This morning our children are going to act out the Christ hymn as I trace out the scenes of Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the events of this week tell the story of Jesus emptying himself as he arrives in Jerusalem. He comes prepared to give up everything, including his life on earth, so that we can have life with God.
Think of Lazarus' tomb as a room where you pack up every feeling you own, every memory you have (good and bad), every relationship and every regret, every bit of grace, every ounce of guilt, every pleasure and every pain you have ever known. Pack it all up and put it in the tomb. Take out only those feelings and experiences that give you life and enhance your ability to love. Then prepare to give the rest away, because it has started to smell anyway.
My problem with Fred Phelps is that by telling people that they were going to burn in hell, he claimed to know things that only God can know. He claimed to be able to see things that no human being is allowed to see. And at the same time, he was oblivious to the central truth of Christianity: in Jesus Christ God offers us the most amazing love and mercy. That's what the man's neighbors were too preoccupied to see, the Pharisees were too arrogant to see, and his parents were too frightened to see. Though they all could see Jesus, they couldn't see him as the incarnation of God's love and mercy. But because of the man's humility, he could see, and for that, they drove him out of the city.
The Samaritan woman who asked Jesus to give her living water, never let down her bucket, never took a drink. And after speaking with Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went into the town to tell everyone about the Messiah. I guess she didn't need her jar anymore because she became one. Jesus filled her up with Living Water so that she could leave her jar of junk and go fill someone else. Sometimes the only way to fill your jar is to go empty yourself into someone else's need.
If it's any consolation, young people just starting out are not the only ones who feel that way. We can get stuck in the birth canal at any time of our life. In fact, it's much worse the older you get. Then it's not so much that we're stuck waiting for life to begin. It's that we get stuck not believing that our life can change. We're stuck with a body we don't like, in a marriage that doesn't work, with a job we can't stand, a mortgage we can't pay, or a disease we can't cure. When we graduated from high school, the world was full of boundless opportunity. Now that we're much older, we start to see a world of endless impossibilities. Welcome to the world of Nicodemus.
So, in summary, that's how Jesus did in the wilderness what Adam failed to do in the garden. By reliving the temptation, Jesus remade for us a pathway to salvation. Lent is a perfect time to let God remake us. All we have to do is what Jesus did. On the multiple-choice test of life, we just have to make the choice to belong to God each and every day.