Fifth Sunday in Lent
MRI machines are pretty incredible instruments. By using a very powerful magnetic field, the machine is able to accurately map out various aspects inside of your body. MRI machines carry an incredibly powerful magnet that can create magnetic fields up to four times as powerful as the one the Earth puts out. That is why when you go to get an MRI done, they don’t let you bring anything metal into the room. I saw a video where some people demonstrated just how powerful this magnet is.
They first tied a wrench to a piece of rope in the MRI room. Then, they turned on the MRI machine. As soon as it warmed up, the wrench went flying through the air until it was perfectly suspended in the center of the machine. They did the same thing with a desk chair and a few other metallic objects with the same impressive results.
That is how I imagine Jesus being lifted up on the cross when he says that he will draw all people to him. He announces that “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” We are like the metal wrench or the metal office chair left in the MRI room. We are drawn by Christ’s magnetic pull of the cross. When we are all drawn to him we are drawn close to each other. If we are all drawn to the common source of Jesus’ self-giving love, we will find ourselves in close quarters to others who have been drawn by that love. This is, unfortunately, not our default position. We have spent generations of time and a great wealth of energy erecting walls to separate ourselves from others.
Last week, Israel held its national elections and Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected to serve as Prime Minister. In the final weeks of the election season, Netanyahu employed some controversial and offensive political tactics. In one television ad, a group of Arab men wielding assault rifles and riding in the back of a jeep pull up to a civilian car. They ask the civilian driver for directions, “Which way to Jerusalem?” The driver of the car simply responds, “Left.” The implication of the ad is that if you vote for a left-leaning candidate in the upcoming election, you might as well be guiding terrorists straight to the holy city and capital of the country.
In the last week before the election, Netanyahu made a short, but impassioned appeal to Jewish, conservative Israeli voters. The Prime Minister warned that Arab voters were coming out in droves and Jewish conservatives need to get out and vote lest the Arab votes outweigh their own. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to vote, but stirring up fear and division against Arab Israelis is a frightening way to do it.
The same kind of barrier-raising and fear-filled relations are present in our country. Listen as democrats and republicans each warn the world of the great doom the world will be in should the other party have their way. Listen to the fears and recent memories of lynching that are evoked when a black man was found hanged from a tree in Mississippi this week. Listen to the long list of names of the murdered in our city. We demonize each other according to our political affiliations, our income, our race, our sexual orientation, and in just about every other way we can find. But the cross of Christ draws us all toward him. The cross draws us from the cities, the farms, the suburbs, and the towns. The cross draws us from the schools, the prisons, the construction sites, and the retail stores. The cross draws us from middle, lower, and upper social classes. The cross draws us from all of the many and diverse places that we call “mine” and “not yours,” and it draws us to the body and blood of Jesus who gave himself for us.
When God promises a new covenant in our reading from Jeremiah, God promises it to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. At this point in the history of God’s people, Israel had split into two separate countries- Israel in the north and Judah in the south. These two small countries have had their fair share of military battles with each other and icy political relations. Yet it is to both of these hostile houses, that God extends a new promise when God’s law is written on their hearts. God also promises that all people will know God- from the least to the greatest. Political and military enemies will be given God’s blessed new covenant. The respectable people and the outcast people will be given God’s blessed new covenant. God draws all people to God’s self.
We have been given the gift of salvation and abundant life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. By the free gift of God’s love and the gift of faith in that love, we have been given eternal life. We, however, do not receive that incredible gift by ourselves. Jesus has drawn “all people” to himself. We find ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder with those many and diverse people who have also received this gift. We are standing next to people that we may or may not have much in common with and people that we may or may not like at all. In Christ we are also given the gift of unity and peace. Jesus gave up his life for us. He did not regard his life as belonging to himself- it was not “mine” and “not yours.” He died and from his death the mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love that draws all people close to God and close to each other flowered.
When Jesus gave his life for others, it was like a single seed planted in the ground that yields much fruit. In receiving the mercy of God through Christ who died for us, we too are drawn to that life. We are drawn to burying our lives for the sake of others so that the fruits of peace, justice, and love might flower.
Gathered around cross of Christ, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and enemies; republicans and democrats; gay women and men and straight women and men; wealthy and poor; and black, white, Latino, and Asian. We stand together with our many differences, but we stand together because we are all drawn by the God who claims us through Christ who died for us. We stand together as fellow sinners and fellow lost ones, we stand together as fellow recipients of God’s abundant and unconditional love.