5th Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2018
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“They tried to bury us,” says a Mexican proverb, “but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
“I will make a new covenant…after those days…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts,” says the prophet Jeremiah.
“Unless a grain of wheat dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit….and when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself,” says Jesus.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he says. When you think back on John’s Gospel, Jesus’ often tells people that his ‘hour has not yet come.’ His first miracle was at the wedding at Cana, when his mother asks him to help out when the wine is gone. “My hour has not yet come,” is his answer. None of it makes sense until you get to today’s reading in which he makes it clear that he will die this week. The powers of the church and the government will collude to kill him. He is ready. This is the hour for which he has been preparing, and the work for which he was made. He is clear that the path to abundant life goes through this death that will reveal God’s true glory.
In the other Gospels, Jesus tells people that they must walk the same path of denial as he does. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he says in Matthew and Mark. But in today’s reading Jesus insists that the life of the world is a narrow in scope and a zero-sum game. Success for me means someone else loses. If you don’t fight for your advantage, someone else will get it. That is not how God sees the world. The God of steadfast love and mercy, the One who forgives even deliberate rejection, still turns to humans in love, “making the sun to shine on the evil and the good, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
In God’s economy there is more than enough for all, the more you give the more you get. We’ve just finished talking about the Ten Commandments in Confirmation. The more I teach it, the more I realize that they are God’s Ten Best Ideas for making life sweet. At the end of each commandment, and each ‘what does this mean’, I ask the question, “what happens when people don’t follow these rules – to them and their families and their communities.” When people don’t trust and honor God first, and love their neighbors as themselves, there is no care for peoples’ things or reputations, no respect for elders or government authority, no honor for the bodies of others. Things are ugly, and we have a million stories to tell about what a mess the world is in. If you are clinging to that world, says Jesus, your life is already gone. Reject that world and follow me to a life that will be abundant with blessings. Jesus can see that the suffering ahead leads to fullness with God forever. There is no pleading Jesus in the Garden in John’s Gospel; he is fully aware that this is the time the world has been waiting for – the full revealing of the power of God’s great love, that can walk through death to life forever. It is the fulfillment of everything he’s come to be and do.
I don’t ever want to confuse Jesus’ clarity about what awaits him or his suffering and death with the dismal theology that tells suffering people that is must be “God’s plan for you,” or that your faith isn’t good enough if you are shaken to the core and terrified. And Jesus’ clarity about his impending suffering and death doesn’t mean that he is unaffected by it, or that what he endures only ‘looks like’ suffering. What Jesus’ clarity tells us is that he trusts that God never fails to be present to our suffering and our fears; that God is always at work wrestling life from death. And so, we too can trust that God is able to redeem even our deepest pain and work through suffering for good. Our trials, our ‘burials’ don’t scare God as much as they scare us, because God doesn’t see as the world sees, or give up ever. God is here. God is at work. God is always on the side of abundant life.
We are a resurrection people. We trust that the pain of the world we experience is not the whole story. Just as Jesus was raised to new life, so we too experience life in the face of death, suffering, fear and loneliness. We trust that Jesus’ work has become our work as well, to meet with clarity the suffering of others around us, and to face all suffering with the love that has been granted to us.
“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and afraid….Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” says the Sufi poet, Rumi.
“For they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” The prophet Jeremiah.
“But if [the grain of wheat] falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus is not just giving good advice or trying to stem our fears. He is telling us that God’s promises are real and true and will never fail. We are people of the resurrection, God’s seeds, God’s fruit, we have seen the truth, and we trust it. Amen.