Change: John

Change: John
A Message on John 19:25b-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 14, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 19:25b-27 (NRSV)

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

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As we continue our sermon series on Change today we take a closer look at John the Apostle.

Now there can be some confusion because the name John refers to several people in the New Testament. There is John the Baptist, an unorthodox man who lived in the desert and ate grasshoppers and wild honey, and who came proclaiming repentance and baptizing people.

The John we are talking about today is not that John. John the Baptist, if you remember, was beheaded by King Herod after his wife’s daughter asked for John’s head on a platter.

So we know John the Apostle is not John the Baptist. Two different people.

John the Apostle is one of Jesus’ disciples, a fisherman by trade before Jesus asks him and his brother James to learn how to fish for people.

John is considered to be the youngest of the disciples. And while we don’t have definitive historical documentation of the fate of all 12 disciples, it is believed that John was the only one of the 12 (or 13 if you count Judas) disciples to reach old age. The others were all martyred in various ways because of their faith.

John is credited with writing the Gospel of John, the epistles of John 1, 2, and 3, and maybe Revelation. Scholars don’t agree on whether John the Apostle is John of Patmos who wrote the book of Revelation while stranded on the island of Patmos.

Regardless, John is a very important person in the faith. He was called by Jesus, traveled with Jesus, and learned from him and saw his miracles. He was a first-hand eyewitness of the life and teachings of Jesus.

In our first reading today from the beginning of the epistle of 1 John, we find John telling his readers this: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…”

John was there. He heard Jesus speak, he saw Jesus perform miracles, he touched Jesus and those he healed. He is a reliable witness.

In the second scripture reading today from the Gospel of John we find John being an eyewitness to perhaps the most difficult event John ever experienced: the crucifixion of Jesus.

Jesus has been arrested, beaten, tried, and sentenced to death on a cross. The Roman soldiers dutifully carried out their orders and have nailed Jesus to the cross and are waiting for him to painfully die.

There are three women gathered there who are looking up at Jesus as this happens, and all three of them have the name Mary. There is Mary, the mother of Jesus. There is another Mary, who is her sister (I know, I know, two sisters with the same name, but it happened…), known as Mary, the wife of Clopas (who we really don’t know much about but who is believed to be a follower of Jesus), and Mary Magdalene, which means her name is Mary and she came from the town of Magdala, a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

There is another person with the three Marys. He is not mentioned by name, but only by the cryptic description of “the disciple whom he [Jesus] loved.” We find that phrase used six times in the New Testament, and all of them are in the gospel of John.

There is debate over which one of the disciples this refers to. Historically it has been believed that it referred to John, the person who wrote it. Personally, that’s what I believe. But why didn’t John just use his name instead of the phrase, “the disciple whom he loved”?

My theory is he did it because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself and away from Jesus. He wanted to keep the focus on Jesus, not on himself. I think he did it as an act of humbleness.

So John is at the foot of the cross with the three Marys. This brings up the question, “Where are all the other disciples?”

The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I believe they were in hiding. And while I would like to believe that if I was in their position I wouldn’t do that, the reality is I probably would. They believed Jesus was the Son of God, the messiah, and they probably had a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that Jesus was arrested, beaten, and crucified. And they were worried that as the followers of Jesus, the same thing might happen to them.

But the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” John, took the risk and was at the foot of the cross.

Jesus sees him there with his mother and tells his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” He then looks at John and says, “Here is your mother.”

Now it’s easy to overlook the significance of these two small sentences, but they are very important.

We have to remember that back in those days there were no programs or social agencies to take care of widows or those in need. That responsibility fell to the family members. That’s why it was so important for couples to have children back in that day. The adult children were expected to take care of their aging parents, and if the couple didn’t have any children, they were in a very tough spot.

After family, the religious institutions took on the responsibility of taking care of the elderly and widows. Both the Jewish faith and the followers of Christ emphasized taking care of the widows and orphans, simply because no one else did.

What Jesus says to his mother and John from the cross indicates to me that he knew he was dying. He knew he would not be able to take care of his mother. So he places that responsibility on John, charging him with doing so.

To me this is one of the most beautiful expressions that Jesus makes. Take care of each other. Blood doesn’t make family, but love does.

John experienced a lot of change in his life. He went from being a fisherman to being a follower of Jesus Christ and fishing for people. He witnessed some great, extraordinary things.

And then it all seemingly fell apart. Jesus is arrested, beaten, sentenced to death by crucifixion, and nailed to a cross to die. John had to be confused, angry, scared, and perplexed by the situation.

And then Jesus asks John to take care of Mary, Jesus’ mother. It was an honor, but also a burden. It was a heavy responsibility.

When we experience change in our lives we can also go through a range of emotions. We can become confused, angry, scared, and perplexed. And yet we can take comfort in the midst of all of that knowing that God is with us, and if we focus on taking care of each other.

If we back up to the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John we find Jesus preparing his disciples for what is going to happen. After the last supper, after he washes the disciples’ feet (including Judas’!), they go out into the night. Jesus gives them final instructions and teaching before he is arrested.

One of the things he tells them is to love one another. “I give you a new commandment, that you 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.” John 13:34-35

We live in an increasingly anxious world. We have become a world that has become so divided, so angry, that on certain topics people no longer disagree with respect but yell, scream, and bash anyone that doesn’t believe the same as they do.

While the numbers are currently going down (thank God!) the COVID virus still creates anxiety in our world. Will there be another variant? Should children be vaccinated? Should vaccines be mandated?

There are problems in the supply chain for the things we buy. A shortage of computer chips is causing lots of problems, ships sitting in the ocean off the coast of California can’t unload for various reasons.

Inflation keeps going up, businesses are having great difficulty getting employees to work, a gallon of gas is now right at $3 a gallon, and there is expected to be spikes in energy prices this winter.

And yet in the midst of all this “gloom and doom” Jesus calls us to love one another. “Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” Jesus accepted death on the cross because of his love for us, and God allowed it to happen because of his love for us.

Love is powerful. And to quote that old song, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”

Yes, as Christians we are experiencing a great deal of change in our lives now. But as followers of Jesus Christ we are to follow his command to love one another. We are to be a bright light in a world that seems to be becoming increasingly dark. We are to be joyful even when things look bad. Not in a fake way, but in a sincere way.

Back before we went into the ministry we bought a house in Kilgore. We loved that house. One of the reasons we loved it was because of our neighbor, Alta.

Alta was in her upper 80s when we moved in, and she was a hoot. Her husband had died years earlier and they had no children. The couple we had bought the house from had kind of “adopted” her as a grandmother.

For example, Alta had a washing machine but not a dryer. She was old school and dried her clothes on a clothesline (which I like to call a “passive solar evaporative clothes drying device”). The couple we bought the house from would let her come over and use their dryer to dry her clothes when the weather kept her from using her clothes line.

Soon after we moved in we looked up one day and Alta was walking through our house with a basket of wet laundry. Come to find out she had a key to the house. She asked, “Is it okay if I use your dryer?” Well, what are we going to say, right?

Our oldest daughter, Sarah, was about 3 years old when we moved in next to Alta. Sarah had trouble saying Alta’s name, and said “Alva” instead. One day I made the mistaking of correcting Sarah in front of Alta. Alta turned to me and said, “You leave her alone. She can call me whatever she likes.”

One day Sarah woke up and couldn’t find Pam. I was at work, and Pam was in the shower, but for some reason Sarah didn’t look there. She got scared and thought we had gone off and left her (that’s the way 3-year-old minds work, you know) so she opened the door, ran outside, and ran over to Alta’s house and started banging on the door.

Alta came to her door to find a crying 3-year-old saying that her momma had left her all alone. Alta assured her that was not the case, took her by the hand, and walked her back over to our house.

Pam gets out of the shower looks and there is Alta and Sarah in the bathroom with her. Alta explained what had happened, and the both of them explained to Sarah that she had not been abandoned.

Alta was not related to us. She didn’t even have kids of her own, much less grandkids. And yet she loved us as if we were her own family. She would bake cakes and bring them to us. She would give us fresh peas in the summer, or peaches, or whatever was in season. She checked on us, visited with us, and I know prayed for us. In short she loved us. And we loved her.

“Here is your son.” “Here is your mother.” “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

So my challenge to you today is to be like John. Love one another. Take care of one another. Knock down the walls that separate us that are put there by society and love extravagantly those on the other side. Go so far as to do what Jesus asks us to do and love even our enemies.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe, because God is love. God loves us. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. Therefore let us draw near to the cross of Jesus and love one another, showing the world just how powerful the love of Jesus Christ is.

Let us be like Alta, and let us be like Jesus.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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