Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Come and Die

Lent Reflection 3-12-14

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer, Amen.

I recently infiltrated a Bible study event hosted by the South East Pennsylvania Synod. And by infiltrated I mean I heard about it from a pastor friend in that synod and dutifully sent in my registration indicating my lunch preference. But the reason I went is because one of my seminary professors would be speaking, Dr. David Lose, professor, author, theologian, and blogger, and I guess you might go as far as to say I’m a bit of a groupie.

Everything he said that day I had heard before in his classes and lectures, but being on this side of ordination, actually being a pastor, I heard his words with new ears. I felt like I “got” what he was saying in a way that I hadn’t before.

This story that we have begun retelling tonight is a story that you also have probably heard before, maybe even many times. But right now, at this moment, during this season of Lent, you are in a different place than you were the last time you heard it. And though Jesus words don’t change from year to year, the meaning we find in them grows and changes, like a living thing.

One thing that never changes about Jesus is his funny way of bringing out both the best and worst in the people around him. For those who have experienced the healing and restoring power of Jesus, this man is someone we try, however haltingly, to imitate. For those who have a stake in the status quo, who want so badly to hold on to the darkness that is so familiar, Jesus must be rejected, even destroyed. In these old familiar stories, it’s pretty easy to identify who’s who. But this becomes much harder as we living in the middle of our own story. And sometimes, we are both kinds of people at the same time.

 Our story begins this night at a party, which is as good a place as any for some drama, I guess. This gathering too is infiltrated by an unexpected guest – a “Jesus groupie” if you will. We don’t know who this woman is or where she came from – we only know that she is driven by one purpose, and one purpose only, to give Jesus a beautiful gift – a jar full of very expensive perfume, likely the most valuable thing she owned. This woman was the only one who did not abandon Jesus that night. Hers was the last kind act that Jesus experienced on that long night of suffering. She is the first of many faithful women who remained by Jesus’ side during his passion. And because of that, Jesus praises her, even though history does not even remember her name.

But on this night, up is down, and down is up. Just after the woman gives her costly gift, Judas sells his loyalty to Jesus at the cost of thirty pieces of silver. Judas, who was an invited guest to Jesus’ inner circle, is the one who betrays Jesus, while the nameless party-crashing woman is the one who gives Jesus comfort on the eve of his suffering. Jesus is again revealing both the very best and the very worst in us.

Most of the time, though, we are not all-out betraying Jesus as Judas did, but neither are we so eager to be as self-giving like this woman. Most of the time, we fall somewhere in between the two. We skirt around the edges of the path Jesus calls us to, professing our unending loyalty like Peter while at the same time sorrowfully wondering about our own unfaithfulness. We don’t want to betray Jesus, but at the same time, we are reluctant join Peter in his promise: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” We all know how that worked out for Peter, but could any of us truly say we would have acted any different that night?
Human beings are hard-wired for self-preservation. If anything, we are really, really good at avoiding death at all costs. Death, even if it is not a physical death, is frightening, disrupting, and upsetting. It causes fear and pain. And that is exactly where Jesus is headed. That is exactly where Jesus calls us to follow him.

As German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “When Christ calls [a person], he bids him come and die.” That’s not a very happy thought. But in a way, that’s what Lent is all about - clearing out all the stuff that we’ve let clutter up our lives, all the things that in the end  aren’t really worth holding on to, but all the same, we are afraid to let go of.

When we follow Jesus’ call, our selfishness and greed are put to death. Our brokenness and separations are put to death. Our fear of the unknown is put to death. The darkness in our hearts is put to death. Even our death is put to death when Jesus calls us sinners to follow him.

Even as Jesus is face to face with his own suffering and death, Jesus gathers twelve very imperfect disciples to share in his last meal. He shares with them bread and wine, his body and blood, knowing full well that in just a few hours they will be scattered like frightened sheep and one will betray him. And yet, Jesus promises them that he will see them again, after he is raised, and he will go before them to Galilee, just as he went before us into death so that we, too, could have a share in death’s defeat.

But before that glorious resurrection dawn is a night as dark as death. Before the celebration of Jesus raised is the remembrance of Jesus betrayed and abandoned, of his body broken and blood poured out for many, for us, his imperfect disciples. During Lent we live inside story, as we are gathered together, sing hymns together, pray together, sit in silence together, waiting together in hope for that coming dawn to shine on us.


        Wordle: Lent homily

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