The Sunday Sermon: God imprinted upon us

Lent 5 RCL B
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

There are few times during the year when the lectionary, the schedule of readings appointed for any given Sunday, give us such a full glimpse into what a life of faith entails as today. And, it is appropriate on this 5th Sunday of Lent, we look at the fullness of what is being given to us and what is being asked of us, especially as we contemplate Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem. A journey we can either agree to walk with him or walk away from.

First, from Jeremiah, we hear the promise we will no longer be bound by our own efforts to know God. The prophet tells us the days are coming when God will make a new covenant with God’s people and “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Knowledge of God shall be imprinted upon us.

God does the work and we get the benefits.

But before we get too comfortable with this seeming stroke of luck, right on its heels comes the readings from the letter to the Hebrews and John’s Gospel, both of which make clear this imprinting has a cost. The author of Hebrews writes how Jesus, “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death,” something we then hear described in John’s Gospel, as Jesus says, “‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’”

We see through Jesus, how this imprinting, this knowledge of God which runs so deep within, can cause us to do things we would never do otherwise. It is all well and good to say in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all will be well,” but getting there can be another thing entirely.

Jesus knows despite his fears and desire the situation he is in could be otherwise, in order to be faithful to God, his Abba, he cannot turn away from the path he is on. So he chooses that path, one which will ultimately allow God to draw in and embrace all people, even if it is from Jesus’ arms nailed to a cross.

A life of faith is many things—at times glorious, exhilarating, and life affirming. And at others difficult, confusing, and even painful. The cross, becomes for us a crossroads: the promise of hope and redemption while at the same time, testifying to the reality of suffering. Over the last week as I have been thinking about this sermon, the story of German pastor, theologian, and ultimately martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has continually come to mind.

An active member of the resistance against Adolf Hitler during World War II, Bonhoeffer came to the United States to teach at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City in June of 1939, through the active work of supporters and colleagues when it became apparent he was going to be drafted into mandatory military service. An untenable situation given his principles and activities.

However, upon his arrival in New York, Bonhoeffer knew almost immediately coming here was a mistake. And so less than two months after arriving, and to the shock and dismay of almost everyone, he returned to Germany.

In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, one of his strongest supporters and a colleague at Union, Bonhoeffer explained his actions this way:

I have had the time to think and to pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God’s will for me clarified . . . I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share in the trials of this time with my people . . . Such a decision each man must make for himself . . . but I cannot make that choice in security.i 

And once back, Bonhoeffer did make a choice. He became an active member of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. He was initially arrested on relatively minor charges, but when the last attempt on Hitler’s life failed, Bonhoeffer was implicated in the plot, moved to a Gestapo prison and eventually executed at Flossenburg Concentration Camp in April of 1945.

For most of us here, the imprinting of God upon us will never require a sacrifice of this magnitude but what we can learn from Bonhoeffer was how he believed to the very core of his being, faithful Christian living entailed looking upon the whole of God’s creation as sacred and acting accordingly. Shortly before his death, he wrote:

If one speaks of God one must not simply disregard the actual given world in which one lives; for if one does that, one is not speaking of the God who entered into the world in Jesus Christ, but rather of some metaphysical idol. And it is precisely this which is determined by the way in which, in my actual concrete life with all its manifold relationships, I give effect to the truthfulness which I owe to God. The truthfulness which we owe to God must assume a concrete form in the world. Our speech must be truthful, not in principle but concretely. A truthfulness which is not concrete is not truthful before God.ii 

So what does this mean for us in create terms? The answers are as varied as all of us here. But of this much we can be sure. Sometimes a life lived in faith will require we put ourselves in situations in which we feel and indeed may be, way over our heads: speaking the difficult truth in love to those we care about or perhaps find intimidating or frightening; holding the hand of a person dying and not being able to find the right words; giving of ourselves when we feel we have nothing left to give; loving those who hurt us or who we frankly find abhorrent. I imagine Jesus knew as he was crying out to God on that lonely night the choice he would ultimately make. He knew well enough, the consequences of his actions. But because God was imprinted so strongly upon him, he knew God would somehow redeem those consequences.

And he was right.

For God glorified him, not in some esoteric manner but in very concrete ways and continues to do so to this day—we see it every time grace breaks through despair, callousness, and carelessness. We see it in the beauty of our earth. We see it in the face of every person we love and who loves us.

And we see it time and time again as God’s unconditional love is continually revealed to us.

Through Jesus we are people born out of redemption All of us have the choice to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and the way of the cross, or walk away. God will love us either way. But because the knowledge of God is imprinted upon us, and within us, if we do choose to walk with him, we do so knowing God is with us every step of the way and in the in the words of the Psalmist, always creating a clean heart and renewing a right spirit, within us.

The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas,  25 March 2012

i Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), p.321.

ii Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “What Is Meant by ‘Telling the Truth,’” Ethics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1955), p. 359.

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