Year B — The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Commentary for March 25, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Jeremiah 31:31-34
It has always been a comforting thought to think of God, as a Heavenly Parent, holding me by the hand. Good image; strong image.

But, evidently, as a wayward child, I can decide to withdraw my hand from the protective grip of God. So, God has designed, so says Jeremiah, a new way to hold me: God has placed God’s “law” inside of me. God’s word, God’s law is — to the Hebrew understanding — the very presence and assurance of “God Himself.”

So, when I consider that God has now placed God’s law in my heart, that is pretty much the same as saying God has taken up residence there. No longer is it necessary for anyone to “tell me” what I need to know about God. I simply look within my own heart — God’s home.

Psalm 51:1-12
Sin is a sticky thing; like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth, or an annoying piece of lint that you just can’t flick off of your shirt — it keeps coming back and coming back at you, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it!

Only God can get rid of sin and the images it burns into our minds and into our souls. One of the favorite attacks of “the evil one” is to remind us over and over of the ways we have messed up, that we are inferior, that we are undeserving of love because “we’ve been bad.”

I’m so glad that one of the favorite techniques of the Holy One is to blot out our transgressions with the abundant mercy of God. God sustains joy; the Lord sustains us spiritually.

Psalm 119:9-16
In keeping with Jeremiah, “the word” of God here symbolizes God’s very presence. Therefore, how does any one of us — young or old — keep our way pure? By hiding, or treasuring, God’s word in our hearts.

Keep the things God says –what God really wants you to know — close by you all the time. Keep ’em in mind; be ready to pull them out of your pocket. You’ll be surprised just how handy they will turn out to be!

Hebrews 5:5-10
For now, don’t worry too much about Melchizedek, who he is, or what he does (though if you have a hankering, you’ll find his story in Genesis 14.)

The real emphasis here is on what Jesus does — the Great High Priest — who, even though he had every right as the Son of God, instead learned about obedience (a term used for a servant, not a son) and suffering — and thus received glory from God. He did not seize it or assume it for himself.

The glory of God, in Jesus, is also shared with us; we receive eternal salvation because of what Jesus has done.

John 12:20-33
The appearance of the Greeks who sought after Jesus has always been something of a reminder to me that we never know who is going to be intrigued with our message about the Christ. These guys seem to come “from left field,” so to speak, and Philip seems a little puzzled as to what to do with them.

Ever have someone like that come to your church? We all say we want to reach “new people” — but then you get somebody who is really from beyond the edge of your normal constituency, and you find yourself asking the internal question, “How in the Sam Hill did they get here?” 

To Jesus, it seemed to represent an important development; it is almost as if he says, “Okay, boys; if the Greeks are showing up, then it’s just about time to kick this thing into high gear.”

Does he know that means the stuff is about to hit the fan? He seems to intimate that with his prayer about being troubled and asking God to save him from this hour. 

Certainly, this is the human Jesus that Dr. Chilton leads us to consider in the sermon below; what God had for him to do was hard and he had to find himself somewhat reluctant, at times, to carry it forward.

And, yet, the Savior is willing to play the part of the kernel of wheat falling to the ground — there is new life yet to come even in the midst of an impending burial. 

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Psychiatrist and Christian writer M. Scott Peck tells of treating a woman who had been involved in a variety of cults.
Peck says, “I asked her one day, ‘Tell me about Jesus . . . how he died?’
He was crucified.’ She answered. Something, perhaps the fact that she did everything she could to avoid pain, propelled me to ask, ‘Did it hurt?’
Oh no!’ she responded . . . . . I persisted ‘How could it not hurt?’
Oh,’ she replied happily, ‘He was just so highly developed in his Christ Consciousness that he was able to project himself into his astral body and take off from there.’”
Well, I suppose that’s one theory.
A Unitarian friend of mine continually reminds me that there is danger in thinking of thinking of Jesus as both divine and human.
He says that if we think that Jesus was divine, we may begin to excuse ourselves from the call to follow him to the cross.
We think, “Well, Jesus was God, so he could do those things and it didn’t really hurt him. At least it didn’t hurt him the way it would hurt me. So really, I’ll worship him, but following him is a bit too dangerous.”
Unless we take the human pain and suffering of Jesus seriously, we may fail to take seriously our own call to face pain and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus reminds us that our calling as Christians is to follow him, and that following him includes following him to the cross, not as spectators but as participants in suffering for the sake of the world.
Hebrews gives us an intensely human portrait of Jesus; one filled with mental anguish, the dread of anticipated suffering, pleading for mercy and, finally, resignation to his fate.
The Greek word here is sarx. It means meat; bones and blood and muscle. It is a declaration of Jesus’ very real humanity.
The verse continues, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears,”
Many rabbis taught that there were three levels of prayer:
  1. Prayers – verbal or silent, thought out and controlled
  2. Loud cries – shouting at God in anger or anguish.
  3. Tears – pure emotion and pain.
Hebrews shows us Jesus engaged in all three but most especially loud cries and tears, pouring out his fear and pain to God. One who feels no pain and no fear, one who is not “human,” does not weep and cry before God.
Verse 7 continues: “to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard.”
Jesus knew that the path he was on lead to death, to the cross. Jesus also knew that God could save him from this end. And Jesus was not afraid to let his fears and feelings be known, to God and to others.
What agony he must have felt. You could save me if you would, but you won’t! Why won’t you? Why won’t you? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Now, Hebrews 5:7 says he was heard – – – and yet, he died. Died in agony upon the cross. What kind of hearing is that?
When I was about 12 or 13 I was in the Boy Scouts. One night at Scouts we were running a race and I tripped. I fell face down in gravel on the side of the road. I lodged a piece of gravel under the skin on my forehead.
The rural medical clinic was a mile or so down the road from our meeting place. The Doctor and my father were both assistant Scoutmasters so they gathered me up and took me to the clinic.
The doctor was good but his bedside manner was a bit on the brusque side. As I lie there on that cold, hard metal table he came at me with a huge needle to numb my forehead. I am still not very fond of needles, but then I was deathly afraid of them.
I looked over at my Daddy and began to cry out, “Daddy, Daddy, daddy, please Daddy. Don’t let him hurt me, please Daddy. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.
The doctor threw a leg over me to hold me down, put his left arm down on my chest and proceeded to inject the needle. All the while I continued to cry and beg and plead for my Daddy to make him stop. And just as the needle entered I saw my Daddy’s hands, knuckles white as he clutched my jacket. I looked up and saw a tear in the corner of his eye. It was the only time I ever, ever saw him cry.
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. I was heard, oh yes, I was heard. And I was denied.
Hebrews 5: 8 “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Here is a great mystery of the faith. Wherever are, God in Christ has been; fully, completely, totally.
Think about the most scared, lonely, and troubled you have ever been.
And Jesus has been there.
Think about the moments when you have felt ignored and abandoned by God.
And Jesus has been there.
Think about all the times when you just did not know if you could make it.
And Jesus has been there.
The Promise of the Gospel is not that if you are a Christian life will be easy.
The Gospel is not about ways to make your life, your marriage, your career, your children or anything else work out in a way pleasing to yourself.
The Gospel is the call to follow Jesus to the cross and beyond.
To follow Jesus in serving the poor and needy.
To follow Jesus in reaching out to the despised and rejected.
To follow Jesus in standing up for those who are oppressed and ill-served by the world.
To follow Jesus in fighting against illness and evil wherever they may be found.
And sometimes following Jesus to the cross means we will suffer for our commitments, that we too will be rejected and scorned as much as those with whom we take our stand.
Christ calls us to follow him.
It is not an easy way.
It is not a painless path.
It is not likely to be smooth sailing.
It is the Way of the Cross.
And the promise of the gospel is that where God calls us to go, Jesus has already been, and as we go, Jesus is going with us.
Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — The Fifth Sunday in Lent

  1. THANK YOU for reminding us of the three-levels-of-prayer. i'm also finding it AMAZING how your stories trigger memories of tales from mine own ancient days — at least twice now have you enabled me to bring to my congregation a great "grandma" narrative that you had recalled to mind. bless you all!

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