John #0 | Light

January 5, 2020

John 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but hecame to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 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.

15 (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.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 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.

(Business Insider, "Inside the rise of TikTok")

TikTok

TikTok is one of the most popular apps in the world right now. It is popular especially amongst teens, or so-called Generation Z.

What this social app does is that it creates and shares a very short video with people around the world. These videos can be anything: from a short dance to lip-syncing and other things. Because the videos shared on this platform is so short, it is also very addicting. It is reported that the TikTok users spend an average 52 minutes per day on this app, while more than 1 billion videos were viewed every day in the year 2019.

The reason why I’m sharing about TikTok is because this one interview I watched was stuck in my head. This businessman named Gary Vaynerchuk was explaining why this TikTok is so successful. And his quick answer was this:

“We live in very contentious times. TikTok is widely, widely simple, fun, lightweight, silly, [and] quick. It’s light. Light.”

In other words, because we are living in such a burdensome world, people and especially the youth are thirsting for and chasing after the very opposite, that is something light, innocent, and easy. It is indeed a form of escapism, escaping from their current reality, but an escapism that I can sympathize with. As they deal with both broken and healthy relationships, pressures of school, all the baggage that comes with social media, mental health, and many other things.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a novel by Milan Kundera, muses on this subject.

The heaviest of burdens crushes us,we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground… The heaviest of burdens is [also] an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements are free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

The heaviest of burdens is what grounds us, if not crushes us. And completely removing ourselves from the burdens means being liberated from all our struggles, but also losing grasp on reality.

Christmas & Light

In a way, Christmas is very much like TikTok. It is a small window of time where we escape from our reality to enjoy something that is light, innocent, and fun. There’s a lot of singing and dancing. There’s a lot of smiles and silliness. There’s joy.

And this doesn’t last long just like a TikTok video. It leaves us wanting for more, but we have to bounce back from the holiday feels and go back to our reality. And this always happens as we enter a new year.

It’s only been five days into 2020 and, oh boy, I already miss Christmas.

Nationally and globally, we are talking about a potential war.

And denominationally, my church is talking about a potential schism. You may have read news from the Washington Post, NPR, or the New York Times regarding The United Methodist Church. Because the church cannot find a common ground on the issues of LGBTQI+ inclusion, a proposal of possible separations was made, which will be voted in May this year. While only a proposal, nonetheless it is still a conversation that evokes fear and uncertainty.

The past five days made me realize that this year is going to be a tough one. I thought 2019 was rough. But 2020 would not be any easier. Nationally, with all the political dramas and the coming presidential election; denominationally, with General Conference in May; and us as a church community called Commonwealth, continually breaking grounds here in Fairfax so that we may sprout; and individually, with all the impending changes and challenges which we may or may not know about.

Year 2020

For a while, I’ve been thinking and praying about our next move as a church. The past 8 weeks, we’ve talked about tables: tables we sit, tables we prepare, tables we share. It was a way to teach ourselves what is communion, an intimate space of gathering and sharing, and how such communion can be taken place anywhere and everywhere — from our private dining table to a public picnic table to the Lord’s Table. And that we are called to be invited and to invite. And my prayer is that individually and communally, we continue to invite people to our various tables this new year 2020.

But beyond this theme of communion and with, I’ve been wondering about the best way to prepare ourselves as a church for the year 2020. I agree with Vaynerchuk who said that we are living in very contentious times. Everything is polarized, partisan, and binary. Everything is reactionary, and there is no room for discussion. And by no room, meaning not enough time, not enough energy, not enough mental health, not enough everything.

And, also as I think about every individuals connected to Commonwealth, as each one of us journeying through our own various and unique life changes and challenges, I prayed wondering and asking God what would be the best next step forward towards God’s desire for us.

The image that came to my mind was this image of anchoring. Anchoring ourselves to the ground so that we may stick together regardless of whatever challenges and changes we may face. Anchoring ourselves to the ground, so that we may never lose ourselves in the temptation of escapism. Anchoring ourselves to the ground, so that we may put down our roots and sprout beautifully as a church. And this anchoring down to the ground means reconnecting ourselves to the foundation, the cornerstone.

Jim Wallis, an author and public theologian, explains what’s in my mind better in words:

“Don’t go left, don’t go right; go deeper. And going deeper means into Jesus.”

With this image in my mind, I crafted a simple timeline forus for the next six months.

  • January & February, let’s read about Jesus.
  • March & April, let’s hear about Easter, and why it’s so special for Christian faith.
  • May & June, let’s learn about what it means to live as Easter people.

And to do so, I thought it would be awesome for us to read the Gospel of John together in January and February. For the next 8 weeks, we will read John together and our conversations, my message, children’s craft, newsletters, small group discussions, and everything else in-between can be based on our reading schedule.

So, here is the reading schedule which we can start beginning today:

  • Week of 1/5: John 1
  • Week of 1/12: John 2-5
  • Week of 1/19: John 6-10
  • Week of 1/26: John 11-12
  • Week of 2/2: John 13-15
  • Week of 2/9: John 16-17
  • Week of 2/16: John 18-19
  • Week of 2/23: John 20-21

The Gospel of John

The reason why I chose the Gospel of John is simple. John takes us to the beginning, back to basics. We read together the Prologue of John's Gospel.

Throughout the gospel, the very first verse will be elaborated. In the beginning was the Word where Jesus came from, his origin. The Word was with God his inherent relationship with God, and the relationship we have through him. The Word was God — Jesus’ identity as God, and the identity we have through him.

Throughout the gospel, we will read about how God provides for His children. Everything a child needs from a parent, for survival, protection, to be sustained and nurtured, to grow and mature — this is what God provides. We will also read about how God provides abundantly. Grace upon grace.

Throughout the gospel, and here I’m borrowing Karoline Lewis’ words, “the gospel will show what grace looks like, tastes like, smells like, sounds like, and feels like.” Perhaps this is the reason why the word “grace” appears four times in the first 18 verses, and then suddenly disappears from John altogether. John's gospel wants us to experience grace.

John is a gospel of radical relationship. In our contentious times, Jesus is the true light we are looking for; the light that enlightens everyone. And this light is with us. The light is with us in a way that is so deeply intimate as to make us uncomfortable. The light is not just close to us, but dwells beside us and in us.

Our world is not made up of two separate rooms where one is dark and the other is lit. Rather, we live in a world where the light shines in the darkness. Being God’s children does not mean simply acknowledging this light, or simply following after the light; but rather, letting this light dwell beside us and in us, to the point that it illuminates us. Perhaps this is what it means to go deeper, growing in depth. Because being God’s children entails that there’s always room for us to grow.

I’m truly excited to grow with you together as a church. Let us pray.