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The Gospel of John, Chapter One: They Came in Twos

The Gospel of John, Chapter One: They Came in Twos
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor - November 23, 2014 - Pastor Ken Wilson

John, Chapter One concerns the beginning of a great revival. Israel had gone into exile carrying her seed (the words of God in her Torah). She had sown those seeds with tears. And now it’s harvest time, and she’s bringing in the sheaves. In John 1 this harvest work seems to be done by twos.

Jesus is paired with John the Baptist. Two figures, one might even say two movements, but one harvest.

And Jesus gathers by twos. Listen to the calling of first disciples. Use imagination, do your best to picture the scene: John 1: 35-42

Andrew is probably the younger brother of Peter (he’s mentioned second in Mark’s gospel and this is the tradition in the orthodox church and they know their saints.) If parable of prodigal son and his older brother is a pattern, Peter fits the older brother profile. Film Jesus of Nazareth has Jesus telling this parable at Matthew’s  sinner dinner party and places Peter outside stewing over fact that Jesus is ignoring him, paying attention to tax collectors-whores.

About 9 years ago in a season of unexpected consolations in prayer, I had a lucid dreamy vision one early Sunday morning. I shared it here at church. I saw Jesus at the side of a lake. And he was standing behind a fishing boat turned on its side on the shore, working on some fishing nets. He saw me at a distance and said, with child-like enthusiasm, “New Nets!”   And then, “Go find Andrew for me.” Maybe he was calling me to go find the younger brothers in exile or just returning from exile.

Here in John 1, focus is on Peter, older brother. Jesus names the impetuous Peter, Cephas or Rock. You get feeling Jesus knew Peter better than Andrew or Peter knew Peter. That he was calling the true Peter into being in that moment.

To follow Jesus is to follow one who calls your truest self into being. It’s a good deal: as long as you are willing to lose yourself, you stand to gain yourself.

John 1: 43-50.  Catching the theme? Jesus finds a first who finds a second. We’re not just found by Jesus we find each other too.  

I got a poignant email on Monday from long lost childhood friend, who I hadn’t seen or heard since 1970.  

Dear Pastor Kenny:


Lately my life is in turmoil. I am in need of something pastoral. Tag. You're it. I think back to the last time I saw you. If I'm not mistaken you were on your honeymoon with Nancy. You visited me in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and, from my point of view, it was a very strange visit. Now that I think about it, it was the very last time I saw any of my childhood friends.

 [I understand that Nancy has passed and that you're remarried. Condolences and congratulations. I'm a sucker for love and it sounds like you have had decades of it.]

It was a strange visit for me because during much of your visit you and Nancy were trying to sell me on Jesus, despite knowing I grew up in a Jewish home and had even thrown off that religion years before. I had never known you to be evangelical before.

We had an amicable discussion, but neither of us convinced the other. When you left, you left behind (no pun intended) a Good News Bible, which you inscribed to me. I carried that Bible – along with a pilfered Gideon’s Bible, an Old Testament, and a book on Scientology – with me until about a decade ago, when I lost my small religious book section in my last break up.

Before the internet made biblical text searches much easier, I would refer to that Good News Bible occasionally for research, or just to rifle through it and read passages. Each time I couldn’t help but think of you and wondered what happened to you. I’ve thought of you often over the years and not always when reaching for that book. Just this summer, when I last visited family in Michigan, I went to Gilchrist. However, after taking a picture of my old house, I stood and stared at yours for a while.

This visit prompted me to write While Detroit Crumbled,Gilchrist Street Hung On.

I visit Gilchrist often because I’m still looking for something there. Me, I think.

 As mentioned above, I have found my life to be chaotic as of late. Pops is 88 and, after my mother died, I moved from Canada, where I lived for 35 years – taking out citizenship in the process – to take care of him. I’ve been in Sunrise, Florida, for the past 9 years. Some days are harder than others and on Friday I expressed my opinion to Pops at full volume.

Skip ahead to Sunday morning. I was still feeling remorseful that I lost my temper with Pops when I got an IM on Facebook from a name I didn’t recognize. She said she had lived on Fenmore. After exchanging a few messages it turns out I didn’t know her or her brother Randy at all. But then she asked me if I knew you.

I said “yes” and that you were one of my best friends growing up, and that I had been looking for you for years with no luck. Do you know how many Kenneth John Wilsons there are in this world? The internet was no help.

She told me you were a pastor in Ann Arbor, which I did not find surprising, considering our last encounter. However, what she told me next surprised me a great deal. [Something about the recent LGBT kerfluffle]

The internet was an immediate help in finding Pastor Kenneth Wilson…I have since read about your book ‘Letter to My Congregation’ and several interviews with you…..


[Then he adds some observations about evangelicals]

Right after having this Facebook conversation I left for a drum circle. This is a new hobby/habit I’ve developed in the past year….What does this have to do with anything? Almost nothing, except this particular drum circle meets in Snyder Park, an oasis in the middle of a heavily industrial area of Fort Lauderdale. You would hardly know you were in the middle of a city. While in the park I took a panorama which I sent to my Facebookery with the caption “How pastoral.”

 As I played the claves, and zoned out into the rhythm, I suddenly realized why the word “pastoral” came so readily to mind. By the time the drum circle had ended, I had already written parts of this email in my head.

So, what’s new with you?

Your childhood friend,

Marc Slootsky

P.S. I’m a writer and it looks like you are too. I’m planning on printing this email at the Not Now Silly Newsroom. Unless you expressly forbid otherwise, I plan to share your response, if there is one.

So I guess this is my response to Marc: 1. Thanks for seeing in me at a distance what I secretly hoped would be so about me, that I’m a Jesus freak and a pastor. (That was a Nathaniel moment for me) and 2. Thanks for looking for me. It’s a sweet thing to have someone look for you and be happy to find you. Like God.   

So Jesus finds Philip and Philip finds Nathaniel and Jesus sees something in Nathaniel at a distance and names it.

Despite Nathaniel’s snarkiness, which he doesn’t name, Jesus calls Nathaniel, a “true Israelite in whom there is no guile (or deceit.)”. Which reminded every Israelite true or not of their founding father, Jacob, who was renamed Israel, speaking of new names.

Jacob-Israel (like Peter-Cephas) had to undergo a transformation from the one who cheated his brother Esau out of his inheritance into a brother without deceit, without guile.  And Nathaniel represents that transformation. Sitting under the fig tree (which might have been Israel’s national tree) maybe praying or studying Torah, maybe updating his FB status “SEEKING A RELATIONSHIP”

Again, Jesus sees something in Nathaniel that maybe he didn’t see in himself until Jesus named it. Maybe Nathaniel was the ignored kid in school, the one no Rabbi would call to be his dis iple, because he didn’t have much promise. Maybe Nathaniel half believed that about himself but didn’t buy it fully.

Jesus comes along and names the thing about Nathaniel that Nathaniel most wants to be, a true Israelite in whom there is no guile. And when Jesus speaks it, Nathaniel says, “Yes, Lord!” 

Don’t be afraid to be seen by Jesus through-through. We harbor these feelings that maybe we are special. We’re afraid, though, to name it. Afraid that it’s just ego, or that we’re just fooling ourselves. Jesus knows what that thing is in each of us. And when he names it there’s no denying it.

Do you realize that as a seer, Jesus sees beautiful things in you that you may not see in yourself? When in the gospels, does he name the sin or expose the shame of those he calls? Maybe we don’t have to cover up when he looks at us.  

John 1: 50-52

We end with an allusion to Jacob who became Israel. Jacob on the run after really getting his brother Esau angry. Jacob going into exile. Like Israel centuries later would be driven into exile.

Exhausted, weak, out of gas, Jacob lay down in a field, his head on a stone for a pillow, fast asleep. And saw in a dream, heaven open and a ladder come down and the angels ascending and descending. And promises of blessing were made to him in his weakness.  And when he awoke he said, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.”

All these pairs, John the Baptist-Jesus, Andrew-Peter, Philip-Nathaniel, Jacob-Esau. But over them all, God. And among them and between them, God. 

Serving a great revival underway. 

Some final words from this music stand: let our sorrow in these past few months, maybe for some, certainly me, our sorrow in this moment, count for something good, something beautiful. Out of the dust, beautiful things.

A guide for us might be Psalm 126 which foresees the revival underway in John, chapter one.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

This is a song from exiles in exile, dreaming of the great revival to come that will end the exile.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev (watercourses in the South)

[when the Spring rains came, the watercourses in the desert would be suddenly restored, and life would spring up around these watercourses…kind of reminds you of John the Baptist and all that new life out in the desert near the Jordan river]

Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

The Jewish people were driven into exile and they took with them the only thing that farmers could carry into exile: seeds. And they sowed these seeds with their tears.

The seeds were the words of God in the Torah they brought with them. Forming synagogues among the Gentiles that would later become the mission outposts of the Book of Acts, where Paul would preach and the revival among the Gentiles began. And, per usual, there would be tension between the siblings leading to more tears for more sowing.

Maybe Jesus is up to his old tricks: calling us in pairs to serve a  revival that’s long overdue.

Ann Arbor Vineyard, carry the seed of the kingdom with you into your next chapter. If there are tears, and I hope there will be a few, use those tears to sow the seed for a new harvest.

I could imagine you becoming an even more multi-ethnic congregation than you are now. I could imagine your ministries flourishing in new, unforeseen ways.

To those who will join Emily and me in new Blue Ocean Church Plant, lets use our tears to sow the seeds we bring with us, from this awesome place, this house of the Lord…

Together, Ann Arbor Vineyard and your newest Blue Ocean church plant lets make this our song:

Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Could we spend the next 2 or 3 minutes in silence together, hoping for that? Then Shaun will lead us in our offering and communion.

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