Lent 5, Year B, 2009

One thing I have learned about Jesus is this:  there is no point in asking him a direct question.

I imagine that if you asked him where the restroom was located, you would receive a discourse about the powers of the waters of baptism and how they wash us clean.  If you asked Jesus for directions, he would go on and on about he was the way, the truth and the life.  If you asked Jesus what was for lunch, he’d tell you about how he was the bread of heaven.

Most of the characters in the Gospel of John are Jewish and are from a fairly narrow geographical area.  But in today’s reading we are introduced to some Greeks.  They go up to Phillip-who has a name of Greek origin-and ask to be introduced to Jesus.  Phillip goes to Andrew, and then they together approach Jesus.

Jesus, of course, does not say, “Sure, I’d love to meet these Greek guys!”  He doesn’t even say, “You know, I’m booked right now, but I’ve got some time tomorrow about 1:00.  Would that work for you?”  He definitely doesn’t say, “Hey Greeks, great to meet you!  You know, my ministry is for all people, not just Jewish people. I’m glad you asked me that question so I could point out God’s inclusive love for everyone.”  Jesus is much more elusive than that.

Instead of answering Phillip and Andrew, Jesus embarks on a discourse about what it means to follow God. But, of course, being Jesus, in ignoring the Greek’s question, he is actually answering the question.  The Greeks may not get to visit with Jesus, but Jesus is going to tell them, completely honestly, about what it costs to follow Jesus.

First, Jesus talks about his own life.  He describes a seed of grain that must die so that it can produce fruit.  Jesus even refers to being lifted up on the cross and how he will draw all people to himself when that happens.  Jesus’ ministry on this earth culminates in this ultimate self-denial.  If the Greeks were hoping to see some miracles or hear a cheerful message from a deity, they must have been sorely disappointed!

Jesus makes it clear that he is not the only one who has to lose his life.  He states, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”  For the Christian, there is always going to be an element of self-denial and of sacrifice.

Last week, here at Emmanuel we witnessed four students confirm their faith as adults in the church, and nearly a dozen of our members decided to be received as Episcopalians or to renew their baptismal vows.  The Confirmation service reminds us that being a Christian is more than just a label.  When you are confirmed, you’re not given a handshake and a t-shirt that says, “I’m a Christian.”  Instead, you are asked to repeat your baptismal vows-and those vows call for sacrifice.

We are asked to renounce evil powers and sinful behavior and to actively follow Jesus.

And following Jesus is not always easy.  Sometimes we are asked to be kind to someone utterly unlovable.  Sometimes we are asked to stop doing something that gives us enormous pleasure.  Sometimes we are called to give up something or someone very dear to us.

And sometimes, we are called to move to New Jersey.

Those of you who are on our mailing list received a letter from me this week letting you know that my husband, Matt, has discerned a call to be a Presbyterian Pastor and that in July, Matt and I are moving to Princeton, where Matt will be a student at Princeton Seminary.

If you had asked me four years ago, when I began my ministry as a priest with you that one day Jesus would call me to New Jersey, I would have thought you were crazy!  Poor Matt.  He first discerned his call when we were dating and during one of our initial visits to see his parents in Princeton, we drove to New York City.  As we passed the urban landscape and the lights and smoke of the factories of northern New Jersey, I very supportively burst into tears and said, “I can’t believe I have to leave Virginia for THIS.”

In the two years since that moment, I have learned a lot more about New Jersey, and have come to realize it is not called the Garden State for nothing!  I have even come to a place where I can look forward to our life together there.

But before I could get to that place of acceptance of following God’s call, I had to go through a great deal of grief.  I am not losing my literal life, but I will lose my life with you in order to follow God and that is very costly to me.

All of us go through these kinds of transitions when we follow Jesus.  When we are called to be parents, we lose the freedom of not being responsible for children.  When we are called to begin working a new ministry, we lose the free time we used to have.  When we are called to live in a mature and responsible way, we lose the excitement of our old, irresponsible behavior.

Following Jesus is costly. But following Jesus is also rewarding.  To be with you, I sacrificed a life in Northern Virginia.  To be in seminary, I sacrificed a life in Richmond.  To go to college in Richmond, I sacrificed life at home with my parents.  Each choice we make means there are an infinite number of choices we did not make.  When we make the choices that we sincerely believe Jesus is calling us to make, we can trust that we will learn and grow and be matured in our new context.

By choosing what Jesus has for us, we can enrich our own lives and the lives of those around us.  Each of you on a Sunday morning could easily sleep in late and have a leisurely day at home, but you have chosen to spend your time here at Emmanuel.  By listening to God’s call, and spending your time and energy here, you have made this church a place that radiates with the love of God.  You have created a church community that gives life to the people that enter its doors.  You have modeled for each other, and for me, how following Jesus and sacrificing your own desires can bring alive the Kingdom of God.

And so, we follow Jesus, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because a life of journeying with Jesus is far more interesting than any life we could plan for ourselves.  We follow Jesus because as we sacrifice our surface desires-for stability, for security, for an easy life-we find our deepest desires-for meaning, for connection with God, for connection with others.

I have been blessed to be on this journey with you-and the journey is not finished!  Over the next few months we will have a chance to think about where Jesus is leading Emmanuel and what following Jesus as a congregation might mean.  We are all on the path together, even when our individual paths must diverge.

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