A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “An Invitation to a Deeper Relationship” – Sermon for Lent 5B

“An Invitation to a Deeper Relationship” – Sermon for Lent 5B

March 17, 2024

come-share-in-god's-joy

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

With incredible stories about him spreading across the region, it’s not too much of a surprise that even people beyond their community, Greeks, would be interested in meeting Jesus.  They’ve probably heard that he has performed miracles and healings, like enabling the blind to see! He has enthralled crowds with his teaching, fed multitudes, and overturned tables in the temple – exposing the corruption of the religious and political establishment.  Jesus has even raised Lazarus from the dead.   If Jesus could do such extraordinary things for his people, these Greeks may have some ideas about what Jesus can do for them

If we’re honest, isn’t that same impulse what drives much of our spiritual and religious activities?  We want God, we want Jesus, to heal our ills; to teach, guide and nourish us. We’d be happy if Christ would take on our enemies, and protect us and our loved ones from death. We, too, want to see the Jesus who has so much to offer us.  Do you have some ideas about what you’d like to see God do for you and your loved ones? 

In some ways, this is not surprising.  Many of us first came to faith and got involved in church because of what God has done for us.  Maybe you were blessed at the start of your spiritual journey to have an experience, an epiphany, that revealed God’s amazing grace to you.  

For me, it happened during middle school on my very first retreat. It was a terrible time in my young life as my mother’s personality was unraveling because of what was then an undiagnosed condition and we later learned was Huntington’s Disease. As the priest was speaking in the chapel, his message touched me so deeply that I felt God’s palpable presence. The tears began to flow.  That was the moment my faith in God took hold. It was a gift God gave me.  Perhaps you can identify a similar moment in your spiritual journey.

Often our faith journeys start at low points in our lives because of something God does for us; healing something that was broken in us or giving strength and hope in a time of need. This is often the case with people who begin their spiritual journeys through AA and other recovery groups. 

But, we might also be on a faith journey and attend church because it was handed down to us through the generations. As it is St. Patrick’s Day, I think of those of Irish ancestry – a culture that has enthusiastically passed down faith from generation to generation. We may be here this morning because there is something about the music – about singing with others – that lifts us.  (Also important in Irish culture) Or we may be here because the church is a place to meet friends and find a sense of belonging.  (Another element in Irish culture!) Or it may be all of the above. (Churches are like pubs – without the beer. Pubs are like churches without so much the prayer!)

If we are honest about what brings us to church this morning, most of us would have to say we are here for ourselves. (Which is better than not being here at all!)

After all, Jesus invites us, “Come to me you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest…”  We want to see the Jesus who comforts and blesses us! 

But, sometimes it’s as if we stop listening to the second part… “Take my yoke upon you…” 

The Christian life is not meant to be a one way relationship, only about what God does for us. It’s also about what we can do for God. 

When Jesus learns that these Greeks want to see him, he responds with a surprising answer, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” 

Now that Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, those who want to see him must  also witness the uncomfortable truth about all of who he is; to see him in his full glory – which means also witnessing him lifted up on the cross. Do we really want to see that Jesus

This may be more than the Greeks bargained for. It may be more than many people who call themselves Christian bargain for. There will be plenty of churches and individuals who will jump from Palm Sunday to Easter (or from Christmas to Easter) nary pausing for a moment to be with Jesus in his suffering and distress on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. Let’s face it, seeing Jesus on the cross may be more than we bargain for.  

At this juncture on our Lenten journey, we are invited to prepare go deeper in our relationship with Jesus; to shift  from simply appreciating him because of what he does for us, to also embrace what he asks of us, what we can do for him – to follow and serve him through his death.  

As any relationship matures -whether with another person or with God, we don’t just receive the best or easiest parts of the other. Nor do we only give the best or easiest parts of ourselves.  If you’ve ever been married, you know that over time you will eventually see the wounded and difficult parts of your spouse.   And, over time, your own wounds and difficulties will arise, too. 

 

Inevitably, on the journey of life with another person, we come face to face with all sorts of crosses – including unexamined emotional baggage, scars, and vulnerabilities from younger years that show up in far less than helpful or beautiful ways; we may face the crosses of financial challenges, illness, issues with other family members, and inevitably, death. (It’s amazing people actually choose to get married!)

If we are in a relationship only because of what it gives us, the moment the other person’s cross shows up we may be tempted to leave.   If we just want everything to be sweetness and light, we probably aren’t ready for the demands of a mature relationship. We probably have some inner healing to do – as might the other person.

What Jesus suggests when he says, “Whoever serves me must follow me” is an invitation to a life of faith that isn’t merely on our terms, but also on his. 

The remarkable thing is as we make the shift from a relationship with God that is merely about getting what we want, to one in which we are attentive to what Jesus wants, the blessings on our faith journey deepen and grow.  

As we show up for Jesus on the cross, whether in the form of being present to loved ones  who or struggling or people in our communities and around the world who are in distress, we receive gifts that are beyond what we can imagine.  As we stretch ourselves, as we go beyond our comfort zones, our fears, including the greatest fear most of us have, the fear of death, can be transformed. 

 

When I first became a Hospice chaplain, I was terrified that I would not be able to handle the physical suffering I would be exposed to.  Just hearing the morning reports about excessive phlegm and unsightly and odiferous wounds was enough to turn my stomach.  How could I be a calm and healing presence for someone in need who had a gross symptom? I really wondered whether or not I could do it.  

Before I would go into a person’s home, to try and center myself, I simply prayed, “Lord, let me be an instrument of your peace.”  I was so keen on focusing on a person’s spiritual well-being, so committed to showing up as a loving presence, that by the grace of God, for the most part, I remained untroubled by some pretty nasty symptoms.  

Perhaps you’ve experienced this, too – when one of your loved ones was at the end of life.  It’s as if your love for them serves as a shield from being undone by their struggles – emotional, physical, or spiritual. When you love someone, another power takes over, and you find you can do more and be more than you may have ever thought possible. When my Dad was dying, I was able to provide some pretty intimate care for him that truly surprised me. 

What Jesus is asking of us today is really no different. Are we ready to stand by his side through his suffering and death?  Are we ready to stand by the side of those in our lives who face suffering and death? Are we ready to bear witness to those across the globe who suffer and die, especially as Jesus did –  at the hands of worldly powers?

Today we are reminded that if we want to see Jesus, we must also be present and serve him on the cross. Yes, we may prefer to keep our distance. Yes, it may be uncomfortable. But, unless we are willing to face the cross, we will miss out on the intimacy that comes with being there for Jesus and for each other when it really matters. We will miss the unique grace and connection that can only come when we are there for each other at life’s toughest moments.  We will miss the ways that God can work even through death.

Beyond what we want, beyond what we think we need, when we loosen the grip we have on our agendas and open ourselves to serving God – to being God’s loving presence in the world – then whatever circumstances we find ourselves in can be used for God’s glory. This is the mystery – as we offer our love at the foot of whatever crosses we are called to embrace, our hearts expand. Love grows. And we are blessed beyond what we could ever imagine.  Amen.