Nobody Dies Alone (A Sermon for Lent 5B)

Nobody Dies Alone (A Sermon for Lent 5B)
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Cypress, Texas)
John 12: 20–33
March 18, 2018

There’s a couple topics that are rarely preached on. You know them, right? Money, sex, and politics. But don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about those….at least not today. But there’s something else we don’t talk about very much in the church.

Death.

Yes, we acknowledge death when it happens, but for the most part we don’t talk about death with any real depth or substance, and certainly no enthusiasm.

We don’t deal with it.

We deny it.

We ignore it.

We avoid it.

We don’t really acknowledge, talk about, or deal with death at all in our culture.

Because nobody wants to die.

We don’t even want to think about dying.

The death of our loved ones is too real, too painful. Our own death is too scary. The parts of our lives that have died are too difficult. Death is not always, however, physical. Sometimes it is spiritual or emotional. We die a thousand deaths every day. There are the deaths of relationships, marriages, plans, hopes, dreams, careers, health, beliefs. And we don’t like to talk about those, either.

So, for the most part, we just avoid the topic of death.

Besides it’s a downer in a culture that mostly wants to be happy, feel good, and avoid difficult realities.

I suspect the Greeks in today’s gospel didn’t go expecting to talk about death when they showed up to worship. They just wanted to see Jesus.

And who can blame them? Jesus has a pretty good track record up to this point. He has cleansed the temple, turned water into wine, healed a little boy, fed 5,000, given sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead.

I don’t know why they wanted to see Jesus, but I know the desire. I want to see Jesus. I’ll bet you do, too. We all have our reasons for wanting to see Jesus.

But I think too often we want to see Jesus on our terms. Because sometimes encountering and following Jesus means pain, loss, failure, disappointment, or even death.

Christianity means participating in the life, and the death…and ultimately the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That is what Jesus sets before the Greeks who want to see him.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

Rev. Beth talked about this book a couple of weeks ago…Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. I started reading this book this weekend, because this week is basically my holy week. Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron saint of fathers, and also the one-year anniversary of the last time I went to church with my dad…the last time my dad ever went to church. Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the last time my dad ever left his house, when we went to the oncologist and decided to decline treatment. Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of the last time I ever saw my dad alive. And Thursday…it hurts to even think about, but Thursday will mark one year since my father died. The worst year of my life will be over, but I don’t know that the pain ever really ends.

So in this book, Kate Bowler talks about her own experience with cancer and how that relates to her academic research on the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is that strain of Christianity that talks about “name it and claim it,” and faith healers, and being blessed financially for giving. In that tradition, sickness and death can be signs of sin.

But what she finds is that we…those of us who wouldn’t dare claim the prosperity gospel…are not much different. The prosperity gospel is a type of theodicy, a way to make sense of suffering. And we do the same thing. God has a plan….everything happens for a reason…when God closes a door he opens a window…at least you had 37 years with your dad.

That all may in some sense be true…but it’s all unhelpful. So try not to ever say stuff like that.

Theodicy, the search for why bad things happen, is a never-ending search. But what Jesus hints at in this Gospel is one way to help understand it. We don’t know why bad things happen, but in Jesus’ suffering and death we know we aren’t alone.

We know that Jesus understands our suffering, and we know that somehow…some way…he is there with us. God is with us. “Where my servant is, I am there, too,” he says in today’s Gospel.

I want to read a section from this book which I think helps illustrate this point.

I always find Jesus’ question today to be very interesting. “What should I say, ‘Father save me from this’? No…this is why I came.”

Jesus did not ask to be saved from death. Because Jesus knew that death was not the end.

He knew that in God’s world strength is found in weakness, victory looks like defeat, and life is born of death.

And above all, he knew that in his darkest of moments, he was not alone.

And neither are we.

Amen.