Endgame.

Jeremiah 31:33

\33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: 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. 

John 12: 20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “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. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

My kids have an amazing memory.  Especially my son.  If I promise something to him, or even hint at a promise.  He doesn’t forget.  If something comes up and we have to possibly be flexible, Brennan will simply say, “but you promised” and that’s the end of that for him.

If you are a parent, you know that it’s not always easy to keep your promises to your kids, try as you might, you simply can’t always do it.  Grace then becomes a necessary gift to demonstrate and teach!

Promises made and kept though give us hope and confidence in relationships.  It also leads to a certain sense of discipline.  The more that this happens consistently, the hope gives way to a certain sense of confidence.  

Our Old Testament lesson is about promises and the discipline of loving relationship.  God has made promises to the people of Israel.  Promises of deliverance from Egypt, which God delivered on.  Now the Israelites find themselves in exile in Babylon.  God tells them that he has new promises for them.  Promises of abundance, of Presence, of blessing, of relationship.  In this passage, God uses the term husband.  Now, this is not meant to be patriarchal, but it was written a few thousand years ago, and the author is trying to convey something deeper than a masculine or feminine expression.  This is a word of deep relationship, of connection, of relationship.  The author is saying that God has made a commitment to Israel, to us, God is bound to us in relationship.

The passage goes on to say that God’s law will be put on our inward parts, on our hearts.  It will no longer be about following a set of rules written in stone, but they will be placed on our hearts, they will become a part of us and lived out.  

This is demonstrated to us by Jesus.  Jesus embodied the law as we have said before.  God’s promises to us are fulfilled through Jesus in deep and powerful, and loving ways.  We are called to cultivate, to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus.  It’s hard, it’s not easy, we fail a lot.  But, this discipline is essential in growing in our understanding of our true selves as created, redeemed, and sustain by God.  The root word of discipline even comes from disciple.  A disciple is a student, a follower of Jesus.

This is demonstrated to us by Jesus.  Jesus embodied the law as we have said before.  God’s promises to us are fulfilled through Jesus in deep and powerful, and loving ways.  We are called to cultivate, to discipline ourselves to follow Jesus.  It’s hard, it’s not easy, we fail a lot.  But, this discipline is essential in growing in our understanding of our true selves as created, redeemed, and sustain by God.  The root word of discipline even comes from disciple.  A disciple is a student, a follower of Jesus.

This is hard to hear, yet true.  When I was a kid, we lived on about 7 acres.  My uncle lived next door and had a few more acres of land.  We shared a large garden that was about 1/2 the size of a football field.  Every year, in the fall, the plants and veggies in the garden would die and go back into the ground.  He had a larger farm with cows.  In the spring, we would go to the cow field where we had a manure pile.  I hated this job, but we’d load up a bunch of smelly manure and spread it on our garden.  Before that we would have tilled the ground to loosen it up and to churn up all of the dead plants into the ground.  It was hard work, but when did that, planted the seeds, and then put the manure all over it, the nutrients that came from the smelly waste, would cause the ground to produce life.  In order to do some of the more more mundane chores, I would simply have to follow my dad and uncle’s lead, be disciplined, yet I benefited from great food and I learned a lot.  

Jesus is calling us to be his followers, to be his disciples.  The way of Jesus can be hard, it requires discipline, sometimes we have to spread some manure, till the ground.  Yet, seeds are constantly being planted in our lives and in the lives of others that produce beautiful things.

Friends, we may be going through some difficulties right now, we may be dealing with addictions, with broken relationships, or strained relationships out of this pandenic and the tumultuous years we’ve gone through, maybe we have experienced betrayal even.  We may have a physical set back or even death.  We have fears, anxieties.  Yet, I’m here to tell you that’s part of life, it smells, it’s hard.  God does not cause bad things to happen, but know that God is working to produce good things, to restore relationship, in all of it.  If we can trust God, then we may be able to see and to hear what God may want to pull out of the waste, out of death. 

That’s hard for some.  I know there are probably some folks in this room who are ready to give up on their life with God and maybe even giving up on church.  I’d love to tell you about a God who is giving you, and giving Fleming Road UCC new promises of life.  Our future with God is filled with God’s intimate presence with us as we practice disciplining ourselves through community with each other, through reading the scriptures with new eyes, through practices such as contemplation, lectio divina, listening, sabbath, and service.  God is calling us to live and love with radical inclusion in our communities and within ourselves.  There is grace, and there is discipline…both go towards growth.

The title of this sermon is “Endgame”.  Honestly, I watched the movie “Avengers:  Endgame” again this past week so it was on my mind.  (Which, by the way, I love the Marvel movies!)  My son and I have a tradition of watching them together when they come out.  

Jesus talks about the “endgame” in the gospel passage.  But, it’s not like the endgame in Avengers.  Jesus is not a super hero in the way that we imagine super heroes.  He is not crushing enemies.  He is following the way of humility, of emptying, of dying, which is much more powerful than any Avengers movie storyline.  It’s a storyline that has changed my life, your life, and the world.  

Jesus knew this, Jesus also knew that he had to die.  He died because of his challenge of a system that kept all of us enslaved to a way of life that was getting us nowhere…yet Jesus overcame that system, challenged that system, and invites us to love our neighbors as he did…Jesus even overcame death and is alive today, giving us hope that as he is lifted up, we are lifted up with him and are able to live full lives forever with him.

Let us be a church that lives out this radical call on our lives to follow Jesus.  That in knowing our identity in Christ, we don’t have to force our God on others, just love others well and allow God to be shown through us!  

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