Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes for a Message Based on John 12:20-33; “B”–Lent 5

Scripture Readings for this Sunday are: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV – CEV – The Message // NRSV

Liturgical Color: PURPLE

 

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We are created with the ability to learn. As we grow we constantly learn new things: the words to Itsy-Bitsy Spider, the alphabet, simple arithmetic, the Lord’s Prayer, Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics, how to play the piano, the theory of space-time continuum, chemical composition of table salt, fiber content of Cheerios…

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Today’s Scripture is about those times when our beliefs, the stuff that we know OR THE STUFF THAT WE THINK that we know, prevents us from learning new things or recognizing that something is happening.

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To give an example: A baby in rural Nicaragua will grow up with a different set of beliefs as compared to a baby in suburban USA. The lifestyles, cultures, and relationships that these two babies will be engaged in are very different.

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Another example: In the 1950’s it was believed that by making foods easily digestible we were improving nutrition in our nation. Today we know that by removing fiber from foods and using high fructose corn syrup we have now achieved the highest levels of obesity in the world.

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The point I am trying to make is that there is a certain “artificiality” to our opinions and our beliefs. Our understanding of God and the world that we live in is shaped largely by our family of origin and the society that we live in. How we interpret the world is largely shaped by those around us and by our past experiences.

More often than not, these beliefs are hard to break. When someone does or says something that we find uncomfortable, we tend to react emotionally and emphatically. In those reactionary moments the smartest thing to do is to pause and to ask ourselves, “Why do I feel what I feel? Where do these emotions come from? What causes the intensity of these emotions? What proof do I have? Does the argument that I am presented with make sense?”

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Today’s Gospel reading begins with, “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival” (John 12:20, NIV2010). The word that is used in the original texts (“hellenes”) refers to Greeks other than gentiles who converted to Judaism. John is talking about pagans who worshiped a pantheon of their own gods and idols and who came to celebrate Jewish Passover. In our culture it would be equivalent to a delegation of Islamic clerics from Tehran coming to Chestertown to celebrate Easter with us.

Although it does not make sense in our culture, in first century Palestine it made a lot of sense. When the Pagans heard about the God of the Jews who was powerful enough to create the WHOLE UNIVERSE, it made perfect sense to them to add that God to the list of the other gods they worshiped, and to worship the Jewish God as well. No wonder their priests showed up to celebrate the Passover.

From that perspective Jesus’ discourse that follows also makes sense. Let’s unpack it:

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24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

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Jesus recognized that the Greeks were coming to him with open minds, ready and willing to learn whatever he was willing to teach them. Surely they had their preconceived notions of what is right, true and beautiful, and surely they thought that they could put the Creator of the Universe on the same shelf as Zeus or Aphrodite, but at least they came with their minds open and ready to learn.

When Jesus talked about loving one’s life, he was referring to our tendency to hold on to those things that we think we know. Such tendencies prevent us from considering new possibilities; such tendencies prevent us from thinking out of the box; such tendencies prevent us from meeting others where they are.

The Pagans who came to see Jesus were willing to consider that there was more to life that their minds could embrace up to that point. They were willing to “die to themselves” by opening their minds to new possibilities.

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Our mission is spelled out in Matthew 28:19-20 and it is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the WHOLE world. In today’s reading we are challenged to build bridges of understanding to those with whom we have very little in common, to those with whom we disagree. We are challenged to build bridges of understanding to nonbelievers, to atheists, to those we disagree with politically, to those whose lifestyles challenge us, and to those of other faiths. When we do that, when we are faithful to the Gospel, when we are diligent in living our life for Christ, we will bear plentiful fruit. But that process starts with us: with OUR open hearts, with OUR open minds, and with OUR open doors.

That is not an easy task. All of us have personal constraints that prevent us from engaging those we are not comfortable with; and that is where building the bridges of understanding starts. {2} Building bridges of understanding IS NOT an invitation to compromise what we believe; {2} we build such bridges by our behaviors and by our attitudes towards others (ones that are still not in the church). It is about loving people in a way that shows that we care, and that models God’s love for them through our actions.

Non-believers do not care whether Jesus is real or even credible. I was raised as an atheist and I know that for a fact. What non-believers and those who are not in the church care about is whether we are credible. Before we bear fruit by bringing others to Jesus they must trust us. That trust begins with our ability to listen, to respect, to reach out and to be credible witness to the love of God in our lives.

When we allow Jesus to work through us, we allow God to fill our sails and lead us to a place where we are needed the most.

Are you willing to allow God to fill your sails and to take you to the place where you can build bridges of understanding with those who need to be in these pews but at present are not?

Are you willing to open your hearts and minds to God’s guidance so that you can “die to self” and bear fruit in the Kingdom of God?

{Open the Altar}

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