1st Sunday in Lent
February 17, 2013
John 15: 12-17
The way the Gospels are arranged and what they tell us is pretty strange. In our modern age, we think of the story of someone’s life as relating the accurate chronology from their birth and childhood and coming of age through the lessons of adulthood and then the tender conclusion of all they’d learned and their final farewell to this life. By that standard, the Gospels don’t tell us anything we want to know about Jesus: two of them don’t tell us anything at all before he began to preach. Did he really grow up in Egypt? Learn to be a carpenter? Was that a good profession or were they just working stiffs? School? Wife? Children?
Our Theology professor made us memorize the definition of a Gospel: it is the story of Jesus’ life on earth with its significance. It’s the last part of that definition that makes a Gospel the Good News. The Evangelists spend big chunks of their story on the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. The events from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion are the most powerful revelation of God’s love, and we spend only a couple of sermons on those last 24 hours. So this year we are going to slow down and take a deeper look at that last day.
Like the stories of Jesus’ birth, each writer has a different emphasis, illustrating the themes that continue throughout their telling of the whole story. In the same way, each of us understands Jesus’ betrayal, suffering and death a little differently. Some of us respond to the sacrifice of Jesus, seeing his suffering and reminding ourselves that he went through it all for us. Some of us see his trial and crucifixion as paying the price for our sins, bearing our guilt, and making us right with God because we are unable to do it for ourselves. Others see Jesus as the prime example of what happens to those who stand up to the evil in the world and that his resurrection is the triumph of God’s love over such evil. But the deal is that however you understand it, it is God’s way of reaching out to you and inviting you to be resurrected with Jesus into new life. All our failures are healed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. God’s love covers what we cannot do ourselves, and invites us to share a love that is beyond anything we can imagine.
The Evangelists all agree that Jesus is how God comes to us. Jesus was a different kind of Messiah than anyone was looking for. The Jews expected vindication for years of captivity and political oppression, waiting for a Messiah a lot like David who would unite them in a glorious kingdom once again. In the same way preaching a saving God who was so physical and died so brutally was just silly to the Gentile Greeks, as Gods were more beautiful and grand than ordinary people. Explaining a Savior who died so hideously at the hands of his own people is pretty hard right here and now to people who want their religion to be spiritually peaceful and to transport them to a place where everyone can be good to each other. Changing our hearts to be loving takes death and resurrection.
We are going to be spending a lot of time with Jesus in the last hours of his life and we will see just how such a death could come to be. We will see that even the people he called friends betrayed and deserted him when they were scared or thought his message had gone off the rails. We will see that nothing is so evil as God’s people when they are fighting to keep their understanding of God pure, rather than face a call to repent of their own appropriation of what makes them God’s people. We will see political expediency allow death when it is necessary to keep the peace.
And we will have the opportunity to understand that we also are guilty of the same acts against God. We fail to trust that God is at work and twist ourselves into all sorts of ego-driven destruction to make things happen they way we think they should. We grasp our possessions to the point of blindness to the ways they corrode our souls. We feel free to judge others forgetting our own errors and that one sin is as bad as any, and that are all dependent on God’s mercy for forgiveness. In these coming weeks, we will see some of the places where Jesus’ story is said to happen and have the opportunity to imagine what we would do in the place of people in the story.
We will have the chance to remember that we are no better than any of those who surrounded Jesus in those last hours, and we will see again how mysterious and deep is God’s love in calling us to be God’s own people, forgiven and blessed.
Luther called it ‘the theology of the cross.’ It’s the idea that we see something critical and of utmost importance when we see Jesus on the cross. The almighty God who set the stars whirling in the universe and keeps each heart pumping through 80 years of life could have lifted us out of sin and brutality and thoughtlessness and ego with the snap of his metaphorical fingers, and we would be saved. It would have been so easy. But in the greatest love of all time, God came instead in person, and confronted the evil of the world we live in and the evil woven into our very humanity and defeated it by taking into himself. When we see Jesus on the cross, we see right into the very heart of a loving God, who experienced every kind of anguish which we will ever be called to bear in order to show us that death is never the end of the story. In God’s love there is always new life, and that it is everlasting, from each day forth of Jesus’ resurrection. I pray that you will remember the new life which has been won for you at such a cost, as you take some extra time in this season of Lent to pass on God’s love to an aching world that needs it so much.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You are invited to join us on Wednesday nights, downstairs. Dinner is at 5:30, Bible study starts at 6:00 with a DVD presentation and discussion, and then a short evening prayer before we leave at 7:00. We will look at the Lord’s Supper this week, the Garden of Gethsemane next week, then Jesus trial by the Jews, his trial before Pilate and his crucifixion.