Sunday, March 29, 2009

5 Lent

March 29, 2009

Psalm 51.1-12; John 12.20-33

When I was in graduate school, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing, we had to have our work critiqued in writer’s workshops. These workshops were places in which we submitted our stories or poems, everyone read them and then brought them back with comments. It was a great experience—as difficult as they were—because they helped one see what areas needed work in a poem or story.

One of the things we looked for in a story were called “loose ends.” A “loose end” was usually a strain of a story that was never resolved. We were introduced to a character or situation and then, we never encounter the character again or the situation was just sort left hanging.

In our Gospel story today, we find a loose end. In our story, we find these Greeks looking for Jesus. The loose end of this story is that we never discover if they found him or not. The author doesn’t tell us. We find no resolve to this story of the Greeks seeking Jesus. However, despite it being a loose end, it does pack some meaning. What’s great about scripture is that even a loose end can have purpose.

One interpretation of this story is that that the Greeks—as Gentiles—were not allowed to “see” Jesus until he was lifted up on the Cross. Only when he has been “lifted up from the earth,” as he tells us this morning will he “draw all people to [himself].” Jesus’ message at the time of their approaching the apostles is still only to the Jews. But when Jesus is lifted up on the Cross, at that moment, he is revealed to all. At that moment, the veil is lifted. The old Law of the Jews has died—the curtain in the Temple has been torn in half—and now Jesus is given for all.

It’s certainly an interesting and provocative take on this story. And it’s especially interesting for us, as well, who are seeking to “find Jesus” in our own lives. And like those Greeks, we are not always certain if we will find him—at least at this moment.

Certainly, this past week, many of us were seeking Jesus in various ways. This past week was a week of anxiety and fear. It felt like a war zone here in Fargo and Moorhead. Helicopters were flying over. Sirens blared incessantly. The earthen dikes rose and streets were blocked off. Increasingly, we became isolated from the rest of the world as the waters rose. It felt as though we were preparing for the invasion of an army. Or for Armageddon. On Thursday, in the grocery store, I overhead a woman say, “It feels like the end of the world.” And there were moments when it certainly felt that way.

Now, at this equally uncertain moment, we are in a holding pattern. We are here, waiting… And sometimes the waiting is more excruciating that the preparing. When we are preparing, we are doing something. But when we are waiting, we are susceptible to our fears and anxieties coming to the surface. In this moment, we are certainly living with a huge amount of uncertainty. The waters have risen up around us. We are living in a precarious moment—a moment that can change at the blink of an eye. It is frightening and downright exhausting to be living this way. And in this moment, it is sometimes hard to see Christ in it. We have been frightened and scared and anxious in these last days.

But we can take hope in one sound fact: this story of our seeking Christ is not a loose end. Our story is actually resolved. We do find Christ in moments like this. In some ways, we are like those Greeks in this moment. We too are looking for some light, some hope, in this difficult time. But unlike them, we actually find Jesus. Just as Jesus could not allow himself to be revealed to the Gentiles until he was revealed on the Cross, so, to some extent, is that is the case with us now. For us, we are looking for Jesus and we too are finding Jesus as the crucified Christ. We are finding the crucified Jesus in the faces of all of us who are being affected by the flood. We are finding the crucified Jesus in the faces of those who have lost their homes or are in danger of losing their homes. We are finding the crucified Jesus in the faces of those anxious and frightened people we see scurrying around us. We are seeing the crucified Jesus in the faces of all those workers—those truck drivers, cops, sandbaggers, and all the others who are working, day and night. We see the crucified Jesus in the faces of the National Guard soldiers who are keeping order and peace. We are seeing the crucified Jesus in the face that is staring back at us—tired and frightened—in the mirror.

Jesus is often revealed to us in moments and in ways we do not expect. Jesus often reveals himself to us in surprising ways that shock us and jar us and shake us from our complacency. And what more shocks us, and jars us and shakes us than to see someone crucified—crucified on a cross, but also crucified by their fears, by their anxieties, by the uncertainly of the future.

In this moment, we also find that we are helpless as well. We have no control over nature. We have no control over the waters that rage or the snow that comes to us in late spring, over the thaw that happens too quickly for our comfort. And we have no control over God’s power in our life. In moments like this we do what we can and then we leave the rest to God. We find ourselves in these uncertain moments doing something we don’t want to—something that is against our nature to do. We find ourselves trusting. We trust that the dikes will hold. We trust that the levees will hold. We trust that the waters will crest and slowly subside. We trust that this too will pass away. And we trust that, even if the worst happens, we too will survive this. We trust, knowing that no matter what this life throws at us—storms, or floods or even the Cross—God is in control and God will bring about good even when it seems like no good can come from the bad things of our lives. God is in control. And all will be well.

In a moment like this we might find ourselves echoing Jesus’ words: “my soul is troubled.” But rather, we can take to heart the words of this morning’s psalm. We too can pray to God:

Make me hear of joy and gladness*
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

We find here two images there that we can cling to—much as we would cling to life preservers in the water. The first is that image of joy and gladness. In moments like this emotions like joy and gladness seem far from us. Yet, despite what goes on around us, despite the crosses of this life, even then we still find joy and gladness deep within us. This is a joy in knowing that no matter what happens in this life we are take care of. Or to be more specific, we are sustained.

The second image we can cling to from our psalm is the idea of a broken body rejoicing. Moments like this do break us. They break us spiritually, emotionally and physically sometimes. But we also know that just because we’re broken doesn’t mean we’re out. The Cross is the ultimate proof of that. When the Cross is held up to us, the first reaction is of horror. This is what brokenness truly is. Nothing can been more shattered and broken than that body, nailed to that wood. But if we look closer, we realize that truly that broken body is a reason to rejoice. In the midst of that defeat there is ultimate victory.

To build off this image, we find Jesus in today’s Gospel, saying: “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls on the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In these moments in which we seem to be broken down, when we seemed to have died a bit—emotionally or spiritually, because fear and anxiety are symptoms of hopelessness, which is a form of death—we find that we can still bear fruit. God still works even through the negative things life throws at us.

So, as difficult as it might seem, allow joy to live in you and through you. Find a joy that will sustain you despite what nature or humans or life throws your way. And if we do, if we allow that fruit to flourish with in us, we will find that our story is not a loose ending. We will find that we are sustained, in joy and gladness, even through the difficult times. And we will find ourselves renewed, with a right sprit within us.

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