There is an old story about a mother and her daughter who were one day visiting an antique shop. Looking around, the little girl gravitated to one side of the store while her mother browsed in another section. Intrigued by a darkly colored vase, the little girl picked the object up and noticed a coin hidden inside. Instinctively she reached her hand into the vase for the coin, clinched the piece of money in her fist and tried to remove both her hand and her discovery. Of course, her clenched fist was stuck. Clearly upset, she attracted the attention of her mom and store owner. Yet, because the vase was dark and they couldn’t see inside, they did not recognize that the problem was actually fairly minor. So, they tried everything to free her hand. Eventually, the mom paid for the vase and worked with the store owner to gently break it open, freeing her daughter’s hand. When they did, you can imagine their frustration when they realized that if the little girl had simply opened her fist, her hand could have been easily freed.
In our text for today, Jesus also talks about the freeing power of open hands and unclenched hearts that are lived in generosity toward God and people. His word’s come as John’s gospel offers a unique ending to the Palm Sunday story. On the heels of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, some Greeks, evidently also in town for the Passover, ask for an opportunity to visit with Jesus. They make their plea to Jesus’ disciples Philip and Andrew.
When the disciples approach Jesus, he launches into yet another statement about the life of faith as a life of sacrifice and generosity using the image not of a clinched fist in a vase but rather of our lives as seed’s buried in the ground that when freely given produce a bumper crop. Honestly, it is a bit of a strange response to what seems like an innocent request of these Greeks. Yet, if we think holistically, it does make sense. In many ways, the disciples, the Palm Sunday crowd and the curious Greeks, were all focused on what Jesus could do for them. It all leads him to once again remind them that the life of faith is not so much about what is in it for us as it is about how we can serve God and others. His reminder is also a segue into his ultimate example of this truth which of course was his coming trial and crucifixion.
I want to pause here and call us to honesty. We all know that the life of faith has sacrifice at its center. You don’t have to be a Christian for very long to understand this. Yet, so often we struggle here not only because sacrifice in a world of self service is difficult. But, we also struggle because the example of Jesus just feels often otherworldly. Said another way, why should we attempt to live sacrificially if we know in our hearts that we can never replicate either the way that Jesus lived or the sacrificial example that those who deserve admittance into the Hall of Fame of Faith have lived out?
I think this is the attitude we exhibit in a lot of areas of faith. We often put people on a pedestal concluding that if we can’t be like them, why even try?
Yet, what we need to remember is that we are not called to be like other people. We are called to simply be who and what we have been created to be. We are just called to be Tom, Barbara, Jim or Jennifer and if we will simply live into the principles of the life of faith as they fit into our own lives that will be enough, even when it comes to living sacrificially.
Let me illustrate. Have you ever watched the television show from the UK called the Great British Baking Show? The show focuses on about a dozen or so cooking enthusiasts who compete for the prize of best amateur baker. Their judges are two very well known professional English Bakers named Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Each week of the competition, a baker is eliminated. Sometimes when the latest baker gets the boot it is sad and gut wrenching. At other times, the competitors who are eliminated recognize their limitations and are simply grateful for the experience. For time to time, a baker who is eliminated says something that I find very enlightening. It is not uncommon for them to affirm that the competition has inspired them to go home reinvigorated to be the best baker they can be. They recognize they are not Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood or even the best of their fellow amateur bakers. But, they also recognize that this is not really the point.
Yes, we are to take up our cross. But, our cross is likely different from Jesus’ cross. Our cross may mean giving more of our time, a little bit more of our money or putting our needs aside in this area or that in order to be more helpful to someone else. Our path of sacrifice might mean playing less golf to coach a kids sports team, sacrificing a few hours of tv to prepare and teach Sunday School, setting aside some vacation in order to chaperone the youth trip or having a willingness to be a Deacon even though we don’t feel very qualified. We are called to die to self. We are called to bear our cross. But, the emphasis is on our cross, not that of someone else.
Will we dare to serve? Will we dare to live more for Christ than for ourselves? Will we have the courage to be who God has created us to be rather than putting it off for fear of needing to be someone else? Amen.