03-18-18 “We Are One with Jesus”
OT: Jeremiah 31:31-34
NT: Hebrews 5:5-10
Gospel: John 12:20-33
Can you imagine a tightrope stretched over a quarter of a mile spanning the breadth of Niagara Falls? The thundering sound of the pounding water drowning out all other sounds as you watch a man step onto the rope and walk across!
This stunning feat made Charles Blondin famous in the summer of 1859. He walked 160 feet above the falls several times back and forth between Canada and the United States as huge crowds on both sides looked on with shock and awe. Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, another time on a bicycle, and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet! On July 15, Blondin walked backward across the tightrope to Canada and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.
The Blondin story is told that it was after pushing a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded that he asked for some audience participation. The crowds had watched and “Ooooohed” and “Aaaaahed!” He had proven that he could do it; of that, there was no doubt. But now he was asking for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow and take a ride across the Falls with him!
It is said that he asked his audience, “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” Of course the crowd shouted that yes, they believed! It was then that Blondin posed the question – “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?”
Of course, nobody volunteered.
I would like for you to imagine this morning that it is Jesus pushing the wheelbarrow. It is the Lord who is asking you to have faith in His abilities. Oh, we want to have faith to get into that wheelbarrow, but something keeps holding us back. There is a moment of hesitation even before the enemy begins working on us. Before the devil begins feed our fear and help it grow, what originally causes the hesitation?
Law versus faith, faith versus works, getting to know Jesus personally, who is Jesus, God and Holy Spirit, becoming a church by adding in all the elements of faith into a creed. This was the Lenten journey of the early church. I mentioned last week that as the church spread it came into contact with many new hearts. As those hearts came into contact with the Risen Lord, the faith began to change.
The church in the days after the original disciples was poised for tremendous growth and become the Body of Christ on earth. It did, it slowly spread over the adjoining regions beginning in Antioch then into Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southern Europe. The problem was that there were already religious beliefs in these territories. As Jesus touched these new hearts they accepted, but instead of a complete overhaul, Christianity merged and blended into that established belief system. The word for this is Christendom.
Are you still imaging Jesus pushing the wheelbarrow, not on a tightrope, but walking across the face of the earth? Inviting as He walks. Each time a new society is approached, they seem to want to believe, but instead of getting into the wheelbarrow they pick and chose the best part of the faith and add those elements to what they already know. They don’t really fully accept.
How many times have we heard the term, “We need to get out of the boat.” This morning the call is to get into the wheelbarrow. Just as those high wire observers were willing to believe a person could walk across the falls unhurt they were not willing to allow themselves to be a passenger on that trip. Christians were willing to believe in Jesus but not get in the wheelbarrow with him. They wanted the safety of their own system to remain intact.
People did not get into the wheelbarrow because they were afraid of losing their lives. Literally. Many people will not fully follow Jesus because they fear losing their lives. Not literally put practically. For example; their ability to sleep in on Sundays. When Rome finally accepted Christianity they did not give up their governmental ideology. They meshed it together. The structure of the early catholic church mirrored that of Rome’s governmental style.
Some of us do the same thing, we accept Jesus but then we still like our old system and don’t want to change so we believe we can be a Christian and still sleep in every Sunday. We like the idea of believing in Jesus as long as it doesn’t require too much commitment. We just can’t give everything.
The idea behind this thought process is, ‘I am in charge.’ The world takes my time all week, I need a day for myself. Another reason people did not get into Blondin’s wheelbarrow is because they would no longer be in charge. Individuals, governments and societies in general like to be in charge. At least believe they are in charge.
That’s why God went to lengths to explain how we must sacrifice or surrender our lives to follow Jesus. It isn’t about a partial surrender it is total sacrifice. However, sacrificing or surrendering doesn’t mean giving up total control. God is not looking for slaves but servants, fellow workers.
Jesus was looking for committed followers and believers who desired to share their whole life. To give their time, talent, money, gifts and witness to the Lord of Lords. Not one day in seven but seven days out of seven. The original disciples gave God seven days out of seven. Christendom in our society says one day in seven is good.
The very church of Jesus is unwilling to fully get into that wheelbarrow.
This society tells us that if we work we deserve payment. If we give, we must also receive. Getting paid for a days work creates an illusion that we are in control. The government takes its share but the rest is mine to do with what I please. Well after I pay ComEd and Nicor and the sanitation folks . . . and buy food and clothes, then the rest is mine to do with what I want. Of course after the mortgage or rent is paid. Oh, wait, then there is car insurance and house insurance and health insurance, then the rest is mine. If I don’t spend too much on my guilty pleasures, hobbies and entertainment I might even have some left over for church.
Some people look at their spiritual life in the same way. God comes in somewhere down the list. When we say, “The last thing I want to do is get into that wheelbarrow because then I will be giving more than receiving, I just know it,” we are not exercising independence; instead, we have been programmed to do what the world has taught us, that is not independence, that is dependence on a false God.
If we are not sacrificing for Jesus or surrendering for God, we are sacrificing to something else. Something other than God.
Any gardener will tell you seeds don’t do much if they are never taken out of storage and placed in the ground. Does the seed think it is free, independent and in charge all while sealed in a seed bag and left in a drawer in a shed?
Maybe it has forgotten it’s true purpose, maybe it has never been nurtured enough to know what it is or what it is supposed to be. In the next step of our Lenten journey, we need to realize we are to put into practice what we claim to believe. Once we figure that out and truly believe, we never want to keep the gift of seeds hidden away. We won’t even worry about our return on investment, the giving will be the reward, not the keeping.
We will willingly scatter those seeds. The seed of money, the seed of time, the seed of talents, the seeds of witness, the seed of prayer, the seed of fellowship, the seed of service and most importantly the seed of love.
The Lord tells us that when those seeds are scattered the return is more fruit than the shed can hold.
The challenge is not how can we fit God into our tiny sphere of understanding, but more, how can I fit myself into the enormity of God’s existence.
There is also something that happens when we surrender our lives to nurture a garden like the one God has given us. It is when we near the end of our journey and look back that we realize we did not do all the work, we were not even the ones walking at all times, there were times we were in the wheelbarrow being pushed around the garden. Those who have surrendered to God know they have been in the wheelbarrow all along. Why then do we pretend we never have been?
There are times God asks us to push the wheelbarrow and other times we are along for the ride, either way we are safe and secure, and at that time we will be free, independent and not so much in charge but charging towards the Gates of Heaven. In order for the church to be fully vibrant we need to have the wheelbarrow kind of faith.
Leader: Go forth in peace. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all
People: And also with you.