up something they called the Eighteen Benedictions: eighteen blessings they believed good and faithful Jews should recite every day.[iv]    Well one of them, number 12, was “the blessing against heretics,” which was actually a curse.  See if you can hear the phrase that might offend the followers of Jesus:

For the apostates, let there be no hope, and uproot the kingdom of arrogance speedily and in our days.  May the Nazarenes and the heretics perish as in a moment.  Let them be blotted out of the book of life,and not be written together with the righteous.  You are praised, O Lord, who subdues the arrogant.

Did you catch that?  The Nazarenes?  The actual benediction wouldn’t be written until the Seventies, but the spirit of it was alive even during the earthly ministry of Jesus, when the Ioudaioi became jealous of his popularity and didn’t want anyone to follow him.  So, that man born blind, when he asked them if they wanted to become Jesus’ disciples too, should have expected what they said to him.  They said, “You are this man’s disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he has come from.”  And that man born blind (bless his heart), he said, “Well, here is an astonishing thing!  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”  And they drove him out—out of the synagogue, that is.  They thought he was a heretic because he believed in Jesus.

            In chapter 10 of my Gospel I wrote about Jesus, the Good Shepherd, but I still had this man in mind.  They put him out of the synagogue, you see?  Out of the sheepfold.  He was out there wandering around on his own, lost and afraid.  But then Jesus came to him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  He said, “Who is he, sir, that I might believe in him?’  And Jesus said, “You have seen him.”  Don’t you love that?  The man who was born blind had seen him.  With his own eyes.  “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and the one speaking with you is he.”  And then he said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 

I want you to put all this together in your mind if you can.  In chapter 10 of my Gospel Jesus said that he was the gate for the sheep.  You know the gate?  The one that opens so the sheep can come into the sheepfold?  The one that closes behind them to keep them safe?  The one that opens again in the morning so they can go out and find pasture?  Jesus says that he is that gate.  And he says it after the Ioudaioi have kicked this man out of the synagogue.  They were the gatekeepers (and every religion has some), but Jesus is the gate itself.  So this man comes to Jesus.  He professes his faith.  And in that moment the gate swings open, and that little lost lamb is welcomed in. 

            I’m telling you, this is what Jesus does: he goes around looking for everyone who has been kicked out, put down, pushed around, everyone who has been denied a place in the existing religious establishment, and then he opens the gate for them, he lets them in, he makes room for them in his sheepfold.  You know what I’m talking about!  That’s how many of us were feeling after those Eighteen Benedictions were published, after the Ioudaioi started kicking us out of one synagogue after another because we could not stop professing our faith in Jesus, the Nazarene.  We were out there on our own, wandering around lost and afraid, but Jesus—the gate—opened up and took us in.  Now we have a place.  We are no longer alone.  We are at home with the Good Shepherd. 

Jesus said some other things about people who cared more about themselves than they cared about the sheep.  He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  And that’s true.  There are people who look at a sheep to see how much wool they can get off of it, how much it weighs, how tender its meat might be.  And then there is Jesus, who looks at a sheep to see how he can care for it, and give it what it needs.  “I came that they might have life,” he said, “and that they might have it more abundantly.”  How does he do that?  He brings us in from the pasture in the evening.  He opens to us and brings us into the safety of the sheepfold.  He beds us down for the night so we can sleep in peace.  In the morning he leads us out again.  He makes us lie down in green pastures.  He leads us beside still waters.  He restores our souls. 

            He is the Good Shepherd.

            There’s one more thing I want to mention before I close.  Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice and follow him.  I was thinking about that man born blind again.  When Jesus healed him he couldn’t see, remember?  He could only hear.  Jesus told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam and he did, but when he came back Jesus was nowhere to be found.  And then he went through all that questioning by the Ioudaioi, he kept singing the praises of the one who had healed him, and as a result he got himself kicked out of the synagogue.  He was out there wandering around on his own when someone asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  And he recognized that voice.  His ears perked up, his eyes lit up.  He said, “Who is he, sir?” knowing the answer even before he asked.  “You have seen him,” Jesus said, and the one speaking with you is he.”  And that’s when the man said he believed.  That’s when he fell down and worshiped.  Because he trusted that voice, and he knew that if he could only follow that shepherd, he would have abundant life. 

            The same is true for us, friends.  We’ve got to listen closely for the voice of the Good Shepherd.  There are some people who simply want to take advantage of us, who want to use us for whatever they can get out of us.  There are thieves and bandits out there who are sizing us up even now.  But then there is Jesus, whose greatest joy in life is taking such good care of us that we have everything we need.  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” he said.  “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”  Is that true?  Is there anyone here who has found abundant life in Jesus.  You don’t have to say anything out loud, but maybe you could lift your hand.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Well, I have.  I wrote an entire Gospel about it.  And if you’ve read to the end of it you know that I say, “Now Jesus did many more things that are not written in this book, but these things are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing you may have life in his name.”  Anyone want a life like that? 


Jim Somerville © 2023

[i] Jim Somerville, Sermon, “The Well-Remembered Word: Mary Remembers” (preached at Richmond’s First Baptist Church on April 9, 2023: Easter Sunday (

[ii] See my sermon from April 23, 2023: “The Disciples Remember.”

[iii] John makes a distinction between the Pharisees and the Ioudaioi in chapter 9. While the Pharisees were certainly of the same mindset, the Ioudaioi had some actual authority, and probably included the Sadducees and the members of the Sanhedrin.


The Well-Remembered Word: Thomas Remembers

Thomas said to the other disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

You came back!

Not everybody came back this Sunday, but you did, and I’m glad you did. I think you will hear in this morning’s sermon that sometimes very good things happen for people who come back on the Sunday after Easter.

Today we continue the series I started last week, one called “The Well-Remembered Word,” in which we are imagining a memorial service for Jesus, held several decades after his ascension, where some of the people who knew him best and loved him most stand up to say a good word about the Word-made-flesh. Last week it was Mary Magdalene who remembered Jesus. This week it’s Thomas, the one featured in today’s Gospel lesson, the one who is often called, “the Doubter.” Let’s give him a few minutes to speak for himself, and tell us how he really feels. Thomas?


Thank you. It’s an honor to be with you today, and an even greater honor to be asked to speak just after Mary Magdalene, who has been called “the apostle to the apostles.” She is certainly not the person some people have imagined her to be. But I think you will find I am not the person some people have imagined me to be either, not a doubter at all but one of the truest of true believers. We’ll get there in a moment, but let

me begin with my nickname—“the Twin.”

That’s the part that some people skip right over in their haste to label me as a doubter. They don’t even notice that the only nickname the Bible ever sticks me with is this one: “the Twin.” It’s in John 11: “Thomas, who was called ‘the Twin.’” It’s in John 20: “Thomas (who was called the Twin).” It’s in John 21: “Thomas called the Twin.” But what does that mean? Does it mean I had a twin? Does it mean I was a twin? And if so, whose twin was I? It’s only a rumor, but maybe you’ve heard the rumor that I was Jesus’ twin, that I looked just like him. The people who started that rumor say that’s why Jesus picked me to be one of his disciples, so that we could trade places from time to time, so that he could get away. Some of them have even gone so far as to suggest that it wasn’t really Jesus who was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, that it was me, and that that’s why I didn’t say anything when I was standing before the Sanhedrin: my voice would have given me away. They say it was me who was stripped and beaten and nailed to the cross, that it was me who died on that terrible Friday and got buried in someone else’s tomb. They say that’s how Jesus could show up three days later and pretend that he had risen from the dead.

It’s a pretty good theory as far as conspiracy theories go, and some people would probably believe it. Some people will believe anything. But not me. I know that wasn’t me on that cross, you know why? Because I’m not as good a person as Jesus. Even before they crucified him they flogged him. If that had been me I would have cried out with the first lash, “You’ve got the wrong man!” But not Jesus. He just stood there and took it, took all the abuse, all the punishment, that should have rightly fallen on people like me, and he never said a mumbalin’ word. So, no, I wasn’t Jesus’ twin. Maybe we did look a little something alike but Mary can tell you: I’m not Jesus and would never

pretend to be. I don’t think I would have been willing to die instead of him, but I once offered to die with him. Do you remember?

We were on the other side of the Jordan, near where John used to baptize. We had gone down there because things had gotten ugly in Jerusalem. The religious authorities were asking Jesus if he was the Messiah. They said, “Just tell us!” And he said, “I have told you but you don’t believe me.” And then he began to tell them about the Father, which was fine, until he said, “The Father and I are one.” That’s when they started picking up stones. He said, “I’ve been doing all these good works. For which of these are you going to stone me?” But they said, “It’s not because of your good works; it’s because you’re making yourself equal to God. That’s blasphemy!” And let me just say: when you get to the point in a conversation where somebody is calling you a blasphemer, the conversation is pretty well over. Jesus tried to make one last point (and it was a good one), but we got him out of there as quickly as we could and as far away as possible. We took him down the Jericho road and across the Jordan, well away from the religious authorities.

Still there were lots of people there. Everywhere Jesus went people followed. One day someone showed up with a message that his friend Lazarus was at the point of death, but Jesus didn’t seem too concerned about it. Two days later, however, he said, “We’ve got to go back to Judea.” We said, “Why? The last time you were there they were ready to stone you, remember?” But he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep and I need to go and wake him up.” One of the disciples (I’m not saying which one), said, “Lord, if he’s fallen asleep he’ll be all right.” Jesus said, “Let me put it bluntly: Lazarus is dead, and for your sakes I’m glad I wasn’t there, so that you might come to believe. But come, let’s go to him.” And I’m not bragging, but I’m the one who said,

“Let’s go with him, so we can die with him.”

Does that sound like a doubter to you? I’m telling you, I may have had trouble believing that dead people can come back to life, but I didn’t have trouble believing in Jesus. Wherever he went, I went, right? That’s what it means to follow someone. And that may help you understand why I said that other thing John quoted in his Gospel. We were at that last supper, right? In that upper room. Jesus had washed our feet, Judas had gone out to betray him (although we didn’t really understand that at the time), we had pretty much finished the meal, and Jesus was just talking to us, telling us every important thing he wanted us to know before whatever happened next happened. But you could tell something was wrong. You could tell by the way he was talking to us. He said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in me! In my Father’s house there is plenty of room. I’m going to prepare a place for you, and when it’s ready I’ll come again, and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” And that sounded good, but it also sounded like he was getting ready to leave us. That’s why our hearts were troubled.

And that’s when he said, “You already know the way to the place I am going,” but I didn’t, and I said so. I was thinking, “How am I supposed to follow you if I don’t know the way?!” But then he did the kind of thing he was always doing: he spoke in parables. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” People have understood that in different ways since he said it, but here’s how I understand it, at least this is how I understand it now: he said he was going to the Father’s house, and that we already knew the way, and then he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” I think he meant, “I am the true way to life with the Father. If you want to get to him you’ve got to go through me,”

or maybe, “you’ve got to get to know me.” And I think he meant really know him, right? Not just know things about him. Because I can’t speak for the other disciples, but my life didn’t really begin until I got to know Jesus.

And then there is the third time I was quoted in John’s Gospel: the time I said I wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead until I saw the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side. That’s what got me labeled as a doubter. But you’ve got to understand: I was grieving. Hard! I’m not sure any of the others were grieving as hard as I was except maybe Mary, maybe John. I had been ready to die with him, remember? I wanted to know the way to where he was going so that I could follow. I was ready to follow him anywhere, but then they arrested him, and tried him, and crucified him, and there wasn’t a thing I could do but watch him die. When he breathed his last it was like I breathed my last. When they stuck that spear in his side I felt the blood drain out of my own body. The others all went back to the upper room to think about what they would do next but I couldn’t think about that, and I surely couldn’t talk about what had just happened. I needed to be by myself, on my own. I went to the place he went when he needed to pray, and just as he did I poured out my heart to the Father. It took a long time.

But early on the first day of the week, for whatever reason, I began to feel better, and by the end of the day I was ready to see the others again. I went to the upper room, and when I got there they practically pounced on me. “We’ve seen the Lord!” they said. “He was right here! He just…walked in, through locked doors. He showed us his hands and his side and then he breathed on us and told us to receive the Holy Spirit. He said, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And then he said something about forgiving people’s sins, or maybe holding on to them? We can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. But

this matters, Thomas: he was here! Right here! Alive as you or me!” And I could see that something had happened. I mean, those disciples didn’t get excited about much, but they were excited about this. At the same time I wasn’t about to build the rest of my life on some ghostly apparition. I needed something solid. So, I told them, “Look, I’m not saying you’re lying, but unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

And then a week went by—an entire week when they were looking at me like, “Why don’t you believe us?” and I was looking at them like, “Why don’t you prove it?” Things were a little tense. Mary was telling everybody she had seen the Lord. The others were telling me they had seen him. It seems like everybody had been blessed with a vision of the risen Lord except me and then, on that next Sunday night, there he was. It was kind of spooky, you know? We were having supper. I had just turned to ask Andrew a question and when I turned back he was there. I jumped up from the table and backed into a corner but he stood up and said, “Here I am, Thomas. You said you wouldn’t believe unless you saw me with your own eyes. Here I am. You said you wouldn’t believe unless you put your finger in the mark of the nails. Here they are. You said you wouldn’t believe unless you put your hand in my side. Here it is. I don’t want you to doubt any longer, Thomas. I want you to believe. Look at me; here I am.”

That was all the proof I needed.

I didn’t need to put my finger in the marks of the nails after that. I didn’t need to put my hand in his side. I just said the first thing that came out of my mouth: I said, ‘My Lord and my God!’ And he said, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me, Thomas? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ And he was talking about you, about some of you in this very room, who have never seen him

with your own eyes and yet have somehow come to believe that he is both Lord and God.

If you’ve read the rest of John’s Gospel you know that’s why he wrote it in the first place. After telling my story he wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” I think he wanted you to see that if someone who had been a doubter, like me, could become a believer then you could, too. And did you notice he didn’t say, “These things are written so that you will believe,” but rather, “These things are written so that you may come to believe,” as if faith might come slowly, gradually, over time. For me, in the end, it was not about my ability to believe unbelievable things; it was about my ability to believe in Jesus, the same way you believe in the people you love. Even now, when people ask me, “Have you stopped doubting, Thomas? Do you believe that dead people can come back to life?” I say, “It’s not so much what I believe as who: it’s Jesus. I believe in Jesus.

My Lord and my God.

—Jim Somerville © 2023

The Well-Remembered Word: Mary Remembers

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

My friend John Ballenger is one of the most creative people I know.  He’s a member of my Preacher Camp group, and last year, when we got together to plan our preaching for this year, it was his assignment to come up with some good ideas for Easter.  John came up with 41 pages of ideas, many of them good ones, but the one that captured my imagination was this one called “The Well-Remembered Word.”  John asked us to imagine a memorial service for Jesus, held several years after his ascension, where some of the people who had known him best and loved him most would gather to remember him, and since I have a good imagination, I pictured it like this. 

I pictured John, the Beloved Disciple, who was teaching and preaching in Ephesus in the latter part of the first century, wanting his church to hear from some of those who had actually spent time with the Lord.  And so he started thinking about an event, maybe a weekend conference called “Remembering Jesus.”  But the more he thought about it, and the more he thought about Jesus as the Word made flesh, the more he started thinking of it as, “The Well-Remembered Word.”  Yes!  He could almost see the brochures now.  He would invite not only the members of his own church in Ephesus, but all the other churches in the region: Smyrna, Sardis, Pergamum, Thyatira, Laodicea, and Philadelphia.  And as speakers he would invite Mary Magdalene, Thomas, who was sometimes called the Doubter, those two disciples who had walked with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus, and, as the Disciple Jesus Loved, he would share some of his own memories.  It would be wonderful!  And, if he could remember to do it, he would ask the speakers to write down what they were going to say so that the church would have it forever. 

And that, my friends, is where the ball was dropped.  In my imagination they did it, they had that conference.  John flew Mary in from Magdala, Thomas from India where he was serving as a missionary (and actually that’s when John made the decision to charge a small fee for conference registration, in order to cover the cost of airfare and accommodations and printing the full color brochures [which did not come cheap in the first century, I assure you]), but those two disciples from Emmaus, who were real Christians and wanted to save John some money, walked, as they usually did, but this time all the way to Ephesus.  It took about two weeks.  But the conference, once they got there, was everything John had hoped it would be.  Christians came in from all over and sat there in awe as people they had only heard about in the Gospels shared their memories of Jesus.  John’s only regret when it was over was that he forgot to ask the speakers for a copy of their remarks.

So, what we have for this series is my best guess as to what those eyewitnesses might have said.  It may be inspired (as I said, I have a good imagination), but it will certainly not be inerrant or infallible.  Please don’t go around telling people that you now know what Mary was thinking as she went to the tomb.  But I’m going to do my very best to draw my inspiration from the Scriptures themselves, rather than myths or legends or Dan Brown novels, so that you can follow up later on your own, and see how much of what I said holds true.  Are you ready?  Here it is, then, the first chapter of the book the Beloved Disciple should have published after that incredible conference, a chapter called, “Mary Remembers,” in which she may have said:

            Let me begin by thanking our host, the Apostle John, although I have to smile when I say “Apostle” because I’ve known him since he was a teenager.  And let me say how good it is to see a few others I’ve met along the way: Thomas, the two disciples from Emmaus, and of course Luke, who once interviewed me for a Gospel he was writing.  If I had known he was going to include everything I said I might not have told him so much.  I might not have told him about those seven demons that he mentions in chapter eight.  But maybe that’s where my story begins, because that’s how I met Jesus in the first place. 

I had been tormented by those demons for so long I had a name for each one.  I could feel them waking up inside me and when they did it was misery.  I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.  I gnashed my teeth and tore my clothes.  And then one day I heard about Jesus, this prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, who was making his way from one village to another healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, casting out demons, and above all preaching the good news of the coming Kingdom.  Apparently he was telling people that when the Kingdom came there wouldn’t be any more sickness, any more death, any more…demons.  But I couldn’t wait that long.  I wanted him to do something right then.  I didn’t even wait until he got to my town, to Magdala: I went looking. 

When I found him there were crowds of people pressed in around him, long lines of people waiting to be cured, some hobbling on crutches, some carried on stretchers by their friends.  It was a good day for me.  The demons hadn’t bothered me in weeks.  But I knew it was only a matter of time.  And when I finally stood in front of him he knew it, too.  He looked into my eyes, “the windows of the soul.”  He saw what was in there.  He said, “Demons, listen to me.  Stop tormenting this woman.  Come out of her, I command you.”  He said it so calmly, but with such authority, as if he absolutely expected to be obeyed.  And he was!  It wasn’t dramatic.  I didn’t fall to the ground and start convulsing, but I could feel it: the light that was inside him driving away the darkness that was inside me like the sun coming up in the morning.  It broke across my own face, and I smiled for the first time in years.  “My name is Mary,” I said, although he hadn’t asked, but he smiled too and repeated it: “Mary.”  And somehow that word, on his lips, was the sweetest sound I had ever heard.

But no, it wasn’t like that.  It wasn’t like we were in love or anything although some people have suggested that we were.  And in case you’re wondering, I wasn’t that woman Luke wrote about in the seventh chapter of his Gospel, the one who wet the Lord’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  Remember?  When he was at the home of Simon the Pharisee and Simon was thinking, “If he knew what kind of woman she was he wouldn’t let her touch his feet”?  No, I was not that woman, and I was not that kind of woman.  Some people have made that suggestion, too.  Some preachers have said as much from the pulpit.  Shame on them.  But do you remember what Jesus said about that woman?  He said that she showed such great love for him because she had been forgiven of so many sins, and then he said, “The one who is forgiven little, loves little.”  Well, I was not that woman.  I did not wet his feet with my tears or wipe them with my hair.  But if I had thought of it first I might have.  Greater love hath no one than the woman from whom seven demons have been cast out.   

But I did do something: I began to follow Jesus, and along with a few other women began to provide for him and his disciples out of my means, limited as they were.  Susanna was with us, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, and a few other women like myself who were just so grateful to Jesus we would have done anything for him.  It gave us the opportunity to learn from him when we stopped for the night, after we had cooked supper and washed up the dishes, Jesus would sometimes sit by the fire with his disciples just talking and he always let us sit close enough to listen.  I began to call him “Rabbi,” and sometimes even “Rabbouni,” as if I were the teacher’s pet.  But he didn’t seem to mind; he could tell I was taking his teaching seriously.  And I was!  I got to watch him help and heal, I got to hear him preach and teach.  I liked it best when he talked about something he called “the life of the ages.”  He made it sound as if, when God’s kingdom finally came on earth as it is in heaven, all of us would be living the life of the ages—life that was abundant, and overflowing, and everlasting—which sounded like just the opposite of the kind of life I was living before I met him.  But in the meantime it was enough to follow him, to provide for him and his disciples, to listen to his teaching, and to learn what real love was all about, the kind the Greeks call agape.

It was about sacrifice.

We could feel it coming, those of us who were paying attention.  He started talking about it well before it happened, but even his closest disciples seemed to dismiss it.  Jesus would say he was going to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die and Peter would say, “God forbid, Lord!  That will never happen to you!”  But he kept on saying it, and some of us could see why.  The things he said didn’t always sit well with people.  When he talked about bringing in the Kingdom of God some people thought he was trying to replace the existing kingdom, to pull Caesar off the throne and put God there instead.  It sounded like insurrection.  And to others the way he talked about God, as if he were his father, made it sound as if he were the Son of God.  It sounded like blasphemy.  For both the religious and political authorities Jesus was becoming a problem that needed to be solved.

So, when we got to Jerusalem we begged him to be careful.  We could see how they were watching him.  But that didn’t stop him.  He was out there day after day, teaching and preaching as always.  If anything he was more open than he had been before, almost as if he were asking for trouble.  So, what a relief to get to that Upper Room, and lock the doors behind us.  That’s where we had the Last Supper, and of course we women were there.  Who do you think did all the cooking and serving?  But because we were there we heard everything, and it became clear, the longer he talked, that he was trying to get us ready to do all this without him.  I didn’t want to do it without him.  If he had asked me I would have said so.  But he just kept saying, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  I’m going to prepare a place for you.  I’m going to go and come back and take you to myself so that where I am you can be also.” 

And that sounded good.

But what happened next was horrible.  We went to the Garden of Gethsemane and that’s where Judas betrayed him with a kiss (!) and the soldiers arrested him and took him away and for the longest time we didn’t know what was happening.  He was at the home of the high priest where they were interrogating him, calling him a criminal, charging him with blasphemy—anything they could think of to get rid of him.  The next morning they took him to the governor’s palace where they claimed that Jesus was going around saying he was the King of the Jews.  Well, that led to a long conversation with Pilate that didn’t go well, apparently.  Pilate condemned him to death, but only after his soldiers had flogged the Lord and put a crown of thorns on his head and dressed him in a purple robe, saying, “Hail to the King!”  They were making fun of him, is what they were doing, and it was one of the saddest things I had ever seen.  Jesus just stood there with his head bowed, taking it, as Pilate said, “Behold the man!”

You know the rest of the story.  You know they crucified him.  I was there, and I stayed there the whole day, standing at the foot of the cross beside his mother and a few others (John, you remember; you were there).  It was horrible.  Just to stand there and watch him die; to see the blood running down his legs; to see him suffering, gasping for breath.  And yet, through it all he was what the sign above his head said he was: the King of the Jews. 

I was there when he said, “It is finished” and breathed his last.  I was there when the soldiers pierced his side and blood and water gushed out.  Only when they were absolutely sure that he was dead did they take him down from the cross and give his body to Joseph of Arimathea, who put it in a new tomb where nobody had ever been laid.  I followed him to the garden.  I saw where he put the body.  I was planning to come back.  I couldn’t the next day, because it was a Sabbath, but oh, how I wanted to!  And even before the sun came up on the following day I was up, making my way to the tomb, feeling my way through the darkness.  I don’t know what I was thinking I would do.  Maybe just sit there.  But when I got there the stone had been rolled away, and when I looked inside Jesus wasn’t there.  I went running back to tell the other disciples, “They’ve stolen his body!”  Peter and John jumped up and ran back with me, but when they got there they didn’t find him either.  They went back to tell the others but I stayed behind, and when I looked into the tomb this time I saw two angels sitting there.  They asked me why I was weeping and I said, “Because they’ve taken away my Lord!”  And when I turned around there was a man standing there who asked me the same question, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Who are you looking for?” 

People have asked me ever since why I didn’t recognize it was Jesus, but can I tell you this?  I watched him die.  No one has ever been so completely dead.  The last person in the world I expected to see alive and well was Jesus.  And yet there he was.  I knew it as soon as he called my name, as soon as he said “Mary.”  As I told you, it was the sweetest sound I had ever heard, and even sweeter under those circumstances, when I thought he was dead and gone forever.  To hear him call my name, to see the light in his eyes and the smile on his face?  I couldn’t help myself.  “Rabbouni!” I said.  I ran to him, I hugged him hard, until he finally had to pry me loose and say, “Mary, don’t hold on to me.  I’m not finished yet.  I still have to ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.  But go and tell my brothers that you’ve seen me, alive and well.”  And then he was gone, and I was there in the garden, all alone.  I wandered back to where the disciples were staying in a daze, still feeling the warmth of his body, his breath on my face.  When they opened the door they just looked at me.  They could tell that something had happened, something big, but they didn’t know what.  So, I told them.  I said,

“I have seen the Lord.”

—Jim Somerville © 2023

A Creation That Groans

I think it is safe to assume that most of us are familiar with the account of creation found in Genesis 1. I mean, it has become so mainstream that even those that aren’t religious most likely have some idea of the story of God creating the animals alongside Adam and Even in the garden. I’m afraid it has become so familiar, in fact, that it has lost its charm, or beauty.  We read it and don’t embrace all that is happening, or we simply hear it as a literal story and miss the beautiful imagery of creation coming into existence, of a God that works all things together for good. So help us with that, I want to read Genesis 1 right now, but read it from the message version, which as you may know is written to sound more like  a story we’d  read in English rather than a literal translation from the Hebrew. The message’s version of Genesis 1 is rather poetic, so I wonder if reading it now would help us really appreciate all that there is to this story. And let’s try a response together. After I read a section, and motion to you, respond together say, “God saw that it was good.”

1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.

6-8 God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters;
separate water from water!”
God made sky.
He separated the water under sky
from the water above sky.
And there it was:
he named sky the Heavens;
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Two.

9-10 God spoke: “Separate!
Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
Land, appear!”
And there it was.
God named the land Earth.
He named the pooled water Ocean.
God saw that it was good.

11-13 God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Three.

14-15 God spoke: “Lights! Come out!
Shine in Heaven’s sky!
Separate Day from Night.
Mark seasons and days and years,
Lights in Heaven’s sky to give light to Earth.”
And there it was.

16-19 God made two big lights, the larger
to take charge of Day,
The smaller to be in charge of Night;
and he made the stars.
God placed them in the heavenly sky
to light up Earth
And oversee Day and Night,
to separate light and dark.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Four.

20-23 God spoke: “Swarm, Ocean, with fish and all sea life!
Birds, fly through the sky over Earth!”
God created the huge whales,
all the swarm of life in the waters,
And every kind and species of flying birds.
God saw that it was good.
God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Ocean!
Birds, reproduce on Earth!”
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Five.

24-25 God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind:
cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.”
And there it was:
wild animals of every kind,
Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug.
God saw that it was good.

26-28 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

29-30 Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.

31 God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Six

On this day of celebrating God’s creation, what a wonderful message to be reminded of. Yet, I often feel that such a message seems to be a thing of the past, as I more often than not think that creation is no longer good. I mean, if creation was so good then, why does God’s creation seem to be in chaos now? As far as the earth goes, we’ve got record breaking hurricanes occurring year after year, massive droughts in the west, huge famines in parts of Africa, glaciers melting at an alarming rate, the average temperature globally rising to dangerous levels, earth quakes, volcanoes, floods, yo name it, the world seems to be in chaos. And that’s just the natural world. As far as humans go, war has killed thousands in Ukraine, refugees leaving Afghanistan and many other countries throughout the middle east, civil unrest in Myanmar, Economic collapse and the destruction of health, education and other critical systems in Yemen, the list goes on. What has happened to God’s good creation?

I feel like Paul was feeling the same way when he wrote the passage from Romans that we read earlier. He said that whole creation groans, and labors with birth pangs together until now, and he goes on to say that “Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

Now, to honest to the context, Paul isn’t really speaking on issues of creation care, but rather the “not yet” that is God’s kingdom, and how it encompasses all of creation, but still, I think it is a message worth noting on this day of celebrating God’s creation. Because on days like today, I’m not sure what to feel, and maybe you’re there too. I am thankful for God’s creation, but I’m also ashamed at how we’ve treated it, and I’m a little uneasy about the direction we are going in terms of correcting. When I think about creation, maybe you’re like me, as I’m often led to one of two schools of thought.

On one side, you have the orthodox view of Christianity, that God is in control, so if God is in control, why should we care how we treat the Earth, I mean, God is in control, could we really do harm? The world is so big and we are so small. Could we really cause irreparable harm? And God gave us these resources. Shouldn’t we be able to use as much as we want, as fast as want, without any consequences?

I’m afraid many Christians feels this way, and I’m afraid this rhetoric is not only doing harm to our environment, but harm to our cause of Christ followers to share God’s love to others. I think this is a big concern for our young people as well and it’s why they often feel that their concerns aren’t shared by their older leaders. I mean, we wonder why young people today seem to be more cynical, and have higher levels of anxiety: it’s because they see their planet exhibiting symptoms of damage, and so often the adults in charge don’t seem to be doing anything.

And this can be where people end up on the other side of the spectrum.  They’ve tried and tried to get others to feel the same way they do about the environment but it feels like there is no longer any point, so they stop caring, they stop working towards a cleaner and greener tomorrow, and they succumb to the ways of the world and only maintain hope that humans will eventually kill themselves off with their overconsumption to leave a prospering Earth for the plants and animals left behind.

But is there not another way, because both of these perspectives seem to be hopeless. How do we care for God’s creation that seems to be crumbling while still maintaining hope that what we are doing matters and that we can save our planet from the negative effects we’ve had on it for the past couple of centuries?  It’s a challenge, but one that I think we need to wrestle with.  I think it is a question that humans have been asking for quite some time, especially as we’ve realized our capabilities of doing harm to the world.

Did you ever see that movie, “The Day The Earth Stood Still? There was one that came out in 2008, but I’m talking about the one from 1951. Don’t get me wrong, the one from 2008 is good, but I don’t think it compares to the one from 1951. In fact, I think the difference in the two movies may highlight how we have come to view creation and the negative ways of thinking that have evolved since the original movie came out in 1951.

In both movies, an alien named Klaatu, who inhabits a body that looks human, and actually is human in the new one, comes to Earth, alongside a large robot named Gort. Gort in the original inhabits a large silver suit that looks robotic, with ridged arms and a robotic type walk characteristic of most sci-fi movies in the 50s. In the 2008 film, Gort gets an upgrade with CGI and is much, much larger.

In the 1951 version, Klaatu says that he comes with an important message that he needs to communicate to the various world leaders, but as you can imagine, this proves to be difficult. To awaken the Earth to the severity of Klaatu’s message, Gort causes all of the electricity to stop working for thirty minutes. Shots from London, Paris, New York, Moscow, are seen alongside images of factories at a standstill, a woman taking wet laundry out of her dryer, a worker trying to make a milkshake at a soda fountain lifting the cup onto a stationary mixer, even the poor dairy farmer can’t use the pumps to milk his cows. Hence, the title of the movie, the day the earth stood still.

After such a display of power, the military was set on capturing Klaatu at all costs, and they do catch him, and end up killing him in the process. But, his new friend Helen, who has become a vital character in the story, manages to get Gort, remember the big silver robot, to go retrieve Klaatu’s corpse. Those of you that have seen it, do you remember the line that Helen has to tell Gort? Klaatu barada nikto

Gort temporarily revives Klaatu so he can communicate his message, which he does, before the spaceship is seen departing Earth. His message was that humans must learn to live in peace or face certain annihilation.  The movie ends there, leaving viewers to wonder: Do we have what it takes?

The 2008 version, unsurprisingly, is much different. In that version, Klaatu is here to check up on the Earth, and quickly decides that humans are too destructive to be allowed to continue ruining Earth, only one of a few planets in the cosmos capable of sustaining complex life he says. So, we then see futuristic arks harvesting animals in to them before Gort, who can now apparently turn himself into microscopic flying insects that eat everything in their path, begins wiping out the human race. As we see this occurring, Klaatu tells one of the main characters of the reasoning for such a cruel act: if the earth dies, you die. If you die, the earth lives.

But as the events unfold, Klaatu begins to have a change of heart. We see Klaatu speaking with another alien who has been living among humans for several decades. This alien decides to stay on Earth and die with the humans because he has come to love them.  Even among our destructive tendencies, this alien considers himself lucky to have lived life among humans.

In another scene, Klaatu sees two characters at a tombstone, crying over the loss of a loved one, and this sight moves him enough to sacrifice his own life to stop the destruction of the world, and as the spaceship leaves, the earth is left standing still reflecting on the events that occurred and their meaning for the future.

Now I can already feel your judgement: oh Justin, stop being so critical. That message is still good. Humanity is flawed, but still worth saving. Can’t you see the value that Klaatu sees in humans.

And yes, sure. I think there’s a point to it, that even among the hardships of life, love is worth saving. But in comparison to the 1951 version, I feel that the 2008 dodges the underlining question of the original. The 2008 version implies that Klaatu was the one who needed to change.  He was the one who needed to learn from humans, where the 1951 implies that humans are the ones in need a change of perspective.

Yes, the 1951 version of Klaatu, changes his mind too, but he does so with a warning: the choice is up to us. We can live peacefully together, or face our end, because as he states, “There must be security for all, or no one is secure.”

Do you see my critique now? The 1951 didn’t make excuses for humanity but gave us a warning, as the film ends without the viewer knowing if humans were capable of changing or not, yet the 2008 version just assumes we should be saved without the tension of questioning if humanity is capable of actually living in peace with the rest of creation.

As dark as it may seem, I prefer the warning, because I think it’s rooted in our calling to live in the struggle of life without succumbing to apathy.

Because I think there is a third perspective to creation that we can hold, besides the two I mentioned earlier that lead to apathy, and it’s one I think was what Paul was getting at in our gospel reading today. He said,

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.

Did you catch that? Creation itself is eagerly waiting for the sons of God, us, to be revealed.  Just like us, Paul says that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of [f]corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

I think this is what Jim was referencing last week when he spoke of the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Do you remember what he said? To God, there is no time, so this time of not yet and the time of redemption are both at hand. To God (slap) there is no time and both are at hand. But for us experiencing linear time, we are not at a place where we can fully know all there is to God’s kingdom, so we must die, and our bodies lay lifeless until God’s final redemption is made known. Until then, creation, and us, eagerly wait for God’s kingdom to be made known.  So, we work to bring in God’s kingdom as we maneuver this life where it hasn’t yet fully materialized, maintaining hope that we are moving towards a time when all things will be made perfect.

But this time of waiting isn’t meant to be wasted. We are called to embrace the “not yet of this world” where, as Paul states in verses 26-27, we are to embody the tension of bringing the new creation into the old. Christians must be at the forefront of bringing in this new creation, for it is a foretaste of God’s eventual perfect kingdom of full healing and redemption. We can’t put off this work until some other time in the future. The time is now. God’s kingdom is at hand.

Yet, instead of bringing in new creation, we seem to want to hold onto the old.  We want to make salvation merely about individual piety rather than bringing other people into God’s love.  We decide that certain people can be included in God’s kingdom and others can’t. We think it’s okay to make jokes or look down upon about others that dress differently than us, live differently than us, love differently than us, and even worship differently than us. We prioritize the desires of the wealthy over the needs of the poor. We prioritize our own convenience over the needs of the world. We prioritize affordable goods at the expense of low-paid workers and environmental devastation. We shed blood to maintain power.
We have decided that not all of God’s creation is good, so we ignore call to address wider issues of corruption, injustice, oppression, division, and war, all things that prevent God’s creation from fully prospering into what it was originally intended. But do you remember our Genesis reading? God created humans in God’s image, and found them to be very good.

That’s the thing about creation care. It is just as much about how we treat our neighbors as it is about how we treat our environment, because everything is a part of God’s creation.

I think the 1951 Klaatu was an inspiration, not just for his message, but also because of his sacrifice, and I wonder if we too would be willing to give up our own biases and prejudices and desires, to truly embrace the new kingdom that is coming, would we too be willing to make the sacrifices to help make this world look more like heaven.

After Gort brough   Klaatu back to life, Helen spoke with Klaatu. She said:

Helen: “I thought you were…”
Klaatu: “I was.”
Helen: “You mean he [Gort] has the power of life and death?”
Klaatu: “No. That power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit. This technique, in some cases, can restore life for a limited period.”
Helen: “But how long?”
Klaatu: “You mean how long will I live? That, no one can tell.”

Even with the uncertainty of life, do we have what it takes to truly see God’s creation as good, to repair it when it has been harmed, and to sacrifice in order to help others experience this good creation? It is difficult,  but as Paul said, in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. Friends, we have our purpose.  Let’s care for God’s good creation together.

What Kind of Truth Is This?

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 2:1-11

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Jesus was at a wedding, John tells us, when his mother came to him and said, “They have no wine.”  And he said to her, “What concern is that to you and me?” which is only another way of saying, “That’s not our problem.”

But maybe it was their problem.

This is only a hunch, so don’t quote me, but I have a hunch that Jesus was at a family wedding, maybe his cousin’s wedding.  I don’t think I would have had that hunch before a sermon I preached here last November, when I was talking about the women at the foot of the cross and mentioned that in John’s Gospel one of them was Mary the mother of Jesus, and another was her sister… which would make her Jesus’ aunt.  I looked up from the sermon and said, “Did you know Jesus had an aunt?”  Nobody said anything, but if I didn’t know it I’m guessing some of you didn’t know it either.  And if he had an aunt, and if she had children, it would mean that Jesus had some cousins.  And if she lived in the village of Cana, just up the road from Nazareth, and if one of her children were getting married, it is altogether possible that Jesus would be invited to his cousin’s wedding.  And when he asked if his disciples could come, too—not his “plus one” but his “plus twelve”—his aunt may have grudgingly given her permission.

But that was before she knew how much they would drink.  Again, this is just a hunch, but I can almost see Bartholomew (or one of the other disciples we never hear anything about) pouring the last bit of wine into his glass and looking around for more as Mary’s sister pulls her aside and hisses, “Thanks a lot!  It’s only the second day of the wedding festival and your son’s wine-bibbing buddies have just polished off the last bottle!”  It was a problem, and it wasn’t only a problem of going to the liquor store and getting more.  Chances are good that this family had spent everything they had to host this wedding, and now they had run out of wine.  It would have been like telling everybody in town, “Hey, we’re poor!”

Back when I was in college (and before I met Christy) there was a girl I thought I was in love with.  And so, while I was working at a summer job in South Carolina, I made plans to visit her in Ohio, just for the weekend.  I got off work early one Friday, cashed my paycheck, and flew to Cincinnati on Piedmont Airlines (remember them?).  She picked me up in her daddy’s car, and drove me back to her parents’ place, which was impressive.  We spent the next day together and that night I asked if I could take her out to dinner.  “You pick the place,” I said, “and make it a nice one.”  And she did.  She picked a very nice place.  As soon as we walked in I knew I was in trouble.  Because this was back in the days before everybody had a credit card, or at least before I had a credit card.  If I couldn’t pay for dinner with the money in my pocket, I couldn’t pay for dinner, and that began to look like a real possibility.

When the waiter came around she ordered an appetizer (something I had never done in my entire life), and then she picked out what looked to be the most expensive entrée on the menu.  I countered by picking out the least expensive entrée, and I tried to enjoy it, but all through the meal I was doing math in my head, and I’m not very good at math.  I was trying to add up a long column of figures and measure them against the money in my wallet.  I think I was trying to carry the one when the waiter stopped by and asked if we would care for dessert and before I could say no she said yes.

And that’s when I became almost certain that I wouldn’t be able to pay the bill.  And that feeling, the feeling of knowing you may not have enough, is a terrible feeling.  So, I don’t know what I said as I watched that girl spoon crème brûlée into her mouth, but I knew that in about twenty minutes, when the waiter brought the check, I would face one of the biggest embarrassments of my life.  It turned out to be even bigger.  I must have forgotten to carry the one because when I saw the total my heart just sank.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I am so sorry.  But I don’t have enough money to pay the bill.”

Now, multiply my embarrassment by a hundred times, and step back in time 2,000 years, to a wedding in First Century Israel, where the host runs out of wine.  In that time and place the categories of honor and shame were the only categories that mattered: honor was what you wanted to acquire, and shame was what you wanted to avoid.  If you were throwing a wedding banquet you wanted everyone to have a good time, and you wanted to have enough of everything, especially the wine.  “Wine gladdens the heart,” as the Scripture says (Ps. 104:15), and there is no time when you want a glad heart more than at a wedding.  So, imagine Mary’s sister coming to her with a panic-stricken look on her face, and telling her, “We have no wine!” and then imagine Mary, who may have had some ideas about why, going to look for Jesus.  When she found him she said, in a voice loud enough for his disciples to hear, “They have no wine!”

Jesus looked up and said, “Woman, what is that to me and you?  My hour has not yet come.”  It sounds disrespectful, but it was also true.  This is only chapter 2 of John’s Gospel.  Jesus’ “hour” will not arrive until chapter 13.  That’s when he will begin to enter into his glory.  But his mother doesn’t seem to care.  She turns to some of the servants who are standing there and says, “Do whatever he tells you,” and they look to him for instruction.

Jesus sighs and sees that he has no other choice.  He looks around and sees six stone water jars standing there, used for the Jewish rites of purification.  He says, “Fill up those jars with water,” and they do, and it must have taken a while, because each of those jars held twenty to thirty gallons.  And then he says, “Dip some out and take it to the steward,” and they do, and when the steward tastes it he says, “Oh, where did this come from!?”  He turns to the bridegroom (who may have been Jesus’ cousin) and says, “Everyone always serves the good wine first, and then, when the guests have become too drunk to tell the difference, brings out the cheap stuff.  But you people!  You’ve saved the best until last!”  And suddenly the shame that was gathering over the event is blown away by a sudden gust of honor.  This is the best wedding ever, and the hosts are the most generous hosts in history!

But Jesus’ disciples are there, and they’ve seen what just happened.  They’ve seen how it wasn’t the hosts, but Jesus, who brought out the good stuff, and plenty of it.  They saw how he did it, by turning ordinary water into the best wine anyone had ever tasted.  “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee,” John writes; “he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”

What kind of truth is this?

Let me say two things about that: 1) John calls this a sign, and a sign is more than a miracle.  A sign always points to something beyond itself.  This sign allows the disciples to see Jesus for who he really is: the Son of God.  And 2) when he did it he revealed his glory, “glory as of a father’s only son,” which is to say that his glory was God’s glory and when he revealed it he revealed something of the truth about God.  And this is the truth: that with God we never have to be afraid of not having enough.

Walter Brueggemann writes: “The Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance.[i]  Genesis 1 is a song of praise for God’s generosity.  It tells how well the world is ordered.  It keeps saying, ‘It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good.’ It declares that God blesses—that is, endows with vitality—the plants and the animals and the fish and the birds and humankind. And it pictures the Creator as saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’  In an orgy of fruitfulness, everything in its kind is to multiply the overflowing goodness that pours from God’s creator spirit.”  This is the glory of God, and it is what the disciples see in Jesus on the day he turns 180 gallons of water into 180 gallons of the best wine anyone has ever tasted.

Brueggemann goes on to say that Israel celebrates this kind of abundance.  “Psalm 104, the longest creation poem, is a commentary on Genesis 1.  The psalmist surveys creation and names it all: the heavens and the earth, the waters and springs and streams and trees and birds and goats and wine and oil and bread and people and lions. This goes on for 23 verses and ends in the 24th with the psalmist’s expression of awe and praise for God and God’s creation. Verses 27 and 28 are something like a table prayer.  They proclaim, ‘You give them all food in due season, you feed everybody.’ The psalm makes clear that we don’t need to worry. God is utterly, utterly reliable. The fruitfulness of the world is guaranteed.”

And then Psalm 150, the last psalm in the book, is described by Brueggemann as “an exuberant expression of amazement at God’s goodness. It just says, ‘Praise Yahweh, praise Yahweh with lute, praise Yahweh with trumpet, praise, praise, praise.’ Together, these three scriptures proclaim that God’s force of life is loose in the world. Genesis 1 affirms generosity and denies scarcity. Psalm 104 celebrates the buoyancy of creation and rejects anxiety. Psalm 150 enacts abandoning oneself to God and letting go of the need to have anything under control.”

All of this is the truth about God, and all of it is evident in the sign that Jesus performed that day at a wedding in Cana, when he made enough wine to gladden the hearts of everybody in town.  And yet, those of us who call ourselves his disciples often remain paralyzed by the fear that there won’t be enough, a fear that doesn’t even enter the Bible until the 41st chapter of Genesis, when Pharaoh dreams of famine.  Apparently that dream has crossed oceans and centuries to haunt the sleep of those of us who live on this side of the world.

Brueggemann writes: “We [Americans, who live in the richest nation on earth] never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity—a belief that makes us greedy, mean and un-neighborly” (just like Pharaoh).

“The conflict between the Bible’s liturgy of abundance and the American myth of scarcity is our defining problem,” Brueggemann says.  “The gospel story of abundance asserts that we originated in the magnificent, inexplicable love of a God who loved the world into generous being. The baptismal confession declares that each of us has been miraculously loved into existence by God. And the story of abundance says that our lives will end in God, and that this well-being cannot be taken from us. In the words of St. Paul, neither life nor death nor angels nor principalities nor things—nothing can separate us from God.”[ii]

Why then, do we worry about our lives, as Jesus asks in Matthew 6?  Why do we worry about what we will eat and drink, and about what we will wear?  Our heavenly Father, who made the world and everything in it, knows that we need these things, and if we simply continue to seek his Kingdom and his righteousness all these things will be added to us.  We know that.  We’ve heard it a thousand times.  And yet we still worry.  I’m guilty of it myself.

Last week our business manager showed me the church budget we had projected for the year 2022, a budget that is nearly $400,000 more than we took in last year.  I felt a little bit like I did that night in Cincinnati when the waiter presented me with the check.  I said, “You know, when we came up with this budget we didn’t know we would still be dealing with COVID.  We thought it would be over by now and everything would be back to normal.  We thought the pews would be full of people and the offering plates full of money.  This budget, under these circumstances, doesn’t seem very realistic.”  Turn the clock back 40 years and it could have been me, explaining to that girl, “You know, when I asked you out to dinner I thought we would go to some reasonably priced restaurant, where you would order reasonably priced food.  I certainly wasn’t counting on this.”  And she would have said, “No, but you also weren’t counting on this,” and then she would have dropped her father’s platinum credit card on the table and paid for the entire meal—which is exactly what she did![iii]

It’s the kind of thing Jesus did at that wedding in Cana of Galilee.  He dropped his father’s glory on the table.  His disciples saw it, and remembered it for the rest of their lives.  When John was writing about it years later he said, “The Word that was with God and was God became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only Son” (John 1:1, 14).  It’s another way of saying that Jesus’ glory was God’s glory, and Jesus’ abundance was God’s abundance—that the one who made wine out of water that day was merely reflecting the nature of the one who made everything out of nothing.

And that’s the truth about God.

—Jim Somerville © 2022

[i] Walter Brueggemann, “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” Religion Online (from an article that originally appeared in The Christian Century, March 24-31, 1999 []).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] She laughed and told me, “I wasn’t expecting you to pay for dinner. You paid for your plane ticket. I have a summer job, too. I’ll pay daddy back later.” If I had known her better I probably would have known that was the plan all along. I didn’t, but I do know Jesus better. I know that when he says we don’t have to worry about our lives, we don’t. And now I simply need to learn how to live the truth of what I know.

Searching for Truth

The Sunday before Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12; John 1:1-18

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

“You will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will make you free.”  He said it a long time ago, but it couldn’t be any more relevant than it is right now, when we Americans seem to be having such a hard time agreeing on what is true.  Seriously, is it only me, or have you had some conversations in the past few years where you think you are saying two plus two equals four, but the other person says, “No, it doesn’t; it equals five”?  And you say, “How is that possible?  Two plus two has always equaled four,” and they say, “No, it hasn’t.”  And you stand there, with your mouth open, not knowing what to say next, because you can’t even agree on the facts.

One nonprofit global public policy think tank notes that “the line between fact and fiction in American public life is becoming blurred.” [i]  They call this phenomenon “Truth Decay,” and this is how they explain it on their website: “America’s current era of Truth Decay is defined in part by an increasing disagreement about objective facts that exists on a scale not observed in previous periods,” and that includes the period in which I grew up.

When I was a boy my family didn’t have a television, but when I visited friends I would sometimes watch theirs.  I was so fascinated by TV itself that I didn’t care what was on and once ended up watching the evening news with my friend’s parents.  There was a man with a mustache telling us what had happened that day.  It lasted about half an hour and when it was over he said, “And that’s the way it is.”  That man was Walter Cronkite, and although I was seeing him for the first time a lot of Americans thought of him as “Uncle Walter.”  They loved him and trusted him to tell them the truth, and night after night that’s what he did, in about thirty minutes, on black-and-white TV.

But a few years later some crazy person decided that what America needed was a 24-hour cable news network, and CNN was born—all news, all the time.  But there’s really not that much news, not even if you look for it all over the world.  So, what we began to get was news plus commentary, and we didn’t mind that; sometimes it helps to have a little commentary.  But then, as competing cable news networks began to spring up, we began to get news plus commentary plus opinion, and we didn’t always mind that either.  Sometimes we like our news with a saucy side helping of opinion, especially if it’s an opinion we agree with.  But then social media made it possible to “like” those opinions, publicly, and to share them with our friends, until our friends who had different opinions began to argue with us, and call us names, so that we had to unfriend them and find other friends who agreed with us, who shared not only our opinions about things in general, and not only our commentary on the news, but also our understanding of the facts.

That’s where we are today and this is how the people at Truth Decay sum it up.  They see: 1) an increasing disagreement about facts and data; 2) a blurring of the line between opinion and fact; 3) the increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion over fact; and 4) a declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.  And then they list the consequences of Truth Decay: 1) an erosion of civil discourse; 2) political paralysis; 3) alienation and disengagement; and 4) Uncertainty, when we just don’t know what to believe any more, when we have no real way of knowing what is true.[ii]

So, to hear Jesus say, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” is exciting.  “Yes!” we say.  “Give us some of that!”  And if we had lived in the time when the Gospel of John was written, we might have been even more excited, because that’s what those people were searching for: a truth that would set them free.  John was written near the end of the First Century, AD, at a time when a new philosophy called Gnosticism was gaining in popularity.  Gnosticism is the idea that each of us has within us a “spark” of the Divine, but it is trapped inside this physical body, and the flesh is essentially evil.  So, what we need to release that spark, so it can return to its source, is some kind of special knowledge (that’s where the word Gnosticism comes from: gnosis, the Greek word for “knowledge”).  That knowledge has to come to us from outside the physical world, and the one who brings it to us will be our “savior.”

With that in mind, hear Jesus say, once again, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  For those who were just getting acquainted with Gnosticism, it may have sounded like an invitation to learn from Jesus the special knowledge (or, as he put it, the “truth”) that would liberate the divine spark within them from the prison house of the flesh so that it could return to its Divine source.

Today is the Second Sunday of Christmas, and in Greek the Gospel lesson from John 1 begins like this: En arch hn o logoV: “In the beginning was the Word.”  Rebecca Denova explains, “In the philosophical thought of the time, logos was the principal of rationality that connected the highest god to the material world.”[iii]  In other words, the logos was the mediator between God and people.  Keep that in mind as you hear John say, “And the logos was with God, and the logos was God…and the logos became flesh and lived among us.”

It would have been very exciting to those early adherents of Gnosticism to think that they might learn from Jesus the truth that would set them free from the prison house of the flesh, in the same way it excites me to think that we Americans, who have become so polarized by our competing versions of the truth, might find in Jesus something that would bring us together, and set us free.[iv]  At a time when we can’t agree on the facts, is it possible that we might come to know the Truth?

Today is the Second Sunday of Christmas, but it is also the Sunday before Epiphany, when we focus on the story of the Wise Men from Matthew, chapter 2.  You’ve already heard some references to that story in today’s worship service, but I don’t think you’ve heard this: that the wise men may have practiced a religion called Zoroastrianism.  I had heard that rumor somewhere before, but last week I began to do some research and was amazed by what I learned.  First of all, this religion was named for an actual man, a Persian named Zoroaster who lived hundreds of years before Christ.[v]  He grew up in the religion of his time, a religion which had many gods and offered animal sacrifices, but when he was thirty years old he had a vision of an angel standing on a riverbank who said that he had been sent with a message from the one true god.  From that message came a new religion, or at least a radical reformation of the old religion.  One of the first things Zoroaster did was put an end to animal sacrifice.  But he also taught that there is only one God.  He called him Ahura Mazda—“the Lord of Wisdom”—and believed that he was not only all-wise, but also all-good.  He believed that human beings should reflect that goodness through good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.  And finally, he believed that each of us has free will to choose between good and evil.

Joshua Mark writes, “The central value of [Zoroastrianism] was human free will. If one chose to follow the precepts of Ahura Mazda, one lived a fulfilling life; if not, one became tangled in deceit and experienced strife and confusion.”[vi]  And so to believe in the one true God, to believe that he was not only all-wise but also all-good, meant reflecting God’s goodness by thinking good thoughts, speaking good words, and doing good deeds, specifically:

  • Telling the truth at all times – especially keeping promises
  • Practicing charity to all – especially those less fortunate
  • Showing love for others – even if they did not return the sentiment
  • Moderation in all things – especially in diet

The new religion caught on, and it spread throughout ancient Persia, not so much through evangelistic efforts as through the virtuous behavior of believers who adhered to three core values:

  • To make friends of enemies
  • To make the wicked righteous
  • To make the ignorant learned”[vii]

I have to confess: I didn’t know any of this before doing my research for this sermon and I am astounded by all of it.  I’m not planning to become a Zoroastrian, but on this first Sunday of a New Year I can hardly imagine a better set of resolutions than these: to tell the truth at all times, to practice charity to all, to show love for others, and to practice moderation in all things.  And I can also hardly imagine a better way to win converts to the Christian religion than by doing what these Zoroastrians tried to do: make friends of enemies, make the wicked righteous, and make the ignorant learned.

And so I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that the wise men, the magi, who show up in our Gospel lesson from Matthew, chapter 2, were probably not three kings named Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, and probably not Professors of Astrology at the University of Persia,[viii] but were instead probably Zoroastrian priests.  Listen to this description: “While little is known about how the faith was observed or how rituals were conducted, sacrifices, probably in the form of food, grains, and precious objects, were delivered to the magi—the priests—in return for their intercession with [God], and this practice made the clergy one of the wealthiest and most powerful social classes of Persian society.”  Nevertheless, they remained seekers of the truth, and they scanned the night skies perpetually looking for signs from Ahura Mazda—“the Lord of Wisdom”—that would lead them in the right direction.

They used logic, they used reason, but when they saw a new star blaze into existence in the Western sky, they must have been like schoolboys, jumping for joy, and they must have saddled their camels almost immediately to follow this sign to where they first spotted it, rising above the mountains of Israel, announcing by its very presence the birth of a new king.

It’s a long way from Persia to the Promised Land.  It would have taken them more than a year to get there.  And when they did they would have followed the same road everyone else took from Jericho up to Jerusalem, the royal city, the place you would expect a king to be born.  But something happened as they traveled up that road, something that may have happened to you.  Do you know how it is in the city, that you can’t see the stars at night?  Their feeble glow is overwhelmed by the bright lights of the big city.  And so it was for these wise men: the closer they got to Jerusalem the less they were able to see the star, until finally it was gone altogether, lost in a blaze of ambient light.  So they asked Herod, “Where is the child that has been born king of the Jews?”  And although he didn’t like it, he asked his wise men what they knew.  “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, which was a little town just seven miles from Jerusalem.  Only as they left the bright lights of the big city were the Wise Men able to see that star again, and they followed it until it seemed to rest on top of one particular house, and when they saw that, they were overwhelmed with joy.  Their long journey was over.  When they entered the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother.  And they did something that tells us a lot about them: they knelt down and paid him homage, that is, they worshiped him, this little boy with dirty cheeks and shining eyes.  And then they opened their treasures and gave him gold, frankincense, and myrrh—gifts fit for a king.

In a story about the wise men Garrison Keillor says, “They came from a great distance, following a star, which for wise men was not really very smart.  Because a star is up in the sky, and so the sense of direction you get from a star is going to be a little bit general, and which [house] the star is ‘right over’ kind of depends on where you are standing at the time.  So these guys were navigating on faith.  They took a long trip based on less hard information than a person might like to have.  But, they came through, and they found Christmas, on faith.  They actually found it, and so may we, although it may be even more of an adventure for us today than it was for them back then, because there is so much artificial light during Christmas, and so much reflected light, that there’s kind of a general glow, and it may be hard to pick out stars in the sky, just as it is in the city, even a very bright one.  But it can be found, and it can be followed, and we can find [Christmas].

“There is hope.”[ix]

You’ve seen that bumper sticker: “Wise men still seek him.”  So they do, and so do wise women and children.  They are seeking the truth, the special knowledge that will set them free, and what today’s scriptures tell us is this: that the truth we are seeking can be found in Jesus.  When we know him—when we truly know him—that truth and that knowledge will make us free.

Jim Somerville © 2022

[i] The 70-year-old RAND Corporation, which claims to be nonpartisan.


[iii] Rebecca Denova, “Gnosticism,” in the World History Encyclopedia (

[iv] Just to be clear, Gnosticism was denounced by the early Christians as a heresy: they didn’t believe that that flesh was evil, and if they had John certainly wouldn’t have told us that the Word that was with God and was God became flesh (ugh!).  But they did believe there was a truth in Jesus that was liberating, a truth that liberates us still.

[v] Joshua L. Mark, “Zoroastrianism,” in the World History Encyclopedia (

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] As I have sometimes imagined them, bumping across the desert on camelback smoking pipes and wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches.

[ix] Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, “Faith: Stories from the Collection” (


Reign of Christ Sunday
John 18:33-37

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.”

You may already know this, but the Christian year is a little different from the calendar year.  The calendar year runs from January through December while the Christian year runs from Advent through Ordinary Time.  “Ordinary time?” you ask.  “Is that the opposite of Daylight Savings Time?”  Well, no, and ordinarily, it wouldn’t make much difference.  But today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, which means we have come to the end of the Christian year.  It’s the perfect time to gather in the harvest of the past twelve months and reflect on what we have learned about Jesus.

As we have worked our way through the Gospel readings each Sunday we have listened to Jesus teach and preach.  We have watched him heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons.  We are at the place, finally, where we can sum up all we know about him, and the way we usually sum things up at the end of the Christian year is to crown him king.  That’s what some people call this Sunday: “Christ the King.”  Others call it “Reign of Christ.”  Either way, it holds out the hope that those of us who have been following Jesus closely in the past year will have come to the place where we can affirm what the New Testament so boldly proclaims: that Jesus really is the “king of kings and lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; Rev. 19:16).  That seems especially bold when you consider that the only crown Jesus got to wear in this world was a crown of thorns, and that when he was “lifted up” (as he put it) it wasn’t onto a throne, but onto a cruel Roman cross.  Nonetheless, he was a king, and some people seemed to know it all along.

We’ve been talking about the “Faith of Our Mothers” recently.  We’ve looked at the stories of Ruth, Naomi, and Hannah.  I thought we might conclude with those women who were there at Jesus’ crucifixion (what some people might call his “coronation”), but as I tried to identify those women I found that each of the Gospel writers has a different list.  Matthew mentions “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”  Mark also mentions Mary Magdalene, but adds “Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.  Luke only tells us that “the women who had followed him from Galilee” were at his crucifixion, but in the next chapter names them as “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them.”  And finally John says, “Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”  By the way, John is the only one who mentions a man at the foot of the cross, and it won’t surprise you to learn that that man is “the disciple Jesus loved.”

But look how many women!  There’s the wife of Zebedee, Salome, Joanna, Jesus’ aunt, his mother Mary, and about four other Marys, including Mary Magdalene, the only one mentioned by all four Gospel writers.  I thought about focusing on her today, but the Bible really doesn’t say that much about Mary Magdalene.  And so I decided to talk about this other Mary, the mother of Jesus, if only because we know so much more about her.

According to Luke, Mary was just a girl when the angel Gabriel came to her and said, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you!” While she was wondering what sort of greeting this might be, Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and name him Jesus.”  “How can this be,” she asked, “since I am a virgin?”  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” Gabriel said, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.  And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was thought to be barren, for nothing will be impossible with God!”  And that’s when Mary said, “Well then, here I am, the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be unto me according to your word.”  In other words she believed everything the angel had told her, but after he had gone she thought it wouldn’t hurt to get some proof.

So she packed her things and hurried off to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and when she called out to her at the gate the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And who am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy, and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord!”  And that’s when Mary threw her head back and began to sing a song we have come to call The Magnificat.  Listen:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Afterward, Mary remained with Elizabeth for about three months, and then returned to her home.

Some of you know that my mother’s name was Mary—Mary Rice.  Most people called her “Ricie,” but along with that childhood nickname she carried the name of Jesus’ mother, and she carried it proudly.  She grew up in the Presbyterian Church but when she was sixteen she met some girls who were going to Columbia Bible College in Columbia, South Carolina.  They were Baptist.  They talked to her about Jesus and convinced her to be baptized in the Baptist way, by immersion.  That was a pivotal moment for her, and it was one of the things that got her thinking about being a missionary.

She went off to King College in Bristol, Tennessee, and while she was there she met a young man named Jim Somerville, the son of a Presbyterian preacher.  He thought she was the prettiest girl in the freshman class and told her so.  They began to go out together.  Eventually they were engaged to be married, but in the summer before his senior year, while he was sweating at a summer job in sultry South Carolina and she was cooling it at her parents’ summer cottage in the mountains of North Carolina, she sent him a letter breaking off the engagement.  He didn’t think twice.  He got in his car and drove to the mountains to see her.  He took her out on a lonely road somewhere, stopped the car, and asked her what all this was about.  “Well,” she said, “I feel called to be a missionary, and if I marry you I’ll never get to do that.”  Things were quiet in the car for a long time, and then my mother heard a voice that said, “There’s your mission field.”  She looked over and there was my dad.  And in that moment she felt as if her prayer had been answered, as if somehow, marrying this man would lead to the fulfillment of her missionary calling.  And so she said yes, and the engagement was back on, and maybe, because of what she told him, my dad followed in his father’s footsteps; he went off to seminary to become a Presbyterian preacher.

Mom went with him to his first church in Troy, Alabama, where two of her sons were born.  She went with him to Hayneville, Alabama, where I was born.  She went with him to Wise, Virginia, where her next two sons were born.  And finally she went with him to Boone County, West Virginia, where her last son was born.  In those days Dad was doing what was essentially missionary work, and my mother tried to help in every way she could, but she had six sons to raise, and the more she dedicated herself to that work the more she became convinced that that was her mission—raising those boys, and training them for their own mission fields.  I heard her say on more than one occasion, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

Would it surprise you to learn that every one of her six sons has been engaged in full-time or part-time Christian service?  That among them have been pastors, missionaries, musicians, worship leaders, lay preachers, and Christian educators?  My mother’s impact was felt in our lives, and although my father was the pastor I think it is fair to say that she was my single greatest religious influence.  So, I think about that other Mary, the mother of Jesus, rocking his cradle and singing that song, the one about the high and mighty being brought down while the meek and lowly were lifted up.  How much of that song ended up in Jesus’ life?  How much of his own mission and ministry was influenced by the mission of his mother?  They say the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world and this hand—Mary’s hand—rocked the cradle of the one who would become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate who asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus’ eventual answer is that his kingdom is not from this world, and it is not.  If it were from this world the rich and powerful would be in charge and the poor and pitiful would not.  But in Jesus’ kingdom the least are great and the last are first and the world is upside down.  Listen to the opening lines of his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the

     kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be


Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the


If you listen to those words in the right frame of mind they sound like the announcement of a revolution, as if God’s Kingdom were about to break into the world like a rock through a plate glass window, and the people who had had almost nothing before were going to end up with almost everything.  Where do you think Jesus got that?  Did any part of it come from the woman who sang:

[The Lord] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

I know that Jesus was the Son of his Heavenly Father, but he was also the Son of his Earthly Mother, and who knows how much of who he was came from her?

According to John she was one of those women who was there at his crucifixion, and “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (Jn. 19:26-27).  But think about that hour, when Jesus’ mother stood there, looking up at that cross, watching her own son die.  Is there any mother among us who cannot feel her pain?  If she had known it would come to this would she have said yes to Gabriel?  Would she have said, “Let it be with me according to your word?”  Or would she have said, “Please, please find someone else!”

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.  Mary did say yes, but maybe she should have seen where things were headed when she was forced to deliver God’s son in a stable, and wrap him in bands of cloth, and lay him in a feed trough.  And maybe she should have been warned when old Simeon, the prophet, told her that her child was set for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and that a sword would pierce her own soul, also.  Maybe she was trying to keep this hour from coming when she and her sons came to take Jesus home, that time when people were saying that he had “gone out of his mind.”  And now here he was, hanging from a cross, condemned to die for claiming that he was “the king of the Jews.”

At least, that’s what some people said.

But as Mary watched the blood trickling from his noble brow like anointing oil, as she saw the crown of thorns turn golden in the afternoon sunlight, and as she read the word “King” written on the placard above his head, she may have thought, “Yes.  He is a king.  He’s a king like no other who has ever lived.”  And she may have said out loud the words he had heard so many times before, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

—Jim Somerville © 2021