Lent V: God's promises, written on our hearts
"Be Interesting" or "Hate Your Life"
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33
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Money–The Automatic Millionaire
I have always been interested in the flow of money. And Jesus had challenging things to say about money, but not here in these verses. So relax. This is not a sermon about money. But sermons about money are coming. Actually if you're looking for a church who doesn't talk about money and won't challenge any of your financial practices, then you might have to look further. I'm not saying you should leave right now, but there are certainly congregations that avoid economic justice, simplicity, generosity, debt forgiveness and so on.
All this is prelude to saying that last year my financial and economic interests led me to read a book called The Automatic Millionaire. I was bit embarrassed for anyone to see the title because I'm not trying to get rich. The basic idea in the book is to clarify our financial priorities and make our actions on those priorities automatic, so that we don't end up leaving on the back burner important financial matters like giving generously, paying down debt, preparing for retirement, paying off a mortgage or saving for college. There is good financial advice in the book. And I've wondered about making more of our priorities automatic.
Automatic vs. Internalized
The Bible doesn't use this term–automatic–but the making our stories and practicee cos so routine that they become the fabric of our lives is important for people of faith. That's why Jews recite the Torah. That's why Muslims fast during Ramadan. That's why Christians mark the days of Holy Week. In terms of Biblical spirituality, a better term than automatic might be internalized. Think about it this way, the Old Testament readings during Lent this year keep referring to covenants, these agreements or promises, that God makes with us. Of course we human beings are constantly breaking these covenants.
But the insider secret–revealed in part by Jeremiah and made clear by Jesus–is that God's covenants, are to be internalized. Jeremiah describes a covenant "written on our hearts." This new covenant advanced by Jeremiah and embodied by Jesus is not just historically "back there" or abstractly "out there," but this covenant is internalized "in here."
So Jesus breaking bread and pouring a cup of wine at the Passover meal helps his disciples internalize this new covenant. We eat and drink, so that God's promise of life becomes part of our bloodstream, transforming our mortal bodies into Christ's body.
Brothers and sisters, the people of God who tell and live the Jesus tradition internalize this covenant between God and humanity and with all creation. Internalizing our story and practices is necessary because life throws a lot of challenges our way. And if we internalize the life of Jesus, then we will not be thrown off course by the temptations and challenges and failures in our lives. If we internalize the life and practices of Jesus, we will be protected from the false gods and false powers trying every day to win our allegiance.
Internalization as Influence
At a deep level, our scripture reading from the Gospel of John shows us just how powerful internalizing the message and life of Jesus can be. Chapter 12 says there were some Greeks, some Gentiles, who came to Jerusalem for the Passover. These Greek-speaking Gentiles were foreigners to God's covenants, but they were interested enough in Jewish people, Jewish faith and Jewish practices that they were worshiping as Jews did, one God–the God who delivers people out of slavery and into a new covenant relationship, altogether different from the empire of Egypt (or any other empire). During the Passover, these outsiders, these Greeks, ask Philip to see Jesus. Now why do they ask Philip? There must have been something about this disciple, something of Jesus that he had internalized.
I've preached a bit about Philip recently. Remember those five gifts–apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? We translate those gifts into ways that we function in the 21st century as Dream-awakener, Heart-revealer, Storyteller, Soul healer and Light giver. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Philip to follow him and then Philip goes to get Andrew. Philip is an evangelist, sharing the good news of finding Jesus. Again in chapter 12, Philip is acting as an evangelist–connecting these interested outsiders, these Greeks, to Jesus. But this time they come to Philip. Philip has internalized Jesus' message and people understand that he is the kind of person who can connect them with Jesus Christ.
As the church we internalize the life and practices of Jesus, so that the Gentiles–the nations of the world–the interested outsiders recognize that we belong to Jesus. I wonder who is looking at our life as a church? I wonder who is looking at our individual lives? What will they see? Will they see Jesus? Are we even interesting?
As the church we internalize the life of Jesus, giving up wealth, status, and security, in order to live the eternal life of God in the daily life of a human community. Do we live in such a way that others recognize we belong to Jesus? We're to be a community so interesting that we warrant a second glance by outsiders. So we need to be out and about. We need to be involved in every part of our culture, unless of course our involvement compromises our covenant with Christ and the church. And this is where it gets interesting.
CMCers in Business
This past Thu Pastoral Team hosted a gathering of stay-at-home parents in the morning and a gathering of CMCers in business in the late afternoon. I was at the business gathering. After listening to their sharing and conversation, CMCers are not in business to get rich or become automatic millionaires. They have internalized enough of the message of Jesus that they know business is not about private accumulation. They talked about business models that allow for doing some of their work for profit and some gratis, so that their products and services can meet needs even among those who can't afford them. They talked about business as a way of meeting and knowing very many people and very many kinds of people. They talked about business as the challenge of assessing value, the true value of work, the deep value of relationships and the real value products. They talked about business as a way to shift our habits and economy toward sustainability. They talked and they talked and Pastor Jason had to go to Bible Quizzing. And they talked and they talked and I had to go to Faith in Action. So Jason and I left pastoral elder Mike Brislen with the clean-up.
That conversation and the lives of CMCers in business was an example to me that internalizing the person and message of Jesus makes a difference. These are interesting business persons. I think they make good evangelists. And there are more of you. Maybe some of you are considering a vocation in business. Connect with Jonathan Kreider and Hugh Stoll and Jakob Gerlach and Johann Zimmerman and Kelly MacDonald and Ben Wyse and Sam Miller. And all of you women in business, they asked about you. We missed you!
Businesses are an incredible influence in the world and if you have internalized the life and practices of Jesus you can have a profound influence in the wider community through your business. Indeed, whatever your vocation or job or life stage right now, let's be so interesting that others are attracted to our values, our practices, our faith, our Lord.
Hate your life
OK, friends, there is a problem with this sermon. Jesus didn't preach: "Be interesting." Jesus actually preached: "hate your life." So what are we going to do with that? Obviously Jesus didn't hate life. But he rejected the stereotypical ways of life in order to live what was written on his heart. Jesus, the very Son of God, had internalized God's covenant with humanity and with the creation. Jesus was willing, ultimately, to be rejected by some of his best friends, his religious community, and the "powers of the empire." I think that's what he means by hate your life. But if you disagree, let's talk about it. Jesus was willing to fall into the earth a single grain in order that many could internalize his way of loving service, and intercultural witness against "the ruler of this world."
At the end of our lives when we fall into the earth like a single grain will we bear much fruit? And if it's true that the Christian life is to live the eternal life of God in the daily life of a human being, as Jesus did, then are we bearing fruit now? Are we rejecting the stereotypical ways of live order to live what is written on our hearts? What have you internalized with regard to your faith? What have we as Community Mennonite internalized?
Holy Week as internalizing the Story
Next Sunday begins Holy Week. It's a great way to internalize the Jesus story, to be taken with it all over again. So come to Palm Sunday worship and dare to say Hosanna–save us! Walk in the Palm Sunday Peace Parade and make that journey of solidarity with those on the margins who confront evil in the power centers. Show up to Maundy Thursday to dwell with Jesus remembering the Passover and washing feet. A week from Friday, at noon, walk through Harrisonburg and hear the passion told in public by storytellers who internalize the story. Join us here Good Friday in the evening to sing and pray and ponder how Jesus' death–a single grain–produces much fruit. During Holy Week we internalize the story–sometimes stumbling through it. I pray this year you are taken by Jesus all over again.
God's new covenant of love that we have entered through Jesus Christ is not historically "back there" or abstractly "out there." This covenant is internalized "in here." It makes us interesting. It makes us church together in the 21st century. Jesus said: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. We are drawn this season to Jesus. And we are part of that divine drawing of all people, because we internalize the Jesus' story and practices. We reject the stereotypical ways of life in order to live what is written on our hearts.
Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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