A Transformed Life Is a Classic
#TransformedLifeIsAClassic is the podcast for March 18, 2018. Twain said, “A Classic is something people want to have read, but no one wants to read.” So is the transformed life: we want to get there without the struggle. How this explains Lent is contained in this podcast Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #John12 #John #Death #Fame #Power #Donuts #Transformation #Resurrection #Church #Lent
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 3/18/2018 The 5th Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read John 12:20-33.
Mark Twain said that, “A ‘classic’ is something that people want to have read, but do not want to read.” The same could be said for a ‘transformed life’. To be transformed is something we want to have experienced, but do not want to experience.
It is like watching a movie about being transformed. They show little snippets of the work involved in the transformation, but they don’t show the hours of loneliness of being transformed. They don’t show the myriad of little choices made: I will not eat that donut, that cake, that French fry, that, and that, and that, and that… It is three in the afternoon and I am still thinking of that cream filled eau claire donut I refused to eat at 7:30 a.m.
This struggle within, even when it comes to my epic donut saga, is indicative of the struggle within ourselves when it comes to Jesus. It is so evident with the people around Jesus in this passage from the Gospel of John. The people see the signs and they still do not believe in him. The leaders of the Jews, we are told right after this passage, believe in him, but they do not want to lose their place in the synagogue: I want to be thinner, but I don’t want to stop eating donuts.
Up to this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus is seen as “the great teacher”, who is doing such great signs that he is almost undeniably the Messiah. This passage for today follows John’s Palm Sunday which follows Lazarus being raised from the dead. John even says in 12:18 that the reason the people are throwing palms out on the ground is BECAUSE Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It is like one big show. The more spectacular Jesus is, the more popular he becomes.
We have a tendency to think that popularity only came on the scene with the advent of radio and TV. Yet, popularity and popular sentiment have been on the scene for a very long time. Popularity is fleeting. Everyone loves a winner. Jesus is about to do something that looks like losing. When he does, he will lose his popularity. He will transition from a great teacher into a universal Messiah in the chapters that follow in John.
When the Greeks show up, the mission begins in earnest. Jesus, the Son who is born of the woman Mary, will allow himself to be killed by the creation that John says he created. The Greeks are representative of the world. When the world comes and says to the Jews, that is Philip and Andrew, that they wish to see Jesus, it is very symbolic. The world is coming to salvation through the Jews to Jesus. Jesus is no longer just a Palestinian prophet. Word of him has spread to the Greeks and beyond. Jesus is transition from being the Savior of the Jewish people and fulfillment of the Old Covenant, of which the reading from Jeremiah for today reminds us, to being the Savior of the Universe.
His mission, he tells us, transitions from the singular to the many. That mission involves him being put to death by the powerful forces that want him to die because he threatens their standing – he dies because of jealousy. Jealousy is a selfish self-serving emotion. In contrast, Jesus dies because he is going to be unselfish. He is going to give up his life for the sins of us all. He is going to be the Sacrifice lifted high on the Cross.
Jesus, in this passage transitions from being a parochial leader to being a universal Savior; from what people think is a local popular movement, to a universal saving work of God. It is a shift from what seems to be his mission, to God’s mission. When the local vision dies, the universal mission bears fruit. When the popular appeal dies, the saving work bears fruit. When the personal power dies, the power of God transforms and the seeds are planted in the hearts of humanity all over the world for all times.
The question, then, needs to be asked of those of us who are baptized into this God-Man who denies his power, is put to death by his own creation, and transforms death into new life: what is to become of us and our death?
If our death is the end, then it is cataclysmic. It renders every action of our life in this world to be measured by the world’s terms: riches, fame, glory. This is why the people clamor for signs, to laud earthly glory. A death without resurrection makes our feeble attempts at greatness to be undermined by the rust and fading that comes with age. Death without resurrection means we should protect our earthly greatness at all costs. This is why the leaders of the Jews are said to believe in Jesus, but they don’t want to be kicked out of the Synagogue, the source of their fame, prestige, and power. It is also why they will even kill Jesus to protect their earthly glory. All of these are selfish, self-centered views of life. Death, then, is the enemy.
For those of us who follow Jesus, who see him transform this life into a prologue to our resurrection, death is not the enemy. When he is lifted up on the Cross, we see his broken body, which will be renewed when it is laid in the grave. We hear him speak of being lifted up in the Ascension, which is prologue to his Second Coming. We will be renewed then and be with him. This transformation of death into a vehicle for life eternal means our perspective, our desires, and our goals need to change. There is, as Jeremiah points out, a need for a circumcision of the heart which places this earthly life in perspective. It is the beginning of an eternity with the Lord. We can be patient with others because we know they, too, will be transformed. We don’t have to have the bigger house, the bigger car, the bigger church, the best watch, the best social media presence, the bigger whatever to be a success, because our success lies in how big our heart is, how generous we are, how we have made provision for others on the journey.
We are to let our selfish ambitions die, embrace the life of the Christian who has a mission to love the world, and live. Our concern is for more than just ourselves. Our concern is a mission from God to lay down our lives to focus on the world at large. We are citizens of heaven, which has a universal Lord and Savior. Yet, as we think of this, we remember our reference to Twain: To be transformed is something we want to have experienced, but do not want to experience.
Lent is the time that we renew our willingness to be transformed by God into the selfless, generous life. We are to die to ourselves. This is rarely an easy venture. We are to die to the things of this world that we hold onto to give us power, prestige, and meaning that are not our Christian life. We are to die to the missions that are not about advancing the kingdom of God and renewing the face of the earth. These can be daunting if we hold onto the earthly perspective, but that is not our perspective. We are the children of the living God: he is out context. He is our strength. He is our provision for the journey.
Because we are not afraid of death, death should be part of the process of everyday life. We die every day to unhealthy self-preservation. We die to unhealthy self-focus. We die so that the world can live. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The work may be hard, but it is worth every second to fulfill the mission of the Lord, which begins this coming week, Holy Week.
So, get to it. Die—so you can live. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian