A sermon preached on the 5th week of Lent, Year B on March 18, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church. You can read this week’s scripture by clicking here.
If you’d like to listen along, click the play button below:
It was 50 years ago. It was 1968, 50 years ago, when Martin Luther King Jr. was
assassinated outside a hotel in on April 4 in Memphis, TN. The life of the Rev. Dr. King was remarkably like that of Jesus – one of leading people, not in a war, but in peaceful protest until the point at which he knew he was being targeted. The point that he knew he might die because he stood in a place of righteousness, in a place of love, that made many people uncomfortable. And yet, he went on, knowing that the cost for his love would likely be his very life.
I offer this today, because this particular anniversary is a little less than 3 weeks away and we have such powerful readings that remind me of this man who, at this time 50 years ago, was preparing himself to go to Memphis. And because he was a person of deep faith, I know Dr. King must have been reading today’s Gospel passage as he was making the decision to go to Memphis… not because he knew what was awaiting him there, but because he knew it was awaiting him somewhere:
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Most of us don’t lead such dramatic lives. Rarely is our actual life required of us. But I bet each one of us has experienced a time in our life when we had to muster our courage, when we had to do something that we didn’t really want to do but we knew that we had to do.
It’s a point of no return. A moment in which we lose the innocence and comfort of a simpler way of being, an easier time. And, in a way, that is like losing our life.
I’m convinced that this is how God’s Glory works in us, shines forth in us. We read in our scriptures that God has known us since before we were born. In Psalm 139, we praise God saying,
3 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end*—I am still with you.
And when we come to those moments for which we were born, the moments when it feels as if we are giving over our lives to something greater than ourselves… I’m convinced that this is how God shows forth God’s glory through us.
Because, as John’s Gospel today says to us, “Very truly, I tell you, 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.”
Now many of you know that I am a devoted fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In case you’re not aware of this show, it premiered 21 years ago and ran for 7 seasons and it has an enormous following, even to this day. The show itself is a bit campy and, obviously, quite fantastical because it deals with superpowers and daemons. As a matter of fact, when it originally came out, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I thought it was too weird.
But it was one of my seminary professors that convinced me to watch it because he referenced it in a class I took. It was a class on pop culture and religion and how religious themes inevitably find their way into culture – into visual art, into music, film, poetry, dance, and… even into TV shows.
The scene that my professor showed us from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the moment that Buffy chose to willingly give her life in the name of love. Even though she is constantly in a battle for her life throughout the 7 seasons, it is the choice she makes to willingly give her life in the name of love that brings her to a sense of completeness and wholeness.
The journey she makes to that decision is not an easy one. Along the way… she loses love, she loses her mother and has to become he adult of the household, she’s forced to stand up for herself against coercion, and accept the growth of her friends… all the while doing battle with a god, because we all wrestle with God in our own ways.
And all of this is a maturing, a growing-up, if you will, so that she may step forward into the moment in which she knows exactly what the ultimate purpose of her life is. To give herself in love.
And, again, unlike the Rev. Dr. King… unlike Buffy… unlike Jesus… many of us don’t have such a dramatic moment in our life. But we all face moments in our lives when we are called by God to live into a purpose, a sense of something greater than ourselves. And, in that moment, it can feel like we’re losing everything.
It can feel like we’re losing our very life, all that we’ve worked so hard for. We may mourn its passing. We may yearn for a simpler time. We may be angry that we feel forced to live into a new reality. But this is how God’s Glory manifests in us – when we become willing to give up our ease and our comfort in the name of love.
Throughout Lent, the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures have focused on covenant. We heard about God’s covenant with Noah, which came about after God flooded the earth because humanity couldn’t stop its war mongering ways. And when Noah responded with obedience by saving the larger creation, God entered into a covenant saying never again would God wipe humanity from the face of the earth.
And we heard about God’s covenant with Abraham, which came about after Abraham pronounced a new faith – belief in the God of love and abundance, the God of all life. And God responded by covenanting with Abraham that the descendants of him and Sarah would be as plentiful as the stars in the sky. That is, the descendants of faith, who also believed in the God of all life, regardless of particular religious expression.
And we heard about the covenant of the law (the 10 Commandments) and how living by the letter of the law rather than living by the spirit of the law, can become oppressive. Because, God’s law is always going to be one that leads us to care for each other, the particulars of which change from age to age.
In today’s reading, Jeremiah tells us about a different covenant, one that is much more intimate, much more individual. It’s a covenant that is written on our very heart. It is the purpose for which we were born. It is the very meaning of your life.
So, as we approach Holy Week this year, I wonder how this covenant that Jeremiah talks about might be speaking its words to you. I wonder what roads your life is leading you down right now. What your life is asking of you, how your is life forming you, and preparing you for God’s purpose of sacrifice in love. How are you being prepared for Easter and new life in Christ?
Because while it’s true Jeremiah weeps for Jerusalem (which is the image on today’s bulletin cover) the Jerusalem he weeps for is the Jerusalem that was. For many people, it was seen as great and mighty. For others, it had become deadly.
And so, we might begin to realize that Jeremiah’s lament is for something that has passed away so that a new Jerusalem may arise in its place.
What is that new Jerusalem for you?
What is being asked of you in the name of love?
What is the covenant written on your heart?
Because what should we say, “God save me from this hour?”
No, it is for this reason that we have come to this hour.
It is for this reason, we are here.