Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Fifth Sunday in Lent: Seeing Jesus


Jeremy shares his song

One of those Sundays it felt good to be here. We begin by singing our Lenten chant, but this tine doing it with the Psalm that it comes from, Psalm 51, with our chant as a refrain.

Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within my soul 

PSALM 51:1-12
1   Have mercy on me, O God, 
          according to your steadfast love; 
     according to your abundant mercy 
          blot out my transgressions. 
2   Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, 
          and cleanse me from my sin.
3   For I know my transgressions, 
          and my sin is ever before me. 
4   Against you, you alone, have I sinned, 
          and done what is evil in your sight, 
     so that you are justified in your sentence 
          and blameless when you pass judgment. 
5   Indeed, I was born guilty, 
          a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6   You desire truth in the inward being; 
          therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 
7   Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; 
          wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
8   Let me hear joy and gladness; 
          let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 
9   Hide your face from my sins, 
          and blot out all my iniquities.
10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
          and put a new and right spirit within me. 
11  Do not cast me away from your presence, 
          and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
12  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, 
          and sustain in me a willing spirit.

And we begin our reading of the word with Jeremiah 31: 31-34 where the  law will now be written on our hearts, it will have become part of us. And Jeremy shares his song Strange Arrangement, reflecting on human frailty.

Our Gospel is John 12: 20-33.
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27“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. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

So how’s your Lenten journey been so far? We are nearing the end. These are difficult day for the institutional church. The Roman Catholic diocese is closing churches left and right to pay for the renovation of St. Patrick’s. Half of our New York City Presbyterian churches do not have pastors. Half of our members belong to only five churches. Our national office cuts staff every two years and rents out half of its building as our local Presbytery rents out about half of its already reduced office space. The other mainline churches are not doing much better. We’re a long way form the day when President Eisenhauer laid the cornerstone for the Rockefeller paid for 475 Riverside Drive where it was envisioned all our denominations would headquarter. One by one the denominations fled, usually to the Midwest. Which really didn’t solve the problem. Like  if your office is in Louisville, you see the world, well, from Louisville.

Meanwhile the Korean Presbyterians (One of over 200 Korean Presbyterian denominations ) who worship here after us are filling  every inch of our building to overflowing…. And tbey’re nearly all under 30….

Still, though mainline Presbyterianism is failing, we still managed to finally gather enough Presbytery votes last week to succeed in having  marriage redefined as between two people. And last summer’s hard fought narrow vote to divest from companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine was courageous and important.

And there are new communities being born like the Hot Metal Bridge Church of Pittsburgh that began as a Bible study in a tattoo parlor. Moved on to a bar and later bought the bar. They use theatre, and music and food to keep the community together.

In our Gospel story, we  need to check out what Jesus is doing here…some Greeks came looking for him. This means they were non-Jews who hung out in the synagogues because they liked what they heard…maybe spiritual but not  religious…

And now they’ve been hearing a lot about Jesus….want to check him out.. So what do they do? Of course they go to the only two disciples with Greek names…And to speak to them, Jesus uses a metaphor rooted in a Greek religious ritual that used a seed. It was no random metaphor. He was speaking of something with which they would be familiar. He uses a ritual they know…Like Paul’s all things  to all people again..

The story also tries to make sense of Jesus’ death..

The Greeks say we wish to SEE Jesus… and when they SEE Jesus, what do they SEE?

We need to be clear about something..the criticism of those who love their life is not a criticism of loving life and living life. It is rather an acknowledgement of the current corrupt reality of life in the empire. IE, the way the world is, their life in the system..Jesus on the cross exposes the system for what it is…and so overcomes it. Gaining life by losing it, so to speak.

Or to put it another way, if God is capable of enduring humiliation, suffering and death, there is no barrier between us…

Desmond Tutu made a powerful affirmation of faith when he said apartheid must fall because righteous suffering cannot be denied its goal of salvation. Note he said salvation…salvation and liberationsalvation giving the freedom to make liberation inevitable.

But let us say this as well…suffering is  not God’s will, there is nothing inherently valuable about suffering…but God can work through suffering with us … if we are open to working with God.

SO what is the practical advice today? We wish to see Jesus.. There is this idea in Latin America, ver/hacer, that is see…then do…When we act in such  a way that when others see us, they see Jesus in action, that action them becomes possible for them as well. That’s what law written on the heart means…the path, the way of Jesus has become so much a part of us that it is the way we live..

Let us take that with us through the end of our Lenten journey.

Once again, we enter into our prayers with I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.
And for our final hymn we sing Jesus Walked that Lonesome Valley. But I have a caveat…we don’t walk it by ourselves. Though there is a unique call, a unique challenge, a unique path for each of us, we walk together, with each other on this journey.

We wish to see Jesus….

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