The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

It’s About Death (a lenten worship gathering)

with 2 comments

Never have done anything quite like this before.

It’s amazing how the lectionary takes me into places that I might not otherwise have gone. And there, I find elements of Jesus that are remarkably rich, waiting to be re-told . . .
Fifth Sunday in Lent April 2, 2006
Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Monte greets. Sharon reads:

Psalm 51:1-12
A David psalm, after he was confronted by Nathan about the affair with Bathsheba.

1Generous in love–God, give grace! Huge in mercy–wipe out my bad record.
2Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
3I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.
4You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
5I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
6What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
7Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
8Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
9Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
10God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
11Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
12Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!

Songs:

Passion for Jesus
Jesus, All For Jesus
When I Survey No. 144

Sharon: A 4th-century Lenten prayer

1700 years ago, a follower of Jesus named Ephrem the Syrian wrote a prayer. You’ll find a copy of it in your worship folder. Look at it with me. In the Orthodox Church, this prayer is still prayed daily during Lent. But the language is a little old – so look at the words.

Here are the things we ask God to take from us:
Sloth – means spiritual laziness that holds us back
Faint-heartedness is negativity and pessimism about life
Lust of power is about needing to control
Idle talk means using words to put down, or be destructive, rather than building up.

Then, we ask God to give us –
Chastity: which is means more than sexual purity here, but something more like wholeness
Humility: which sees life as God intended it to be
Patience: which knows life is more complex than it seems, and does not demand answers now! and
Love: the opposite of pride.

You could put this on your desk or your fridge and pray it each day. Not that repetition gains any favor with God, but instead, that repetition keeps the needs of our hearts in front of our own eyes.This morning, pray these words with me:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give me rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to my servant.
Yes, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother;
For thou art blessed unto ages of ages.
Amen

[much of this is paraphrased or quoted from Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year by Robert E. Webber; Baker Books, 2004]

Welcome

Sharon: In your folders, you’ll see Jeremiah 31:31-34. It’s a prophecy about what will happen on Easter. Follow along as I read:

31″That’s right. The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with Israel and Judah. 32It won’t be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master.” GOD’s Decree.

33″This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them–write it on their hearts!-and be their God. And they will be my people. 34They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about GOD. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” GOD’s Decree.

What’s different between the Old Covenant and the New? [Possible answers: 33 – on their hearts; 34 – know me firsthand – the smart and the slow; clean slate; I’ll forget they ever sinned.]

Now to the Gospel of John, just before Jesus is crucified, and Jesus begins to talk about what that New Covenant is going to cost:

John 12:20-33
A Grain of Wheat Must Die

20There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. 21They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”22Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus.

[at this point Monte comes in, in black. Sharon sits down, Monte goes on:]

So Andrew and Philip tell Jesus some Greeks want to talk to him. What kind of answer would you expect? Maybe, “OK, bring them here.” Or even, “No, I can’t right now. But,

23Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

24″Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. 25In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

26″If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

27″Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? “Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. 28I’ll say, “Father, put your glory on display.'”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

29The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

30Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. 31At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. 32And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” 33He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

I remember when my dad died. The call came from the care center, early in the morning, before daylight. My mother was already there. I drove to Kalona – I don’t remember the drive. The door to his room was closed. Inside, there was my mother, sitting beside the bed, and there was my dad, looking simply asleep. It was hard to believe he was gone. Sometimes it seemed to us that there’d been a giant mistake made. I watched his chest for some sign of breath. Never occurred to me to wonder why he wasn’t waking up, if there had been a mistake. Gradually, his skin grew cooler, his face more colorless. And after a couple of hours, there was nothing to do but leave.

I remember when Dorothy Layman died. She and her husband were a Nazarene couple who’d gotten sick and old and run out of money, and they lived in the apartments north of the church, and we’d become friends. She’d been sick for a long time. But one day John called to say, “I think she’s going.” I went up to the little apartment. She was dehydrated, her lips pulled back, hadn’t responded for a day or so. I prayed. She whispered, “Thank you.” Then she breathed a bit, stopped a bit, breathed a bit less, stopped a bit more, and the next breath just never came. John and I sat by her side for a while, called the funeral home, then went into the living room to wait. I helped the funeral director carry her tiny body out.

I remember when Kevin McAfee died. Young dad, many kids, wife of just a couple of years, they loved God and loved each other so much. He got leukemia, was in and out of the U, and in eight months, was gone. I was there to visit, got off the elevator, met his mother in the hallway, she told me. Over the next hours, the family gathered, his kids and her kids all standing around his bed, singing songs, praying, holding each other. Some of you were there. I stroked his forehead, so smooth from chemotherapy, as it grew cool.

I’ve never seen anyone die from violence. But I can imagine how gutted one must feel. When I see one of my children taken advantage of, or wounded, I get an ache in my stomach and a break in my heart. I wonder how Mary must have felt.

We are so determined to force everything to be happy. The way we tell the Easter story, you would hardly know anybody died. We’re so eager to be sure everything we do is upbeat, every Sunday service will inspire people to come back next week. And we know how the story turns out.

Catholics probably do a better job of telling the whole story than we evangelicals do. And the result for us is that we have a rather death-less passion week – always victory, rarely loss.

But one thing is clear in this passage from John: Jesus is absorbed with the fact that he’s about to die.

His wheat story makes it clear that he’s reminding them that he’ll be back. But it’s the death, he says, that demonstrates his reckless love for us. What a loss it is, if we forget what it cost him to recklessly love us, if we paper it over and put smiley faces on these last two weeks before Easter.

Look over at Hebrews 5, skip down to v. 7:

7While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God.

“Anticipating death.” We want it to say, “Anticipating resurrection,” but it doesn’t – at least not here.

And then something very strange happens – back to John, 25:

25In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

26″If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

Follow me where? To death. That’s where the Father’s reward is. I wonder – could it be that our American faith knows so little genuine re-birth because it knows so little genuine death? Here’s what I mean, v27:

27″Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? “Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. 28I’ll say, “Father, put your glory on display.'”

I find myself praying, “God, take this trouble away!” “Get me out of this!” And Jesus does pray, “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” But then he goes on, “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.”

“Get me out of this? No, this is why I came in the first place. Put your glory on display, Father.” Use this trouble, somehow, to display yourself.

And the Father does.

Back to Hebrews, 7b:

Because he honored God, God answered him.

And there’s more reason for not escaping the trouble. Read on:

8Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. 9Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, 10he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him.

We’ll talk about what Melchizidek is all about another time, but here’s the radical truth that I want you to see: Jesus had to learn to trust and obey by suffering (v8). Jesus had to become mature, v 9.

I always thought (though rarely admitted), “Hey, he’s God, it’s easier for him than it is for me.” But if he had to learn trusting-obedience by suffering, wouldn’t it be a mistake for me to dodge my suffering when it comes? Or to bury it in some narcotic activity or service or work?

The suffering Jesus endured benefited us because he let it benefit him.

We’re going to take turns suffering. We really do need each other. We really do need to be saying, “It’ll be my turn before long. Help me, when it comes, not to run from it, not to try to escape it. Help me to face it squarely, not to waste it, and to learn the blessings of God that can only be found by realizing that suffering is part of what we came for, that it is a gold mine for learning trusting-obedience and becoming mature.”

Will you help me when my turn comes? Will you promise me you won’t turn me aside or tell me it’s not so bad, and that you will challenge me to keep faithful to Jesus?

For he is our example. And here is a song that says just that. I think it’s in your worship folder.

Giving
Go to Dark Gethsemane

Go to Dark Gethsemane (James Montgomery, 1825)

Go to dark Gethsemane, Ye who feel the tempter’s power;

Your Redeemer’s conflict see, Watch with him one bitter hour:

Turn not from his griefs away; Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

 

Follow to the judgment hall; View the Lord of life arraigned,

O the wormwood and the gall! O the pangs his soul sustained!

Shun not suff’ring shame or loss; Learn of him to bear the cross.

 

Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb; There, adoring, at his feet,

Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete:

“It is finished!” hear him cry; Learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Sharon: Pray the prayer of Ephrem with me once more:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give me rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to my servant.
Yes, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother;
For thou art blessed unto ages of ages.
Amen

All Scripture: The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Written by Monte

April 2, 2006 at 2:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks, Tim – it has, indeed, left me with a renewed tenderness in my own heart. Your comment reminded me of the great sacrifice again. Leaves me wanting to fall at his feet and throw my arms around his ankles!

    Monte

    April 4, 2006 at 2:56 pm

  2. Sounds like Sunday was awesome! I love what you did with message and service…wish I could have been there. This is why I love this time of the year. It reminds me again and again of the great sacrifice that was made for ME…it also helps me to remember that death is all around us and that we do need each other when especially when our time comes. Thanks for the great insight…keep it up!

    Timbo

    April 4, 2006 at 10:25 am


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