Sermon text put together from audio transcription software, so please read generously and with a grain of salt.
Blessed are you, O Lord, instruct us in your statutes. Amen.
Several years ago, when I was serving as a chaplain at the Bishop’s ranch for one of their all ages, summer camps, I had an experience that I want to share with you that I think relates to the hearing of this morning’s gospel at that summer camp. As we have sometimes done at our annual weekend retreats at the Bishop’s ranch, we engage in scripture by spontaneously acting out the story, as it’s told by a narrator. So on the spot, we invite people to play certain of the characters in the story, and to imagine what actions, gestures, or movements they might make while hearing the words that they’re speaking, and then repeating them back at the same time and doing things this way is always a little uncomfortable, but it always surprisingly breaks. Open the story of the gospel in a way that gives those participants an insight into some experience or feeling that helps clarify what the meaning and the message of the gospel might be.
If we just listen, sometimes we miss out, but if we physically put ourselves in the story, sometimes revelation comes to us and then we can share it with the other is assembled. So we were doing this at that camp and after three or four days of telling one or another story of Jesus, having some sort of argument with a religious leader or casting out a demon or getting mad at his disciples because they continue to fail to listen and understand what he’s saying and doing one of the teenagers in attendance at this camp after the story was over reflected on it, by saying, you know, Jesus doesn’t really seem very nice.
And I thought, yeah, that’s true. Sometimes it seems like Jesus, isn’t very nice. And I had that in mind, as I was preparing for this sermon and meditating on this morning’s gospel. Most of the time, most of the time, the gospel readings that we include on a Sunday morning have some kernel of Jesus’s tenderness, kindness, loving affection for us. And sometimes occasionally that piece of his character and of his nature is not very much in evidence. And so I was thinking about this story, this little vignette from the gospel of John in which Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. Now they’re in Jerusalem because there’s a festival. The festival of Passover and Passover is major holiday in the religion of Judaism and it commemorates and celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And they’re being brought out into freedom. And so it’s a great joyful bombastic celebration, think of Mardi Gras.
And in ancient Israel, even at the temple in Jerusalem, it wasn’t only Israelites and people of the nation of Israel who worshiped in the temple people whom they called proselytes or to, to use the term loosely Greeks also came and worship at the temple and were welcomed and permitted to participate in the religion of Judaism as it was anciently organized to some degree. So in this story, Jesus and his disciples are all in Jerusalem for this great big once a year festival at which there would be lots of feasting, lots of celebrating, lots of worshiping as well, but it’s a joyful occasion. And there’s this little incident where some Greeks, some people who have come to worship in Jerusalem come to attend the festivities though. They’re not themselves Jewish. They want to see Jesus. So it’s like, there’s a big festival going on and everybody’s got their little gatherings together and they’re tailgating and partying and all that stuff. And these guys come up to see Jesus and he looks him in the eye and he says to them, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain.
And I can just imagine the Greeks saying to themselves, wow, what’s this guy doing and saying, okay, thanks. We’ll see you later. He, over here. And so at the risk of re rating, the experience I’d like us to consider for a moment, what it means for Jesus to encounter us in this way. We are in the season of lent and fast approaching Holy week, which is Christian’s version of the festival of Passover, where we celebrate our liberation from the prison of sin, into the promised land of life that God reveals to us in the resurrection of Jesus. Now lent the season that we’re just wrapping up is traditionally a season during which we prepare ourselves for the festivities of Holy week. But if you go back to the beginning of lent, we’re invited to prepare and to conduct ourselves during the season of lent by means of prayer fasting and self-examination prayer and fasting.
And self-examination in our tradition. What that means is that we are invited to examine the ways that we ourselves have contributed to the things about the world that we find harmful unpleasant distasteful or bad self-examination is not so we can give ourselves all A’s neither is it. So we can just beat ourselves up. That’s not good spiritual practice, but it is so that we can learn to tell the truth and tell the difference between the ways that we have been faithful and the ways that we have fallen short of being faithful. We know from experience and from the witness of everybody who’s ever tried to do this, that this is often an uncomfortable experience. And so Jesus comes to guide us through it. First of all, he comes to share our life, to be human, to join our pilgrimage in the world, to live and die as one of us, as it says in our Eucharistic prayer.
So we ought to know from the beginning that God’s love for us is revealed in the fact that he chose to be among us. So the foundation of all our spiritual life is that fact that inescapable bedrock fact, God is with us, but God comes to be with us, not just to say we have already been victorious, that we’re already in the promised land that all we have to do now is enjoy the milk and honey and celebrate the festivities of our victory. God comes to be with us because there’s a journey we have yet to make. And we can fall short in two distinct ways. One is to think we don’t need to make the journey and the others to think we can’t make the journey, that we’re not enough to make the journey.
So God comes to show us what it looks like to be a human being devoted to God capable of self-examination. Sometimes the teacher walks with us in gentleness and humility, and sometimes the teacher confronts us as if to awaken us from a kind of slumber that we had been engaged in. And which inhibited us either by thinking that we didn’t need to make the journey or thinking that we couldn’t make the journey inhibited us from making our own effort to further ourselves spiritually towards those promises that God has made. So in this whole Lenten season, we’re thinking about those things because we’re preparing ourselves for the baptism that takes place at the vigil of Easter. When we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, when we celebrate our liberation and when we who have already been baptized, renew our commitments, once again, to follow in the way of Jesus, to continue in the apostles, teaching and fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim Christ as our Lord and savior, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbor as ourselves to seek justice and peace among all people.
These are huge, big tasks that God has given us, but God loves us so much that God has given us a share in that work of redeeming and saving and healing by our own practices, not just ourselves, but the whole world, but to think that we don’t have to do that work is to remain asleep and to fear. And imagine that we are not capable of doing that work is to remain asleep. And so sometimes Jesus confronts us as if to shake us awake to say, now is the hour of judgment. Now is the ruler of this world driven out? What should I say, father spare me from this hour? No, it was for this hour that I came, Jesus is in Jerusalem so that he can die and he dies so that he can fall to the ground and rise again and bear much fruit like that. Single grain of wheat that he teaches us about.
Now this afternoon, we’re going to conduct a baptism at St. Stephens. We’re doing it this afternoon and in a family only kind of way, because that’s what the COVID restrictions on our sacramental rights allow in this time and in this place. And we’re going to record the baptism on video and then enfolded into the larger celebration of the vigil of Easter, which will take place on the evening of April 3rd, this year. So there is a baptism that we are preparing for, and as we prepare mindfully, that for that baptism, it’s important for us also to remember what commitments we make in our own baptism. And as we seek to follow Jesus and not to exempt ourselves from that work, because we think either a, we don’t need to do it or B we don’t have what it takes, looking around at the world, the pain, the suffering, the heartbreak, the fear, the violence that continue to plague our lives. We know we need to do the work. It’s still out there for us to do. There is a need for generosity. There is a need for mercy. There is a need for loving kindness. There is a need for forgiveness. There is a need to speak about evil and what it reeks in our world.
And if we think we didn’t have what it takes to do the work, we just need to remember, God is with us. God has written God’s law in our hearts so that they may be turned from hearts of stone, to hearts of flesh, cold unfeeling hearts, to hearts that love and beat and bleed for the world. God is our God. And we are God’s people. And as we walk in God’s ways, Jesus walks with us sometimes guiding us gently, sometimes shaking us awake so that we may remember what it is to be human, to be godly, to share in God’s divinity and to give ourselves for the world that God made so that ourselves and the world might be healed.