John 12:20-30 Karen J. Bowles
This morning I am continuing the thread of the message given last week by Doug – the message was regarding work – the work we do -and he made an observation that is the starting point this morning: ’What is clear is how deeply we are defined by how our life-energy is being spent, in what direction, for what purpose.’
And that defining is partly due to the sheer amount of time we spend in work at work doing work. The adult who has worked 40 hours a week from 20 to 65 with 2 weeks vacation a year will have worked over 90,000 hours of their life.
And what if you are driven by your work so that you neglect your relationships and your friends and your own health? And what if you hate your work – like the man in the George Carlin joke – “Oh you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody and they meet at the bar.” And what if you are just marking time working for the pay cheque. Lucky are those indeed who love their work, who find direction and meaning and purpose in their profession.
You can find lots of moralistic writings on how the Christian should do their work. here is one: For a person of faith, all work, regardless of how arduous, menial, tedious or toilsome, when it is suffused by love-from-the-cross, overflows with meaning and purpose. Just saying that does not make it so. And if we are honest it can be simply menial, tedious and toilsome to do work that is menial, tedious or toilsome.
So I want to suggest this morning that we pull back from judging or examining the jobs we do, the work that brings home the bacon, and first consider the other part of our body of work – our inner work – that when undertaken will define how we would like to spend our life energy – its direction and for what purpose.
I want to pull a line out of the first reading this morning. This is the fifth Sunday of Lent and we are in Jerusalem for the passover – Jesus has raised Lazarus and talked to crowds of people – he is disturbing the fragile status quo between the Jewish
authorities and the Roman overlords with his radical message about loving one another, forgiving your enemies, consorting with lepers, foreign women and tax collectors. Some Greeks want to speak with him and the passage reads like an incipient game of telephone or the old Wella Balsam shampoo commercial – remember that one – and they told two friends and so on and so on… The Greeks ask Philip who in turn asks Andrew and together these two approach Jesus with the request. But they never get to ask for the audience as Jesus then begins to speak and to teach.
And he speaks of what I consider our most important work. He says “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.” What Jesus is saying here is or should be a primary part of our body of work. He is not saying that he needs to die in order to gain followers. No what Jesus is saying here smacks of spiritual maturity gained from spiritual experience. He is saying what all of the monotheistic religions say and that is you must die to your false self your tiny self – your ego boundaries – in order for your true self – your large self – your expansive self – to emerge. Unless a grain of wheat dies it remains just one grain of wheat.
And this work, this inner work, is usually the work of the second half of our lives. These do not have to be a linear progression – you are not in one half till 40 and the second half thereafter – no they are but two expressions and understandings of life. ‘To briefly summarize the concept, the first half of life is connected to the roles and images that we create about who we are. The second half of life is when we see that our roles and images are “straw,” or not who we are, and we are able to fall into who we really are. In the first half of life, we seek meaning in our success and/or what the “world” says we are. The False Self that we have created (or latched onto) can take on the illusion of the True Self, because we are being rewarded for this self. In the second half of life, we recognize that we are not our self-images, roles or successes. We are who we are who we are. It is a “fall” into the grace of discovering that we are enough, warts and all. Although the True Self has always been present within us, we now have the eyes to see it without trying to dress it up.’ Richard Rohr
And this recognition of the true self, this dying to our false selves – leads to overcoming the gap between you and others and then leads to overcoming the gap between all and the divine so that walking humbly with God means loving what God loves – all things in themselves, for themselves, not in relation to you or in relation to what they can do for you. You begin to love what God loves. You begin to know something of God for yourself – God whose centre is everywhere and whose
circumference is nowhere – as Bonaventure said, not just because someone told you so.
Religion has the possibility of playing an integral role in this process of growing up into the second half of life and the discovery of the True Self. The role of religion “is purely and simply one thing: to tell us, and keep reminding us of who we objectively are.” At some deep level, we know this, we know we are beloved of God – we know all our striving is exhausting and we yearn to simply relax into that knowledge, which is why we keep returning to the big questions mentioned above throughout our lives. And any religion that does not do this – that seeks to rule by exclusion or does not encourage spiritual exploration or meditation will default to the shallower level of moralism and ritualism.
And this dying to one’s false self – this falling upward – often involves going to where the pain is – to where the suffering is – to the margins – in our own psyches our own life events or in the psyches or life events of others – going into the ‘thin’ places – as the Celtics put it. Some of you may have heard of the young woman with brain cancer from down east Becca Scofield, who started the movement #beccatoldmeto, asking that others do acts of kindness and compassion and post them – again a sort of telephone or Wella balsam commercial – ‘and they were kind to two others and so on and so on’. A seed falling upwards. You will let go of your sense of superiority, your judging of others, your tribal notions of who is in and who is out, you will strip away the vanity. Your looks, like your intelligence or your physical frame – are gifts – you did not earn them. John Mayer tweeted: If you’re pretty, you’re pretty; but the only way to be beautiful is to be loving. Otherwise, it’s just ‘congratulations about your face.’
Life will become not about you. You will be about life. And you will begin to operate in larger circles of larger love.
St Francis said “preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” And Jesus gave us the gospel in three words: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” But first you must allow experience to teach you you are loved so you can love as Jesus did. Be like Jesus.
So your inner work then cannot help but inform your outer work – the way you spend your working day. This may mean you need to revisit what you do each day, it may mean you need to pursue a different path, it may mean you need to change your attitude about your work, pay more attention or be more intentional, if you are working for wages, it may mean you need to become involved in the way your company does business or it may mean you need to become more involved in influencing the description of the work you do.
Doug ended last weeks sermon with the following quote by Matthew Fox – “There is an ancient affinity between the great work and our daily lives. The great work is the work of the universe, it is the unfolding of creation. Somehow, our work, our daily life, should contribute to that. We should feel that we are connected to the great work of the universe.’ Stephen Hawking said much the same thing about his own work. “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” This molding of both intelligence and consciousness in our own work, our participation in that great work of the universe, is, as Gibran said – making Love visible.
Participate in molding your body of work whatever your age and stage – participate in defining how your life-energy is being spent, in what direction, for what purpose. But begin with your inner work, lose your false self, like a seed falling upward we’re gonna hear that joy sung now as the Spirit moves in all our hearts.