Friday, February 15, 2013


Imagine what it might have been like to be among those who got to hang out with Jesus. Wouldn’t it be great to hear his voice and get the inside scoop on what God might be thinking about the really big stuff, like life and death? Well, if you’ve read the New Testament, you may have noticed that Jesus’ closest friends, the ones who got to hang out with him day after day, had a lot of trouble receiving what he was saying to them. They only heard what they wanted to hear. And it’s really quite puzzling... until you consider the fact that we tend to do the same thing.

Did you ever notice when people tell you how they heard God’s voice, the kinds of things they heard God telling them to do?  “The Lord told me to buy this house.”  “The Lord told me to come to this church.”  “The Lord told me to invest in the stock market.”  In all my 60 years of life, I have yet to hear someone come up to me and say, “The Lord told me to give away everything I have to the poor.”  I’ve come to the conclusion that so far as listening to the voice of God is concerned, we’re more than willing to do what God is telling us to do, so long as it’s what we wanted to do for ourselves anyway. 

So, here’s something Jesus said that can make us suddenly hard-of-hearing: “Unless a kernel of wheat dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Um. Did you hear that? He’s saying that the way to find life in all its fullness, is by giving it away. It’s not just true for Jesus; it’s true for us too. And here’s the thing. This isn’t one of those extraneous sayings of Jesus. It’s a truth that is so central to his teachings that, if you miss it, you don’t really get what it means to follow him.

Jesus’ tells us that life is about more than avoiding suffering at all costs. And he taught not only with his words, but with his very life, that suffering isn’t just something to be endured. While there’s no value in suffering for suffering’s sake, and we certainly don’t go around looking for it, it finds us all. And when it does, it is the way to life.

That’s not an easy message for us to hear. Especially in a culture where we’re taught that our most basic task in life is self-preservation. We assume that the most important choices we make are deciding between life and death. But from Jesus we learn that the most important choices are deciding between self-preservation or life-giving sacrifice.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in Margery Williams’ children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit. It’s all about a stuffed rabbit who comes to understand what it means to be real.  There’s a conversation that takes place in the nursery between the rabbit and a toy horse: 

         “What is real?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

        “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”

        “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

        “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

        “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

        “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because when you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Sometimes we can get so caught up in worrying about saving and protecting and pleasing ourselves that we have trouble seeing beyond it.  The fact is, we are each given one life on this earth. And our lives can be spent in love for God and others, or they can be spent hoarding all that we can for ourselves. The ironic truth that Jesus shares with us repeatedly in the scriptures is that if you try to cling to your life you will lose it, and if you are willing to give your life away, you will save it.

Yep, that’s what Jesus is saying to us. For those who would follow in his way, it’s our truth. If you can't hear it, you may need to turn up your hearing aid.


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