Surrender

Scripture Text: John 12: 20-36

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. 34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

And now the conversation turns to this talk of death and loss.  This is uncomfortable for us.  This is not the kind of wilderness we want.  We’d like to run now, to hastily make our exit back through that heavy gate behind us.  We’re not sure that our journey really prepared us at all.  But it is too late.  The hour has come. 

The reading starts by telling us of the arrival of some Greeks. Now this may seem to us to be sort of periphery to the point of the story but it’s not. For you see, this arrival of the Greeks is something new. It marks the beginning of an entirely new section of the Gospel. These are not merely Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentiles who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. These are non-Jews, Gentiles from across the sea who wanted to meet the Hebrew holy man. This is the beginning of the world seeing Jesus and knowing who he is.  They approach Philip and request to “see” Jesus, to have a meeting with him. Perhaps they want to know more of who this Jesus is. Perhaps they just want to talk to him. Or perhaps they want to become disciples. But regardless of why they are here, their arrival points to the fulfillment of the church’s future mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. This is the decisive dividing line between Jesus coming as a Jewish Messiah and Christ, through his death and resurrection, to fulfilling God’s promise for the renewal and redemption of all of Creation. Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Jesus did not just come to save you and me.  Remember, Jesus is the Savior of the World.  Uncomfortable as that may be for some of us, Jesus has begun to draw the world into the Cross.  Jesus came for everyone.

Change is all around us.  Our world is beginning to shake a bit.  Sure, we could run, go back to our old ways, to the comfort and safety of home.  We could yell and scream and demand that someone put it back the way it was.  The problem is that nothing stays the same.  Even if we could return, it would not feel like home.  For you see, this wilderness journey has changed us.  We have lived this season of clearing and surrender.  We are different.  We don’t look different, but we do see differently.

But what is this thing with wheat?  (OK, to the end, Jesus seemed to continue speaking in confusing parables!)  So, here’s your botany lesson.  Wheat is a caryopsis, meaning that the outer “seed” and the inner fruit are connected. The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge. If you were to dig around in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed. It is dead and gone. In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed.  So what Jesus is trying to tell us here is that if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain and discomfort—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  He goes on…” 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. And whoever does this, God will honor.”  Whoever follows Jesus through his death, will become part of his everlasting life.

You see, we cannot go back to what we know because it is no longer ours.  The Light has become part of us.  Jesus wanted us to understand not just that he was leaving, not just that his death was imminent, but that this journey to the cross was not just his to make, but ours, as uncomfortable as that may be for us. Now is the time to walk with Jesus to the cross.

Martin Luther once said that “discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple.

This Lenten wilderness journey was not preparing us for this by building us an armor to protect us or make us more comfortable with what is about to be.  It was preparing us by stripping away all that we know, all that we have planned, all that we think makes us who we are.  THIS wilderness is a place of Holy Discomfort.  It prepares us to truly see Jesus and to realize that the journey to the Cross is not something that we watch, not something that we just walk along offering Jesus moral support; rather, the journey to the Cross is ours.  The air has changed.  Jesus is walking to the Cross. And so are we.

I have discovered over time that the cross is supposed to take its toll on us.  It forms us to find God in the shadows of life.  Ironically enough, it’s the cross that teaches us hope…it is this hope that carries us from stage to stage in life, singing and dancing around dark corners. (Joan Chittister)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Do This

 

jesus-in-the-garden-of-gethsemane-16-12-203Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13: 3-17)

I thought of that last night that we were together.  It was wonderful.  It was a cool evening and the breeze was blowing into the room through the open windows.  All of our family was there and all of Jesus’ friends were all together at a table near the door.  It was the Passover festival and we so enjoyed ourselves.  Jesus sat next to me.  He had been unusually pensive, almost as if he were grieving.  Several times he looked around the room with a faraway look in his eyes.  He put his hand on my shoulder and then he got up and went over and joined his friends.  They had all been through so much and they finally seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I turned back to the table to talk to the family and when I looked again, Jesus was kneeling down and washing the disciples’ feet.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Most had seen him as a leader of those men that could at times be almost over-zealous.  But the one I knew was kneeling there—compassionate, loving, almost a servant.  I realize now that he was showing us who we should be.  He was showing us how to love one another, how to put others first, how to see God in others’ eyes.  I feel so blessed to be able to say how much I learned from him.  Many parents cannot say that.  I learned to love; I learned to be gentle and compassionate; I learned to serve.  I am certain that future generations will picture this night and see only Jesus and his disciples.  But it was Passover.  We were all there.  We were all watching, although we were careful not to disturb the certain intimacy that was in that moment.  We did not understand in the moment what the next day would hold but we knew that this was a special time and a special place.

I didn’t go with them when they left and walked down to the Garden.  I wish I had.  I know that I couldn’t have done anything, but maybe I could have comforted him or something.  There in the garden, Jesus was arrested.  It was said that one of the disciples had betrayed him, pointing him out to the guards.  I didn’t concentrate too much on that.  All I know is that they took him away that night and I would never be able to hold him again.  Now I know that what happened that evening would spark the change in the world.  What happened that evening to that baby that I held, the baby that I lifted out of that hay-filled stall so many years ago, would begin a sequence of events that I know now was God’s way of leading us all through the story, leading us all home.

In that Garden, Jesus surrendered not his innocence but his control.  And only in surrendering will we know what God intends for our life.  I see now that if Joseph and I had not surrendered so long ago, giving ourselves to whatever it was God had in store, that I would not have been blessed with this life that I’ve known.  But, more importantly, the story would have been different.  Each of us has a chance not to write our own chapter but to be a part of a story that is already beautifully written.  What Jesus taught me was that each of us has to do this.  God did not create us as robotic characters following the one in front of us.  Instead, God placed a tiny piece of the Godself in each of us.  It’s called free will.  God created us to choose.  And then on our journey of faith, we are asked to choose to surrender it back to God so that we will finally understand what it means to be loved by God.

It’s not what you do for God; it’s what God does for you.  Instead of trying to love God, just let God love you. (Richard Rohr)

FOR TODAY:  What is God asking you to surrender so that you can be a part of the story?

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

Discovered

God holding handScripture Text:  John 12: 20-36

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. 34The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

 

We had this passage week before last, but it also appears as the Holy Tuesday lectionary reading.  We know about the wheat, how the seed must die so that the fruit can be, how, essentially, the seed must surrender itself, allow itself to die so that it can become something else.  It’s hard for us to grasp.  Those of us who live in Western society are much more accustomed to being told what to believe, for our beliefs to grow as they are added on to each other until we are so full of a collection of beliefs that we are about to explode.  The idea of surrendering, of letting a part of oneself literally fall away is foreign to us.

This morning (because I’m late in posting this), the Today Show interviewed three faith leaders as part of their week-long series on faith and spirituality.  The question for this morning is “Who is God?”  That’s a pretty big question.  It’s essentially the same question with which those in this Gospel account are struggling.  Who is God?  See, they said, we’ve learned from the law that the Messiah remains forever.  We got that.  So what is this about being lifted up?  And who this Son of Man character that you keep talking about?  But we are no different.  We would be much more comfortable if God just laid it all out for us, made it all a bit more obvious, maybe just made that light into which we are supposed to walk so incredibly overwhelming that none of us could miss it.  What we’re saying is that we would be much more comfortable if we COULD faithfully answer the question “Who is God?” and know that we are actually getting it right.

But then we are told that we have to die, give up the self that we have tried so desperately to hone and perfect.  Essentially, if we let our ideas and notions about who God is die away, we will know who God is.  Now that just seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  I don’t think we come to know God by learning about God.  We come to know God as we discover who God is in our lives, as we walk through the wilderness where God is revealed to us without the shadows of our lives and our preconceived notions getting in the way, as we walk through the darkness and finally see the light for ourselves rather than it being something that blinds us to itself.

Jesus never really gave a straight answer to this question.  (ACTUALLY, I don’t really think Jesus ever gave a straight answer to many questions.)  We are instead compelled to follow, to leave ourselves behind, and to come and see for ourselves.  Our faith journey, our coming closer and closer to God, our own way that God is revealed in our lives comes about through discovery rather than memorization, through doubt rather than certainty, through darkness rather than blinding light.  So as we walk through this Holy Week, let us leave ourselves behind and discover our Lord anew, discover the God who will raise us up if we are not so tied down.

 

Religion is about transcendence, and spirituality is about finding meaning in the mundane. (Joan Chittister)

“You Raise Me Up” (Josh Groban):

 

FOR TODAY:  Close your eyes and let yourself slip away.  Open them and look for the light that you were missing.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Guided in the Wilderness

Shepherd with SheepScripture Text: Psalm 78: 52-54

 

52Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.

 

We tend to think of the wilderness as a place where we are sort of thrown out into virtually alone. We imagine wandering, looking for solace, looking for companionship, looking for someone to help us out of where we are. We search for God as if God is somehow parked at the exit of the wilderness holding a sign with our name on it as we disembark. And, yet, this psalm reminds us that even in the wilderness we are not alone, that God leads us and guides us through the treacherous terrain. Actually, there are times, when God, as it says, guides us IN, wandering, living the wilderness. It says that we are led to safety and brought to a place that is holy, that is of God. So, why then, here in the wilderness, do we feel so alone?

 

We are accustomed to pastoral images in the Bible, beautiful images of the flock being led or shepherds on the hillside. We know what it is supposed to connote. The shepherd guides the sheep to the place where they will be well-fed and cared for, the place where they will grow and flourish into maturity. There is soft, green grass, blue skies, and other sheep in the fold to keep them company as they grow together. But this is not what it looks like right now. Where is the green grass? Where are the blue skies? Where are my trusty companions? And so, searching for our image of where a shepherd is supposed to lead, we leave to look for greener pastures or easier pathways. But the grass isn’t really greener, the skies really aren’t any clearer, and in our confusion, we fall, tumbling down the gulley, bruised and tired.

 

As we said before, the wilderness is not just something to rush through. And God does not always lead us out of the desolation that surrounds us. As the passage says, God leads us through or in the wilderness, helping us navigate the rough paths and the difficult sightlines and, when the time is right, bringing us home. Our problem is that we don’t envision ourselves like sheep because we are trying so hard to be the shepherd of our own lives, to be in control, to be the guide. And so we often wander away and get lost. We may end up in a place that is not ours to be. But think about sheep. Sheep are seldom characterized as one of the smartest beings on the farm and yet, sheep know to whom they belong. Sheep know how to follow. Sheep know how to be part of a flock, holding each other up, helping each other see the shepherd. And when, as happens every now and then, a sheep gets lost, the sheep trusts that the shepherd will come and bring the sheep home.

 

Lent is a season that teaches us to be more like sheep, to follow God through the wilderness, learning the things that it teaches, accepting the things that it offers, and knowing, that, when it is time, God will guide us out of this lostness, out of despair, out of the loneliness.  You don’t have to fix it; you don’t have to hurry; you don’t have to make it something it is not.  Just follow.  Just live.  But by following God’s lead, we will see beauty we have never seen and companionship we have never known.  That’s what you get when you’re part of a flock.

 

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign tongue. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually without noticing it, live your life some distant day into the answers. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

FOR TODAY:  Be sheep.  Follow.  Listen.  Be patient.