Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from John 12:20-33
at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston on March 29, 2009 (Lent 5B)
Years ago, when the Betty Crocker Company first began selling their cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time.
It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn't understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren't buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn't want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So, Betty Crocker changed the formula and required the customer to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to "packaging" or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they're afraid people won't "buy it" if it seems too hard.
Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard preached the same message the Betty Crocker Company learned. Kierkegaard preached against what he called "cheap grace." This is the idea that God's love is freely given so we place little value on it. No, says Kierkegaard, God's grace is not cheap, for it cost God everything in the death of his son on the cross.
A group of children, confined to a basement play area on a rainy day, decided to "play church." One child was the preacher, another the organist, a couple kids were ushers, and the rest served as the congregation. One little guy said, "What about Jesus? Shouldn't Jesus be in church?" The rest agreed and the child who made the point was made "Jesus."
"What do I do?" he asked. "How do I play Jesus?"
He was told by some of the older children that they would tie him up to one of the support posts in the basement, pretending that it was the Cross. Then the others would call him names, throw things at him, and be mean to him in other ways. The little boy thought about that a minute and then said. "I don't want to play Jesus; let's just play church." Kierkegaard challenges us to play Jesus instead of just playing church.
"Listen carefully," Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal." (John 12:24-25, The Message) Today Jesus challenges us to follow his example and be reckless in our love.
We live into reckless love when we listen to someone with our ears wide open and our mouths tightly closed. We live into reckless love as we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That may mean putting together sandwiches on a Wednesday night or rolling bandages on a Tuesday morning or seeking justice for children on a Sunday evening. We live into reckless love when we are work hard at an impossible job knowing that our work will go unnoticed except by God.
Jesus said: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also." Find where Jesus is active in the world and join him there. If you wonder where to begin to look for Jesus in the world, remember the hint he gave us at the beginning of his ministry. He spoke to a crowd of home town folks at his local synagogue and told them he had come to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, and bring sight to the spiritually blind. In other words, look for Jesus among the least and lowly and the spiritually lost and blind.
Next week is the highlight of Lent. We will relive, along with Christians all over the world, the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. It was the critical moment then for his disciples and it is the critical moment now for all of today's disciples. So I ask you: Do you intend to follow Jesus? Then you must serve. Do you want the secret to a spiritually alive church? It is serving Christ who served us. John Wesley wrote to his people called Methodist the following Rule of Conduct:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
This is the meaning of living into the reckless love of Christ.
We worship a risk-taking God. When God created the universe, he took risks by creating a world endowed with freedom. God didn't make us robots. God gave us freewill, which meant he risked our rejection, and risked our refusal of Him. Humanity's refusal of God is most clearly demonstrated in the crucifixion of Jesus. The cross is indispensable. For in it we learn of God's love, his willingness to take our sins upon himself, and his willingness to place his righteousness upon us.
Walter Wangerin has a wonderful story, called "Matthew, Seven, Eight, and Nine" about how he tried to stop his son Matthew from stealing comic books. He tried various uses of the law over several years and continued to fail. Finally, he resorted to something he rarely used: a spanking. He did it deliberately, almost ritualistically, and he was so upset when he finished that he left the room and wept. After pulling himself back together, he went in to Matthew and hugged him. A number of years later, Matthew and his mother were doing some general reminiscing, and Matthew happened to bring up the time when he kept stealing comic books. "And you know why I finally stopped?" he asked. "Sure," she said, "Because Dad finally spanked you." "No!" replied Matthew, "I stopped because Dad cried."
The last week of Jesus' life is called the Passion for this reason. God weeps for the sins of the world. And in his broken body our lives are made whole. Jesus calls us to the same reckless love which he demonstrated on the cross. Let's live into Christ's reckless love this week as we prepare for Holy Week's start next Sunday.