Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33
Vision, Mediation, and Loss
Vision, mediation, and loss. Those are the themes in these readings, and each theme is woven into all human experience. I’ve had a long personal history with the first reading from Jeremiah. When I was ordained a long time ago in the congregation in which I was raised, I chose it for the first reading that Sunday. I was focused on religious education as a young pastor, and you can see that this reading focuses on learning ministry. Faith formation is a matter of the heart. We don’t teach content so much as conviction. We don’t teach the regulations as much as responding. We don’t teach correctness as much as compassion. And it is not so much about putting something into the head as it is pulling something out of the heart, regardless of the age of the person or the stage in life, or the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Jeremiah the ancient prophet issues a still contemporary call to impart the faith that grows in the human heart as we live lives echoing life, death and new hope. And I am still inspired by this primitive vision of God’s work in the human heart.
The reading from Jeremiah is frequently if not almost always the first reading for Reformation Sunday at the end of October. As such it is a the 16th Century Lutheran call to reform and renew the people of God so that God dwells not in our buildings, nor in our customs, nor in our traditions, but in our hearts. As a Reformation reading it often echoes the confirmation of our young people on that Sunday, calling them and all of us into our hearts to find what we need to outwardly express our faith. Jeremiah’s ancient call to take the matter to heart, still gives us a vision. The vision is to deepen, enliven, and rekindle the faith until we no longer attempt to teach each other but instead learn from each other as we become one people of God. What a vision.
But so much of what I have done as a pastor since then has not so much to do with this lofty vision, but something else: mediation, standing betwixt and between, moving differing people and groups together into a forged, negotiated, and shared vision, helping people along the way, moving us as given the power to do so, beyond where we are into a deeper sharing of God’s presence. All of this requires negotiation, careful crafting of possible common ground, and patient standing in the middle while things develop. This mediation is not in the first reading. But mediation is the theme of the second reading from Hebrews. In this passage, Christ is called a priest, one who mediates. His calling is grounded in his baptism. And as the great high priest Jesus mediates between God and humanity, moving us along, providing us that perfect vision of compassion, and bringing us closer to God and each other along the way. Jesus is the mediator between the divine and the human. Jesus is a priest.
Martin Luther, in reaction to the abuses of the Roman church said that in the end, as a matter of the heart and a matter of Protestant principle; we are all priests. He coined the phrase the priesthood of all believers. Like Jesus, our priesthood begins in baptism. And as priests each one of us is called to mediate something. I’m would not know what exactly you are called to mediate in your life this week. There are plenty of tensions, struggles, disagreements, discord, strife, strident opinions, and broken relationships to go around. And in each of our lives there is something that probably especially needs work. Pick something, and begin to move toward reconciliation, mediation, and peace. It will involve negotiation, careful crafting of possible common ground, and patient standing in the middle while things develop
Notice in Hebrews, what makes mediation work is humility. The humility of Jesus makes the reconciliation happen, and that is true for all mediators. Strife will always continue until the first steps toward humility are taken. And mediators are called to model that by imitating the one who emptied himself so that others might be filled with God. We’re not Roman Catholic. We are priests. Each of us is called to mediate the tensions of life. And the first step is our humility.
We hold a vision. We are called to humble mediation. And then we face loss. Oh, I know, this seems like such a downer. But the third reading brings us face to face with the impending death of Jesus. Here we discover the secret not of success but of defeat. Unless we lose, unless we let go, unless we hit the hard times, unless we die, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth, it and we remain just a single grain. To gain, in the end, we must loose. To rise we must die. This is the mystery of loss, the secret of defeat, and it is found not only at the end of life but in its daily living. One sorrow at a time, we find ourselves moving through the loss until we enter a different state of mind, a different matter of the heart, a different place and vision.
Now, let each of us renew our vision of the will of God, discovering again the God that dwells in us. Let each of us become the mediators we are called to be. Let us renew our sense of humility. And let us know that loss will be gain as we bury ourselves again in the life and death of Jesus.