Monday, March 30, 2009

Lent 5 - B

Death or something like it....

One of the best bits of advice I ever read in a self help book was to imagine that everyone around you would be dead tomorrow.

It sounds a bit morbid I know, but it adds a certain dimension to how you interact. I mean; what if this is my last sermon? What if the moment at the door where we shake hands is the last thing we will ever say to one another? What if tonight is the last supper you will ever eat with the people you love?

Death has been called the great leveller – it comes to everyone and in the end – it is equal. My father, who is a physician, jokes that everyone dies of the same thing – lack of oxygen to the brain. Scientifically true, it happens for different reasons, like your heart stops beating, or the blood vessels break, or whatever, but you don’t ‘die’ until your brain stops getting oxygen.

How is that for a morbid way to get into our Bible stories?

Here is the thing, I have been saying that Lent is a time for serious soul searching. I think of it as the most meditative, most inward looking part of being the church. There is nothing deeper than thinking about death – nothing that has the power to change things like confronting your mortality.

Alcoholics don’t usually give up until almost everything is gone. Corporate CEO’s don’t usually quit until they have a heart attack. You see what I am saying don’t you... at some point we have to go deeper; we have ask the harder questions, we have to confront the end and ask ourselves – where are we on the journey?

When Philip reported to Jesus that the Greeks had asked to see him, Jesus exclaimed, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This is a major turning point in John’s gospel. Scholars tell us that John is divided into the “book of signs” and the “book of glory.” In the “book of signs” (the first part of John) Jesus performs seven miracles that John refers to as signs. They begin when Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana and culminate with Jesus’ greatest miracle: raising Lazarus from the dead. Throughout the “book of signs” Jesus makes enigmatic references to his “hour” or “time” and says that it has not yet come. When his mother tells him that the revellers at the wedding feast have run out of wine, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” In John 7:8, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths because his “time has not yet fully come.”

But when the Greeks asked to see Jesus, he knew that the hour had come for him to be glorified. I don’t want to get sidetracked about why... let’s just say that he was getting famous enough that he knew someone would have to do something....

And Jesus does something we all do when we start thinking about death; he becomes philosophical...

“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 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. … And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

This is the turning point. In another Gospel Luke says it this way – “he set his face toward Jerusalem.” We are talking about the moment when confronting your reality leads to some major life decisions – and in the midst of that Jesus comes to see the inevitability of what is to come; and decides to face it head on.

Jesus reflects on his coming death and then turns the focus on us. He begins this speech by saying that the time of his death has arrived, and the passage ends with him describing the form that death will take: he will be "lifted up" on the cross.

So when he explains that "this voice has come for your sake," he's stressing how important it is that his hearers understand what he is saying about death.

Jesus explains that the hour of his death initiates "the judgment of this world, [when] the ruler of this world will be driven out" and all people will be drawn to Jesus. As he moves through his death, he draws everyone into it with him—not into his literal death but into a giving up, a relinquishing of one's place in the machinations of this world. The world's rules are the dark and deeply embedded codes of power, rivalry, conquest and self-preservation. They are strategies to convince us that we can come out on top, can cheat death—and it's in this possibility that we place our trust.

Jesus speaks of another way: those who cling to the life prescribed by the world will lose true life. Only by rejecting this pseudo-life system do we gain the real, transforming life in Christ that is governed by mercy, by love embedded in relationship. It's a life not over and above but with God and our neighbour.

Imagine for one moment that this afternoon is it... that you walk out these doors and have five hours to do whatever you want. My feeling is that most of us would want to do something that might make a difference – that might leave some lasting impact on the world.

So here is another little look at death that I was given by a prof from the Queen’s business school. I want you to picture a table... it is a work table... a desk, a board meeting table, whatever fits you... now... imagine that you do die tonight – what will happen around that table tomorrow? How quickly will you be replaced?
Now picture another table – your own dining room table... and picture your chair empty there...

What is tomorrow like for the people who are gathered there? How quickly are you replaced? When do you imagine they will forget you and move on?

You see – thinking about death can clear a lot of things up for us...

Cicero, the great Roman orator and martyr for the Republic, wrote, "To philosophize is to learn how to die."

As Lent nears Good Friday; as we turn from inward contemplation to outward faith – lets spend one more week searching our hearts and focusing on what really matters – love in the face of death. That after all is the meaning of life....

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