©Joanne Bouknight, 2016

Who Will We Be?

Sermon by the Rev. Abby VanderBrug on Sunday, March 21, 2021.

Well friends, we’ve made it to Week 5 in our journey through Lent and are on the cusp of entering the final stretch of Holy Week and then the Easter season. I, for one, cannot wait. It’s been said before, and I have to agree, that this has been the longest, lentiest, Lent we’ve ever had. It feels as though we’ve been in this for 53 weeks, since our world was shut down and forced us all into this Lenten world. 

But, thankfully, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. My husband was eligible to receive a vaccine on Friday and as we clicked through websites trying to schedule it, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with a sense of joy. Oh, to have travel plans again! To be able to gather in groups of people that we love! To sit in the stands at  baseball games! The list is long of things that we can’t wait to get back to, and I’m sure you have your own list too. How glorious it will be.

But with this very tangible light at the end of the tunnel, I have also found myself wondering what the lasting effects of this will be on us. Who will be after this? What will we take with us? What are we not going to return back to? I wonder. The year long lent of a Global Pandemic is certain to have transformed us, but only time will tell how. 

And when I say transformed, I don’t mean in the cheap way, the way that people can talk about how just about anything changed their life. One time I received a postcard in the mail for an upcoming performance, with an image of a beautiful dancer and the quote “a Performance Guaranteed to Change your Life.” Now, how can they guarantee something like that? My life has been changed many times but never by sitting in a concert hall for 2 hours. When I say this past year will transform us, I mean transformed in the truest way.

A transformed life is one we should be familiar with as Christians, indeed transformation is at the core of our Christian story, our identity. The old is taken away and a new life has come. 

In this morning’s Gospel text we get an image of Jesus foreshadowing his transformation with a somewhat humorous interaction between him and the disciples. Some travelers from Greece say that they want to see Jesus, so the disciples go tell Jesus and he replies with this rant about how “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and some funny story about wheat. If I were a disciple standing there, I might be tempted to respond “Isn’t that a bit much Jesus, I mean they only asked if they could see you.”

But Jesus is trying to get those around him to see him for who he truly is, not only who people perceive him to be. In John’s previous chapter, Jesus raised Lazurus from the dead, so word is getting out that he is up to some pretty interesting things. And, so maybe here Jesus is resisting the temptation for people to flock to him and see him as some sort of circus performer. No, Jesus says, that’s not the whole picture, there is more to who I am and what I am here to do, just wait. 

To see Christ as the symbol of a grain of wheat that dies in a field and turns into fruit is to see Christ as transformation. It is to see him not only as  a miracle worker and teacher, but someone who knows the valley of the shadow of death and transforms it in glorious light.

You see, transformation is so close to our bones as Christians. Jesus’ example of death on a cross, waiting in a tomb for 3 days, and rising again is transformation. The old is gone and the new has come. But oftentimes, we humans avoid transformative experiences because it involves pain, change, or some type of death. It’s not always a literal death, but it can be. Sometimes it involves dying to ourselves, to our desires, or dying to our expectations, to things we held as absolute or certain, sometimes it is the death of a relationship, and sometimes it’s something else entirely that we have to let go of. These are hard things that we would much rather avoid. 

A transformative experience in my own life was during the summer I spent at a L’arche community in rural Virginia. L’arche communities are people with and without intellectual and physical disabilities living, praying, working, and playing together. I lived with and cared for people in wheelchairs, and people who had down syndrome, and others who were non-verbal. We ate nearly every meal together, worked on a garden together, and shared life. What was most transformative about this experience for me was that my worth and the love I received  from that community was unconditional.  I was a human like everyone else there,  and my true belonging there had nothing to do with my accomplishments, or resume, or skills. 

 In this community, no one cared what my gpa was and no one asked what my senior thesis was on. People cared about what we were going to eat for dinner and how your day was going. This experience it truly transformed the way that I perceive the value of people in our world, including myself. But to get to this transformation, I had to look closely at, and put to death some of the beliefs I had in my heart about who has value, about where my worth comes from, and what I expect from others. I still watch videos from our Friday night dance parties at L’arche because there truly  is no joy like the joy in these communities. 

I have no idea how this current collective experience will shape us. Who we will be?  What will we need to let go of in order to live into it? But I do know that as Christians we stand not just in the heartache of Lent, but in the happiness of Easter. In Children’s Chapel, we use these puzzle pieces to put together the symbol of the cross and we talk about how the sadness of Lent mixed with the happiness of Easter comes together to make joy. 

Who will we be? I do not know. But I do know that we are Christians and that means that I’m going to look forward with hope that this time, this pain, was not wasted but is propelling us into bringing the Kingdom of God closer.

I hope that our Eucharist table once again will be a sign of unity, of people from all different walks of life coming together to eat from one bread, and drink from one cup. I hope that we will know more about what it means to care for those around us and to live into our baptismal promises to respect the dignity of every human being.  I hope this time will have made us softer, more open, and with a renewed awareness of the suffering inherent in being human. 

I’d like to conclude with a poem Naomi Shihab Nye that she wrote after she was robbed on a bus one night in Colombia and saw a man murdered. Later when someone asked her what happened, he listened so intently to her and then said “I’m sorry,” shook his head and went off.  In 2018 the Academy of American poets named this as the most popular poem of the year. 

Kindness.

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.