See and Hear

A Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent; Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:5-10, Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16, John 12:20-33

Good morning. It is good to see all the kids here this morning. I know all of you know how special each of you are. Here is a story that reminds me of that.

All moms are on high alert when they bring their newborn baby home. They see and hear everything that is within reach of their baby. When a mom saw her oldest child, J keep edging up to the baby’s room she watched. J welcomed her new brother. Mom hadn’t seen any signs of jealousy or anything like that, but still, new moms watch. J would go to her brother’s room and stand by the door if it was cracked she’d peak in, if not she’d listen. Then one day, when Mom was more relaxed and not keeping the hawk eye alert on, J quietly when in. Mom missed J, automatically looked down the hall and noticed the baby’s room’s door was half open. She quickly went to see what was up. She did not hear anything that alarmed her, so she paused at the door to listen. J was standing by the baby’s crib, one hand, and her forehead on the railing. Quietly she said, please tell me what she looks like, I am beginning to forget what God looks like.

It is interesting to ponder how as we grow up as we learn some things we also lose our ability to see and hear other things; it raises a question about how we grow up (Kubicek).

 In the Gospel this morning we hear that some Greeks ask to see Jesus. It is an indication of their desire to know him. Certainly, through the stories they have heard, they have come to know about Jesus, which has led to them to seek to see Jesus so they may come to know him more fully (Shore). Their request makes no demands, there are no appeals for proof, they just want to be in Jesus’ presence, just as Andrew wanted to follow Jesus after John the Baptist’s witness (John 1:35). People do desire to see and hear Jesus. However, as we grow up, either birthday by birthday, or by education, or through life’s hard taught lessons, that desire seems to be more and more suppressed. We seem to lose the ability to see Jesus, or God, or the Spirit right in front of us. Notice the officials cannot see who Jesus is, and the crowd cannot hear God’s reply to Jesus’ prayer “Glorify your name.” People think it is either thunder or that Jesus has lost his mind and is talking to himself (Kubicek). And while there is a lot of Sunday School material teaching stories about Jesus, the opportunities to learn how to see Jesus, how to hear Jesus, are rare. One commentator wrote that seminaries don’t teach it, creeds don’t mention it, the catechism doesn’t teach it, yet here it is (Kubicek).

I can attest to the truth, that seeing or hearing God/Jesus/Spirit can be a life-changing experience. Thirty or so years ago, I was home alone with our daughters. N was upstairs asleep. H and I were playing Candy Land. It was important to me that she wins, so I was trying to manufacture a win, by making mistakes. I should have known better, H was very smart, and never did miss much, and every time I tried to make a mistake, she saw me and corrected it. Because it was Saturday the TV was on PBS, the kid’s shows were over and an interview with Joseph Campbell was on. I do not know the question. I only know part of the answer

 … there are many paths in life. When you are on the right on you know it. When you are on the wrong on, you know it. And if you ever sell out for money …

My house of cards collapsed, and I heard “Go get ordained.”

A bit of background. As an acolyte serving at the altar was always a special place and time for me, there was a kind of mystical magnetic draw to it. Somewhere in my last year or so in college, in a moment of existential, or identity crisis I sought out a priest. So, it is not a total surprise to hear those words, although it was completely unexpected.

After decades of occasionally pondering I am beginning to see that the only way I would hear the divine voice was to be so focused that all the concerns of the world were blocked out. It was only playing as a child, with a child, that the walls I had built, to protect myself from the world, faded away, and that God’s voice could be heard. As I sought to obey that call, I shared the experience, ~ but with caution. I did not want to over-interpret it. And ~ I was not sure how it would be received. Which tells us something about how such experiences are interpreted in many situations.

Our Lenten sermon themes are lentil soup, and what we sell our Christian birthright for. This morning lentil soup is looking a lot like grown-up expectations and interpretations of the world. We have forgotten how to be little children. Though Esau called it “that red stuff” this morning lentil soup is gray stuff, a mixture of everyday life and light. It is a good thing to have grown up expectations and interpretations of the world. Everyday life in the world is complex and at times dangerous, it takes grownup experience and wisdom to make your way through. At the same time, Jesus’ teaching that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be like little children (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) we have heard is true. It builds on my seminary class Psalm, ~ 131

  1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore. (Psalms 131).

The psalmist shares the way to live in divine hope, which is our soul’s being calm and quiet like a child with its mother.

The ever-alert understanding it takes to get through the day contrast sharply with the calm and quiet of a child with their mother. Lentil soup is an artful mixture of both.

John is challenging the balance of the two. In his day, and in ours, there is a much greater emphasis on ever alert understanding than calm and quiet. Go to the self-help section where ever books are sold and see how many books offer ways to negotiate or manage your life to be successful, compared to how many offer ways to calm and quiet your soul. John does this in sharing the relationship between God and Jesus. John writes that Jesus’ soul is troubled, which is an expression of a grown-up understanding of the situation he is in, he now knows his death is rapidly approaching. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, here, Jesus does not question his purpose.

He is so perfectly united to the Father that, in [John’s] Gospel, he does not struggle to obey the divine will; instead he prays for the Father’s glorification … [he knows] looming tragedy is not the last word (Gaventa and Petersen).

John’s lentil soup is more divine light than human awareness. This morning’s vision of lentil soup is as much about the blend of what is in it, as it is about its ingredients.

We have also been asking what we sell our birthright for. This morning it is an abundant wheat crop. Jesus shares the one-line parable about a wheat seed dying so that it will bear much fruit, which we tend to equate with abundance. Have you ever asked yourself “Does wheat seed produce fruit?” Of course not. So, what is Jesus, through John, saying? Throughout scripture, Jesus uses the phrase “bearing fruit” to describe how a community of his disciples should look and sound. In Jesus’ one-line parable “bearing fruit” is a metaphor meaning to lose one’s life, by leaving ever alert understanding of our self-interest aside, to become part of a community of faith (Shore; O’Day). To hate, or reject, or rebalance one’s life is to follow Jesus as a part of the community of disciples who witness to Jesus after his death, resurrection, and ascension (O’Day). This morning we see the temptation to sell our birthright, of an abundance of fruit in a community of faith, for an abundant wheat crop.

Adjusting the ingredients of a recipe is a challenging thing. It requires knowledge of the ingredients, how they interact, and which flavors complement each other. It is also an art that emerges from a calm and quiet soul. You are not alone in your effort to balance your recipe for lentil soup. You are heirs of Jesus’ invitation to Andrew to “come and see” (John:138) and to Phillip to “follow me” (John 1:43) (Lewis; O’Day). You are heirs of seeing and hearing to know the “swift and varied changes of the world” and the calm and quiet of your soul which together bring you into eternal life in which you know, right here, right now, what God looks like, what God sounds like.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kubicek, Kirk Alan. “This Voice Has Come for Your Sake, Not for Mine, Lent 5.” 18 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Seeing Jesus. 18 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 12:20-33. 18 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Knowing It’s Knowing

A sermon for Lent 5: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Vincent Gray was a child with problems seeing things; he saw ghosts. His therapist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, is not successful in helping him. Years later Gray shoots Dr. Crowe before killing himself. Crowe recovers and later that year begins seeing Cole, another child with a similar problem. He is completely dedicated to helping Cole, inspired in part by his perceived failure with Vincent. He rarely interacts with his wife anymore. And in fact, there is no conversation at all anymore.

Crowe becomes convinced that Cole has a gift to help the dead, complete their unfinished business. He is successful in helping Cole understand and accept his gift, and Cole saves the life of one ghost’s younger sister. He is also able to help his mother reconcile with her dead mother.

One evening when Dr. Crowe retunes home, he begins to notice subtle differences. His wedding ring is on the on the bed; he recalls that he has not had it on since he began seeing Cole. His wife is laying on the bed watching the video of their wedding. He hears his wife ask him why he left her. And then Crowe remembers Cole’s talking about the effects of a ghost’s unfinished business and realizes that Vincent had killed him and that with Cole’s help he has finally come to accept his failure to understand and help Vincent. Released of this burden Crowe is able to tell his wife she was never second, that he has always loved her and is able to move on.

The audience, I being one, is shocked by the reversal of perspective. As had Dr. Crowe we had all completely misunderstand the world of the story. M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense spins around Crowe’s misunderstanding of the critical moments of his life (Wikipedia). Crowe is not alone in misunderstanding, critical moments of life.

Today is the next to last Sunday in Lent. The Gospel story is about Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead. But I am no longer sure that Lazarus’ death is the point of the story, though it is an important element. The last four weeks the Gospel readings have had a central element of misunderstanding. In the wilderness, the Devil tries to trick Jesus into misunderstanding who he is. Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus saying “being born again” as literal and not the transformative “being born from above.” The woman at the well misunderstands Jesus offering “living water” as something that will deliver her from having to come to the village well to get water thus avoiding the scorn of her neighbors. Driven by confusion, fear, and attachment to tradition the neighbors, parents, and authorities of the man born blind’s life misunderstand the relationship between life’s hardships and sin and the deepest meaning of Sabbath. All of Lent is a misunderstanding. They continue this morning.

The disciples misunderstand Jesus saying Lazarus’ illness does not lead to death, but God’s glory; and later when he says Lazarus has fallen asleep, they miss its customary reference to death (Harrelson, O’Day). When Jesus arrives, Martha misunderstands Jesus’ reference to resurrection as the classic Pharisee reference, drawn from Daniel (12:2), to the end of time, and that keeps her from hearing Jesus revelation of himself (Ellingsen, Harrelson, O’Day). When Mary hears of Jesus arrival, she goes to meet him, and so do all the mourners from Jerusalem. When they meet, Jesus is moved by her weeping and that of her friends. The misunderstanding here is at least as old as the King James’ Bible in which we first read “Jesus wept” (11:35). The original words express anger or indignation and agitated or troubled; they are not any way an expression of sentiment which we typically draw from ‘wept.’ (Harrelson, O’Day). The friends misunderstand Jesus’ tears leading them to wonder Could he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying (John 11:37)? Martha’s misunderstanding of Jesus continues when she objects to removing the stone that seals Lazarus’ tomb because of her fear of obnoxious odors, and the tradition that after 3 days the soul has left for good, and there is no longer any hope of revival (O’Day).

Our own encounters with death, in all its manifestations, lead to confusion. When we die, we do not go to heaven to be angels. According to the bible, angles are their namesakes – messengers of God. When we die, there is a time of waiting, which is not revealed scripture, and when we face Jesus as the prosecutor, and Judge and oh, by the way, the defense attorney we face judgment. And by grace life in God’s presence is our future. Death, like barrenness, blindness, or any another illness or misfortune is not a consequence of sin; it is just life.

Any other popular conception of death is like attributing illness to sin; it is a misunderstanding. It seems if all the world is full of misunderstanding. Which leads on the wonder, what to do about all these misunderstandings?

One of the statements I think is more profound than first appears is

There are known knowns.
There are known unknowns.
There are also unknown unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld, Brainyquote).

When we hear the word ‘known,’ we generally associated that with knowledge. If you know something, it is a piece of information, maybe even a fact. But you can know somebody, and to know someone implies a relationship, and a relationship infers some sort of experience. So, Lent is not about knowing Jesus it is about knowing Jesus. All these stories reveal that it is not what information we know or what understanding we don’t know about Jesus that dispels misinformation. It is what we don’t know, that we have not experienced with Jesus that matters.

All the misunderstandings in these Lenten stories precede encounters with Jesus. With Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the man born blind, misunderstandings are transformed by their experience with Jesus (Lewis). Lent 1 is not a vicarious wilderness experience with Jesus. It is an invitation to take a wilderness experience of our won, with the assurance Jesus will be with you. For the last four weeks, we’ve heard various wilderness experiences, and in all of them, some folks have an experience with Jesus that leads them or other people to believe in Jesus, even if it takes some time. We should also acknowledge that not everybody will venture into the wilderness, and not every encounter with Jesus leads to knowing Jesus because things like tradition, existing belief or some other rules can get in our way.

As for each you, I believe each of you: knows your life with Jesus and knows your lack of life with Jesus; it is what you don’t know of your lack of life with Jesus that is the Lenten challenge.

Dr. Crowe faces misunderstandings around his death and is able to move on. Martha, Mary and a few of their friends face misunderstandings, around Lazarus’ death, and share in Jesus’ experiences that bring them to belief in him.

The question this morning is what misunderstanding, born of some shrouded death, will lead you to share in Jesus’ experiences that brings you to belief and life in him?

 

References

Brainyquote. “donaldrums.” n.d. http://www.brainyquote.com. 2 4 2017. <https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/donaldrums148142.html&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 2 4 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 4 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection Now. 2 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Liggett, James. “In Trust and Hope, Lent 5(A).” 2 4 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lose, David. Lent 5A: Heartache, Miracle, Invitation. 2 4 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 11:145. 2 4 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wikipedia. “The_Sixth_Sense.” n.d. wikipedia.org. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Sense&gt;.

 

 

 

The hour is ripe

A sermon for Lent 5

Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Jesus has gotten everyone’s attention. That happens when you raise someone from the dead, as he did Lazarus. In Jerusalem, brimming with people gathering to celebrate Passover, the crowds are following Jesus. It gets the Pharisees fatal attention; they observe that the whole world is going after Jesus.

Among those in the crowd are some Greeks, not unheard of, but unusual. They also want to see Jesus. Some suggest they don’t speak Hebrew, so they make contact with Greek speaking Philip. (Hoezee, 2015) Their request is simple:  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Their request reminds me of Philip’s first encounter with Jesus. Perhaps he is the second of John’s disciples Jesus invites to “Come and see.” for when Nathanial hears the messiah is from Nazareth, and asks “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip answers “Come and see.” In both chapter 1, and here in chapter 12, the verb ‘see’ expresses not a just a visual sensation, but the desire to be in relationship. What they seek is beyond a casual introduction. They seek the covenantal relationship Jeremiah describes, one that is written on the hearts of God’s people. Through Jesus they seek to know the LORD God. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) The Greek seekers would not use the word, nonetheless they seek shalom, the peace, the wholeness of life, lived in the presence of God. The Greeks desire to see Jesus denotes that they recognize Jesus as God’s son. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) The Pharisees are right, the whole world is seeking Jesus.

I want to continue exploring the idea of the Greeks among us, but first we need to explore

Jesus’ strange reply. Philip tell him some Greeks want to see him. Jesus answers: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified….” Jesus is not looking at a clock, nor at the position of the sun in the sky. The term “The hour,” or ‘the time’ denotes the decisive moment to act; it’s that moment “when people are challenged to decide how they are to prepare for God’s imminent intervention.” (Sakenfeld, p. time) The Greeks’ visit is a clue to the Pharisees the whole world is following Jesus. (Harrelson, 2003) Their presence is also a clue to Jesus, his time is now. (Petersen & Bevery, 2010)His wandering answer, and much of the next five chapters is to prepare his disciples is to prepare us, for what’s come. In John’s Gospel, this is the last public appearance of Jesus, until Friday. (Lewis, 2015)

The Pew Research Center “is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.” (Pew Research, 2013) I’ve known their work for years. Their Religion and Public Life Project, Religious Landscape Survey provides a wealth of information. Among which are maps that show the percent of religious traditions by state. You’ll not be surprised to know in Arkansas 53% identify as Evangelical. You may know 16% identify as Mainline Protestant, which includes us. I expect you do not know the third largest religious group in Arkansas are the 13% who identify as unaffiliated. (Pew Research, 2013) Note, they believe in God, they are unaffiliated with any religious tradition, for a variety of reason. In terms of this morning’s Gospel, they are the Greeks among us. They want to see Jesus. If my math is right there are about 2000 neighbors in our near parish boundaries religiously unaffiliated, who want to see Jesus. We have the opportunity to go beyond these open doors and just by being who we are make ourselves known. And as this morning’s Gospel story reveals, when they are ready seekers will ask, in one way or another to see Jesus.

In the Gospel, the question is a sign that it was Jesus’ time. Today, the request to see Jesus is a sign it’s a seekers time, their hour to discern how to grow in faith community into the fullness of God’s presence right here, right now. It is also a sign to us, it is our time to be disciples, to be an evangelist, to warmly, honestly, with their apprehensions, excitements, misgivings, and anticipations as guiding beacons, welcome them into the house of the Lord, which may or may not be within these walls, but is within this community. And yes, we are among the smallest of many faith communities here. And it’s true, our collection of traditional ways of being present are less than others. But I am coming to believe this not a deterrent, but an advantage, because the unaffiliated seekers are not attracted to the usual and customary trappings of faith. And with less to sustain, we are perhaps less likely to be restrained, perhaps we are more likely to simply welcome those who, even if they don’t know it, know the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:34) As we approach Psalm Sunday and Holy Week may we be at peace, the time is ripe for a stranger, friend, or neighbor to seek Jesus the hour is now to journey with them to see Jesus, from the foot of the cross, from the door of the empty tomb, at the right hand of God.


References

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2015, 3 22). The Lectionary Gospel. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 3 22). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org: http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=604

Lewis, K. (2015, 3 22). Commentary on John 12:2033. Retrieved from Working preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

Petersen, D., & Bevery, R. G. (2010). New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.

Pew Research. (2013). Religion and Public Life, Religious Landscape Survey, Religious Groups, Maps. Retrieved 3 2015, from Pew Research Center: http://religions.pewforum.org/maps

Sakenfeld, K. D. (2009). New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon.