A Holy Tuesday Sermon
Texts: Isaiah 49.1-7, Psalm 71.1-14, 1Corinthians 1.18-31, John 12.20-36
And Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
It looks like Jesus is at it again. He just won’t leave us alone! Even as his death looms ever-nearer, he still has the audacity to tell us that he’s going to change the world – he even dares to tell us how to live our lives! Just who does Jesus think he is? Doesn’t he know what waits for him on Good Friday? Doesn’t he know that at the end of this week all his fighting and idealism will amount to nothing? Doesn’t he know?
And yet, Jesus preaches on. He continues to imagine a better world and tell us that things don’t have to be the way they are. In the face of his own grave waiting for him on Friday he continues to insist that the grave will not have the last word.
Jesus is so… foolish.
We know better, don’t we? We know not to get caught up in Jesus’ idealism, we know that we can’t change the world and we know that trying only gets you hurt. But Jesus doesn’t seem to care what we know. Jesus calls us to join him in his ridiculous plan to change the world. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus calls us to “walk while we have the light,” to “believe in the light,” and to “follow him” into this new world that he claims to see just beyond the corner. And Jesus doesn’t stop calling us to follow him into this new reality – even as he hangs from the cross.
Even perfectly reasonable people like us are bound to find Jesus’ call to foolishness just a little compelling – if only because he seems so assured of his new reality in a way we’ve never seen anyone be so certain of anything.
We are called to be fools because our God is more foolish than we could ever dream of being. Christ looks at a broken world and sees reconciliation; he looks at a grave and sees new life. Paul tells us that God has taken the cross and used it to turn the world upside down. He has taken the power structures of the world and even death itself and flipped them on their heads. God has taken the darkness that we place ourselves in and turned it into light. And now He calls us to do the most foolish thing we can imagine: He calls us to believe what he has already done.
God calls us to be every bit as foolish as Christ – rejecting unjust power structures even if any sensible person knows that doing so will get you killed; feeding the hungry even though we know full well they will just be hungry again tomorrow; ceaselessly proclaiming that the way the world is is not the way it has to be – God calls us to be ridiculous.
And even though God has already flipped the world on its head and asks only that we act like we believe it – many times even that proves too difficult for us. Believing the good news is harder than it seems and we are so afraid – so afraid that at the end of our lives we will look back and find that all our efforts were for nothing. This fear is logical, it makes sense, and it causes us to do responsible things like ensuring our own security first, not giving as much to the poor as we really could, and not speaking out when it might get us hurt. We are afraid – for good reason – that if we follow the foolishness of Jesus in the end our struggles will get us nowhere.
I recently saw the film “The Grave of the Fireflies.” The film follows the lives of two young children – Seita and his baby sister Setsuko – living in Japan during the Second World War. The children’s father is away fighting in the Japanese army, and after their mother is killed in an air raid and the stresses of wartime strip the children of their relationship with their aunt – we find the children living on their own waiting for their father to return. Most of the film follows the day-to-day struggle for survival the children endure, but gradually, over the course of the film, despite their best efforts the children grow steadily thinner and sicker. At the end of the movie the children discover that their father died at war before the beginning of the film, and the pair – stripped of all hope and motivation to carry on – die soon after.
The power of the film lies in its brutal portrayal of this basic fear of ours: that ultimately, despite all our work – despite all our envisioning – if we really imitate the foolishness of Christ at the end of our lives all our efforts will prove just as futile as those of Seita and Setsuko – that we too will die exhausted, starved, and terribly alone. Isaiah speaks for all of us when he cries: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” We all cry out alongside the psalmist when she pleads, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent… O God, do not be far from me; O my God make haste to help me.”
This is the fundamental fear of the human condition. Our reason and logic tell us that if we forgive those who hurt us we will only be hurt again and if we try to change the world we’ll only end up spending our strength on a system that is too large to change and hopelessly broken. Our wisdom tells that if we want to avoid wasting our energy and being hurt time and again we should insulate and protect ourselves from the world.
But still, in the face of this perfectly rational fear, even in the face of the cross looming on the horizon, Jesus insists that there is another way. His way is foolish, it goes against everything we know about protecting and preserving ourselves – it calls us to open up – to make ourselves vulnerable – to give all we have in commitment to Christ’s vision for the world, and most importantly, it promises us that our efforts will never go to waste, that Christ himself will refresh us when we are weary, and that, as a people walking with our God we will not be led astray.
And despite all our rational concerns for our own safety and well-being, there is still a persistent, incurably foolish part of us that wants to believe him. There is a still, small voice in each of us that resonates with the Greeks in today’s gospel when they say, “We wish to see Jesus.” No matter how illogical and downright stupid it may be, that still small voice remains. Don’t we all wish to see Jesus? In spite of everything we know we still feel compelled to follow Jesus’ foolishness.
Jesus calls us to a commitment to a better world. He calls us to reject the evils that pervert God’s creation and love our neighbors as ourselves – not despite, but in spite of the risks. Jesus never promises us that proclaiming his new reality in the midst of our present darkness won’t get us crucified alongside him. But he does promise us that our efforts to bring God’s new kingdom into the here and now will never be in vain. He promises us that Good Friday is not the end of this story. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be foolish enough to believe him.