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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Lent 5B March 18, 2018


Hear, O God, the eternal echo of the prayers and supplications your Son offered when, to establish the new and everlasting covenant, he became obedient even unto death on the cross. Through all the trials of this life, bring us to a deeper, more intimate share in Christ's redeeming passion, that we may produce the abundant fruit of that seed that falls to the earth and dies, and so be gathered as your harvest for the kingdom of heaven. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 12:20-33

"Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn't believe in God if you paid him."
"Salvation," Frederick Buechner, Buechner Blog.

"John alerts his readers to the seductive powers of the world. There can be no compromise."
Commentary, John 12:20-33, Marilyn Salmon, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"During this season of Lent we follow him all the way to Golgotha, all the way to the cross, where we will stand beneath it, together with those followers who asked at the beginning of his ministry, "Where are you staying?" (1:38). It is there, in the face of the world's many ways of death (e.g., poverty, economic collapse, hunger, sickness, war) that we are drawn even closer to Jesus. It is there, in the light of the stark reality of life at its end that we begin to catch a glimpse of life at its fullest."
Commentary, John 12:20-33, Audrey West, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Jesus has finished his public ministry. The arrival of the Greeks reminds us of 3:14ff: that the world is being saved through the lifting up of the Son. Even sheep not of his own fold are being drawn near as the time arrives. We ourselves, reading through John's Gospel arrive at the essential truth that the mission of the cross is not to be stopped. God, in Christ Jesus, is recreating the world. The grain is replanted, and new fruit is to grow and thrive; a gospel fruit of salvation. The cross is itself forever changed such that it shines a light on the disciple's life and upon the world revealing truth and making known that which has been hidden: God will not stop the drawing to himself of his creation or his creatures.

There is a great deal of debate over the Passover imagery between scholars. Yet, for the Christian there is ultimately a clear understanding that it is we who are passing over through the sheol of death into a promised land by virtue of Jesus (like Moses' own staff) being lifted upon a cross, descending into the dead, and rising on the third day. This is the vulnerability of courage and the power of love overcoming death itself.

Jesus promises all people and all things will be drawn to him through whom all things were made. While the gate is narrow, Jesus is the door. Jesus invites all and forgives all. Faith in him is the key with not much more required. This is a catholic understanding that the creator shall take us in the end under his wing and desires that all sit at the table of the lamb. Here is the core of the Gospel of John through which the rest may be read.

As Jesus' ministry comes to an end so ours in the mean time begins. Our work is to begin the sowing of the seeds, the gathering in from the streets, slums, hedge rows, that all may come to the feast. We are to scatter the birds, to remove the rocks and weeds, and to make sure that the seeds of individuals are carefully planted within the earth that they may truly be transformed and reborn; growing and bearing fruit. We are to create safe spaces for people to become vulnerable to the workings of God's love. And, we are to do this for ourselves first; making sure we are planted carefully and fed upon the wellspring of the waters of life.

At the opening of the Texas Children's Pavilion for Women, as one of the primary philanthropist spoke passionately about her desire to be apart of projects which are transformative - I was moved. I was touched by the transformation through vulnerability spoken about by Brené Brown in her TED talk which can be found here or here. Both women speak to me of the challenge of transformation and being involved in transformative work where "vulnerability is itself the birthplace of innovation and change."

We are to be at work releasing people from trying to get through the narrow door and accept God's forgiveness - Jesus' cross and open gate. We are to allow the work of the cross to first shine a light on our own arc of transformation and pilgrim journey. We are to engage and embrace our own vulnerability. We are to follow its direction and seek our own change by the grace of God. We are then to preach to, lead, and help organize a mission which itself transforms the world around us. This is the kind of organization we wish to be part of. This is the kind of church we long to be.

We are to be the one's - through the proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation and the witness of the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus - bear fruit from the deep nature of our own vulnerability that is worthy of our salvation.

All of this begins with us, our own vulnerability and our own willingness to be vulnerable to others, and to the Gospel and cross. Only then does our old life end and our new life begin. Perhaps only then will others be drawn to our witness.

For it is the world of false courage, a lack of vulnerability, and a willingness to reject transformation and rebirth that allows and leads to abuse, the crucifixion of others, and ultimately the shaming of the week and poor.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 5:1-10

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"In actuality, the history of the high priesthood was an inglorious one, the office having become highly politicized, especially in the Maccabean and Roman periods that led into the time of Jesus. Opposition to the corrupt priesthood was one of the factors that led to the formation of the dissident Qumran community, locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls."
Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Susan Hedahl, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Why does salvation depend on a high priest who is subject to weakness, who prays in crisis, who learns what the human lot is like? Why does Jesus' service as high priest require his identification with us?"
Commentary, Hebrews 5:1-10, Pentecost 21, Bryan J. Whitfield, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"...right in the heart of God there is empathetic love for each of us on our life's journey."
"First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 21, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Each Sunday I remind myself that we have a great high priest in Jesus. This prayer, commonly said before receiving communion (BCP 834), is rooted in this particular passage of scripture from Hebrews.

The author is responsible for giving us the metaphor that Jesus has taken the place of the priest's office and is our great high priest.  While we have chosen priests to help us and represent us before God, Jesus is the priest who is to intervening on our behalf before God. When it comes to the offering and sacrifices for the removal of sin (which would have been normal in the temple of Jesus' day) now Jesus is our offering and sacrifice.

The priestly role that we humans fill is always limited because of our own humanity. We are indeed to strive before God to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek (that ancient Canaanite priest who ministered to Abram and Sarai - blessing and feeding them) but we are limited. We fail, we sin, we are all too human. Jesus is our high priest.

Yet, Jesus suffers, prays that his task may be removed, has the human qualities of weakness and fear. Our author tells us this is because of his humanness. It is this humanness that enables him to know our suffering and fear - and then to take it truly into the heavenly kingdom and lay it at the altar of God.

In Jesus we see the culmination of worship, sacrifice, and offering. We have in him perfect oblation and satisfaction (as the prayer used to say) for the sins of the world. Jesus has made the offering once and it is eternal. He remains our high priest and it is he that intercedes on our part before the great throne of God.

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 31:27-34

"Lent is a time for honesty that may disrupt the illusion of well-being that is fostered by the advocates of indulgent privilege and strident exceptionalism that disregards the facts on the ground. Against such ideological self-sufficiency, the prophetic tradition speaks of the brokenness of the covenant that makes healthy life possible."

"Ferguson and Forgiveness," Walter Bruegemann, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2015. Video: Race in America.

"Hope for the future in Jeremiah involves the same divine message known from Sinai, 'I will be their God and they will be my people' (verse 33); but this time, that covenant relationship will be the defining mark of each person rather than something that must be learned."

Commentary, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Amy Erickson, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

We just had this passage this last summer - so if you didn't preach on it you get a second chance. It will appear again this coming year.

Jeremiah continues his prophecy saying that God will bring about a bounteous future. God has not stayed the hand of those who have undone the power of Israel as a civilization rooted in the authority of this world. Remember it was Israel's political and religious machinations which brought it down. Yet, God will in the days to come bring about a resurrection from the death they brought on themselves. God will bring about life from their rubble. 

While the people have suffered and have been deported this will not be the final word. Out of lostness, leastness, and death God brings about life. From the children whose teeth are set on edge to those who at sour fruit, God will bring about a bounteous feast and plenty for the children. Jeremiah prophesies:
"The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 
God promises a new covenant - a new relationship. Christians understand this prophecy to be about the promise of God to deliver all people. The temple's politics intermixed with the state, the civil war between tribes (between the northern and southern kingdoms) has undone the original covenant that was made with God. They forgot who delivered them out of Egypt and so they thought they were responsible for delivering themselves. They forgot who fed them in the wilderness and thought that it was by their own hands that they had wealth. They forgot that God brought water from the rock and thought instead that their future and the future of their kingdoms would flow from their own power.

God speaks through Jeremiah and he writes:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Walter Brueggeman calls this part of the prophetic book of Jeremiah "the book of comfort." God is watching and planting and build the new community of hope. While we may well remember the proverb that the parents sins are visited upon the children (even Jesus quotes this), we see in the passage that the people have an opportunity to begin again. The proverb is "null and void" says Brueggeman. All exiles have the possibility of the new. (Brueggeman, Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 504)

The covenant intends that people not work against one another but rather that they see one another face to face and see God face to face. Again a radical message says that God will forget all their sin.

For Christians this is the very mission of God in Christ Jesus. That God in Christ comes and is incarnate such that they meet God face to face, and can no longer look at each other without seeing the face of God looking back. That God in Christ will be the very law himself. We are to understand that the highest law shall be the writing of commandments and actions by Jesus himself. Humanity will know, both by sight and by relationship and by story/witness God. The living word shall come and be part of the community and with him he shall bring forgiveness of every iniquity.

While we may wonder why Jeremiah remains in the scripture because of his obvious entanglement with the Babylonian court, what we see is that his words prophesy a new faith. The first Christians, without a New Testament, understood their work as community and the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in the prophesy of Jeremiah.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

The Beloved Community of John and the Symphony of Engagement

Sermon preached on 5.b Lent at Good Shepherd in Austin. With a shout out to The Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl (PZ's Podcast) Rudolf Otto and Miester Eckhart. 2015.

Dunstan's Corn or A Grain Must Be Buried in the Ground

Sermon preached at Trinity Longview. Mexico memories and our parrot named Dunstan. 2012.

We want to see Jesus

This is a sermon preached at Holy Spirit Houston on March 30, 2009 on John 12.20-33. 2009.

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