March 25, 2012 Gospel: John 12:20-33 Psalm 51:1-12
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34 2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10
We’ve come to the last of our sermon series on “returning.” We’ve covered returning to the self, to relationships, to religion, to the earth, and today I’m hoping to tackle “Returning to God.” It’s kind of a big topic, the whole point of faith, one could argue. Isn’t that why we come here—to return to God, to be in relationship with God? Isn’t that what the whole Bible is about, God’s people returning to God? Isn’t that what God wants of us—a return to relationship, to love, to commitment?
And yet Martin Luther said that all we could ever do was to turn away from God. Humans by our own power can’t turn back to God. Only God can turn us back toward him.
I think of little children, as I often do, and their attention spans. They want to see and explore. They want to greet the dog and grab the toy from the other child and roll around in the yard and chase the butterfly and on and on. I’m looking at baby proofing my house, trying to think like a little guy. We’ll need to cover the outlets and secure the kitchen cupboard doors. We’ll have to get gates to put up. We’ll have to feed the cats outside—in fact maybe the cats can spend the whole summer outside so we can ditch the litter box and the nightmare that will be with a curious baby crawling around. Then there are Nick’s records, the glass doors on the credenza, all kinds of places to bump a head, teetering lamps. And that’s just at home. I have nightmares about the stairs here at church. I wonder if he will curl up under a pew one day and I won’t be able to find him.
I know that exploring and curiosity is the way kids learn and grow. I know I can’t protect him from every scrape and bump and to do so would limit him too much. He’d never learn the things he needs to learn about the shape and size of his body and that dust bunnies and dead bugs are not that tasty. But I hope that as he explores and gets hurt, physically and emotionally he will come back to me sometimes to cuddle and to have a listening ear as he gets older and that we will sustain a strong relationship through the years.
And I think that is what God wants of us. God wants us to return to him, even though we are bound to wander and explore, to share love and stories and relationship.
So how do we return to God? Or how does God return us to relationship and covenant with him?
Sometimes I feel such a chasm between myself and God. God’s perfection is so distant. His glory is something I can’t comprehend. God’s love is so big. God’s creativity is so huge. God is beyond all understanding. We’ve got a lot about God’s glory in the readings for today. Do you remember the story of God inviting Moses to look upon his glory? Moses had to hide his face or he would be destroyed by that glory, it was such a strong and powerful force. And still he glowed afterward!
God sensed that distance and decided to create a new covenant with us, one in which the love of God would be written on our hearts and we would instinctively know God from the least of us to the greatest. God wanted to create a connection point between us to bridge the separating. God wanted to experience relationship, atonement, a coming together of the divine and human. So God sent Jesus Christ, a God-human combo or hybrid, completely human, completely God, all at the same time.
I was recently doing some plumbing, replacing a cabinet in the bathroom and all the stuff underneath. We discovered at 9:50 pm that the hose was too short between the faucet and where the water comes out of the wall below so I had to rush to Home Depot to find the correct connector. I rushed over there with 3 minutes to spare. The front door was locked so I snuck in the out door and a nice young man showed me where to find the piece to fit the two together. Jesus is that connector piece between God and humanity. We also know that Jesus is God’s son, an extension of God rather than something separate and new, so we could say that God adapted God’s connector so that humanity could see that there was a connection point, so we wouldn’t just see God as far away, but that God would be within our hearts and nearer to us than we are to ourselves.
In order to be a good fit with us, so that we would trust Jesus, Jesus had to be like us in some important ways. One of the most important is that he take on human limitations. How could we trust someone who doesn’t know what it feels like to be us? We could only identify with someone who has walked in our shoes. So God took on limitations. God came as a baby with the helplessness that comes along with it. He grew up just like a regular person, because he was a regular person. He scraped his knee, argued with his parents, made mistakes on his math test, hurt other people’s feelings, experienced sore muscles and headaches, bug bites, he misunderstood people, he didn’t meet people’s expectations. He took human limitations on himself as Jesus. He was a person.
John is focused on this human aspect of God as broken, self-limiting, wounded. It isn’t a new concept. We see in the Old Testament how God is hurting because Israel broke the covenant. “I was your husband,” cries God, humiliated, betrayed, wounded. Because God loves so deeply, God’s heart can be broken. God can get hurt.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus weeps, sometimes he gets angry, he gets frustrated with his own failed attempts to make his point to his disciples about inclusion and love and what the Kingdom of God is like. Of course he suffers on the cross and his body is broken and he experiences death. John’s Gospel is the only one where Jesus appears after the resurrection with his wounds still visible. He could have been raised with a perfect, whole body. But instead his wounds are raised with him and he shows them to the disciples.
It is Jesus’ wounds that draw us all to him, that return us to him. There is beauty in the broken. Our beautiful Mt. Hood is a pile of broken rocks, the results of broken tectonic plates rubbing up against one another. Fabric must be cut, broken, to be sewn back together to make a beautiful garment. We break our earlobes (and sometimes noses, lips, eyebrows, or tongues) to put decorations in them. Jesus’ wounds were something that he wanted to keep. They were an important part of who he was. They were a connection point between himself and human kind. They showed that he knew what we went through. They showed how far he was willing to go to return us to God. They showed a relationship deep enough to survive betrayal and hurt and keep on loving.
I invite you to look upon the cross here in our sanctuary. See the cross shapes on Jesus’ hands? They indicate the wounds he received for our sake. Here he is being lifted up both as on the cross and at his ascension. This isn’t a gruesome depiction of Christ on the cross, even though it shows his wounds. It is him with his brokenness, not hiding it as he draws all creation to himself.
“We wish to see Jesus,” the Gentiles say, and we come with the same wish. And we can see him. “I was in prison and you visited. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” He has promised to be in the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the vulnerable, the wounded, the limited. It is a matter of if we will look for him there in the face of the needy and see him in the tears of those who are suffering and look for him in the scars of those who have been wounded.
And we can hear God, too, in the dead calm after the tornado, in the thunder, in the voices of his angel messengers, if we train our ear to be alert to that voice.
We are wounded. We cry out. God is wounded. God cries out. We hear each other and return and find wholeness where brokenness meets brokenness and we understand each other and experience love and relationship.