Sunday, March 21, 2021

5th Lent, 2021-B: The God-seed in us

 Lectionary:Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad… In the name of God who is Trinity in unity. Amen.

This beautiful season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday by remembering that the word ‘Lent’ means ‘spring’ and we committed to open the soil of our souls to receive the seeds God would plant, nourish, and cultivate in us, guided by the invitation from Pierre Teillhard de Chardin to “plunge into God.”

Today we consider what seeds God planted in us. What do they mean for our lives and journey forward in our faith? What fruit will they bear for the glory of God?

None of us wants to believe we have within us the power to be dark or destructive… but we do. Deep within each of us lie the cultural seeds of racism, elitism, able-ism, sexism… all the ~isms. When the truth of that hits us, it is painful.

It’s also painful to recognize that certain habits, ways of understanding, speaking, and acting, can be harmful and do not glorify God. We’ve all had those moments when we spoke words that we wish we could have sucked back into our mouths before anyone heard or registered what we’d said. But we couldn’t and the words hurt. They hurt the one who heard them, but also the one who uttered them.

Most of us have gotten good at sidestepping that pain by simply denying the truth of it: I didn’t mean what I just said. I’m not a racist, sexist, elitist (fill in the ~ist blank here). Or we project the pain out from ourselves, blaming someone else saying, ‘You must have misunderstood me.’ or ‘They took my words out of context.’

We are not immune to the cultural impact of the ~isms in which we were raised. We are, however, able to repent, but repenting isn’t easy either.

As hard as it is for us to acknowledge our own sin, deep down we also fear God’s acknowledgment of it and what that would mean. We stand on that unsteady bridge between guilt and shame with guilt telling us ‘I did something bad, I need to repent,’ and shame threatening us with ‘I am bad, and therefore, condemned.’

Shame is a lie, but guilt is a healthy signal to us from our conscience that we did a bad thing. While the world has become almost completely unforgiving and condemning, God isn’t, so the church can’t be either. In fact, the church must invite us to notice the guilt, recognize the wrong we did and repent of it, so that we can be reconciled back to one another and God. It’s a process that leads to new life.

This simple, life-giving truth was demonstrated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s work dismantling apartheid in S Africa through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The work they did, however, was painful.

About that pain of repentance, Teillhard says, “…when the painful comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great, unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you …who are painfully parting the fibers of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself… Teach me to treat my death as an act of communion… For you bring new life out of every form of death.”

Even Jesus struggled with death. The gospel of John doesn’t have a Garden of Gethsemane story, but offers something similar when Jesus says, “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.”

Like Jesus, we all have to come to grips with the reality that God has a plan for us and for the world, and it may not line up exactly with our plan - how we’d like it to work. But our plan is infected by the cultural seeds of ~isms in ways we only come to recognize over time.

This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” ‘Love’ and ‘hate’ don’t refer to feelings. Love is that deliberate choice we make of one option over all others. Hate refers to being willing to walk away with indifference.

So then, what is our deliberate choice? Which option do we choose? God’s plan for our lives or ours? 

Only the former leads to eternal life. As Jesus teaches us in this gospel, we must not put the life we think we want ahead of the life God has planned for us, and we must be willing to walk away from life as the world presents it. Instead, Jesus says, we go deeply into our hearts, where we will find true life because there we will find God. As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them… I will write it on their hearts.”

One clarification here: the law, in Judaism, is not about rules but about relationship. The law establishes a “way of walking” together with God leading the way.  When the law sounds and works only like rules to control behavior, it is the disclosure of human bias on the relationship God is offering.

On this final Sunday in Lent, as we look at the seed or seeds planted in us by God, we realize that God in Christ is in us, gently urging us to let go of everything else – everything we thought about and planned for – and let the God-seed that is in us break its covering and reach its roots deeply into us where it will bear fruit.

Jesus knows the pain these moments can bring. In the midst of his pain, he gave us the words to pray in our pain: “Father, glorify your name.”

One final thought: while the season of Lent is coming to an end, the journey it led us to is only beginning. I pray that we keep going deeply into our hearts, continually breaking ourselves open to God, allowing God to penetrate to our very marrow. I pray that we let each new seed God plants in us to lead us to death and new life in the mystical act of communion.

By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that God brings new life out of every form of death. By our faith, then, we glorify God when we die to ourselves and plunge into eternal life in him. Amen.

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