John 12:20-33 – What It Means to Follow Christ

dying to self

“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.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (NRSV)

The fifth Sunday in Lent is now here.  We are quickly approaching Jerusalem.  Holy Week will be here before you know it.  Why is this all significant?  Because Jesus is important.  When we take advantage of Lent with its focus on spiritual discipline, prayer, and repentance, we come face-to-face with the shadowy parts of our selves.  We discover that within us there is the pull to hold-on to unhealthy rhythms and habits of life, as well as a push to arrange our lives with the fragmentation of disordered love.

Perhaps our reflexive response to things we do not like about ourselves is to either use sheer willpower to change or try to somehow manage our brokenness, as if we could boss our way out of darkness.  The problem and the solution are much more radical than we often would like to admit.

We must die.  Yes, this is the teaching of the Lord Jesus.  That is, we need to die to ourselves.  Sin cannot be managed or willed away – it must be eradicated and completely cut out, like the cancer it is.  Transformation can only occur through death.  Jesus uses the familiar example of a seed to communicate his point.  A tiny little seed can grow, break the ground, and develop into something which provides sustenance for others.  It does no good to remain a seed in the ground.

Jesus did not tell others to do with what he himself does not do.  Christ is the ultimate example of the one who died to himself and literally died for us.  Only through suffering and death did he secure deliverance for us.  Through his wounds we are healed.  Through his tortuous death a resurrection became possible – and we must always remember that there must be a death if there is to be a resurrection.  Death always comes before there is life.  There must be suffering before there is glory.

Only through dying to self and following Jesus will there be the kind of transformative change which the world so desperately needs.  If we persist in making puny attempts at trying to straddle the fence in dual/rival kingdoms, we will be spiritually schizophrenic and left with a divided soul.

Following Jesus, leaving all to walk with him, is true repentance and authentic discipleship.  The act of journeying with Christ is the means to having a new life.  Change only happens when we allow Jesus Christ to be the center from which all our life springs.

Maybe you think I’m being too forceful, too insistent about this Jesus stuff.  Yes, you have perceived well.  I am being quite single-minded about the need to die to self and live for Christ.  Somehow, within many corners of Christianity, this wrongheaded notion that suffering is not God’s will has made it into the life of the church.  But I’m here to say, on the authority of God’s Holy Word, that dying to ourselves is necessary and it hurts like hell.  The epistle reading for today bears this out:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:7-9, NRSV)

We are not above our Master.  Even Christ’s life on this earth, before his death and resurrection, was marked with suffering.  Even Jesus learned obedience through struggle and adversity.  Our Lord himself did what he is now asking us to do.  He gave himself up to do the Father’s will.  We must give up ourselves to submit to King Jesus.  Jesus offered loud cries and tears and submitted to what the Father wanted.  We must do no less.  We don’t get to choose which parts of Christ’s life and teaching we will adhere to and which ones we don’t need to, as if Jesus were some spiritual buffet line.  All who live for Jesus will follow him into the path of suffering, of death to self, and of new life through the power of his resurrection.  In Christ’s own words: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

So, then, how do we follow Jesus through dying to self?  What does that mean for you and me on a practical daily basis?

Thanks for asking.

Surrender

Every moment of every day we can give up ourselves to Jesus.  We have hundreds, maybe thousands of small decisions every day with the use of our time, our money, our energy, and our relationships.  If we have tried to fix what is broken inside of us, we will likely just try to hastily fix the problems and the people in our lives and move on with getting things done on our to do list.  Instead, we need to surrender.  We need to create the sacred space for solitude and silence, prayer and repentance.  Take the time to sit with a person in pain and listen.  Reflect on how to use your money in a way which mirrors kingdom values.  Begin to see your life as a holy rhythm of hearing God and responding to what he says.  It takes intentional surrender to do that.

Sacrifice

Holding-on to our precious stuff and time is the opposite of sacrifice.  Are we truly willing to give-up everything to follow Jesus?  It is more than true that we are not Jesus.  Our sacrifice and suffering are not efficacious, that is, it doesn’t deliver other people from sin.  Only Christ’s death does that.  Yet, we are still called to sacrifice.  The Apostle Paul understood this:

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV)

I’m just going to let you wrestle with that verse and mull it over without comment on my part.

We were not placed on this earth only to strive for happiness.  Our lives are not meant to be lived for ourselves. Jesus has called us to see our places, communities, neighborhoods, and families as our mission field of grace to a world who needs him.  This takes sacrificial love on our part.

Christianity is not really a religion that is for people who have put together neat theological answers and tidy packaged certainties to all of life’s questions.  Rather, Christianity is a dynamic religion of learning to follow Jesus, discovering how to die to self, and struggling to put Christ’s teaching and example into practice.

Those who don’t struggle are in big trouble.  But those who go through the pain of dying to themselves for the sake of their Lord, find that the fruit they end up bearing leads to eternal life.

May you struggle well, my friend.

It’s Time to Forgive

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God is in the forgiveness business.  It’s a big deal to him.

If you and I want to be content in this life, we need to let Christ’s instruction to practice forgiveness sink down deep into our souls.  Jesus said it about as clear as anybody could say it when he taught us how to pray:

“Forgive us as we forgive everyone else.” (God’s Word Translation)

Yet, many people live with discontentment because they think to themselves: “I will not forget what you did, and I will not forgive.”  Persistent thoughts of revenge only serve as a cancer that destroys the mind’s thoughts, erodes the soul, and hinders the heart’s ability to love.  But people who practice forgiveness are much less likely to be hateful, hostile, and belligerent toward others.  They are healthier and happier, and more at peace.

I have had people tell me, “But you don’t know what I’ve been through.”  My typical response is: “You don’t know what I’ve been through, either.  You may not even believe some of the things I have experienced, and some of the things that have happened to me and were said to me.  So, can I tell you what I have done to forgive those who have sinned against me?”

1. When I am trying to forgive someone, I pray for them.

It’s hard to keep resenting someone and wish them ill-will when you are praying for them on a regular basis.  In the book of Genesis, Joseph was the victim of his brothers’ abuse.  If there was ever a dysfunctional family to grow up in, it was Joseph’s.  Being sold into slavery by your own brothers and being the target of their derision would cause anyone to be upset.  But, many years later, Joseph chose to forgive his brothers.  He acted with their best interests at mind.  He prayed for them and did not actively work against them.  What’s more, he eventually came to see the hand of God in it all.  Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

2. I write a letter of forgiveness (which I may or may not send).

In the letter I write in full detail how the person hurt me.  I leave nothing out.  I express exactly how it made me feel, and how it affected my life.  Then, I express forgiveness and say that I will not hold the offense over their head.  Here is a five-step process for forgiving others using the acrostic REACH which helps shape how I write:

Recall 

That is, name the hurt.  Name it squarely.  Don’t fudge on it by saying it’s not that bad, or as bad as others have experienced.  Call it what it is: deceit; stealing; harassment; assault; abuse; adultery; verbal shaming; or even, murder.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid was based on providing full disclosure of all crimes.  Those that stepped forward to do so would be offered a full pardon.  Desmond Tutu, who led the commission, was most struck by how many people wanted to hear what had happened to their loved ones from the perpetrators themselves so that they could know whom to forgive.  Methinks we have much learn from our African brothers and sisters.

Empathize

Try and see the offense from the other person’s perspective.  Attempt to put yourself in the other’s shoes.  This does not mean we paper over the offense; it just means we don’t demonize another as a monster.  That only feeds and fuels our own lack of forgiveness.  When we view others as non-human, then we feel no responsibility to forgive.

Altruistic

Choose to do the right thing and treat the other person well, not because they deserve it, but because it is within your control to extend grace.  Again, this is what Joseph chose to do with his brothers: “So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:21).

Commit

Commit to practice forgiveness.  Make the decision to do it.  Don’t wait too long for your feelings to catch up to you.  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

Hold

Hold-on to your forgiveness.  Just because you make the decision to forgive does not mean you’ll never have to do it again.  Once you have forgiven, let it be a stake in the ground in which you look back to it again and again.  “I forgave him/her, and I will not let the enemy of my soul keep trying to make me bitter about it all over again.”  One of the reasons we repeat the Lord’s Prayer Sunday after Sunday in my church is to keep forgiving those who have sinned against us.

3. I talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor about my effort to forgive.

Many people get stuck in discontentment.  They have an inability to forgive because they don’t seek a wise person to help them walk through the process of forgiving.  The easy path is to complain about the offense to someone we know will react with the same level of disgust and spirit of revenge that we ourselves have in our hearts.  But that only reinforces bitterness.  We need someone who can offer us what we need to hear, and not what we want to hear.

Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, and, so, ought to be at the core of a healthy Christian life.  The Christian season of Lent is designed for repentance, grace, and forgiveness to shape our lives.  There is no better time than now to deliberately engage forgiveness.

A Tongue-in-Cheek Peek into Lent

sock monkey

Lent.  The word itself sounds downright unsavory.  Who in the world would want something in their life that reminds them of something like toe jam or junior high boys who forget that a belly button is an orifice to be cleaned?

Lent might seem gross, but it’s really an important season in the Christian Year.  Every year, in the doldrums of late winter when other folks are off either escaping to Florida or scrambling to find light like it’s the last french-fry in the bottom of the bag (o where o where did I put that box that shines the crazy bright light…?), Christians around the world are entering a time of spiritual athleticism in abstinence, giving, and prayer.  They call it “Lent.”

The word “Lent” is simply an old English word for “Spring” – not spring training (get baseball and Florida out of your mind… by the way, have you seen my light box?).  Lent for the Christian and for the church is a 40-day, six-week season each year leading up to Easter and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to prepare himself for his coming ministry, so his followers have the privilege and opportunity to identify with him.  It’s a special time to connect in a unique and meaningful way with God – but without the chocolate.

For many people, Lent is associated with giving up something for the six-week season.  But Lent, and the entire Christian life, is made up of much more than giving up things.  We let go of something so that we can pick up something else.  We really can do that.  After all, we aren’t like those stupid monkeys who stick their hand in a trap to grab a banana and can’t get it out unless they drop it.

monkey-trap

Nope, we are more evolved.  We can learn to exchange one practice for another.  We can lay aside some old way of living and take on a new way of life. We can stop dreaming about all the great stuff we could sell to American Pickers (maybe Frank would find my dang light box) and start thinking about giving away all the stuff in our closets and rooms that somebody else could use… wait, I still have a t-shirt from 1994 that I haven’t worn since the remake of Planet of the Apes!?

There are three Christian practices which make observing the season of Lent worth the effort. They relate to each other.  Each practice alone is a powerful antidote to our narcissistic cravings for attention and bananas.  Yet, together they are an atomic bomb of grace exploding on a world in need of Christ’s light and deliverance (oh, man, did I lend my light box to Jesus?).

Fasting

I’m not talking about giving up vegetables for fast food.  Fasting simply means not eating.  I haven’t lost you yet, have I? (of course not, your grimy hand is still holding on to that banana). Food is necessary, but it can so easily shape our lives to the point that we let chips, soda, and breakfast burritos call the shots on our time and desires, not to mention our bathroom habits.  Setting aside food for one day a week or letting go of a certain precious item (bye-bye brownies) is designed to do something more than just point to our growling empty guts: We let the hunger pangs for food remind us of a much greater hunger to know and love Jesus, the Bread of Life.

sock monkey eating candy

Giving

Less food in your belly and fewer trips to Aldi for those Ferrero Rocher dark chocolates provides the chance to give the money you would have spent on yourself for someone in need of real food.  Stop eating. Start giving.  Put down the double stuff Oreo you were going to dip into that chocolate eau claire and think about someone who is hungry, for real.  An important dimension to stopping an activity is thinking of another person and doing for them instead of yourself.  I see you.  Nice try on thinking you’ll bake chocolate chip cookies for a group of the homeless hungry.  Like a beach full of baby turtles hatching who never make it to the ocean, you and I know all those cookies will never make it from the wax paper to the cookie tin.  Just walk away from the kitchen, my friend.

 

Praying

It takes time to make your way to the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chunk fudge brownie ice cream.  Now that you’ve sent Ben & Jerry packing to the curb, what will you do with the time?  Pray.  Pray for the people for whom you’re giving your food and money.  Pray for the hungry on this earth who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  Pray for the great hunger of the world for spiritual sustenance and satisfaction.  Pray that you won’t fall into the temptation of turning your remaining kitchen ingredients into some super moist chocolate cake creation.

sock monkey praying

I’ve got to level with you.  Lent isn’t easy.  I really wanted to say it was, but it just isn’t.  I like my bananas just as much as the next guy.  I’ve got enough hoodies in one closet of my place to outfit all the monkeys at the Milwaukee Zoo.  Sometimes I secretly tell Little Debbie I wish she were my sister.  I have some money in accounts and investments, and it makes me feel sort of secure and somewhat like a big shot. The thought of letting go of anything feels like inviting someone to give me a wax peel-off of my chest hair just for kicks – it just seems weird.

I’ve been observing Lent for years and I wish I could tell you it gets easier.  It doesn’t.  It’s still hard.  But I keep coming back to it every year, even looking forward to it a little more each time – not because I’m a masochist who enjoys wax peels, but because I have come to embrace the value of stripping away anything that’s an obstacle to me knowing Jesus.

When Easter arrives every Spring I often wonder why I thought I needed that banana, that brownie, or that light box.  Turns out that Jesus, the Light of the World, provided so much of an experience in discovering him that my petty attempts at holding-on were just that – really, really, petty.  Lent is something like a detox for the soul.  It helps me to feel love again and to function like a civil human being.  At the beginning of Lent, I just feel hungry.  Well, I still feel hungry weeks later, too, but I get used to the empty stomach.  Like Jesus rising to new life from an empty tomb my emptiness turns to joy, not frustration.

monkey sun

I have an admission to make (fyi: I didn’t give up honesty for Lent): I can’t stand Christians who tell me Lent is optional; that I’m only making an ash of myself on the first Wednesday of Lent because it’s a Catholic thing; and, that seasonal rituals are unspiritual.

Last I checked (neither did I give up sarcasm for Lent) walking in the way of Jesus was a good thing; Catholics are our spiritual ancestors (whether you like it, or not); and, most people just finished ritualistically observing Valentine’s Day, like they do every year with the liturgical giving and receiving of flowers.

Lent might sound unsavory; it may be hard, especially in taking a hard look at yourself.  But you see Jesus, even without a light box.  And that’s a treasure Little Debbie can’t touch.

Psalm 51:1-17 – A Prayer on Ash Wednesday

            Today on this Ash Wednesday the appropriate posture of the devout Christian is to pray.  Specifically, to confess our great and many sins, shortcomings, and moral failures.  This might sound negative and a major downer.  Yet, to not look evil square in the face and call it out for what it is, is at best denial, and at the worst allowing a bitter seed of unforgiveness to gestate in the depths of your soul.
            I believe there is no better way to confront the darkness within than with using the ancient prayer book of the Old Testament Psalms.  I encourage you to pray Psalm 51 out loud, slowly, with a generous amount of emotional flavor – even, and especially, if you don’t feel like it.  Pray it over more than once, and perhaps several times punctuated throughout the day today.  In doing so, you will be joining the faithful across this entire big world who today offer to God a prayer of subversion against the blackness on this earth.
51 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.
 
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
 
14 Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness.
15 Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
16 You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. (Common English Bible)
 

 

Amen.

Lent

            Imagine you are out for a hike on a beautiful spring day and you come to a creek. You notice that someone has dumped trash into the stream—not a pretty sight. Judging by some of the empty soda cans, the trash has been there awhile. And there is an ugly film on top of the water. You can’t just leave the scene as you found it, because it would bother your conscience.
            So, you stoop down and begin gathering the trash.  It ends up taking several hours before you can begin to see a difference.  You’re amazed how much junk is there. You sit back, rest for a moment, and realize you’ll have to keep coming each day until the site is truly clean. But when you come back the next day, it’s as if you didn’t even do any work at all.  In fact, there’s more trash than the day before. It’s as if the garbage bred overnight. You think about the unlikelihood of someone coming to this very spot to dump their garbage just in the one measly day you were away.
             Then, you realize that something smells fishy—so to speak. So, you begin to follow the creek upstream.  Sure enough, there’s a nasty garbage dump that’s been there for years. It’s emptying into the passing creek. Your cleaning job was only a small opening to a world of filth. You could try and clean every day.  But if you really want your creek to be free of pollution, this means going directly to the source and dealing with the crud that’s there.
            Our hearts are the source from which our lives flow. Unfortunately, we spend great amounts of time, money, and energy—even in the church—doing trash removal “downstream.” But real transformation begins when we travel upstream to the source. Our real struggles and sins take place where no one sees: in the heart.
            Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent.  Ashes remind us that we live in a polluted world full of garbage; that it is fouling up our lives; and, that we must respond to the mess with a humble return to God.  Lent is a 40-day cleaning project on the inside of our hearts, instead of trying to keep up dealing with all the scum on the outside of our lives.
            Entrance to confronting the dump of garbage requires fasting, self-examination, prayer and repentance.  As the Lord God said through the ancient prophet Joel:
“It isn’t too late.
You can still return to me
with all your heart.
Start crying and mourning!
Go without eating.
Don’t rip your clothes
to show your sorrow.
Instead, turn back to me
with broken hearts.
I am merciful, kind, and caring.
I don’t easily lose my temper,
and I don’t like to punish.” (Joel 2:12-13, CEB)
 
            We find that at the end of the Lenten journey, Jesus is there.  He swallows all the massive tonnage of the world’s garbage on the cross.  It’s so rotten that it kills him, and there is only darkness.  Then, three days later, Christ is risen, having shaken off the filthy stench of death.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet’s words, the merciful one who has taken care of the filthy source of garbage once and for all.
            May you find on this day and every day that the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and repentance put you in a place to receive Jesus. As you lean into the mess in throughout the next six weeks of Lent, may you discover the cleansing and healing agent, Jesus Christ, the Savior who scrubs the heart clean of toxic waste.

Remember

remember you are dust

Here’s a thought for your mind to consider: Remembering is a spiritual practice.

It doesn’t take any effort to forget.  But it does take an intentional plan to remember.  If you have a habit of losing your car keys, you make the effort to build some ritual in your life to not lose them.  Maybe they always live on the same hook just inside your back door or are always with you in your pocket.  That way you never have to “remember” where they are.

I look at my planner every day.  Every morning it’s a ritual.  Before doing any work, I access my planner and go over my schedule and my goals.  I will forget my best laid plans unless I review them each day.

Christians are about to enter the season of Lent.  Lent is a 40-day observance of journeying with Jesus to his cross.  It’s a time for believers to remember their baptisms, that is, to remember that they belong to God – to remember and to never forget that our primary identity is in Christ, known and loved by God as his people.

We even have an entire book of the Bible dedicated to remembering: Deuteronomy.  The book of Deuteronomy is a restating of the Law for a new generation of Israelities about to enter the Promised Land.  They were to remember why they existed as a nation, and to whom they belonged.  The Israelites needed to remember through restatement and ritual that God delivered them with power from the mighty Egyptians.  God is their trust – which means there is no need for a trust supplemental insurance policy with another deity in case he doesn’t come through for them.

dont-forget-to-remember

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 5:15, NIV)

Remember the long road on which the Lord your God led you during these forty years in the desert so he could humble you, testing you to find out what was in your heart: whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deuteronomy 8:2, CEB)

Remember the Lord your God! He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant he made with your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 8:18, CEB) 

“So all your life you will remember the time you left Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 16:3, NCV)

Remember a time long ago.
Think about all the past generations.
Ask your fathers to remind you,
and your leaders to tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7, GW)

We cannot expect the next generation to simply know God because we do.  If it’s so easy for you and me to forget about God in our workaday world, then how much more do we need to be intentional about passing on the words and ways of Jesus with routines and rituals which help us to remember?

On Ash Wednesday the minister applies the sign of the cross to the forehead of the penitent with the words: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s not meant to be a downer, or a morbid display that we are going to die someday.  The ashes are to be a reminder that we only have one life to live on this earth, and it is to be lived knowing, trusting, and finding our truest identity in the Holy Trinity whom we serve – Father, Son, and Spirit – the God who has orchestrated salvation for his people.  Remember, and do not forget, your life belongs to God.  He cares for you, and you can trust in his goodness.

ash wed

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26, NKJV)

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35, ESV)

“Then he broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.’  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-26, NLT)

“They only asked us to remember the poor, and that was something I had always been eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10, CEV)

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” (2 Timothy 2:8, NRSV)

Remember, then, what you were taught and what you heard; obey it and turn from your sins.” (Revelation 3:3, GNT)

If you think about it, caring involves consistency.  Others know what to expect from us.  We continually show up with the grace and kindness given to us in Christ.  People don’t have to wonder what kind of mood we’re going to be in.  We’re there for them.  We have provided for them a history of consistent rituals they can remember – a history of patient assistance and quiet strength on their behalf.

We’ve been given one life to live.  It is to be a life dedicated to practicing remembrance. We’re to live in the remembrance that Christ has delivered us from brokenness to be an agent of healing in a world in need of remembering who they are.  There’s no need to invent new rituals for remembrance.  We just need to remember to show up and participate in the rituals the church has practiced for centuries.

Luke 19:41-44 – The Lament of Jesus

“As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it.  He said, ‘If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.  The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides.  They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.’” (CEB)
 
            There are Christians who believe in as much withdrawal from the world with its earthly political and cultural realm as is humanly possible this side of heaven.  There are yet others who believe in as much accommodation as possible to the world in it’s structures and society.  And, there are others who believe that the two, the world and the church, are simply two distinct realms which Christians simply move back and forth within, like taking one hat off and doffing another.
            Let’s leave that all aside for a moment and just observe the pathos of Jesus.  He came to the city of Jerusalem, a city which was both very religious and very worldly.  Jesus stood and looked affectionately and longingly at the city… and he wept.  This was not a quiet shedding of a tear.  No, the word “wept” means that Jesus openly cried aloud over the city.  Think of the kind of crying which takes place when a person is in the throes of grief.  These were great heaves of loud weeping.
            The reason Jesus was lamenting with so much feeling was that the city did not recognize they had a gracious visit from God.  The Lord looked at the city and saw all the future disaster which was coming.  He knew that it could be different, and he was emotionally undone by the city’s inability to see God right in front of their own face.
            Now let’s return to our view of the world and our involvement in it.  Taking some cues from our Lord Jesus, the first and foremost posture we are to take toward the worldly city is not separation, accommodation, or dual citizenship – it is, rather, to grieve and lament.
            The longing Jesus had in his heart was to see the city of Jerusalem annexed and incorporated into the kingdom of God.  The way of peace, of shalom on this earth, is to bring all things and all the world under the benevolent reign of God.  It is as if there are Twin Cities, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, who exist side-by-side but have different municipal structures.  The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God exist next to each other.  Jesus wanted to bring the earthly kingdom into the peaceful and gracious realm of God’s kingdom.  But the people would have nothing to do with it.  Both the religious and the secular persons of the city wanted their own municipal conceptions of how things should go – and they both rejected the Christ who could bring them all true harmony.
            We are about to enter the season of Lent.  It is a time set aside in the Christian Year for repentance and preparation to receive King Jesus as our rightful benevolent ruler.  Let us lament the world full of both religious and secular people who do not recognize the time of God’s visitation.  Let it be a time to journey with Jesus and follow him in his Passion for this world and all its inhabitants.

 

Blessed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy Trinity whom I serve – the world and even sometimes the church is estranged from grace – they have not recognized your gracious coming and presence.  I lament such a state of things, and ask that you, blessed Spirit may draw all people to the Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray.  Amen.