This is our last Sunday in “Lent” as the Holy Week journey, closing in on the cross, begins next Sunday. This Sunday summaries the whole of the Lenten season, but especially the last two Sundays.
On March fourth, we had Jesus overturning tables in the temple, chasing the people out with a whip, and yelling that the temple had been turned into a den of thieves. I preached about the difference between the letter of the law and the Spirit of the law, which can be significant.
Our Old Testament scripture (Jeremiah 31:31-34) speaks of a day when we will not have to tell one another “know the Lord”. We will not need to teach one another the law anymore, because the spirit of the law will be engraved within our hearts and within the fabric of our being. Therefore, we will no longer think about and strive to fulfill the law.
While last Sunday, we heard stories of healing. We heard of the bronze serpent raised up in the wilderness to heal (cure) the people of Israel from snake bites. Then, Jesus references it and foretells of himself lifted up for the people, which I linked with our scripture this morning (John 12:20-33) when Jesus proclaims that he will draw all people into himself when he is lifted up.
What is the significance of the spirit of the law (new standard), the new life that comes from healing, AND being drawn into Christ himself? THAT is what we are called and drawn into.
On Facebook is a meme with quite a bit of text, but is speaks the truth of our history as people of God, the God we worship, and the future that we are called and drawn into through God:
The Bible is clear:
Moabites are bad. They were not allowed to dwell among God’s people (Deut. 23).
BUT then comes the story of “Ruth the Moabite”,
which challenges the prejudice against the Moabites.
The Bible is clear:
People from Uz is evil (Jeremiah 25).
BUT then comes the story of Job, a man from Uz
who was the “most blameless man on earth”.
The Bible is clear:
No foreigners or eunuchs allowed (Deut. 23).
BUT then comes the story of an African eunuch welcomed into the church (Acts 8).
The Bible is clear:
God’s people hated Samaritans.
BUT then Jesus tells a story that shows not all Samaritans were bad.
The story may begin with prejudice, discrimination, and animosity,
but the Spirit moves God’s people toward
openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, and affirmation.
THAT is the history that we have been called to enter.
We, as the people of God, are called into a history that has been criticized for being closed off, exclusive, and obsessed with the letter of the law (rather than the spirit of the law). As Paul writes in Romans “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). We are called into THAT spirit (of the law).
We are called into a future that God has prepared for us, which is bigger and better than we can imagine because Christ (and his actions) upon the cross will draw ALL people into himself.
BUT, we have another portion of our scripture… the parable of the wheat.
Jesus proclaims that he will draw ALL people into himself through his self-sacrificing love for ALL on (and through) the cross, but he calls all of us into self-sacrificing love because similar to the grain of wheat in the earth, if we do not die to ourselves we will bear no fruit.
In the waters of baptism, we are called to drown ourselves daily in order to be resurrected and risen with Christ into new life.
But, what does that death look like?
There are numerous ‘things’ we need to die to in order for that future (kingdom of God) to become a reality, which will differ from person to person and community to community.
That Facebook meme touched upon common, but significant, things we need to die to including prejudice, hate, exclusion, and discrimination which we encounter in our world on every front: gender, gender identity, sexuality, race, religious belief (or lack thereof), socio-economic status, etc. We can always find ways to divide ourselves. We, as individuals and a society, are called to die to THAT. We are called instead to breakdown those divisions. We are called to reach across those divisions to seek understanding, to seek unity in love, and to seek reconciliation (another major theme of Lent).
BUT, we are also called to die to those things that distract us from our neighbors (in need), from service, and from God. These can be more difficult to recognize….
It could be as ‘easy’ as not being obsessed with NASCAR (I will throw myself under the bus). I watch EVERY race (mostly) on Sundays, in fact I was given a DVR system because (to quote my step-father) I was “the one silly enough to pick a career that makes me work on Sundays”. Perhaps those three to four hours on a Sunday could be more productive in the love and service of neighbors.
Therefore, the distractions we may be called to die to may not be ‘bad’ by nature.
Note: We do need time for self-care and recharging our batteries. We should have a healthy relationship with the interests, hobbies, and means used for self-care; therefore, these should not be obsessions/addictions.
We are often called to die to those ‘things’ that we hold on to the hardest and need to let go of the most. I have witnessed this specifically in unhealthy and toxic relationships with hobbies, material possessions, substances (substance abuse), and people especially family members.
As I noted, those ‘things’ we need to die to in order to be raised into new life is different for each person. It may be “small” or “big”. It may be “silly” or “serious”. During this week, I invite you into the reflective nature of this season to ponder what in your own life, in our community, and in our society is preventing you (and us) from being resurrected and raised into a new life and future. It may be scary, but we can trust that God has called and is pulling us into a future that is ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ than we can even imagine. And for that, Thanks be to God. Amen.