Decision Time

playing the violin, in-group in background
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/d2k6/5110434207/">Luis Hernandez</a>

John 12:20-33

Some heathens also went up to the Temple to worship during the festival. They came to Phil, who was from from Fishermans Wharf in Galilee, asking for an appointment with Jesus. Phil went and told Drew, and together they went to ask Jesus.

Jesus said, “It’s time for the authentic human to be recognized. I’m telling you, really, if a seed never falls into the earth and disintegrates, it remains just a seed. But if it disintegrates, it produces fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. If you let go of your life as it is, your horizons will expand forever. If you want to serve me, you have to do what I do. You have to go where I go. If you do this, God won’t let you down.

“I’m troubled. What am I supposed to say? ‘God, keep me from my fate?’ No! I won’t deny the reason I came here in the first place! God, make yourself known!”

Just then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I’ve made myself known, and will do it again.” When people heard it, they thought it was thunder. Some said that an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “The voice wasn’t for me. It was for you. It’s decision time. The world’s ruler is about to be sent into exile. I’ll be upheld, and everyone will come to me.” (This was how he hinted at the way he expected to die.)

This passage begins and ends with people coming to Jesus. All the wrong people.

It’s the gentiles – the heathen- who approach Phil, the one with the Greek name, to ask for an appointment. They’re not the ones who are supposed to be “in the know” about right religion. But somehow they know that Jesus is the one they should talk to. When Jesus talks about being raised up, it’s not the people who are already on the inside, the “right” people, who are drawn in. It’s everyone else who will come to him. In the very next verse (omitted from the lectionary) the crowds (of insiders) don’t get it. They want to know how Jesus can say he’ll be raised up. This doesn’t fit their expectations of religious protocol.

The people on the outside get it. They come. The people on the inside don’t. They go.

At the center is this saying about the seed, and the paradox of keeping your life and losing it, or losing it to keep it. This is the great truth that the religiously inside so often fail to grasp. It’s not just about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s about being willing to follow Jesus into death and resurrection. What’s true for him is true for everyone. You can’t move by standing still. You can’t grow by remaining the same. You can’t reach your destiny by refusing to participate in the moments that are meant to define you. You can’t be great by playing it safe. You can’t stand out by staying with the in crowd.

It’s decision time! Will you stay on the inside, comfortably numb and self-assured? Or will you follow Jesus, face your fear, and forever expand your horizons?

What Will Your Great Grandchildren Say?

girl looking at you
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rolandslakis/116382077/">Rolands Lakis</a>

Mark 9:33-37

When they arrived in Capernaum, back at the house he asked them, “What were you all arguing about on the way here?” None of them answered, because they’d been arguing about which of them was the most important.

So he called the twelve of them together and said, “Whoever wants to be the most important has to be the least important and serve all the rest.” Then he held a little child in his arms in the midst of their circle and said, “Whoever welcomes a child like this on my behalf welcomes me. If you want to welcome me, you’ve got to embrace not just me, but the whole reason I’m here.”

It’s easy to romanticize childhood and children. So much is made of “childhood innocence.” But, even for those who look back fondly on happy childhood days, it wasn’t always easy. Children are, of all people, the most vulnerable, in part because they are not really considered fully people yet. Not legally, not socially, not developmentally.

For the vast majority of the world’s children, childhood is no picnic. Entirely dependent on the whims of the adults around them, they suffer in disproportional numbers from poverty, hunger, and sickness and all kinds of abuse and neglect. They are in many places around the world, exploited for slave labor and other unspeakable atrocities. Children are, of all people, most in need of protection and welcome. Not just the ones who happen to be behaving well. Not just when we feel like it. All of them. All the time.

Whatever your project is, whatever aims or ambitions or dreams you have, Jesus says that they will stand or fall on how well they serve the children. Not just the abstract idea of children. Real children. The ones you come in contact with every day. If you really want to be great and do great things but you’re not sure if your idea is a very good one, consider what your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren will think of having to live with it. That’s all you really need to know.

Ignore Everybody

woman balancing
Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nancee_art/3771144583/">Heeding the Muses</a>

Mark 6:14-16

By now Jesus had become so well known that King Herod heard of him. Some folks had begun spreading the rumor that John, the Dunker, had been raised from the dead, and that was why Jesus could do all these miraculous things. Other folk were saying he was Elijah. Still others were saying he was like the great truth-tellers of ancient history. Herod, though, who had beheaded John, resolved that Jesus was John back from the dead.

When people start talking about you, they’ll come up with all kinds of stories. Especially when you’re doing something that really is great, people will start to explain your work away. They’ll make up reasons to believe it’s not really you.

With Jesus, they couldn’t accept that he was his own person. He had to be somebody else. It wasn’t that Jesus was simply doing great things because he was Jesus. It had to be that he was a supernatural phenomenon. He got his powers from the underworld. He’s some kind of ghost, back from the dead. (Of course, some people still think this.) He can’t be making powerful changes in people’s lives because he’s Jesus, they think, but he must be some manifestation of the mythological Elijah, or one of those other great people from the past. They just couldn’t accept that Jesus was simply Jesus.

It’s not just Jesus, though. If you’re doing great stuff, people will make up reasons why it’s not really you. You were just in the right place at the right time. You got lucky. You were born with a silver spoon. You managed to find some kind of shortcut to success, or took advantage of something nobody else knew about. Like Herod, their reasons for thinking these things may be their own guilty conscience. In the majority of cases, you just don’t know where the rumors come from, or why.

It’s part of doing great work. In spite of being misunderstood, Jesus keeps on doing it. Every day. Changing lives. Restoring people to wholeness. Confronting oppression. Bringing those who had fallen through the cracks back into the web of humanity. Regardless of what everyone else was saying.

A few years ago, cartoonist Hugh MacLeod published a little book with the title, Ignore Everybody. It was good advice.

It’s part of doing great work. Jesus did it. You can, too.

Abraham’s Promise Is Your Promise

dad holding child
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/12327292@N00/3551019373/">pipitdapo</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

Galatians 3:23-29

Before there was faith, by law we were prisoners under guard. Until faith appeared, the rulebook was our master. But then Jesus came so we could do what is right implicitly. Now, living by faith we have no master. Instead, Jesus has made us God’s children. If you’ve been through Jesus’ baptism, you’ve taken on Jesus’ life. You’re not defined by your ethnicity. You’re not defined by your economic status. You’re not defined by your gender. You’re now all alike defined by the Jesus mission. And if you’re on the Jesus mission, the promise God gave to Abraham falls to you.

The Abrahamic promise (see Genesis 12:1-3) is three-fold:

  1. that you’ll become a great nation,
  2. that your name will be great, and
  3. that you’ll be blessed in order to bless others.

The audacity of Paul’s claim lies not in the part we moderns like to think, “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (though this is an extraordinary statement for its time). The real audacity is that Paul is taking what had been reserved for a single great mythological archetypical persona from the ancient past and applying it to everyone who is a part of the Jesus mission in the present. The responsibility to give rise to a great movement, to be great, and to be blessed in order to bless others falls to everyone and anyone who has, like Jesus, realized and accepted with joy who they really are.

If this is true, then the stakes really have gone up. Because you can’t hide behind all the other labels people tend to hide behind: ethnicity, economic status, gender. You’re either on the mission, or you aren’t. You have accepted who you really are, or you haven’t.

Time to fish or cut bait. Take hold of the promise and be great, be blessed, be a blessing to someone. Do something to leave in your wake even more people who know themselves truly and rejoice in who they really are – a great nation.