The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Journey Through The Desert: Who Are You?


Who are you?

If you’re South Korea's Kim Yu-na, then you are also “Queen Yu-na,” and perhaps rightly so, given that Thursday night she scored 228.56 points, winning a gold medal and beating dthe previous world record by more than 18 points – a world record held by Queen Yu-na, who is a mere 19 years old.

Who are you?

If you’re Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, it’s a bit more complicated.

Part of his identity is wrapped up in a pretzel-like maneuver called the Hurricane that he does while soaring some 50 feet in the air on skis. It netted him a silver medal Thursday night.

But four years ago he was the guy who finished seventh at the Olympics in Turin, got into a street fight and was sent home.

He was also the man who watched a friend commit suicide in front of him; a victim of sexual abuse; an abuser of alcohol who fought depression and thoughts of suicide; and someone who lost his 5-year-old sister to a drunken driver.

Speedy Peterson, who prior to Thursday night was defined by triumph and tragedy, is at this point at the pinnacle of triumph for him, having won the silver medal: Peterson says he may even retire the Hurricane.

At 28, it seems he is ready to embrace a new identity: The overcomer.

Listen to what he told a reporter for The Associated Press, as tears streamed down his face:

“I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything. There's light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver and I love it.” ("Peterson lands a Hurricane, wins a silver," Eddie Pells, The Associated Press; February 26, 2010)

Who are you?

If you’re Nicodemus in today’s text (John 3:1-17) , you come into the story as a Pharisee. You’re a teacher of the law. You’re a member of the Jewish religious leadership; the Sanhedrin. The name Pharisee means “the separated one,” because Pharisees “were those who had separated themselves form all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of the scribes.”

It’s believed there were never more than 6,000 of them. ("The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Vol. 1," 1975, William Barclay, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky.; pp120-124)

If your name is Nicodemus, you weave your way in and out of the Gospel according to St. John.
In the 3rd chapter of John, you come to Jesus slinking through the dark of night, but affirming Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” (Most Scripture citations are from Eugene Peterson's "The Message." Exceptions are from The Revised Standard Version)
“Jesus said, ‘You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to — to God’s kingdom.’”

And then Nicodemus — the Pharisee, the teacher, the religious leader — engages Jesus in this wonderful discussion about childbirth, when the Rabbi is talking about something totally different.

He’s talking about spiritual rebirth, not physical rebirth.

The last words we get from Nicodemus are, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?
Jesus replies, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?”

Who are you, Nicodemus?And that’s the last we hear from Nicodemus … that is, until the 7th chapter of John. Turn on over to Chapter 7, verse 45, if you like.

In between this Chapter 3 discussion about physical and spiritual rebirth with Nicodemus and Chapter 7, Jesus has fed 5,000, walked on water, and explained, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

He tells his disciples, "no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

And some of them leave him.

Some in the crowds identify Jesus as a “good man.” But others are saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”

“Who are you, Jesus?”

And the possibilities of his identity are thrown about:

“This is really the prophet.”

“This is the Messiah.”

“No, he’s merely a Galilean.”

And many call for his arrest.

Then here, in Chapter 7, Nicodemus the teacher of the Law becomes the defender:

“Does our Law decide about a man’s guilt without first listening to him and finding out what he is doing?”

And then the chief priests and Pharisees ask Nicodemus, in effect, ‘who are you’:

“Surely you’re not also from Galilee, are you?”

Who are you, Nicodemus?

Let’s move to John 19, because that’s where Nicodemus surfaces again.

Jesus has been crucified.

He’s said, “It is finished.”

And Scripture says, “Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The soldiers have pierced his side.

Look at verses 38-42.

It would seem that along the way, throughout this journey that we find in the Gospel According to St. John, Nicodemus moves from the seeker in the dark of night, to a disciple who dared to be seen in the daylight.

"Who am I?” Nicodemus now answers, “I’m a disciple who loved my Lord, and I’m here to pay tribute to him.”

Incidentally: We only find Nicodemus in the Gospel according to Saint John.

This man is found in no other Gospel record by name.

There’s another man in Scripture who comes to Jesus.

We find him in Mark 10:46-52.

He’s generally referred to as Blind Bartemaeus and he’s a beggar sitting by the roadside.

Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho and Bartemaeus heard it was Jesus who was passing.

And the blind man shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

But the story says, “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more louder.”

To the people around him, Bartemaeus’ identity lay in the fact that he was a blind beggar.
Bartemaeus was anxious, because he had heard of hope.

He wanted a different identity.

The people around him tried to hold him down by telling him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder.

How many times do we have people in our lives — even family and friends — who pull us back when we try to get to Jesus?

If you are struggling with something, and you’re trying to overcome it — to get well, to break the bonds of some sort of addiction, some besetting sin — don’t you know that there will be people in your life who need you to continue to struggle, to be “sick.”

Maybe it’s because if you’re sick, it makes them feel better about themselves.

Amen?

Some people need you to match a negative profile — “always the bad boy, always the bad girl, the wild child.”

There are sick family systems that need someone in the family to be the “bad one.”

The bad sister; the bad brother; the bad seed.

And so they send those messages, and you’ll have to pardon me, here, but these the words some people use:

“You’re no good."

“You’re a no good husband."

'“You’re a no good friend."

“You’re a no good wife … son … daughter.”

You hear these messages … these lies … and you’re stuck …

("Tuesdays With Beebes.")

What we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about our relationship to God truly defines who we are.'

And this is one of those yes-and-no statements.

Yes, from an orthodox Christian perspective, in that our relationship to God is defined by our relationship to Jesus Christ.

This is classic atonement theology: We’re separated from God because of our sin, but Christ paid the price for that sin through His death on the cross. Our acceptance of that makes us “at one” with God.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the certainty that he lives, and that we, too, will live in eternity with God.

When we have a healthy understanding of this theology, it has a transforming effect on our life and what we believe about our self.

Granted, there are some sick-puppy preachers, teachers and churches out there who promote some unhealthy understandings and that, too, impacts what we believe about our self if we are in such an environment.

But what we believe about ourselves may not truly define who are. The reason: We are have a relationship with God even when we have not accepted Christ. Like Nicodemus, you may ask, “How can that be?”

Well, it’s not the same two-way relationship as when we have accepted Christ, but it’s a relationship nonetheless. Because God shows God's love for us even before we “know” God.

This is a classic Wesleyan understanding of grace.

God pursues us like a smitten lover, seeking to shower us with a reckless, furious love before we even know God. God is constantly knocking on the door, desperately wanting us to open up our hearts to God’s loving grace and a transformed life.

If in our cognitive self we believe we are no good, it does not negate the truth that our identity is still a loved child of God.

We've merely let someone, or some thing, steal our understanding of the true identity.

If you’re that “bad seed,” it may well be that it’s something that has been imposed on you. It’s your activity; not your identity!

If you’re in that sort of family system, and you come to Jesus, and you get well; if you were blind, but now you see; all hell can break loose in that family because of your wellness. ("Tuesdays With Beebes.")

And so, Blind Bartemaeus shouts all the louder, and Jesus heard him.

Why?

Because God always hears the cry.

And so, Jesus called him, asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Blind Bartemaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.”

“Go; your faith has made you well.”

Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Who are you?

“I am no longer blind Bartemaeus; I am now the seeing disciple.

Who are you?

“I am no longer just Nicodemus the Pharisee; I am now a learned disciple.
Which raises the question, “Who are you?”

Come forward and pick up a promise in the desert.

Maybe you’ll find a new identity in Christ.

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