The Pas Lent 5
18 March 2018
God of glory, your revelation through Jesus Christ calls into your covenant of love. Enable us now to reflect your love, so that barriers erected by sin may be broken down, and all people may be drawn to you; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Let me tell you a joke. Now I’m going to say right off, that this isn’t a very funny joke. It’s not a groaner, it’s not even a non-sensical joke that we hear from our children, and yet, at the same time, it can be quite profound for each one of our lives, today, and every day.
It goes like this: A man falls off a cliff, but manages to hang on, somehow, and being a man of faith, he prays. He prays to God saying, “God! Save Me!”
And God, as God does in such situations, responds saying “Let Go!”
Now, as a joke goes, this one isn’t that funny, in fact it’s not funny at all.
It isn’t funny if we, actually expect God’s will in this situation to act something like the 1960’s tv show “Lassie.” In that instance, Lassie runs off, barks at a few people, and the next thing you know fire department, paramedics, and a whole host of onlookers gather to give thanks to God for saving this man, and for Lassie being the one to fetch help when it’s needed.
It isn’t funny if we, like the average member of society, walk through the days and seasons of our lives oblivious to the love of God all around us, clinging onto something in this life experience, with the same ferocity that this man clings to his tiny outcropping, the same tenacity that he clings to life.
Well, interestingly, this is where my mind started its meandering, its wandering about looking for something that applies to our lives, from today’s gospel.
So, this scenario has been rambling around my mind, and as it rambles about up there, I wonder what it is that keeps us from letting go of earthly concerns, of earthly patterns and fully embracing God’s love and grace in and for our lives?
At the same time, today, Jesus tells us: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:23-25)
And we’ve heard this text before, we’ve heard these words before, but how do they penetrate beyond our mind, and seep through our hearts, our lives, our very actions?
And when I read Jesus words in today’s gospel, I read what Jesus says about the single grain of wheat falling to the ground and producing more than it could ever imagine.
So, in keeping in mind with the scenario at the beginning, what is it that we cling to that keeps us from the love of God being fully realized in our lives? What prevents us from reaching out to the glory of God with both hands, even with both of our feet planted firmly on the ground?
What are the old habits and patterns that we cling to that we feel may give us life, and assurance, yet, at the same time prevent us from being all that we are able to be in God’s eyes?
And on Friday, I sat down with my marriage preparation couples, and we talked about how to keep Christ at the centre of our marriages. The video speaker pointed out that we, like Adam and Eve sin infinitely, and it is that sin that is the ultimate cause of discord, of problems between husband and wife, but in that spirit, also between us and God.
Jesus tells us: “26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!’
Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’” (Jn 12:26-28)
And in this, Jesus admits that his journey is one that is troubling to the heart and soul, his definitely, ours, I hope so.
The journey he is on is to glorify God’s name, and this road leads to and through the cross.
This road leads past all of our old assumptions, our thoughts on salvation, our ability to cling to something, to anything, that keeps our mind firmly focused on this world, not on God’s love, grace, and love for all of humanity.
Now, such knowledge as Jesus has, and talks about, today, has the ability to keep one up nights, and pacing the floor on many occasions. It has the ability to distract us, derail us, and cause us to contemplate jumping ship at a moment’s notice. We can see this when Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before he’s arrested.
Yet, Jesus stays on the path, not for his sake, not for his glory, but for our sake and for God’s glory.
The punch line of the bad joke is that the person isn’t saved physically, in this life, rather he is welcomed into the next life and is greeted by salvation there. The idea is that salvation is found when we let go from what it is that holds us back from God’s love, what fills our lives with what we consider to be necessary to salvation.
This doesn’t mean we all need to be lemmings and start leaping off cliffs. What it means is that we need to be aware of the patterns of holding on to the things of and in this life that keep us away from the love of God.
Jesus laments: “27 Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” (Jn 12:27-28a)
And perhaps we, too, should lament to God to help us to let go of what holds us back, what keeps us from fully realizing the love of God in our lives, in our actions?
Are we looking for a roadmap? Do we wish for angelic influence and direction?
In the meantime, we have the love and the guidance of Jesus. We have the words of the prophets whose common words are to call us back to the honest heartfelt worship of God – no trappings, no hedging, no gliding around the point.
Today’s psalm tells us: “7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly. 8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. 9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice. 10 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. 11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 12 Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy Spirit from me. 13 Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.” (ps 51:7-13)
The psalmist, king David, calls out to God and begs that God not cast him aside, that God give him a new heart, a new purpose, a new relationship with God, and we are able to echo David’s words in our lives, as well.
So, we need to ask ourselves, what is it that keeps us from wholeheartedly putting God first in our lives?
What is it that holds us back?
When I was growing up, the pattern for going to church was that we wore ‘good clothes’. I’m sure you’re familiar with the drill, with the paradigm: Good clothes, clean shoes, ties on the gentlemen and suit jackets, even in the hottest of weather. Skirts on the girls and ladies. Before my time was the hats and gloves for the ladies and girls, who attended church.
But these are just trappings.
Ultimately, these become barriers, if we’re going to look down on those who don’t present themselves to this level of dress, cleanliness, or some other unknown and unremarkable factor? What if I hadn’t worn a hat, in the day that hats were the norm for ladies? In those days, I would have been pulled aside, and instructed, not so kindly, in my lapse of propriety before God.
At the same time, what has God given up for me, whether I wear a hat or not? We see it in the gospel. We see Jesus being troubled by the barriers he sees and acknowledges between our hearts, our lives, and God’s capacity to love.
Jesus knows what’s coming. He knows that the time will be coming, soon, that his death on the cross is the ultimate letting go, in order to open the doors of salvation to all who see and believe.
He tells us, today: “27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” (Jn 12:27-33)
What ultimately holds us back is the sense of fear that has the ability to grip our spinal cords and cause us to hold our breath, even for a moment, when God’s love is fully manifested before us.
And we know that moment of love. We know it when we look to the cross and see Jesus there, hear his words “Father Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
When Jesus says: “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30)
When Jesus tells each one of us, “Do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)
This is why Jesus is here. He’s here to point out to each one of us that there are barriers in our lives, in our actions that keep us from the realized love of God as firmly as the Pharisees had rules and regulations to keep them ‘on the right path’.
He’s here to help us to let go, and to embrace what God has in mind for each one of our lives as we live into that love that is so life changing for each one of us, not just today, but every day.
He’s here to encourage us to Let Go!