sowing seeds

Lent 5B (RCL)
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

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.

Take a nap

Lent 3B (RCL)
Exodus 20:1-7
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

All of these lessons seem to me to have to do with the Wisdom myth of the second temple period. Certainly the psalm speaks of Wisdom present in creation and present in God’s way of life for us, and asks that the psalmist might live by that Wisdom. Wisdom, of course, departed from creation at the fall of humanity, and came to reside in God’s people, in the Torah and in the Temple. At the Exile, Wisdom departed again, and returned, some thought, to the second temple. There were many who did not agree, and found the second temple, at least in the Herodian period, far too deeply in bed with the Roman Empire. They were waiting for a further return both of Wisdom and of Jews in diaspora. Jesus’ “temple act” in all four gospels, but especially in John, seems to speak of Wisdom departing the Temple and coming to dwell in Jesus. John’s community makes the claim that it is the true Israel (in which there is no guile), and Jesus is the mode of encounter with God.

Paul also functioned within that second temple universe. But God has made foolish the wisdom of the wise, in the Word of Christ crucified. What a strange way for God to bring about God’s plan of the inclusion of everyone within the people of God. That was the intent from the beginning, and finally only accomplished in Christ, the Wisdom of God.

The Exodus reading gives us the Ten Words. The psalmist speaks of God’s wisdom ordering creation, and God’s wisdom in Torah ordering human community and relationship. The ten words sum up that wisdom for the ordering of community. What strikes me is that the word that gets the most words is the word about sabbath rest. Of all the words, it is the one most obviously present in God’s creation, since God created in six days, and rested on the seventh.

It also seems like the one we may need most to hear. How busy are our lives? We have scheduled ourselves to within an inch of our lives. People who have lost their jobs feel useless because they aren’t busy. If Jesus’ body replaces the Temple, and we are part of the body, we are part of the Temple, the mode of encounter with God in the world (Paul uses the lovely image of us as stones built into a temple). What busy-ness needs to be swept out of our bodies, out of our Body so that it might be a house of prayer? Perhaps our lenten discipline this week should be to take a nap!

Anyone who

Lent 2B (RCL)
Genesis 17:1-1, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

In the adult forum, we have been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans. Much of the discourse of Second Temple Judaism focused on the figure of Moses. Moses was the perfect lawgiver, the type of the King, of the prophet and just about any other category. Wisdom lived in the Law given by Moses, and in the Temple. Of course, after the destruction of the Temple, for many Jews, she lived exclusively in the Law.

Paul, of course, is seeking a new way of being Jewish, or part of the covenant people besides adherence to the Law. He wants to set aside the exclusive parts of the law that limit the possibility of righteousness to those within the confines of the law. Moses won’t serve Paul very well as the type of the person of the covenant. So Paul reaches back over Moses to the figure of Abraham, whom God called to be the father of “many nations” not just one. What to do about those Jews who didn’t join the Messiah’s movement to open the promise to all? Well, there were the descendants of the flesh, and the descendants of the spirit. The descendants according to the flesh would come around at some point in history, but for now, the descendants according to the spirit, whose righeousness looked like Abraham’s, based on God’s faithfulness to the promise and Abraham’s trust in God’s faithfulness, lived in the promise.

Paul wants to draw the circle wide enough to include any who have the obedience of faith to the gospel. No “fleshly” category is sufficient for defining the circle: Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free — these distinctions no longer exist. God’s promise is open to all.

So, what about Peter? In Galatians, Paul tells us he opposed Peter to his face for drawing back from eating with Gentiles. Peter was expecting a Messiah (so Mark would want us to think) on the Jewish pattern — who would set things to rights again for Israel. When Jesus begins talking about suffering many things at the hands of the leaders of Israel, Peter can’t accept it. But Jesus sees this as satanic thinking; a misunderstanding.

So, calling together the crowds and his disciples, Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to follow me, let that one deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Following Jesus is not limited to the disciples, nor to Jews nor any other limiting factor. Anyone who wants can leave all behind, take up the cross and follow.

What does it mean to take up the cross? I’m on this kick after coming back from Lui. It means recognizing our dependence on God and each other, being willing to serve and be served, to let go of our self-reliance. If we hold on to that myth, if we think we can go it alone, if we mortgage our soul for that fine house, if we sell off our future for this quarter’s dividends, and focus only on the bottom line, what will we give in exchange for our lives? There is joy in letting go of all that, in being part of the family God calls into promise.