We spent some time in Sunday school this morning considering the meaning of worship for us in connection with the text of 2 Chronicles 7. We thought some about the meaning of numbers, specifically the extravagantly large numbers of sacrifices in 2 Chronicles 7, wondering whether what we were supposed to think in our own day and age was that this was a really important occasion – whether or not the numbers were precisely as high as that. More important seemed to be the idea of worship, and its connection to sacrifice – that is, literally, making things sacred – and how our own worship also accomplishes that. We do make sacrifices and offerings: time, energy, talents, gifts of various kinds, money and other things … and giving focus and attention to God. Worship also means “hearing” – the way our parents sometimes use the word “hearing,” as in “did you hear me say ‘please take out the trash?’” So, “hearing,” as in “hear, O Israel, the Holy One is our God, the Holy One alone, and you shall love the Holy One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4), and doing what that hearing tells us.
Then in church, our choir mascot barked right when the pastor was announcing the per capita appeal – we think not actually because of the per capita appeal, but it was right on cue. And the sermon invited us to consider what Jesus was really trying to communicate when he responded to Philip’s and Andrew’s news about the Greeks with the statement “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit …” etc. (John 12:20-33) Did the Greeks ever get to see Jesus? It’s not entirely clear! But whether they did or not, Jesus here seems to be saying some things for our benefit – that is, really, for the benefit of people coming later, people who really don’t know what to expect. And we were invited to consider the image of seeds – of how much they look like sticks and sand and other brown things; and how different they look from the flowers and spring and summer plants they will become. And how necessary this “brown and gray” season of winter and fallowness seems to be for certain kinds of life. And how perhaps certain kinds of “endings” and “stoppings” are necessary in all of our lives. How perhaps, in order to be the person God is calling us to be, we have to stop being the person we are, that gets in the way of that.
So that, when we are going through one of these brown and gray times, one of these dry twig times, we need to remember the role of those times in the larger scheme of things, need the faith and hope that awareness allows us to have. And when we meet people going through those times, when the people who come to our door are dry and brown and brittle, if we can share that faith and hope for something qualitatively different with them – that is also a sharing the gospel, also sharing good news.
I confess, as I was looking at the arrangement of dried sticks and withered foliage we’ve been having throughout Lent this year – and these arrangements have been beautiful, too, thanks to the creativity and love of one the members – and thinking about how different spring and summer flowers and foliage look from their seeds and branches, I thought: we really just have no idea at all, we have no idea at all, of what to expect beyond the world we know. No idea at all.