March 18, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Lent
John 12: 20-33
This week one of the tires on my car exploded out the side (like, literally exploded). But, you know, NOT a big deal. A luxury problem as we say. But when I tried to put on the spare, I broke the jack. And seeing as Pastor Reagan is clearly not much of a mechanic, I rearranged my schedule the next day so that I wouldn’t need the car. Which, as it turns out, is increasingly easy to do, when there’s an app for almost anything I need. With a push of a button, I can not only get a pizza delivered, but also my groceries, toiletries and, if I feel like I actually need to go somewhere, thanks to Google Maps, I can even go “driving” on unpaved roads in outer Mongolia without ever leaving my house. But the problem is that they haven’t yet created an app for the spiritual fall out that comes from walling myself off from the outside world. I just can’t push a button that will fix the way I feel smaller and smaller when my world gets smaller and smaller. Because the smaller my world gets, the bigger my own problems seem to get. My vision gets distorted and things that really aren’t that big a deal seem like the end of the world. It’s like one of those photos in national geographic that looks like a hostile Martian landscape, but turns out to be just a close-up of someone’s skin. Perspective matters, because every time I am in the smallness of how my feelings were hurt, or what I didn’t get that I expected or felt entitled to, or how that person over there is not doing or saying what I want them to, it crushes my experience down to dust. I can’t see others. So, compassion is impossible, much less joy.
Which is what I hear Jesus saying in today’s Gospel, when a few folks from Greece ask if they can SEE Jesus. It seems like a pretty straightforward question that requires nothing more than a simple yes or no answer. But who are we kidding? This is Jesus we’re talking about. I mean, the more you get to know the guy, the more you realize that the concepts of “question” and “answer” are really mere suggestions for Jesus. So, when the disciples are like, “Hey, Jesus, these Greek guys wanna see you,” Jesus is like, “Oh, I’m sorry. My alarm just went off. It must be time for the Son of Man to be glorified!” And then he says a bunch of weird things about pieces of grain and hating your life to keep it and that he will be where his followers are and then some more things about glory and finally he finishes it all off saying, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
It’s a pretty intense stream of consciousness. To which, I can just hear the disciples saying, “Ummmmmmm. Okay, Jesus. They only asked if they could SEE you!” But that’s precisely the point I hear Jesus trying to make. Whatever it is they came to see isn’t what Jesus wants them to see, and what he wants them to see is something much much bigger. Jesus is zooming out. It’s like when look out the window of an airplane and, as it’s taking off, you keep your eyes fixed on the airport as long as you can, until that terminal, which just felt like it would never end as you were breathlessly trying to catch your flight–now that same terminal looks like you could just squish it between your fingers.
And so, it’s like Jesus is in on that game in today’s Gospel. Whatever it was that the Greeks thought they needed to see, Jesus is telling them to pull back and see the big picture. Now we don’t know what exactly it was that they were looking for. Maybe they were sizing up Jesus to see if he had that quintessential godlike jawline, or if he had those kind eyes that tell you everything is going to be okay. But whatever it was, it was small potatoes to what Jesus wanted them to see. Because Jesus knew that whatever snapshot they might get of him was never going to live up to the wide angle view of what he was really up to. Because in the end, we don’t get Jesus unless we include the whole picture. Not only the cross and the Resurrection, but also literally every person and everything in the universe because it’s all part of who Jesus is. The Gospel of John, the one we are reading for today, is a cosmic Gospel. It’s the one that calls Jesus the Word and says that that same spirit which took flesh in Jesus is the same spirit that was present at the very beginning when the universe erupted into being: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Every time I read those words, it takes my breath away, because when my life feels like it’s shrunk down to the size of my worries and concerns, then this is the stuff that pulls me out. That my life story is never just my story. That all of our stories are connected through Christ to God and that the story is never complete until we are all in it. Nobody gets left out. Nobody stays small. And so, if those Greeks who came to see Jesus that day were feeling small, Jesus sent them away knowing that they never had to feel small again. They never again had to believe that they were just those screw ups from Greece, just like none of us have to believe that we are just those depressed weirdos from Denver. Because their life and the lives of all people are part of the ultimate story of God’s final overhaul of the universe.
But in order to enjoy the freedom that comes from knowing we are part of Jesus, we have to recognize when our world is getting small and we are living a me-shaped life. Recently, at one of our Wednesday night Lenten soup suppers, I sat and chatted with one of our housemates, Adrian Camacho. And I asked him why in the world he comes to church. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m super happy you’re all here, but I must admit that I’m still shocked, like every Sunday, that folks show up, and smart people at that! So, I asked Adrian why and he told be how he’d grown up in the church but left it for many of the same reasons a lot of us took a break from church. But then after a while, Adrian felt like his life was getting so small. In so many words, he said, “all of a sudden I looked around and my life was all me and MY stuff. MY job, MY house, MY family.” Adrian didn’t like the way that felt and so he came to church and here he found relief from the tyranny of self. Through the prayers and sermons, prayer requests and conversations, Adrian and all of us here are knit into a life far greater than our individual, isolated lives.
Which got me to thinking about how it is that we get stitched into this bigger picture. It can’t simply come from awareness alone, because otherwise all we’d have to is watch the news or read Facebook. We are bombarded all day long with stories from other people’s lives. But simply watching CNN doesn’t draw my gaze away from the dust of my own life and show me that the lives of others are really part of my life. Watching CNN wasn’t enough for Adrian either and I would guess that it is doing it for any of you as well. Because we need something more than the sum of all our individual stories. We need something that knits all our stories together and promises that we all fit together. Because we need Jesus: the one who, even as we are nailing him to a tree, looks down from the cross and says, “You, ALL OF YOU, belong to me.” Because at the cross, Jesus destroys the notion that there ever was a MY life or MY stuff or MY family. We all came from the One life of God and we will all return to that One life, and within this big picture we are lifted up from the smallness that comes from a me-shaped life.
And within this big picture, our problems begin to lose their power because they can only maintain their strength in isolation. Whether we are struggling with empty savings account or student loans, busted up cars or failed relationships, the indignities our bodies suffer or just all the twisted up ways we feel inside- we never again have to believe we are small, because we are never just ME, we are always WE. We are all part of God’s great tapestry that stretches beyond time and space. A big picture in which my life is tied up with Angus’ life, and Angus’ life with Meghan and Michelle’s life, and their lives with everybody else’s lives, because there really is only one life, which is the life of God in which we have and always will breath within. Amen.