Living the Story

Sermon for Sunday, May 18, 2014 || Easter 5A || John 14:1-14

livingthestoryAttending seminary a few subway stops away from Washington D.C. provided some lovely distractions. The National Gallery of Art was my favorite. The Air and Space Museum was a close second. I visited most of the District’s tourist attractions during my three years there, and most lived up to their billing. One that did not was the D.C. zoo. The zoo is squashed into a tiny piece of the District, and the animals are squashed into tiny pieces of the zoo. The panda paddock was smaller than the backyard I mowed every week growing up. The elephants had no room to move. Everything was concrete and wrought iron. And the one time I went there, I couldn’t help but think what an inaccurate use of the word “zoo” I was witnessing.*

You see, the word “zoo” comes from a beautiful Greek word, which has also morphed into a popular girls’ name. The name is “Zoey”; the Greek word is ζωη (pronounced zo-AY). Zoe mean “life,” but the life reflected in the zoo’s tiny paddocks full of forlorn-looking animals is not the kind of life the word zoe comprehends.

You see, zoe means “life,” yes, but the connotation of the Greek doesn’t stop there. The word from which we get “zoo” means expansive life, life without bounds, the kind of life that the creature is meant to live. Jesus uses this word in today’s Gospel lesson when he answers Thomas’s question. The disciple asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” I Am the Life. This life – this zoe – is the expansive, authentic life of the creature living as the Creator dreams for the creature to live. As we walk with Christ through our lives, he offers us his zoe, a life of purpose and meaning and fulfillment. A small piece of Christ’s life appears in what we call the Gospel; I’d like to spend the rest of this sermon telling you all a story – well, fragments of the story of Jesus’ life as told by John, our Gospel writer for today. The more we tell this story to each other, the more we will live it, and the more our lives will reflect Jesus’ zoe.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through this Word – all life, all zoe, in fact. This Word became flesh and made his home among us. He lived with us in order to teach us how to live, how to tune our lives so they resonate with the Creator-of-all-that-is. Everyone needs a name, and his earthly parents called this Word-made-flesh “Jesus.” Jesus lived in an obscure corner of an obscure corner of a mighty empire. But pretty soon the empire would sit up and take notice.

One day Jesus was out walking and two fellows, John and Andrew, came up to him and asked where he was staying. Now Jesus could have said, “Down the street to the left of the well just past the marketplace.” That would have been a fair answer to the question. Instead, Jesus says, “Come and see.” Jesus’ life is a life of inviting.

Three days later, Jesus went to a wedding celebration with his new friends and his mother. Now, weddings in those days went on for a whole week, but something at this wedding threatened to cut the festivities short. They ran out of wine. Jesus wasn’t going to get involved, but his mother had other plans. So Jesus had several large jars filled with water, but when the steward tasted it, the water had become wine. And moreover, this wine was even better than the wine that ran out. Presumably, the festivities continued in full swing. Jesus’ life is a life of celebrating.

Some time after that, Jesus met a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. The man often came to a certain pool, a pool renowned for curative properties. He was so focused on getting into the pool when Jesus came that he almost missed the opportunity in front of him. Jesus commanded the paralyzed man to get up. If anyone else had said this to the man, he would have thought it a cruel joke, but something in Jesus’ tone (or maybe it was the fire in his eyes) made the man obey. He stood up, and then I imagine he danced for joy. Jesus’ life is a life of healing.

Soon after, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, and a vast crowd followed him. Unwilling to send the crowd away, Jesus took a laughably small amount of food – barely enough for one family – thanked God for it, and distributed the five loaves and two fish to over five thousand people. After he fed the people with physical food, he also fed them spiritual food. Jesus’ life is a life of feeding.

Skipping forward quite a ways in the story, Jesus was getting ready to share another meal when first he took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, got down on his knees, and washed the dusty feet of his disciples. This act of service was so at odds with how they thought their teacher should act that Simon Peter told Jesus not to wash his feet. But Jesus saw the matter differently. To remove the dynamic of power – one over another – Jesus commanded his friends to wash each other’s feet, to serve each other. Jesus’ life is a life of serving.

The next day, Jesus met the empire – both the worldly empire of Rome, which occupied his homeland; and the otherworldly empire of evil, death, and division, which occupied the hearts and minds of those he wished to bring back to God. Jesus, condemned to death, dragged a cross to a hill outside the city. In the anguish that followed, he drew to himself each and everything that separates us from God, and their power died with him. Jesus’ life is a life of sacrificing.

Three days later, his tomb was empty. Jesus was alive again, though not again. Rather, Jesus was alive anew. In his death and resurrection, he brought creation back into right relationship with God. The Word made flesh, who made his home with us, gave us a new opportunity to make our home with God. This new relationship was the ultimate act of reconciliation. Jesus life is a life of reconciling.

Inviting. Celebrating. Healing. Feeding. Serving. Sacrificing. Reconciling. These are just seven pieces of Jesus’ life – his zoe – the expansive, authentic life which he offers to us all. Now, I have two questions for you. First, how do you or how can you participate in Jesus’ zoe by intentionally integrating these actions into your lives? Perhaps you’ll invite an acquaintance to church. Or celebrate someone else’s good news. Or be a healing presence for a person’s who’s sick. Or cook food to feed the hungry. Or serve God by using your unique constellation of gifts. Or practice sacrificial giving so that God’s work in the world, say at our partner school in Haiti, can shine even brighter. Or reconcile with a person from whom you are estranged. In each of these actions, know that you are embracing Jesus’ life and living as the Creator meant for you to live.

My second question: what other pieces of Jesus’ life can we add to this list and what stories point to them? Jesus’ life is a life of loving, of teaching, of truth-telling, of relationship-building, of prophetic-speaking and Spirit-breathing, and so much more. You and I each have the opportunity to tune our lives to the frequency of Jesus’ zoe. When we do, we become beacons of the light of Christ shining in this world. We become the flesh, in which the Word makes his home. So I encourage you this week, and this lifetime, to live the story of Jesus’ life in your own. Invite. Celebrate. Heal. Feed. Serve. Sacrifice. Reconcile. And be authentic expressions of the life, the zoe, which God dreams for creation.

* I was told after the service in which I delivered this sermon that the D.C. zoo has been much improved since I visited it some eight or nine years ago.
Art: detail from “Miracle at Cana” by Vladimir Makovsky (1887).

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