The sermon for week March 22, 2015
A Meaningful EndJohn 12:20-33
And now a dramatic and hopefully not too offensive reading of our lectionary text.
Some Greeks come up to Philip and say, “Hey man, can we see Jesus?”
Philip turns to Andrew and *Shrugs
Together they tell Jesus, “Hey, some Greeks are here to see you.”
Then Jesus gets all esoteric.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be gloried! If a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it forever and that’s why I’m here at this hour’”
Then a voice from heaven, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again” and Jesus says, “That voice was for you not me. I already know all this. The rest of you need to catch up.”
This crazy story starts with some guys who just wanted to talk with Jesus and builds up to a strange story from Jesus. What are we to make of this passage?
Context might help. At the beginning of chapter 12, we have Jesus’ feet being anointed by expensive perfume. And then Palm Sunday happens and this is the very next thing that happens. Jesus’ hours are winding down, we’re nearing the end of the story. Chapter 12 is the prelude to the Farewell Discourses which start in Chapter 13. Jesus washes his disciple’s feet and from then until the Garden of Gethsemane it’s just “Goodbye. Take heart and remember my teachings and way of life because the things that I did, you can do and greater than these (14:12). Remember that there’s no greater joy than to lay down your life for your friends (15:13) so try it and there you will meet me and God, and the Holy Spirit will get you to this place. Goodbye.”
Living into the crazy passage, I started to realize the truth within it and within the whole Farewell Discourse. This truth is as theologian Alan Jones stated, “We are all terminal cases. We’re all future dead people.” (Jones) We’ve talked about this in our entire sermon series. Yet the point is not to get all gloomy about it, but to take joy in this fact.
It may feel like a paradox and it is. A joyful death. Yet here’s the thing--there is no joy without sacrifice. If all you ever did was take from the world and hoard everything you got, you’d be a miser. You’d be Ebenezer Scrooge before the redemption. Or Glennon Doyle Melton before she realized she was unbalanced with addiction. Yet they both learned, they were both educated in their selfish and impoverished life.
And education, as Glennon writes, “Education is like Christmas. We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time. And it is a fact that each and every child has a bright shiny present with her name on it, waiting there underneath the tree. God wrapped it up, and God will let us now when it’s time to unwrap it.” (163)
It’s like that grain of wheat falling to the earth. If it remains just a grain, it dries up and becomes petrified. It’s buried and dissolved into the earth and nothing becomes of it and the place remembers it no more. Yet if it dies and gives of itself, it bears much fruit and new wheat springs forth.
This made me think of my grandma. She had such bad rheumatoid arthritis in her hands that they were bent and more like mittens than hands. They caused her pain for the part of her life that I was alive for. Yet she was always using her hands. Making me meals after school, patting my back, taking communion, driving my sister around, clapping at our school and sporting events. My grandma gave of her time and her talent. Many of you know that every time I see a cardinal, I think of my grandma. Sometimes, I even experience her presence.
She could have complained and have been selfish and just stayed home on her red couch, drinking diet rite and watching her soaps. But she didn’t. She poured herself into my life, my sister's, and my cousins'. I remember her with love and affection.
It makes me think of many of you here who risked giving me feedback. “Luke, just take your time, slow down your delivery of your sermon. Don’t go so fast.” Or those of you who give me books on preaching or send me interesting articles and reflections. Or saying “Hey, I could use a visit, do you have any time this week?” During some of those visits, you have shared things you have been carrying with you for a long time, somethings that if I carried for 10 minutes I would be calling a therapist. You all are remarkably strong with the burdens you carry, but if you’re carrying them alone, you run the risk of being buried like that grain and producing no fruit. Yet if we’re willing to risk and share and speak about that burden, we find our burden lighter. Not fixed, but lighter. And you maybe surprised at who will sit with you and listen and try to help.
We give up our comfort, our time, and our resources for those whom we love. We give of ourselves and we think nothing of it. Lent is a time to practice expanding our circle of who we do this with. It’s easy to expend ourselves for our loved ones, harder for outsiders and this whole series has been about that process of expansion. Lent is like open heart surgery for us, unblocking and widening the pathways of our love. To learn that the economics of God’s love is not based on scarcity but on abundance. We spoke of how God’s love extends to the “gentiles” those who we would consider outsiders, the “they” of our lives. We spoke of how we are to give up things and travel light. We spoke about how Jesus is our guiding light in this endeavor. These are all part of the path of Lent, part of the path of being disciples of Christ.
This sort of living draws all sorts of people to your door. When you live as children of the light, you’ll attract so many people to you.
Unlike my father who withdrew. All I know of him is absence. I have so many stories of my grandmother and my mom, so many thoughts, so many gifts I have yet to unwrap and I have nothing from my father. Yet I’m making the transition to not to define myself by the negative, not to focus on the absence. Rather, I’m attempting to switch to viewing life more like Christmas where I’m unwrapping the gifts given to me and attempting to live a life of gratitude.
Because as Alan Jones reminded me, The end purpose of life is joy and delight, not misery and aimlessness. The fully human life is found in one who gives themselves away. And so I seek to pour my life out in meaningful ways that produce fruit. In the lives of my children, by being there for them, by playing and having ‘crazy parties’ and ninja training sessions. In the lives of my nieces and nephews with comics and stories and Dungeons and Dragon sessions. In the lives of our confirmands these past four years. There’s no better Sunday evening spent than with the confirmands. In fact, my very first class of confirmands are graduating this year. It has been amazing to walk with them and to share their lives. They have taught me so much.
It's an honor to walk with our highschoolers and our families. To walk with everyone here at the church and try to give myself away, and fail and then try again. It’s an honor to walk with each of you, to visit you in the hospital, to celebrate your joys, to listen, to dream, to complain, to sit with one another in prayer, to worship each and every Sunday with you. We are in a process of mutual self-giving that I believe will produce much fruit. God has glorified this path of self-reflection, community, and service again and again and will glorify it again.
Maybe, just maybe, if we live like our life as a gift, we will be a gift to another and they likewise and then out to the ends of the earth. And when our lives end, as they always do, we will find that we’ve arrived at a meaningful end and our lives will not truly ever die, but go on in the lives of others we have poured into. Just as my grandma’s life is still going on, just as my mom’s, just as your life does in my life. We are one, in so many ways.
I hope this has been some salt and light and encouragement to you. I hope this sermon series has had some meaning and that this is a meaningful end. If not, then maybe this poem will help, it is one of my favorites from the Sufi master Hafiz.
There are so many gifts
Still unopened from your birthday,
There are so many hand-crafted presents
That have been sent to you by God.
The Beloved does not mind repeating,
“Everything I have is also yours.”
Please forgive Hafiz and the Friend
If we break into a sweet laughter
When your heart complains of being thirsty
When ages ago
Every cell in your soul
Into this infinite golden sea.
A lover’s pain is like holding one’s breath
In the middle of a vital performance,
In the middle of one of creations favorite
Indeed, a lover’s pain is this sleeping,
When God just rolled over and gave you
Such a big good-morning kiss!
There are so many gifts, my dear,
Still unopened from your birthday.
O, There are so many hand-crafted presents
That have been sent to your life
From God. (Hafiz)
Hafiz, So Many Gifts. Found here.
Jones, Alan. Chidester Lectureship at Sylvania United Church of Christ. Sermon from March 17, 2013. Listen to the audio here