Rev. Teri Peterson
23 February 2014, NL4-25
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’
Whenever something new is happening, there’s always a group of people who get on board right away. Think of the people who camp out for the new iPhone, or who are always first to download new software, or who are at the forefront of a new idea. These people hear about something and want to go for it right away.
Statistically, about 14% of any given group of people will be in this group of early adopters—people who jump right in and try it out.
And then there are the people who wait and wait and wait before trying it out—maybe they’re waiting for all the bugs to be worked out, or to see if it really works, or to see who else is doing it and what they think. If someone popular, or someone close to them, starts talking about how great it is, then a bunch of these people will jump on board.
A good example of this is Facebook. Even when it became available beyond college campuses, it was slow to take off. People trickled on, trying it out, while others mocked it as a waste of time filled with minutia. But once people started to realize it was a way to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren, and once it started to make news, then all those people who’d been insisting it was nothing more than a pointless way to share what you had for breakfast started joining themselves, and now there are over 1 billion users worldwide.
I’m pretty sure this is what we’re seeing in today’s gospel reading: early adopters and skeptics come head to head.
Jesus and the disciples are at the festival of Sukkoth—which involves both the building of temporary tabernacles and a series of offerings of grain and water. It’s a celebration of God’s presence with the people, and a thanksgiving for the harvest. There’s lots of revelry happening, and the city is crowded. When the police go looking to arrest Jesus, they find him in the midst of that crowd, many of whom are wondering about him, and trying to decide just who he is exactly. The prophet returned to prepare the way? The messiah? Someone else?
And then someone says: well, obviously not. No one important comes from Galilee.
But the police, meanwhile, are back with the Pharisees, whose questions begin with “have you also been deceived?” Because no one important comes from Galilee. This guy, and his disciples, and his teaching, and his movement—they are all nonsense, ridiculous, pointless. Don’t fall into the trap of following him, because no one important does. That’s how you know he’s disposable.
And I wonder: how often do we discard people or ideas because they come in the wrong package, or because no one in a position of power is going along?
I mean, we could just as easily say: no one important comes from the projects. no one important comes from Mexico. no one important is poor. no one important has brown skin. and besides, the people with power all agree with me, so I must be right. They don’t matter, so we don’t have to listen to them…and then it’s a short step to “we’d better stop them before they get too big for their britches.” And please let’s not pretend that we would never think that. More often than not, we’re more like the Pharisees in this story, or at least the police who sit on the fence, than we are like Jesus. We regularly value, or de-value, people based on what they look like, where they come from, how educated they are, what kind of job they have, what they have to offer us, what kind of accent they speak with. Jesus comes to wash those boundaries away, but we’re not always sure we want to let them go.
It’s easy to be a skeptic from the position of privilege. After all, we see no need to be first to follow this guy. We can afford to sit back and wait, see if he proves himself, see if they can work the bugs out, see if anyone higher up steps out before we commit. And while we wait, to keep a close eye on whether or not he threatens our position or our security. The slightest wrong move, the slightest glitch in the system, and we’re ready to pounce.
But Jesus calls us to be early adopters—to come and see, not to wait and see. We are called to take him at his word and follow because of who he is, not because of who else does. He offers us more than certainty, he offers us the bread of life and streams of living water.
Opening our hands to hold that bread and feel that cool nourishing water, though, means letting go of some things we hold dear. It involves letting go of our ideas about how things should be. It involves letting go of our past and stepping into God’s new story. It involves setting aside our personal desires in order to seek the Spirit’s desire. It involves relying on God more than on ourselves. It involves trusting that God’s image is just as present in a stranger who comes from the wrong part of town as it is in our own faces. It involves laying down our weapons—whether they are weapons of steel or weapons of words—and also turning the other cheek, highlighting the powerlessness of those weapons.
And you know what? Not many people are doing that stuff. Even 2,000 years after Jesus walked among us, if we do these things, we’ll still be early adopters.
What would the world look like if followers of Jesus stepped out onto his path, regardless of what politicians, celebrities, and CEOs thought, said, and did?
Jesus fed people.
Jesus healed people.
Jesus stood up to the powers that dehumanized and abused.
Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers.”
Jesus said “I came not to be served, but to serve.”
Jesus ate with all the wrong people from the wrong neighborhoods.
Jesus said “sell all you own and give the money to the poor.”
Jesus crossed the tracks on purpose and hung out with outcasts and foreigners.
Jesus said “put down your sword.”
Jesus took what looked like nothing and turned it into abundance.
Jesus said “love your enemies.”
Here’s the thing: almost no one in power is going to applaud followers of Jesus for doing these things, because they are threatening to the system we have set up. They threaten our place of privilege in that system. They make it hard for us to live with some of the reality of our world. And it should be hard to live with the reality of our world—where 20% of the children in this country go to bed hungry, where people are killed for the color of their skin or for who they love, where we have to hold bake sales to pay for cancer treatment, where nearly a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water. What does it mean to let a spring of living water flow from us, from believers, from the body of Christ, in that world?
Because being a follower of Jesus means more than loving him silently in our hearts, and more than coming to worship for an hour a week. What if that peace like a river flowed not just in our souls, but right out into the world? Jesus says that springs of living water flow through us, which means that life literally springs forth wherever there are followers of Jesus. How often are we agents of life? How often are we the light shining in the darkness? Are we offering light and life in our workplaces? In our homes? In our neighborhoods? By being in touch with people in power? In our reading of the news? By recognizing our privilege and doing our best to raise up those our culture deems disposable? By loving our enemies in tangible ways, not just with empty words? By standing up for those whose voices our system has silenced?
If we’re waiting for the early adopters to test this out for us, we’ll be waiting another 2,000 years. If we’re hanging back until someone prominent comes out and urges us all to join in this way of life, we’ll hang back forever. If we’re busy looking at all the things we think we know, we’ll miss what Jesus is doing right in front of us.
As GK Chesterton said: “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Which leaves plenty of room for us to be the early adopters, to walk this path and find that peace, joy, and love spring up in us and through us and wherever we go. Who knows, it might even spread, one person, one action, one word at a time.
May it be so. Amen.