Lent 5A: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, March 18, 2018
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
The Christian tradition has plagued its membership with the belief that we are inherently bad and broken people. In Medieval times, people were considered to be so bad that when they died they did not escape the miserable conditions of life for the peace and joy of the heavenly realm, but simply exchanged their hell of earth with that of purgatory. And, unless you had family to pay, I mean pray, your way out of purgatory, you might be there for a very long time. We no longer believe in praying or even paying our relatives out of purgatory, most of us don’t even believe in purgatory anymore, but we still hold to deep, traditional beliefs as to the wickedness and sinful nature of man—we’ve just edited the narrative a bit. Now, we have preachers, friends, youth group judgment houses and the like to tell us what bad and sinful people we are because we can’t rip their cards in half or turn the red box green. We relate to the message of the psalmist, “Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.” We can analyze our life and looking back see not just our acts, but our very nature as sinful and as always having been prone to sin.
That is true in lots of ways—we are sinners. But there is a deeper truth to who we are as well and the psalmist’s next lines lead us to the heart of who God has created us to be, “For behold, you look for truth deep within me…” The truth deep within us is the righteousness and goodness of being created by God. There is that kitschy saying that God don’t create no junk. And its true. God created you and me, therefore we are not inherently sinful, but good. And it is this goodness that God is constantly drawing out of us.
This past week, I got to assist with interviewing and selecting a new summer camp director for Camp McDowell. There were five members of the selection committee, and as I am a member of the Department of Camp McDowell, I represented the department on the committee. The other members either worked for Camp currently or had served as the Summer Camp Director in the past. We received eight applicants for the position and reviewed their letters of interest, resumes, and references and then ranked them. Our top four applicants were invited to interview. For the interview process, each member of the committee submitted a question to ask each candidate.
My question was broad, sort of an ice-breaker, nothing too threatening or challenging in order to spark some dialogue and afford the committee the opportunity to dig a little deeper and ask the tougher, more challenging questions. So, I asked each candidate who their best boss had been and why and who their worst boss had been and why. Surprisingly, the answer to the first half of the question was almost exactly the same for each of the interviewees.
In the response to the question of who their best boss was, each interviewee described someone who spent time with them as an employee, encouraging them and shaping them in such a way as to bring out the gifts and skills they had to do their job well. It was a person who looked for the best in them and then helped them to hone that to be a better employee and more successful in their work efforts. Not only did the product of their work delight in the consequences of their efforts, but so did their boss. Think about that, every interviewee described their best boss as someone who had exacting standards, not to destroy or belittle another but to draw from their employees their gifts and talents that made their work better. Sure, they admitted their bosses were not always pleased with their efforts and the employees had made their fair share of mistakes. But the bosses they described as the best, were the kind of people who instead of berating you for messing up, took the mistake as an opportunity for growth and improvement. They sat down with their employees in a non-threatening manner and took the time to evaluate, discuss, and analyze what went wrong in order to find ways in which to do it better the next time. Overall, the people identified as the “best boss” in response to my question, seemed to be those who cared about their employee and took the time and effort to help them be the best employee they could be. I have little doubt, though I don’t know any of them, that those bosses were probably successful in their own right as well and that contributing to their employee’s success served to reflect back on them in positive ways.
In listening to those interviews, it struck me that just as those “best bosses” were drawing the good out of their employees, God is drawing the good out of each of us. He does so in part because that is the inherent essence of being in relationship with one’s Creator. When you are in relationship with your Creator, you are doing that which you were created for—in the case of God, that is always in working toward the good, the redemption of the world. As Jamie quoted the Eastern Orthodox priest last week, “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.” “God has redeemed his creation, he is redeeming his creation, and he will redeem his creation.” Our relationship with God is our participation in that process. So, as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, God’s purposes are served best when he is drawing the good out of us—the deep truth within each of us. As our deep truth, our goodness, is drawn from us, he is glorified. His glorification is not dependent upon us, but it is served by us. In our condemnation as sinners from our mother’s womb, we do not serve God’s glorification. Instead our condemnation serves only to glorify that which is dark and broken—Satan and the forces of evil—which draw us away from God.
In John’s Gospel today, we hear a voice from heaven who talks about his glorification. And when Jesus explains the voice to the crowd, his explanation is filled with reassurances that the voice speaks to us and defines what the judgment of this world truly is and that judgment is not our condemnation, but God’s glorification. That glorification happens through the death and resurrection of Jesus and in that judgement the ruler of this world, Satan, is driven out. In that judgement as Jesus is lifted up on the cross and then into heaven, all people are drawn to him. It is in judgment through the cross that all people are drawn from Satan to God. Because in the judgment of this world, the world that God has created, he would not desire Satan’s glorification by our condemnation—because that is exactly what happens—if the Devil gets us, be it the purgatory of antiquity or the judgement house of modernity, God does not. God does not desire Satan’s glorification, but God’s own glorification and it is through the cross that the judgment of glorification redeems us and draws us to God.
In the hymn we just sang, “In the cross of Christ I glory,” the verses build upon each other offering to us the rhythm of life in which woes and fears, bliss and love are glorified in the cross, culminating in the final verse that says:
Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure
By the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
Joys that through all time abide.
This is what it means to live in God’s judgment. It is not about being condemned by our brokenness, our transgressions and wickedness; nor is it about a life of bliss, one in which we know only pleasure.
Instead, our judgment—all the times we struggle, the simple joys we experience, the courage we demonstrate in facing our fears and our hopes to live in the kingdom of God—is God’s glorification. God draws the deep truth buried within us that is the inward righteousness and original blessing of all that he has given us. And just like the best boss we might ever know, God encourages us and shapes us in such a way as to bring forth our gifts and skills to serve him because we, being his creation and being redeemed in the cross of salvation, find ourselves glorified in him and he in us. That is the deep abiding truth of the judgment of God—not our condemnation but his glorification.