Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

So we got to bask in the wisdom and witness of the fabulous Phyllis Tickle at our diocesan ministry fair on Saturday ... and so much of what she had to say about the challenges and opportunities of this "emergence paradigm" we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of connected with the musings I started earlier this week about the Greeks who came seeking Jesus in the Gospel appointed for this 5th Sunday in Lent.

So here's a pic of me with Phyllis ... who I've known since we worked on the "Via Media" teaching series back in 2004 ... and who really is one of the great shining lights of 21st century Anglicanism.

And then here's the sermon I ended up with. (Tick Tock Holy Week!)

But What About the Greeks? – Fifth Sunday in Lent
7:30 a.m. All Saints Church, Pasadena March 25, 2012

I know I just finished reading the Gospel
appointed for this fifth Sunday in Lent
with the customary
"The Gospel of the Lord"
but I have to admit
that when I said those words
what I was really thinking was
"But what about the Greeks?"

Because I’m left wondering
What happened to these Greeks who showed up
at the beginning of the gospel saying
"Sir, we wish to see Jesus"
and set off the from Philip to Andrew to Jesus chain of events
that ended up with Jesus going into
the poetic and prophetic musing
on what it means to be glorified
and "indicating the kind of death he was to die."

We never find out what happened to those Greeks.
If we read beyond the verses appointed for this morning
the section – or periscope as they call it in seminary-speak –
ends with "When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them."

A brief historical “contextual” note:
when John says "some Greeks",
he doesn't mean folks who hang out in Athens and are related to Zorba.
To the 1st century hearers of the Gospel "Greeks" meant "non-Jews" -
foreigners - Gentiles.
No wonder Philip had to go check with Andrew first ...
did you notice that in the text?
"They came to Philip -- who went and told Andrew;
then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus."
As one of the commentaries I consulted noted:
"... evidently being dubious how they might be received."
No automatic welcome for these guys:
these Greeks who wanted to see Jesus.

So we’re all left wondering:
Did they get to see Jesus?
Were they in crowd when Jesus offered this long explanation
of what his death was going to be about ...
and if so did they "get it" ...
or did they leave wondering what the deal was ...
feeling as if they came in late in the second act
and were not sure what the plot line was all about?

And ... I find myself wondering this morning ...
do we do that today?
Do we have folks who come to us saying "Sir/Madam ...
we wish to see Jesus!" ...
and do they get to?
Or do they get an explanation
of a doctrine that's out of context
and end up wandering off wondering what it was all about.
This Jesus stuff.
This Christian thing.
This Good News.

Let me tell you about my friend ...
a woman I've known since the 7th grade
who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children.

After many years without a faith community,
she wrote me that she started going back to church.
"Only it's not exactly church," she said.
"It's at a church but I don't go on Sunday yet ...
I go Wednesday night and meet with other women.

We pray and sing and support each other.
And they read from the Bible, but it's so wonderful ...
they don't beat you up with Jesus, so it hardly feels like church."

"They don't beat you up with Jesus" -- what an indictment!
Yet in the church she grew up in Jesus –
the Jesus who yearns to draw all people to himself –
became for her a stumbling block,
a barrier to faith rather than a lure toward hope.
My friend never knew that there was a choice
between the Jesus of Judgment and the Christ of Faith
and so I pray that this community she's found
will be a gateway for her –
that she can finally "see Jesus" –
just as those Greeks in Jerusalem wanted to:
can see for herself that "draw all people" means her, too!

Yes, Jesus said all this to indicate the kind of death he was to die;
for the inevitability of the crucifixion
must have hung heavy in his heart these last days.
But if we settle for John's explanation at face value,
we miss the power of this text for us today.
I believe Jesus said all this not ONLY
to indicate the kind of death he was to die,
but to indicate the kind of life we are to live.

"When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself."
And how will he do that?

I'm jumping ahead in the story a bit,
but come Pentecost we will hear again
of the coming of the Holy Spirit ...
the birth of the Church
called to be the Body of Christ in the world ...
called to take up the ministry of Jesus on earth.

Thankfully, All Saints Church
has a long history of offering a voice of hope
to those who come saying "Please, we want to see Jesus" –
who come looking for a place to encounter the Lord of Love
rather than the Letter of the Law.
It is a history with deep roots in our Anglican heritage –
for the Episcopal Church is a product of the glorious 16th century experiment intended to end the bloody feud
between Catholics and Protestants
in England during the reformation –
an experiment that resulted in a church
where orthopraxis (common practice)
was valued over orthodoxy (common belief).

The significance of that experiment,
my Church History text tells me
is that
“it was able to hold the vast majority of the people together,
despite being a compromise few would have chosen."
And there you have it: Anglican Traditionalism.

It seems to me that as 21st century Anglicans
facing the very real challenges in front of us
we would be well served
to dig more deeply into our 16th Century roots ...
to claim with enthusiasm the heritage
that has historically given us the ability
to live with disagreement ...
to honor the tension of diversity
and to focus on the things that bind us together
rather than allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that threaten to divide us.

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world,"
said Ghandi.
When we do that, then we truly follow the Lord
who told us not only what kind of death he was to die
but what kind of life we are to live.

And if I have "an agenda" –
and it will not surprise you to find that I do –
it is an agenda as old as Isaiah and Andrew,
of Jesus and the Gentiles.
It is the agenda of a Lord whose love lures us toward hope –
of the one who yearns to draw all people to himself –
of the Jesus who spoke, in the last days before his crucifixion,
to those Greeks who came to him –
not sure if they'd be welcome.

It is the Gospel Agenda and it is begging to be fulfilled –
and we are the Body of Christ
who have been charged with fulfilling it in our generation.
Not by crafting Covenants
designed to dictate conformity as the cost of unity
but by risking relationship as the cornerstone of community.

By remembering what Phyllis Tickle taught us
at our diocesan ministry fair yesterday:
that doctrine and dogma are important
because they represent
the paper trail
of our historic experience of God
but those coming toward us
don’t want just a paper trail …
they want their own experience.
Like the Greeks
who came to Philip and Andrew
they want to see Jesus.

And so,
on this Fifth Sunday in Lent,
I pray that God will give us grace
to commit ourselves to being
"… the change we wish to see in the world" –
to persevere in the proclamation
of God's Good News to all people --

in spite of the setbacks and the obstacles;
of the challenges and the costs --
as we journey with Jesus
and claim his "agenda" as our own:
to proclaim Good News to the poor
freedom for the prisoners
sight to the blind
and liberation to the captives
as we work to make God’s love tangible
to turn the human race into the human family
and to make sure that whoever you are
and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith
you know that if you come here
to this place … to this altar
seeking Jesus
you don’t have to ask if you can see him
because He is already here waiting for you
with open arms.

1 comment:

Marcia King said...

Good sermon, Susan