Monday, January 26, 2015

Leg 2: Chelsea v Liverpool

From the cautiously optimistic comments from Rodgers in regard to Sturridge, I am thinking Sturridge will not be playing Tuesday but maybe a substitute for Saturday's home match against West Ham.

Am not sure who is going to lose playing time when Sturridge is slowly worked back into the line up. Right now, looks like Rodgers' favorite three speedsters are: Coutinho, Sterling, Lallana. If I had to guess, Lallana would come off when Sturridge comes on the 2nd half for some fresh attacking vigor. Once Sturridge is shown to be 100% healthy again, he will start and Lallana may come in as the substitute for whomever looks to need a break.

My guess for the XI on Tuesday:
Goalie: Mignolet
Defense: Sakho, Can, Skrtel
Midfield: Markovic, Henderson, Moreno, Lucas
Forward: Gerrard, Sterling, Coutinho

Subs:
Goalie: Ward
Defense: Lovren, Johnson
Midfield: Lallana, Allen
Forward: Borini, Lambert

Lallana and Borini likely first off the bench.

Not sure what they would do if they find themselves in the surprising position of having to hold a lead! Gerrard is sure to stay in the game especially if there is a possibility of PKs. Only see the manager taking him out of the game if it gets out of hand. Though Rodgers did take him out at the 70 minute mark in the first leg of this semi-final.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV) Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Over the years, I've heard many sermons that talk about "the kingdom of God." I suppose the simplest explanation I have heard, that I remember, is that the "the kingdom of God has come" means that the King has come, and, of course, that king is Jesus! Now, of course, God has been ruling the universe all along, but in terms of a distinct and dramatic intervention in human affairs, the arrival of Jesus into human history is huge. And, so it is here announced.

So what happens next? What response is called forth?

Repent. Believe. Follow.

Repent means to change one's mind. At the most basic level, I think the change is from "I am the king" to "Jesus is the king." As human beings, autonomy is a big deal. Self-pleasure and self-preservation and self-gain is what drives us. I want things my way. What is in it for me. Its comfortable and convenient for me. Me, me, me. I, I, I. Repent! Our outlook shifts from looking at ourselves to looking up to the King.

I suppose another level of change of one's mind is in regard to sin. Going from thinking, there is no such thing as sin to saying, yes, there is such a thing of sin. Going from saying, I'm not sinner or I'm not very much of a sinner to saying, I'm a sinner and I need help!

Believe means to think something is true and to have confidence in it. So often, skeptical people think faith means, I conjure up the will and emotion in regards to something false. As such, they conclude that, at best, belief is a useful fiction and, at worst, self-deception.

To the contrary, Biblical belief is a confidence in the truthfulness and validity of the object of that belief, in this case, the Good News. And the Good News is the proclamation that Jesus is the King and He is here and because of this the status quo of the human condition has been changed!

Follow means come here and come now with an imperative commanding tone! In the case of the disciples in this episode, they immediately left their nets and their life as fishermen.

We work at what ever jobs we work at and so does this mean we should quit our jobs?

Well, maybe, but probably not. We have to remember that Jesus' call on the disciples was unique in the sense that these guys became the Apostolic foundation of the Church. In the case of the disciples, they were having a change in vocation from fishermen to Apostles! So then, how does this "follow" apply to us?

I suppose we need to look at the totality of our life and see if there are aspects of our life that we need to leave behind. Scan through our 24 hours in a day and see if there are things we are doing that perhaps we need to leave behind? Are their behaviors that we know that God is not pleased with?

Beyond behavior, we need to check our attitudes. Are their thought patterns we need to leave behind? In professional sports, it is often said that the talent gaps are not large but the mental part of the game is what separates the champions from the rest of the field. And so are their things in our minds and things we feed our minds that need to be left behind because Jesus has commanded us to follow him?

Following involves leaving something or someplace. But it also involves going somewhere perhaps unfamiliar or doing something perhaps unexpected. And so, maybe we keep the same vocation but maybe do it somewhere else? Maybe we keep the same vocation but take a different attitude about what it means to us?

In the organization of our day-to-day life, certainly, our jobs take a big chunk and so perhaps Jesus call to follow Him might mean taking a look at how we use our time outside our job? He maybe asking us to follow Him into participation as a volunteer in the church youth group. Or maybe to join the team that provides practical help for individuals or families the church has come to know are in need. It starts with asking God, help me to have a heart to serve others. It continues with a prayer to have eyes and ears to see and hear where the need might be that God is asking me to follow Him to meet. It could be something the church is doing we could plug into. It could be a neighbor. It could be some community group. Following Him means an openness to possibilities.

The call to discipleship starts with a change of mind about the way we have seen things. It continues onto a trust and confidence in Jesus as our Lord and King. When these two things happen, our lives will change as we will want to follow Him. He will lead us into surprising places, doing things we probably never expected and almost certainly with people we would not have considered.

Lord, have your way with us as your way is the way of truth and life! Help me follow! Amen.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Liverpool FC Manager Brenden Rodger's Challenge - XI for Bolton Match?

Jan 17 - Liverpool defeated Aston Villa 2-0 in Premier League game
Jan 20 - Liverpool drew against Chelsea 1-1 in League Cup game
Jan 24 - Liverpool will play Bolton in an FA Cup game
Jan 27 - Liverpool will play Chelsea in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final
Jan 31 - Liverpool will play West Ham in a Premier League game.

Five games in 15 days!

Manager Brendan Rodgers has to decide his starting XI and substitutes for each match. Much like a baseball manger, he will occasionally rest older players or players he thinks need a break. For instance, Sterling, a younger player but plays a position that requires a lot of running, was rested in the two matches prior to Aston Villa. Gerrard, an older player, was not in the Aston Villa contest recovering from an injury and was substituted out in the middle of the second half of the game against Chelsea.

What line-up card will Rodgers fill out for the FA Cup match this Saturday knowing they have a huge battle with Chelsea on Tuesday?

Will Gerrard be a substitute this Saturday coming in during the second half? Or perhaps he will start but be substituted out in the second half?

If Liverpool can get a two-goal lead against Bolton, would Rodgers sub in one of the other strikers (Borini, Lambert or Lallana) and give Sterling a break?

UPDATE:  Over at the LFC site, reporting on Rodgers' press conference, he hinted that he will bring in some of the younger players for the FA Cup match this Saturday. Excerpt:
Due to Liverpool's congested fixture schedule, Rodgers explained he will give thought to rotating his line-up slightly, with some of the club's youngsters likely to get an opportunity. "We'll make some changes, but it's a game we want to win and we want to progress into the next round," said the boss. "I'll do what I've done right the way through the season and look at our squad. We've got some very good players and we'll look to make changes, but not too many."
UPDATE: Liverpool Echo gets its writers to speculate on the starting XI.

The line-up for the game against Chelsea is probably Rodgers' current favorite:
Goalie: Mignolet
Defense: Sakho, Can, Skrtel
Midfield: Gerrard, Henderson, Moreno, Lucas
Forward: Coutinho, Sterling, Markovic

Have marked in bold the ones likely to get a break on Saturday. Probably want to have Lallana up front to see what he has got coming back from injury and give Coutinho a rest. Plug in Manquillo for Gerrard and Johnson for Skrtel.

Hopefully, the team can get a good lead in the first half allowing them to sub in some people in the second half to test  a younger player (Rossiter), guys back from injury (Allen, Balotelli), and give some of the strikers some more work (Lambert, Borini). But of course, you never know what will happen as Cambridge held Man United 0-0!

My pick for the XI:
Goalie: Mignolet
Defense: Sakho, Can, Johnson
Midfield: Manquillo, Henderson, Moreno, Lucas
Forward: Lallana, Sterling, Markovic

If things go well, look for subs Lambert for Sterling, Rossiter for Lucas, Balotelli for Markovic.


Learning to be a Liverpool FC fan, part II

6. Liverpool has a been one of the more successful football clubs in its long history. They participate in many different competitions and have taken home the top prize on a number of occasions.
For a list of their trophies go to http://www.liverpoolfc.com/history/honours

Of UK honors:

7. Liverpool has won 18 League Championships of the top tier since the system started in 1888. The last title was in the 1989-90 season. Currently, the top tier league is the Premier League started in 1992. They have yet to win a championship in the Premier League.
For more about the Premier League go to http://www.premierleague.com/content/premierleague/en-gb/about/history.html

8. They have won 7 FA Cups which has been contested since 1871. The FA Cup competition involves 10 levels of football leagues (736 clubs qualified to participate in the FA CUP in the 2014-15 season). Liverpool last won the FA Cup for the 2005-06 season.
For more about the FA Cup go to http://www.thefa.com/Competitions/FACompetitions/TheFACup/History/historyofthefacup

9. The League Cup competition began with the 1960-61 season and Liverpool has won 8 times with the last being the 2011-12 season. The 2014-15 competition draws from the top 4 leagues for a total of 92 teams.
For more about the League Cup go to http://www.capitalonecup.co.uk/competition/history/

Of European honors:

10. Liverpool has won 5 European Cups. This competition has been occurring since 1955 and is now known as the UEFA Champions League since 1992. Liverpool last won in the 2004-05 season. The victory in the finals of that year has been called the "Miracle of Istanbul" when Liverpool recovered from a 3-0 deficit to AC Milan and won in penalty kicks.
For more about the Champions League go to http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/history/background/index.html

11. Since 1971, UEFA has held a secondary competition called the UEFA Cup, now called UEFA Europa League (since 2009). Liverpool has won 3 times last in the 2000-01 season.
For more about the Europa League go to http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuropaleague/history/index.html

Monday, January 19, 2015

Learning to be a Liverpool FC fan, part I

Will be updating this periodically as I learn more about my newly adopted team.

1. The Liverpool anthem is the song, "You'll Never Walk Alone," from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.



2. The home colors are red and road colors are yellow.

3. Though one of the more successful UK football clubs since its founding in 1892, it has never won an English Premier League (EPL) title since EPL's formation in 1992.

4. The geographic rivals of Liverpool is Everton, also in Liverpool, that plays in Goodison Park a mere one mile away. The other geographic rival is Manchester United, 35 miles to the east.

5. The home pitch is Anfield. Interestingly, Everton used Anfield from 1884 to 1891. However, there was a dispute between the team and the stadium owners. Everton moved to Goodison Park and Anfield's owners started Liverpool FC.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 1:43-51 (NRSV) The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Have to say over the years, when it comes to hearing sermons about the 12 disciples, most of the time, it is about Peter, James, and John. And, understandably, there is a lot more source material in the Gospels about them. But for today’s lectionary reading and reflection, we hear about the story of Philip and Nathanael.

It is thought that Nathanael is also known as Bartholomew who appears in passages where the 12 disciples were named (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16). The name Bartholomew only occurs in the New Testament as part of lists of the 12 disciples. His names appears also in the list of 11 disciples found in Acts 1:13. Nathanael only appears in this reading in John 1 and in a list of names of the disciples with Peter when they go back to fishing in John 21.

Nathanael was skeptical when Philip told him about Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. Nazareth was a small remote town of little renown and in terms of prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures there was no expectation of someone coming from there. Nonetheless, he went along with Philip to see Jesus.

Jesus saw Nathanael and said, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

To which Nathanael replied, “Where did you get to know me?” Nathanael was obviously taken aback since they had never met; yet Jesus made a statement about the character of Nathanael.

Jesus further stunned him by saying, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 

Commentators noted that having a fig tree in one’s home was described in 1 Kings 4:25, Micah 4:4, and Zechariah 3:10) and was likely a location for personal reflection, reading and prayer. At this point Nathanael had heard enough and exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Bill Creasy offered an interesting and plausible explanation as to what Nathanael might have been pondering under the fig tree: the story of Jacob and Jacob’s vision of a ladder from heaven found in Genesis 28:10-17. And that certainly makes senses. Nathanel could have been wondering under the fig tree, how could God be so generous to a deceitful man like Jacob? And then, boom, Jesus walked up to him and told him, you are an Israelite without deceit who was pondering the story of Jacob under the fig tree just before we met!

Jesus then struck again the Jacob theme by saying to Nathanael, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” God used this vision to promise Jacob that God will be with Jacob and will bless him. Jesus claimed the vision for himself and that Nathanael would see the amazing things that will happen because God is with Jesus and God’s blessings will flow forth. 

What are some take home messages from this episode?

One, right off the bat, is the unique and personal way that God reaches out to us. When we read of Jesus encounters with people in the Gospels, he finds a unique connection, something that freezes them in their tracks. Think about how Jesus dialoged with Nicodemus in John 3 or the Woman at the Well in John 4? Think of the parables that Jesus told and how the images in those stories would poke people like a splinter in their fingers. Its amazing how Jesus called forth Matthew and Zaccheus in such public ways to address that fact they were social outcasts as tax collectors.

Coming to trust in God is truly a work of God. It is his divine initiative in reaching out to us in a way that evokes a response from us. Each story is different and a miracle and to be cherished and shared. One of my favorite parts of gathering with fellow believers is hearing the story of how people come to faith. Sometimes, it is when they were young, sometimes it is when they are adults, and sometimes it is in a big Billy Graham meeting while others it is in a quiet personal moment. Thank God that God reaches out to us in unique ways!

I think another part of the story we can take home is the role of Philip. It is God’s initiative that people come to faith but we are given the privilege of participation. Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see.” Philip served as the bridge from Nathanael to meet Jesus. Philip did the same thing for a group of Greeks in John 12:20-22. He facilitates an introduction to Jesus.

Can we be like Philip and facilitate introductions of people to Jesus?

How do people see Jesus today?

I think there are three ways we can facilitate an introduction to Jesus and thus participate in helping people see Jesus. One, live a Christ-like life. When people see me, do they see a glimpse of Jesus? Two, is my church being Jesus’ hands and feet? We call the church the body of Christ. Lord, have mercy that the church so often fails to show people Jesus! Third, show people the Jesus seen in the Scriptures.

God is at work reaching out to people and we have the honor of being part of the work He is already doing! Lord, help me this week, to yield to you and have ears to hear and eyes to see opportunities to point people to Jesus! Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

GOP Tribes for 2016

Candidates are inching toward the start line with winks and nods.

Unlike other countries with low barriers to entry to parliament where multiple parties are normal, in the USA, there are really only two political parties. Officially, there are other parties but they really don't play on the national stage and for that matter rarely impact state and local races.

However, within the two major parties in the USA, there are distinct tribes.

In the GOP, they can be broadly described as: establishment Republicans, national security hawks, social conservatives, and libertarian/tea-party.

Of the current crop of possible candidates, how do they fit into these tribes?

In the establishment wing of the party:
Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie. These guys really are the big three right now. If they really enter the race, they will draw a lot of the donor dollars and media oxygen.

There are others who have enough national standing for various reasons such that I would think they garner the "establishment" label. Rick Perry being from Texas (a big red state) leaps to mind. I would say he may also draw social conservatives too. Marco Rubio was originally a tea-party backed outsider but he has gained enough national stature that I'd consider him establishment now. Scott Walker has a national profile because of three tough elections in Wisconsin. I would think because of his fights with entrenched government interests within his state, he would get some tea-party support should he run.

John Kasich would be in this group but he hasn't made as much noise (unlike the above six) to indicate he is running. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan seems to have declared pretty clearly he won't run.

National security hawks:
John Bolton, Lindsey Graham, and Peter King. I think these would run to bring national security issues to the forefront but wouldn't be likely to actually get the nomination.

Social conservatives:
Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, and Bobby Jindal. Of this group, I think Jindal might be able to draw beyond social conservative circles because of this "wonky" persona and executive experience as a governor.

Tea-party/libertarian:
Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. These are the guys who fire up the activists. Whether they can catch on beyond the hard core is another story.

I'm not certain where Carly Florina fits in this four division classification system.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

First Sunday after the Epiphany

Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV) John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
There are a handful of events in the life of Jesus that are described in all four Gospels (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:4-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34. His baptism is one such occasion. I think the two questions that leap to mind is why did Jesus need to be baptized and what does baptism mean?

What does baptism mean?

The first thing we have to remember is that this episode has its roots in Old Testament practices that was different from the baptism of Christians instituted by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20.

Thus, what do we mean by New Testament baptism?

The baptism of Christians instituted in the Great Commission follows after “make disciples” which suggests that baptism is meant to be a public outward act of the inward reality of one's commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. In the Letters of the Apostle Paul, he amplifies this idea by highlighting that baptism identifies us with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:11-13).

I know many churches perform infant baptism. I appreciate the analogy to circumcision to defend the practice. However, I think adult baptism or credo baptism is a more consistent way to apply the description of baptism in the Great Commission, the Book of Acts, and the NT letters.

From what I just wrote, it might then not surprise readers that I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church. The process involved the following steps:

  1. Writing the story of my journey of faith and submitting it to the church membership committee. 
  2. A representative from that committee interviewed me. 
  3. My written testimony was posted for anybody to read on the membership bulletin board at church. 
  4. I shared my testimony to the congregation after which a member rises and said, “Based on the testimony we have heard, I move that we accept NAME into membership upon his/her baptism.” 
  5. The members vote to approve the motion. 
  6. I was baptized on August 24, 1980. 

As you can see the emphasis is on the conscious recognition of the commitment to discipleship and the public declaration of that commitment.

However, let us get back to the passage in Mark. The practice of using water in a religious ceremonial context is obviously not unique to Christians and this episode occurred before the establishment of the church. So what was this baptism all about? From the text itself, we get, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance is translated from the Greek word “metanoia” that means “a change of mind.” Thus, what John the Baptist was doing would be in line with similar practices in the Old Testament times. In this article, we find out that: “Jews practiced baptism as a traditional act of purification and the initiation of converts to Judaism long before the coming of the Messiah.”

Why was Jesus baptized?

We have briefly discussed baptism in the NT church and how it was utilized in OT Jewish life. So how does Jesus’ baptism fit in?

One explanation ties into the “substitution/exchange” we have with Jesus. Jesus died for our sins. There needs to be payment for sin and Jesus substitutes for us. He exchanged his death to give us life. The substitution/exchange works at another level in the question of righteousness. We have filthy rags for righteousness and so Jesus’ righteous life is exchanged for our rubbish "righteousness" so instead we can stand before God with the righteousness of Christ.

The idea of baptism for righteousness sake is hinted at in Matthew 3:15 that adds a little more detail than what we find in Mark: But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

In sum, Jesus participating in baptism proceeds out of his living righteously and that deed plus his lifetime of obedience to the Father can in turn be applied to our benefit upon our repentance and turning to him as our King and Lord and Savior.

Another idea for why Jesus was baptized is that Jesus lives out as a representative of the nation of Israel. In Rob Dalrymple's Understanding Eschatology – Why it matters (p. 40), he offered this explanation for the baptism of Jesus: Jesus is baptized with a baptism of repentance on behalf of the nation of because he knew that repentance must precede the restoration of Israel. So, he repents for the nation. Thus, in his repentance and baptism, the “kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).

Thus, Jesus, through his baptism, showed himself to be the true Israel and the truly righteous man.

So what do we take home from all this?

First, I think it is important for us to delve into the life of Jesus and chew upon the richness of all he has done. We all have our favorite stories in the Gospel where we see the greatness of Jesus. And so, let's keep mulling over the Gospel stories, even beyond our favorites, and keep exploring the complexity of what Jesus did. And in this text, contemplating his baptism as yet another way for us to probe the depths of Jesus life.

This reflection here barely scratches the surface!

Haven’t discussed Mark’s including John the Baptist saying, “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Or taking a look at Luke that expands this by saying “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17). Or meditating upon how about the Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove and the Father saying, You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.

Second, if we have been baptized, we should reflect on that experience and renew our commitment to discipleship, to being a learner, a Jesus follower. And of course, if you haven’t been baptized, you should consider talking to the appropriate people at your church to be baptized. It’s a way of putting faith into a tangible action. God’s grace has been in your life and receiving baptism would be a tangible and visible and public statement of that grace leading to obedience.

Lord, may we yield our lives to you. We know that you are pleased when we follow your ways and publicly declare we belong to you. Amen.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

UCLA 86 Stanford 81 (2OT)

Bruin Blue and Gold!

On one hand, anytime the team gets a win, especially a gutty come from behind win, you got to feel good for the team!

On the other hand, it is an indication of where the season is going when this win broke a five-game losing streak!

Coach Alford is on the hot seat. It was understood that he will need a few years to turn things around if all goes well, especially, in light of the NBA departures last year. However, I don't think people expected the team to have fared so poorly in some of the losses this season. Would a 0.500 record be about right for the Pac12 season?

I think they may have the talent to do a little better than that. The key is for the unit to pull together especially in close games in hostile road environments.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Second Sunday After Christmas Day

John 1:10-18 (NRSV) He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 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. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
With the beginning of the New Year, we begin here with the beginning of the Gospel of John. And at the beginning of the Gospel of John, we begin with the aftermath of Christmas. Certainly, the details of Jesus birth are important and we find those in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. In fact all four Gospels make their own unique and complementary announcements of the significance of Jesus coming into the world that is the heart of Christmas.

For this reflection, we look at what the Spirit inspired John to put to paper for the benefit of the community of faith within the sound of the voice reading John 1:10-18 aloud. And so what was the significance of Christmas in this passage?

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him ... 

Amazing isn’t it?

This is what we, as Jesus followers, believe: that the God who made the world entered the world! 

God has been at work in the world in the past. Going back to the Hebrew Scriptures, God called Abraham and promised to bless him so that the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). God delivered Abraham’s ancestors in the Exodus and gave them leaders like Moses and Joshua and laws for life in the Ten Commandments. God pleaded with his people to turn back to him and live rightly through the Prophets.

And at that moment in history, 2000 years ago, God went to work in the most spectacular and subtle and sublime way yet: he entered human history as a human being.

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 ...

Glory is an unusual word in our language. We might hear someone say, “the glory of sports.” What would they mean by that? Usually, the story would be about some good and noble aspect of sport that uplifts the human heart. For example, the story might be of the dedication of an athlete’s comeback from injury to compete again when all thought her career was over. Or maybe, the report would be about how a team pulled together after tragedy struck one of its members. Thus, the “glory of sport” would be seen in these examples.

We might hear someone talk of “the glory of love.” I know of one married couple where the husband turned out to be an immunological match and donated his kidney to his wife thus saving her life. We probably know of people who have cared for a spouse, parent, or child with a terrible disease and we feel inspired by such sacrificial love. Thus, the “glory of love” would be seen in these examples.

And so, here, John proclaims, in Jesus, “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son …” All the goodness, nobility, greatness, fill-in-any-amazing quality of God you can think of is made visible through Jesus. He embodied it and in particular “grace and truth.” John revisits that a few verses later, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Grace

Many have described grace as “unmerited favor.” Using the online Greek lexicon, we find the following for grace: that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, good will, loving-kindness, favor of merciful kindness.

We want to know what grace is? Look at Jesus! He embodied grace. It is sad to think that the church that is to be Christ’s representative in the world is often viewed as un-gracious. May we turn away from actions and words that manifest the opposite of grace.

Truth

In a world where people say there is no truth or that truth is just one person’s socially and culturally conditioned perspective, we proclaim that there is truth and that Jesus is filled with truth and that truth comes through Jesus. Once again going to the online Greek lexicon, we find the following for truth: objectively what is true in any matter under consideration, truly, in truth, according to truth, of a truth, in reality, in fact, certainly what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man, moral and religious truth; subjectively, truth as a personal excellence that candor of mind which is free from affection, pretense, simulation, falsehood, deceit.

Jesus is all of this. He spoke of truth. He embodied all of this.

But in today’s world, people get nervous when one claims to have truth. People may say if you believe in something that is nice and so it is true for you.

Dallas Willard, a Christian who was a philosophy professor at USC, offered this thought about the struggle for truth: “The bitterness of truth is its total indifference to human will and desire together with the fact that human desire and will is set on reshaping reality and therefor truth to suit itself.” 

Willard thus stresses that truth comes before belief because belief doesn’t make something true. One can believe all one wants but if the subject of that belief is not true, all the believing in the world doesn't make it true. Truth come first.

And so what do we take home from all this?

Jesus is filled with grace and truth. Through Jesus we see grace and truth. Truth indeed can be a bitter thing to take. Jesus spoke the truth about the way things are between God and humanity, the way things are between peoples, and the way things are within our selves. The sad truth, the bitter truth, and the hard truth is that we are broken and are in need of reconciliation.

Jesus also spoke truth of how things could be: restored and renewed. And his actions, his words, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his return are the truths that change the truth of our brokenness.

And so a starting point is what is my response to the truth of Jesus?

Some refused to know him and some rejected him. But John says something wonderful can happen: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Jesus has come. The Word became flesh and lived among us. We can reject him or receive him. We can belittle him or believe him. And when we receive and believe him, we become children of God! 

Another point for us to consider is how we live now that we have received and believed him? How do we live now as children of God?

In our text today, truth comes in parallel with grace. Because truth can be tough, because our hearts can be tough, God, all wise and merciful comes also in grace. A tour of the Gospels reveal a Jesus exhibiting grace to those he meets. His teaching is filled with grace and calls forth grace from those who would follow.

When we hear people share their stories of their journey of faith, there are those "ah-ha" moments of clarity of the truth of Jesus and our sinful condition. But most of the time, those "ah-ha" moments come wrapped in grace, usually, a person who exhibited grace came along side with gentle pointing to the truth of Christ.

Lord, let us be buoyed with joy because you have given us grace and truth. Lord, help us share grace and truth joyfully with all you bring into our lives. Since you are grace and truth embodied, we want to be grace and truth embodied. Amen.