Here for a Good Time

Last week I wrote about eternal life as abundant life now. Abundant life occurs when we know God in this life—in our ordinary, everyday lives. This passage builds on the theme of abundant life and gives us some clues about how to get there. Most of us go through life doing whatever it is that we do: working, caring for family and friends, participating in community activities and hobbies. These things are valuable and good. The passage reminds us that life is short and we are going to die anyway. Death is inevitable. The question becomes whether we want to simply die at the end of our lives or do we want our lives to have produced abundant life?

Lent has traditionally been a time of giving something up. It is common to give up particular foods but giving something up is only beneficial if it changes us somehow or leads us deeper into God’s spirit. Our passage this morning gets at the heart of letting go of life that has become comfortable and creating space for new life.

I want to tell you a story of death and resurrection in my own life. Through most of my life, I felt very shy and insecure. I learned ways of coping. In school and on the bus, I always kept my nose in a book. At church events I poured coffee so I could appear engaged without actually having to carry on a conversation. I didn’t speak to other people any more than was absolutely necessary.

When I was doing my training for ministry we had a workshop on shame and self-esteem led by another group of students. A few minutes into the workshop, I found myself crying. I was trying so hard to hide my tears. I cried off and on throughout the morning. Several people in the group took me aside to ask if I was OK, if I needed to talk or if they could do anything. I snivelled that I was fine and didn’t need anything.

The Labyrinth at St. John the Divine.

We were staying at a St. John the Divine, an Anglican convent in Toronto. Outside the convent was a labyrinth. After lunch I went out and walked the labyrinth. A labyrinth is similar to a maze but there are no dead ends. There is one way into the center and when you reach the center you turn and follow the same path out again. Walking this path into the center of yourself and God is an opportunity to pray.

So I walked into this labyrinth. As I walked I realized that my soul was close to death. I realized that I wasn’t really living. I was just going through the motions of living. I walked with more tears. I stood in the center of the labyrinth—deep within myself and deep within God. I realized that I didn’t want my spirit to die. I wanted to live fully and abundantly with joy. I walked out of the labyrinth knowing that something would have to die. That’s the story of our faith—death and resurrection. If my soul wasn’t going to die, then my way of living and being in the world would have to die in order to create space for a new life.

I went back inside and people asked again if I was OK. This time my response was different. This time I started talking about what I had experienced in the morning and how that connected to my life up to that point. What I had been doing allowed me to cope but it didn’t allow me to live abundantly and with joy. This was the beginning of a new life for me.

The passage of scripture encourages us to allow something in our lives to die so that we might create space for God in our lives. In reflecting on this passage Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh write, “attachment to life as one now leads it, leads to death anyway, while disattachment from living in the present [way] will lead to eternal life.”[1] What I needed to learn that as much as I had learned how to cope, I didn’t really know God but by letting go of the things that allowed me to cope, I could experience God.  It seems counter intuitive. It often feels like what we do in our lives gets us through but my experience suggests that we experience God in the letting go.

This week someone reminded me that life is short and we should enjoy it. Think of the Trooper song: We’re here for a good time. No matter what we are going to die at some point. Do we want the lives that we live to simply be toil and pain or do we want the life that we live to be abundant? It isn’t that life will always be easy or that things will always go the way we want but can we find abundance in the midst of difficulties and pain?

When I talk about being here for a good time, I’m not talking about accumulation of things. I’m not talking about seeing life as one big party where we hop from experience to experience while avoiding anything that is challenging. The song speaks about sun shining in the midst of rain.  I’m talking about the things that actually allow us to experience and know God. That is the good and abundant life—to know God.

To know God we need to embrace authentic life. It means being real with ourselves and others. There are days when life is challenging and we don’t have to carry that load alone. If we are used to being strong and independent it can be a challenge to share our very personal inner lives with another and yet that might be the space we need to experience God’s presence. If we always feel that the world is against us and nothing ever goes our way perhaps the challenge is to ask where God is in the midst of these challenges without assuming that we know the answer. We might be surprised that God is in the midst of a change that makes us uncomfortable. We might find that hanging on to the way things are in our own lives or in the congregation may actually be preventing us from experiencing God. Letting go of life as we know it allows something new to grow. Just like the grain of wheat that falls into the ground we need death in our lives to create new life.

The season of Lent brings us closer to death and resurrection and provides a perfect time for us to reflect on the things in our own lives which prevent us from experiencing God. It is the perfect time to allow habits which harm us, the people around or the creation to die. It can be scary to allow particular aspects of our lives to die but as resurrection people we know that in order for there to be life, there must be death.

And we see a bit further on in the passage that Jesus is resisting what will be next his life. He recognizes that the path he is on will lead to a violent death. Jesus could still have walked away at this point. He could have gone back to carpentry or join the fisherman that he hung out with. That would have been the safe and comfortable thing to do and at the end of his life, he would have died anyway. And we hear him question God and asking what the purpose of his life is. Jesus isn’t terribly excited about the prospect of death but he recognizes that death is the only way for new life to be created.

The Scarlet Letter Bible paraphrases this way:

“Jesus said, “It’s time for the authentic human to be recognized. I’m telling you, really, if a seed never falls into the earth and disintegrates, it remains just a seed. But if it disintegrates, it produces fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. If you let go of your life as it is, your horizons will expand forever. If you want to serve me, you have to do what I do. You have to go where I go. If you do this, God won’t let you down.

“I’m troubled. What am I supposed to say? ‘God, keep me from my fate?’ No! I won’t deny the reason I came here in the first place! God, make yourself known!”

Just then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I’ve made myself known, and will do it again.” When people heard it, they thought it was thunder. Some said that an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “The voice wasn’t for me. It was for you. It’s decision time. The world’s ruler is about to be sent into exile. I’ll be upheld, and everyone will come to me.”

The passage offers a choice: Die with nothing to show for it or choose abundant life. The choice is yours.

“By his own admission, the advent of the hour leaves Jesus anxious. Yet, in spite of his anxiety, Jesus embraces the appointed time and what God wills for it.”[2] Letting go is not an easy process but in the process we can trust in God’s presence which holds us and strengthens and guides us.

[1].  Bruce Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) pg 212.

[2]. Bruce Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998) pg 212.


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