Sometimes, another person speaks the truth of the Gospel so well that it is almost impossible to imagine saying it any better. This is one of those weeks. Most of the thinking in this sermon is indebted to the thinking of Craig Satterlee, a Lutheran Bishop in Lower Michigan Synod, whose “logjam” on Lent 5 informed the structure and direction of what appears below.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” That is what the greeks say to the disciples at the beginning of our gospel reading this morning.
Friends, I wish to see Jesus too.
But Jesus seems awfully hard to find right now…. There’s just a whole lot of other stuff that seems to be getting in the way.
Perhaps it’s the fact that, as a mother, every day can feel as though it is brimming with responsibilities—to my children, to my home, to my husband. There’s rarely a moment when someone doesn’t need to be held, or fed, or washed. And that’s just my husband!
And then there’s my third child—the church, which, like any other, will take as much as you are willing to give it. And so I look and my plate is brimming, and so often every blessed thing on it is screaming with importance.
A ministry friend of mine this week was so distracted with the load of responsibilities on her plate that she forgot to pick her kids up from daycare, and got that dreaded phone call that has left her, days later, sobbing with guilt, just another thing to lay on top of the pile.
We have so much that needs doing, don’t we?
And if we don’t, all we have to do is read the news to come away with the impression that the world is fraying at the seams. Children burned to death in Brooklyn, starved to death in Angola, homeless in Vanatu, or massacred violently by ISIL or quietly by an Ebola epidemic that just won’t quit. The world’s plate, it would seem, is filled as well, with voices crying out for healing, for justice, for anyone to listen.
I look around me right now, and it hits me: I just want to see Jesus. For a minute, a glimpse, a respite, a hope. I desperately wish I could find the time to breath, to look, to wait, and to watch for the Holy One.
I just want to see Jesus.
I wonder whether the answer to our yearning can be found in our gospel this morning– when Jesus says to his disciples, “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
In his own preaching on this text, Lutheran Bishop Craig Satterslee says that “Jesus is a blessed magnet.”
- I will draw all people who have this particular kind of faith to myself
- I will draw all people who live a certain kind of righteous life to myself
- I will draw all people who have a particular theology or ecclesiology social justice you name it, it’s not it, to myself
Jesus is drawing all people, all creation, to himself. Jesus really is a blessed magnet.
So why can’t I see it? Why can’t I feel it?
And of course Jesus answers in the text: 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.
Those who love their life may lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Jesus is drawing me, and you, the church, our Presbytery, the state of Pennsylvania, our country, all who are struggling, disenfranchised, all who cry out for justice, for peace, for healing, to himself.
Why don’t we see it? Why don’t we feel it?
Because I think perhaps we are letting ourselves so often get in the way.
With the issues that people put in our plates. With all the things right in front of us that seem so much more important because they are here, screaming to be dealt with. With our own needs and insecurities, of maybe our own Lenten Discipline, that we worked so hard to take on/give up.
At this time in Lent it really does start to feel like us, right?
I’m doing so well, I haven’t had a cup of coffee in days……!!!!!! Tis the season for Facebook posts bemoaning how long forty days feels when all you want is a piece of chocolate, a sliver of meat, or just. One. Drink.
Or take our family. We decided to eat within the limits of an average SNAP benefit in PA for Lent. We told ourselves—this will help us grow in empathy for the poor, and learn a little about food insecurity in the process! And we can give away what we didn’t spend on food! Well let me tell you, it can be pretty easy to start to get on your high horse about how virtuous your suffering is right about now. It can get pretty easy to lose yourself thinking about how much YOU are giving up, and how hard this is for YOU. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that you are doing this for a reason, and it has little to do with making you look holy, or righteous, or better than anyone else.
In the last week of Lent, perhaps the Lenten task is to work to give ourselves up for Lent. To do whatever it takes in that last week of Lent so that we can say to ourselves, I am setting you aside for a week. We can say to all the things piled on our plates: I am setting you aside for a week.
Beginning palm Sunday, for one week, it is going to be about Jesus, lifted high on the cross.
I’m gonna give myself permission to see, and to feel Jesus draw me and you and us and all things to himself
Which means for a week, I need to be a grain of week, and die. Allow myself to fall into the earth, so Jesus can raise me up.
And that means setting aside the things that scream for my attention on the plate. That means letting go of some of the tasks and responsibilities that give me the illusion of control and purpose, but really are more about myself and my ego. It means, for one week, letting Jesus guide my decisions about what is most important, and what needs doing. It means minding the gap between what seems important, and what actually IS important.
The fifth Sunday of lent gives us permission to spend a week dying to ourselves so that we can spend a week, a holy week, watching Jesus lifted from the earth, drawing all things to himself.