A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

We Wish to See Jesus sermon on John 12: 20-33 March 26, 2018

Sermon on John 12: Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Children’s sermon: Ok, I’m going to teach you about skipping today. Skipping uses both of your legs, most people can skip at about 3 miles per hour and it much like hopping. Ok based on that show me how to skip. What that doesn’t work? Ok how about if I show you. Now do it with me. Oh it’s easier to SEE it isn’t it? We can learn facts in a book but watching someone else do something is better! Practicing it ourselves with that person who knows how to skip well, is the best! And then we can practice over and over and it just becomes part of how our body can move and we don’t have to think about it. Riding a bike is like that, or ice skating, skiing, all kinds of activities. We might know facts about biking, skating or skiing, but that doesn’t give us an experience of it or how it feels to do those things. We are reminded today in our bible passages that our relationship with God is like that too! Learning facts about God is ok and we do that, but the most important is our relationship with God and seeing how Jesus acts. How Jesus loves people, cares for those who no one else cares about, how Jesus gives his own life, a scary thing, in order to give us life with God forever. Jesus says some hard things today about losing your life, and we don’t like to think about that do we. But what Jesus wants us to know, is that Jesus understands that loving people whom the world doesn’t love, caring about other people more than yourself is HARD! And Jesus is with us when life is hard, scary and we have to make decisions that make life better for our friends, or people who aren’t our friends, or people who may not like us. We practice these things together to get better so that it just becomes who we are. we show God’s love to the whole world and just like Jesus, show that love is better than hate, kindness is better than hurting and speaking up against wrong is better than silence. Jesus shows us that by dying on the cross and trusting in God to bring new life. And so we trust in God too that we can do hard things. Let’s pray:
The passages from Jeremiah and John are hard ones for us in the 21st century. We like to think that we can rely on knowledge, skills, memorization, and training to further our own agendas and to build certainty that we can have life all figured out and we are in control. Our institutional education and religious systems are also constructed on this foundation of concrete knowledge. I don’t know about you, but I like to create neat little bunkers of information around myself that holds chaos and uncertainty at bay. Oh occasionally I might peek over the top of the fox hole to see what the dangerous landscape of emotions and close personal relationships might look like, but generally that is too frightening and messy for me. Someone might need more of my time or might ask me to do something. Nope it’s far safer with books, computers, and facts.
I can construct a nice neat version of God in this scenario that is all theology and philosophy. Like the Greeks, I can say I wish to see God or Jesus but what is it I really wish to see? If I’m honest, I want to see God who becomes an abstract concept who makes me feel better about myself, validates my beliefs on the world and the people in it, agrees with my viewpoints, and is completely domesticated. Jesus is a nice man who died so that I can do whatever I want and am forgiven. If I do good things, then Jesus will give me blessings and if I don’t then I get what I deserve. A nice predictable quid pro quo, self validating God about whom I can learn the facts, follows the law and be safe from any shenanigans.
But inevitably, God refuses to be held by my constructs and invades my bunker of safety. God shows up in real and messy ways that force me to realize that it’s never been about the facts I’ve been taught, or the facts I teach or what I want to see in Jesus, but about who God is and who God is, not just with me but with everyone. God doesn’t believe in personal space bubbles. God gets too close and throws my whole life upside down. Dead and gone is my safety in facts and teaching and alive and thriving is the new life that comes from God pulling me into scary and risky relationship with a neighbor I’ve never even seen or wanted to see! Jesus comes too close when I go New Beginnings and worship with women who are serving prison sentences. Jesus comes too close when I’m confronted by my own bias about people who are unhoused and on the street. Jesus comes too close when I hear the pain of my Muslim brothers and sisters at being targeted. Jesus comes too close, gets into my heart, pulls me away from my comfort zone and reorients me to what matters, and as it turns out, through my baptism and relationship with Christ. Jesus comes too close and shines light on my life and the world and drives out the rulers of the world from my heart. The rulers of status quo, comfort, self interest, greed, ego and safety. Relationship with Jesus is anything but that.
From the beginning of creation, God deeply desired a relationship with us, humanity in God’s own image. God has chased humanity throughout millennia to be with us and to come uncomfortably close. When Jesus as God incarnate comes uncomfortably close, we do indeed really see. We see Jesus die because of empire, rulers and violence. We see Jesus meet these horrors of the world with love, peace and courage. We see Jesus heal the sick, bring the outcast into community, touch the unclean, speak truth to power, speak love to the unlovable and forgiveness to all. But that’s not all we see. We see Jesus drawing us all uncomfortably close to him, all of us together, the Jew, the Greek, men, women, the healthy, the sick, the rich, the poor, the liberal, the conservative, the educated, the uneducated, the housed, the unhoused, white, black, brown, straight, LBGTQ, Jesus draws us all uncomfortably close to him and so to each other. So close that we can’t ignore each other, we can’t build up barriers of safety, so close that we can smell and touch each other and recognize ourselves in one other and recognize Christ in each other too.
We then die to the notion that any person doesn’t belong. We then die to the world’s and our own agendas of hate, violence, apathy, and polarization. We die to our own ego, our greed, our arrogance. God kills these things in us when Jesus draws us close to him, so close that all that the sin separates us from God and each other is squeezed out like toxic sludge from us. What is left is Christ in us. What is left is life, abundant life that is so vibrant that words can’t describe it, it can only be lived. Lived as actions of peaceful protest against violence to anyone, lived as actions of love such as building a habitat home, writing a card of encouragement for the students of Parkland, FL, lived as actions of mercy for our brothers and sisters who are unhoused because of mental illness, lack of education or addiction. We see Jesus’ living faith and so we live our faith.
We see Jesus, we see his death on a cross for what it really is: love that reveals God’s peace from the world’s violence, love that reveals divine power from what the world calls weakness, love that gets too close and personal when the world demands segregation. We see Jesus constantly turning the world upside down, refusing to meet violence with violence but going straight to the heart of the matter, head on to witness to his trust in God and in God’s glory to bring newness. We see Jesus’ actions glorifying God in heaven and so we pray for our actions to glorify God, as we will proclaim to Peyton Rose in her baptism this morning. We are called to let our actions glorify our Father in heaven, not for our own sake but for the sake of being in messy, uncertain and risky loving relationship with each other, the world and Christ. We are people of life and light, we bring this light of Christ to the world.
We wish to see Jesus. We wish to see the world how God sees the world. We wish to die to ourselves and live in Christ. We wish to see each other how God sees us-as beloved. We wish God to be our God and for us to be God’s people. We wish to see Jesus.

 

Released and Loved John 12: 1-8 March 18, 2016

We all have what we consider priorities. Each day we juggle those priorities and the squeakiest priority will often get our attention. Family, school, work, housework, fitness, health, paying bills, volunteering at church or elsewhere, are often the needs that get our time and attention. Now, none of these are bad priorities or wrong to pay attention to in any way, but I sometimes wonder for myself, when I get caught up in thinking that something has to be attended to right now, if that is really true. Discernment around what is important in our days and weeks that seem to fly by all too quickly, seems to be a luxury, an opportunity not afforded to us or at least one that we don’t stop to take. I can be become completely engulfed in thinking that if I don’t get my laundry finished, if I don’t wrap up details on a project, if I don’t get my son to all of his activities on time, if I don’t get this sermon perfect or a list of a hundred other things that seem to demand time that I’m not good enough or I’m not really doing what I should be. Or worse yet, I’m not fulfilling my purpose and people will not see me as useful.

If we’re honest, we not only judge ourselves but we judge other people’s priorities too, don’t we? We notice the actions of people at work, at church, in our neighborhood and even in our own families and wonder how they can make the decisions that they do. Don’t they know that they are not choosing the correct action? The thing about priorities is that they are subjective. They are distracting and often not even fulfilling or life-giving to us. Priorities often come from an outside source, outside pressures, such as co-workers, family members and our society at large and are often more about how the world sees us, or what image we project than about who we really are and what we really need.

How often do we really get our priorities straight? How often do we succumb to what others tell us is a priority for the sake of appearance, harmony or simply conflict avoidance? How often are we worried that if we really lived the way our heart begs us to, we’ll be ridiculed, judged or worse yet, dismissed? Mary must have had some trepidation as she pulled out that pot of perfume that cost her everything she had. It must have felt reckless to even purchase it. How many of us would spend that kind of money, our whole year’s wages on something that is quickly used up? But buy this exotic, lavish perfume she did. Her priority wasn’t what people would think or talk about the next day, it was Jesus. The second Jesus walked through the door to her home that she shared with her siblings, priorities of worrying about tomorrow, 401K’s, retirement, social norms, gender roles, and self-dignity vanished. Mary’s priority was her relationship with the one who was all about abundant life. It didn’t matter to her that women don’t touch men to which they are not related. It didn’t matter to her that a woman didn’t allow her hair to be loose in public. It didn’t matter to her that she used up the whole jar of perfume. It didn’t matter that the dinner guests were now also permeated with the scent of this perfume. Mary’s only concern was her relationship with the one whose very presence ushered in the reality of life from death, sorrow to joy and hopelessness to hopefulness.

Judas couldn’t let her misguided priorities go without comment and correction. Where was Mary’s priority to the poor? Where was her priority of appearances? I mean, Jesus was famous or infamous now, and we can’t have the people get ahold of this kind of scandal? A year’s worth of money on perfume? How will that look? Will people stop following and giving money to their ministry and mission? Besides how much of that money would have been Judas’ take? We all know or have been at one time or another, THAT person who has to point out the error in someone else’s choices, especially if we can make ourselves look better in the process. “That money should be for the poor Jesus! Tell Mary how she didn’t use her money wisely! Tell Mary how she’s not being a good follower of you.”

I love John’s aside about Judas. You can almost hear John’s eyes rolling as he explains that Judas’ real priority was himself. He didn’t prioritize the poor or the suffering over himself. Judas’ motivation was Judas. If I love John’s aside, I love Jesus’ response even more. In our NRSV Jesus says, “Leave her alone,” but the Greek might be better translated as “Release her.” Release her Judas from your priority of keeping face. Release Mary from the oppression of gender roles in first century Palestine. Release her from your judgment of how she chooses to share her resources. Release Mary from your judgment of how she chooses to worship God.

You see, when Mary released the fragrance of that perfume from the jar, she was heralding in the promises of God. The promises of release of the captives, the promises of release from oppression, promises of release from being invisible, promises of release from hopelessness, promises of release from separation from God and community and promises of release from death. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of release from what crushes us, the priorities of the world that don’t fill us, that take our life and don’t permeate our lives with abundance of love, grace and peace. Mary’s anointing of Jesus is active love in response of being released. When your truly free, love doesn’t have a cost, relationships aren’t steeped in obligation or the expectation of reciprocity and vulnerability is held as sacred space.

Jesus will stoop to wash the disciples’ feet just a few days later, releasing them from the old way of being, to a new way, a new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” Be released from worrying about who might take advantage of you and be released from what this world says about priorities of looking out for yourself and your own preferences, wishes and agendas. You are released to live in a different way, released to be who God created you to be, pure love poured out into the world for the sake of releasing others from systems of bondage. This is what we will pour out on Addison, Jamison, William and Stephanie at the 10 a.m. worship. In the water, word and promises made, they are released from the old way of sin and death to the new life and grace with God and the people of God forever.

It’s vulnerable, it’s risky this kind of release. Being released to live with our focus not only Jesus and his actions, but also on the words of Jesus to remember God’s priority that we are to include everyone in God’s promises, the poor, the rich, the outsiders, the hurting, the different from us, the ones that we will always have with us, as we are all in need of mind, body or spirit at some point each and every day. No one escapes the suffering and traumas of the broken world. But we are to remember that we all shine the light of Christ to one another and we all have an important part in the community of God’s people. We know the abundant and extravagant love and grace of God for all people, in all times and in all places. We know the release of sin, brokenness and shame to live in wholeness, vulnerability and authentic relationship with God and with one another. May the fragrance of Jesus’ love permeate us and release us. Thanks be to God.