Lent 5B (RCL)
I got to thinking about Nathaniel’s sermon last week, and had something of an epiphany. Nathaniel re-told the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night as a way of framing the famous John 3:16. He then spoke of learning to see Christ in even the worst situation, and spoke of the woman in Wandi getting on her knees to present a gift to Deb, and Deb getting on her knees to accept it. They saw the Christ in each other. When Nicodemus comes to Jesus, he says, “We know you are a teacher come from God, because no one could do the works you do if God were not with him.” Of course, Jesus replies with a complete non-sequitur: Unless a person is born anew/from above, that one will never see the kingdom of God. What?! Finally, after all these years, it dawns on me. John (or whoever wrote the gospel) is saying, “What difference does it make who Jesus was? Unless something happens to you, dear reader, you will not see the kingdom.” Why all this effort into recovering the historical Jesus? he would ask.
So, on to this weeks reading. There were some Greeks among those who went up to the festival. They find Philip and say “We want to see Jesus.” Philip finds Andrew, and together they go to Jesus. Then, the Greeks drop out of the story completely. Jesus replies, “Unless [get ready folks — this always leads into the payoff for us] a seed falls into the ground and dies, it bears no fruit. But if it does, it bears much fruit.” Strikes me we are reading the Gospel in Greek. We are those Greeks.
John’s community could have chosen to stay Jewish, a splinter from the synagogue, bitter about being thrown out. Instead, they chose to fall into the ground and die, and bear much fruit — just what Jesus says over and over is the work of the followers of Jesus.
Jeremiah says in the new covenant, there will be no rules, only a covenant of the heart. We can’t say, “But, we’ve always done it that way!” What cherished aspects of ourselves, of our idenities, need to fall into the ground and die before they can bear much fruit. On the congregational level? On the denominational level? On the personal level?
My sorta smug self-reliance had to fall into the ground and die in a pretty painful way in Lui, but I think that change is bearing fruit. It’s always a scary thing. Pushing Advent always risks pushing some people away, and it sometimes feels pretty arrogant to say, “This is what we need to do.” Then, says John, a voice came from heaven. I guess it’s all part of our baptism.