Sermon For March 22, 2015 ~ Fifth Sunday Of Lent

John 12:20-26 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=294018792 )

“Die To Rise”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle

Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch a video of this sermon, go online to: http://youtu.be/tL9zkxz23YI

 

HappyTombstoneIs there such a thing as a good death? Now, I know there is such a thing as a noble death – which is how we often describe military heroes. Perhaps there exists even a timely death – as we might say of someone who has lived a really long and full life. But is there such a thing as a “good” death, a death that brings more good than bad, more justice, peace, hope, love into the world, a death that – dare I say it – bears much fruit? Jesus seemed to be saying this in today’s text, and it is hard to understand. Very difficult, indeed.

 

Now, we can spiritualize this and make it only about Jesus. Certainly John goes on to say later in this passage “He [Jesus, that is] said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” Most assuredly this conversation, filled with metaphor and poetry, was Jesus’ attempt to let his disciples know that he was going to die, and that this death would be the ultimate act that would bring him glory, the kind of glory God values.

 

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian (Bolognese), 1591 - 1666) Christ Preaching in the Temple, about 1625 - 1627, Pen and brown ink, brush with brown wash 26.8 x 42.4 cm (10 9/16 x 16 11/16 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian (Bolognese), 1591 – 1666)
Christ Preaching in the Temple, about 1625 – 1627, Pen and brown ink, brush with brown wash
26.8 x 42.4 cm (10 9/16 x 16 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

But we do a disservice to Jesus and John’s recounting of the gospel if we simply spiritualize this to be about Jesus. Does not Jesus say in the midst of this conversation, Those who love their live lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” as well as Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also?”  This sounds to me like a prescription for discipleship, even an outright invitation to a good death.

 

We don’t like hearing this kind of talk, especially from our savior, for it takes us to all those confusing, shadowy, and problematic places within our own head and within our society. It conjures up suicidal thoughts and Dr. Kevorkian’s assisted suicide. Surely Jesus’ call to be like a “grain of wheat [which] falls to the earth and dies… and bears much fruit,” wasn’t a call to actual death, even though it most assuredly sounds like it?

 

Well, let me be absolutely clear up front that I do not think this text, or any text in scripture, is a prescription for suicide – ours or the assistance of others in theirs. Let me tell you why it is not this, which will help me tell you what this challenging call to “fall into the earth and die” and “hate one’s life” might mean.

 

Suicide Crisis/Prevention Hotline for Cuyahoga County: 216-623-6888

 

My mother was a nurse for her entire working career. She took the Hippocratic Oath” seriously, which is essentially “do no harm.” She was there to relieve suffering, as best as possible, and to bring healing, if at all possible. There were frequently situations that tested her and the medical profession’s limits in how suffering could be relieved and healing could be enhanced.

 

The last few years of her career were as the director of a nursing home. It was while she served Casa Maria Health Care Center that I began to see her definition of a good death. Her definition of death had less to do with the patient, and more to do with those around the patient. I began to see that the value of a human’s life is not always defined by the ability of the patient to do and be everything that we modern citizens, especially those of us in the more technologically- and industrially-advanced parts of the world, think define self-worth. If she – or by extension we as a society – defined “life” and “living” as being a productive citizen of the world around us, then most of the people she served were “worth-less.”

 

But even if we lowered that bar and said that the definition of a life worthy of living was pain free or, at the very least, being cognizant and conscious, then many of her residents were, by this societal definition, “worth-less.” Then why did my mother treat each and every one of her residents as if they were the most beautiful, important, worthy person on the planet?!? Because my mother chose to die “the good death,” herself. She died to what the world expected of her, she died to the value society had of her residents, and gave her self up so that others might have life. She brought dignity, grace, and even love to those the world would have given up on.

 

Me and my sis.

Me and my sis.

Now let me tell you about another very important woman in my life who I do not tend to talk a lot about: my sister, Lynda. My sister is very much like my mother, except that she went into education. For most of my young life I knew Sis, who was much older than me, to be a fantastic teacher, exceptionally good at what she did. I know this because over the years I would hear her students, when seeing her in the grocery store or at a community event, gush about how she had changed their life and about how she had given them courage and a sense of self-worth when no one else seemed to believe in them.

 

The critical part about my sister’s service as a teacher was that she not only served in the most racially diverse, the most economically depressed, and the most dangerous part of our town, but she served the kids that had the hardest time with the skills needed to further their education. I would often say that she taught the grade “in between first and second grade,” that class of kids whose parents wouldn’t hold them back even though they couldn’t do the work so that she could try and get them, some how some way, caught up with their classmates. My sister chose to die “the good death,” her self. She died to the honor, prestige, income, comfort, and even safety that she very well could have had so that her students might have life. She brought dignity, grace, and even love to those the world would have given up on.

 

Clearly Jesus is talking about an actual death, his death on a cross to the powers and principalities of the world. Throughout the gospel of John Jesus prefigures his death in so many ways. But Jesus knew very well that the reason for his death would be precisely because he called his disciples to a discipleship that shunned, even despised, the ways of the world that are hell-bent on glory, strength, prestige, beauty, success, and permanence. Jesus knew – as we all do – that the tendency we human beings have is to desire to be lifted up in honor and accolades. Like a star athlete lifted up on the shoulders of her or his teammates, we yearn to be lifted up on glory so the world will know just how important our life is.

 

But Jesus also knew – as those of us who seek to follow him must also come to know – that any “lifting up” that is done to us will have to be in service, humility, and possibly even death, for it to be considered “good.” And we will have to bear the slings and arrows of a world that does not understand why we do what we do. A good death, the one to which Jesus calls us, is a life given in love to a friend, a neighbor, even to a stranger, in service, humility, and love.

 

May it be so. Amen

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