Every morning I have a pretty similar ritual. After I wake up and let the dog out, I make breakfast – 2 eggs over easy and a bowl of oatmeal, get the kids ready, take a shower and get myself dressed and ready to go out the door. The getting dressed part is last for good reason.
Because the first goal is to make it out the door with no one in tears and the second is to do so with no physical evidence of the morning’s events on my outer clothing.
But of course, as you know, sometimes despite my best efforts, things just don’t always go as smoothly as I’d like them to.
Packed Lunches spill on my shoes as we’re trying to walk out the door, the dog decides to get sick on my purse, or I manage to turn on the sink sprayer too hard and drench myself with water.
And even if I manage to make it out the door unscathed - my luck is not always better once I’ve left the house.
A few weeks ago, somehow somewhere in the course of the day, I managed to spill something all over myself.
One day it was my tea over the course of my shirt. Another my yogurt all over my shirt and coat. And yet another – the dreaded half melted chocolate all over your pants.
At staff meeting that week, I had made the gross error in judgment to pack my leftover buffalo wings for lunch. And despite my effort to cover myself in paper towels, it was only 5 minutes into the meeting before I dropped the drumstick slathered with barbecue sauce right down my lap and watched it roll down the entire front of my shirt knocking the paper towels to the ground as it gathered up momentum.
And so I had an enormous barbecue stain smeared down the front of my bright blue shirt – and a day packed with meetings – with no room for a change of clothes.
And I laughed it off.
But ugh. My first thought – was that “I have to wear this the REST OF THE DAY.”
There is this part of us – this thing we call our EGO.
All of us have it.
Sigmund Freud said the Ego is the part of us that mediates between our raw desires and the reality of the world – It’s the part of us that organizes our thoughts, makes sense of the world, discerns the things that are best for us, and decides the ultimate identity that we want to present to the world.
Our ego is constantly judging – whether we are making the right or wrong decision, whether we are measuring up against others, and so the ego also works to help us project the best possible version of ourselves.
One of the primary interests of the Ego is self-preservation.
We want to protect our own interests. We want to ensure we have what we need and want.
We want to protect ourselves and so we construct these images of ourselves that we choose to share with the world – often they can change depending on the setting where we are.
To preserve our feeling of safety and security – to keep us from being too vulnerable.
And in many ways this part of who we are is really important.
It’s our ego that helps us to make good decisions –
That helps us to not just eat desserts all day but also eat some vegetables.
It’s the ego that gives us that nudge to get up and go to work or school even when we aren’t really feeling like it.
And it’s our ego that often becomes aware of our own behavior and when we have crossed a line with other people – so that we can make an effort to mend our ways.
And at the same time…
it’s our ego that can help us to justify our actions in the interest of self-preservation.
And it is our ego, that at the expense of our own growth – will seek to remain the same, to stay in the comfortable, and to protect the status quo.
And it is our ego that puts up this false sense of who we are – protecting us from being vulnerable about our faults and our failures and our brokenness,
It is our ego that will do everything possible to not walk around with a giant barbecue stain on the front of our shirt – lest the image that we have projected to the world be tainted by the reality of our careless, broken, and not put together selves.
Far before the days of Sigmund Freud, it seems that Jesus knew a lot about this ego about this part of our humanity that works very hard to hide the part of us that is broken and to maintain some illusion of control.
At the start of our text today, Jesus’ disciples are being approached by the Greeks who are in town for the Passover. They have heard the stories of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, they might have even been present during the Palm Sunday procession - and they want in on the action. They want to see Jesus.
Seems like a pretty reasonable request.
Which is why his response to their question might seem kind of strange.
Because Jesus response seems to go in another direction entirely –
The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
It’s an interesting choice of words – glorified.
The term glory is often used to describe great moments of victory and accomplishment or astonishing moments of beauty - the great accomplishments of Olympic athletes or the glorious sunrise we saw – or in Bruce Springsteen’s words – the glory days of high school when life was all about us and our own needs.
But Jesus seems to mean something else entirely.
For the glory of the Son of Man will come through falling to the ground, losing life, serving, letting go and being an obedient follower.
This is glory.
The line that seems to stand out -
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
And the word for life here in Greek is “psychos” – the root of our word for psyche, and psychology.
It seems that Jesus is not just talking about what it means to be a physical martyr.
But the radical and costly and difficult step of laying down a part of our ego – in obedience to a call that is beyond ourselves.
To stop expending the energy and effort to lift up our false self and image to the world and instead – and to be unafraid to just be who we actually are – barbecue stains and all.
In the middle of staff meeting that day, I received a call on my cell phone. There was an emergency with Eugene at school and I needed to leave IMMEDIATELY. And so, with a quick word to the staff I closed my computer, grabbed my keys and rushed to the school.
I arrived at the school and found, indeed, a pretty difficult situation that required my constant attention and patience and presence for the next hour until everyone was calm and safe and things were returning to normal.
It was only when I walked out of the school and into the parking lot and looked down that I realized that I still had this enormous barbecue stain all down the front of my shirt.
In the course of the events, I had totally forgotten about it.
And I had to smile and laugh at myself. Because it hadn’t mattered one bit.
We work really really hard to make sure that people don’t see our stains.
That people don’t see that we don’t have it all together. I work hard at it.
I come here as your preacher on Sundays and I dress nice – I don’t preach with a giant barbecue stain on my shirt because I want you to see me at my best. I’m not going to stand here in the fullness of my mess. That’s not what I want you to see.
The song we are about to sing is a favorite – it is called “Crooked Deep Down” –
The starting lyrics could be a theme song for me – and maybe for you.
“My life looks good I do confess. You can ask anyone. But just don’t ask my real good friends cause they will lie to you. Or worse – they’ll tell the truth.
Cause there are things you would not believe that travel into my mind. I swear I try and capture them – Always set em free.
Seems bad things comfort me.
Good Lord – I’m crooked deep down. Everyone is crooked deep down.”
The truth is – I’m as broken as you are. And not just because I spill barbecue sauce on myself or yell at my kids when I lose my temper or snub the homeless man on the street who asks me for money.
My brokenness and struggle go way deeper than that…
But the thing I’m learning the more time I spend following this Jesus guy – is that he isn’t concerned with that.
It’s not an impediment to my ability to be obedient. My brokenness and sin and mess and stain are not the things that are keeping me from following with faithfulness. The unfortunate thing I’m learning is that Most days, the thing that keeps me from following most faithfully - It’s my ego. This part of me that wants to appear a certain way – this part of me that wants to preserve my own self-interest and control the environment around me – this is the biggest thing that keeps me from really trusting and being obedient – really being a servant.
And if my trip to the school that day taught me anything – it is that I will indeed be most able to be used when that kernel of wheat can fall to the ground and die.
Because it is then – and probably only then – that I will be able to serve in a way that God intended.
I had a quite annoying opportunity to practice that in worship here just a week later.
Jason Leighton, our intern, began his sermon about liberation and moving into the places of newness and uncomfortability and asked us to join him in taking off his shoes
And I have to confess that there was some, let’s say internal dialogue going on when he made that request.
A part of me that was saying –
I’m not going to take off my shoes.
I mean, you can take your shoes off but I’m not going to.
And then as the sermon progressed, another conversation began because now I was feeling self conscious that I hadn’t taken my shoes off.
What does it say if the pastor of the church is literally digging her heels in and refusing to be vulnerable?
What kind of message am I sending when people see that I’m refusing?
And why am I worried about taking them off in the first place?
The dialogue went round and round a few times until I finally said,
Just get over yourself and take the dang shoes off.
We’ve been talking about really BIG ideas these past 2 months -
epiphanies, racism, and God’s ideal community.
But the truth is – and we know this – those big ideas will remain simply big ideas – unless we are willing to take a hard look in the mirror. To examine ourselves – including our barbecue stains – to ask us why we are so worried to take our dang shoes off.
And to entertain the possibility that perhaps – God’s greatest work will begin when the radical change we hope to see in the world begins in our own hearts – when we find we are open to experience CONVERSION.
I know the word CONVERSION has been co-opted sometimes by groups who think they have the one and only way of thinking and that you need to sign on to their rigid ways of thinking and become a CONVERT.
But Jesus seems to mean this word in a very different way.
To be converted.– is to change your mind. To open up your psyche – to expose your ego to the kind of inner reflection that might help you let go – of your self-interest, of your need to control, and of your great fear that others will see your failures and your brokenness.
And TO EXPERIENCE THE KIND OF CONVERSION– to make yourself more fully available to be OBEDIENT.
At the end of our story today -
The crowd is still confused and Jesus closes his words and tells them –
Walk in the light while the light is with you. Whoever walks in the dark doesn’t know where they are going. But walk in the light, so that you will become children of the light.”
May we walk in the light – unafraid to look deeply at the people we really are – and allow others in our lives to do the same.
BARBECUE STAINS AND ALL.
Knowing that the God of grace and mercy – who sees all that we are – looks at us with only grace and mercy.
And may we as we walk in the light have the courage to lay down our ego –
That we might indeed be a children of the light.