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Lent 5B RCL March 25, 2012

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

In our first lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah is speaking a word of hope to God’s people at a time of discouragement and despair. King Nebuchadnezzar of the great Babylonian Empire has conquered Jerusalem and the people have been deported to Babylon to spend years in exile. They are trying to hang on to their faith and keep to the law, but the threads of hope are fraying to the breaking point. This is a time of great suffering.

In the midst of this terrible pain, God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah. God is going to make a new covenant with the people. This new covenant is not the covenant of the law that was received at Mt. Sinai. God will put God’s law within the people. God will write the law on their hearts. There will be deep intimacy between God and the people. They will not need others to teach them about God, for each of them will know God. The love and guidance of God will be within the people.

As Christians, we believe that the new covenant is present and active in Jesus. Through his grace, he helps us to write God’s love in our hearts and to live according to the Great Commandment: “Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In our gospel for today, it is the feast of the Passover, the celebration of the freeing of God’s people from slavery. People from all over the world have come to Jerusalem. Some Greeks, that is, Gentiles, approach Philip, possibly because he is from Galilee, which had a large population of Gentiles. “Sir, we want to see Jesus,” they tell Philip. So Philip takes them to Andrew, and the two apostles take these men to see Jesus. Scholars tell us that the approach of these two Gentile seekers lets Jesus know that his ministry is to the whole world. He knows his hour is coming soon. He is going to be glorified by dying on the most shaming, humiliating, agonizingly painful instrument of torture ever invented—the cross.

He addresses the crowd and us. He calls us to be like grains of wheat, falling into the rich soil of God’s love and life to be bread for the world. He calls us to lose our lives for his sake, to let go of our careful control which gives us such a sense of security and let God propel us into a new dimension of living–life on God’s terms.

And then he shares with us his full humanity. He is troubled, deeply torn. What should he do, ask not to go through this? Of course he does not want to hang on a cross and suffer. And he has a choice, He can choose to go into hiding, avoid the authorities, live quietly, maybe do a few quiet healings and help people in some small way.

Then, “Father, glorify your name.” The decision is made. I think most of us have had those times, perhaps one time especially when we had a choice to protect ourselves, stay in control, not take the quantum leap which would propel us into the service of God’s transforming love, into God’s kingdom. We know our comfortable little world, and, if we can just stay in control, stay on the safe path we know we won’t have to take this big risk.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “ According to John, Jesus died to fill the world with wheat, with so many sons and daughters of God that no one would ever want for bread again.”

She continues, “Because Jesus was willing to die, God could raise him from the dead. Because Jesus was willing to die, people could discover that death was not the worst thing that could happen to them. Because Jesus was willing to die, a new community could form in his name, one that redefined its life on the basis of his death.

She continues, “One of the main points in that redefinition was a new view of suffering. It was no longer something to be avoided at all costs, nor did it mean that God was mad at you. It might in fact mean that God loved you very much, because when someone on a path toward God deliberately chooses the self-offering that goes with that path, then suffering becomes one of God’s most powerful tools for transformation. It is how God breaks open hard hearts so that they may be made new…

“When Jesus died, this power was made manifest. By absorbing into himself the worst that the world could do to a child of God and by refusing to do any of it back, he made sure it was put to death with him.  By suffering every kind of hurt and shame without ever once letting them deflect him from his purpose, he broke their hold in humankind. In him, sin met its match. He showed us what is possible. These are just some of the fruits of Christ’s death, things that could never have happened if he had not been willing to fall to the ground. (God in Pain, pp. 64-65.)

As we move closer and closer to Good Friday, and as we contemplate the enormous love which our Lord has shown for us, we are called to make our own choices.  Can we love and trust God enough to let go of some of our control and offer ourselves to God on a deeper level? Can we come to a more profound sense of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us, love that can free us so that we can allow God to help us grow into the person God is calling us to be? Can we let go and let God bring us into new life?

Loving and healing God, give us the grace to offer ourselves to your service that we may be partners with you in building your shalom.

 Amen

 

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