Grover from Sesame Street made me laugh out loud when he explained the difference between near and far.
There was a skit where he would stand close to the camera and tell the kids “this is near” and then run, huffing and puffing, far away, until he looked small and yell from a place nearly off screen “this is far.”
This went on more comically each time as he would make the trip back and forth, out of breath, clarifying for watchers the difference between the two.
Life operates oddly within these realms. Sometimes things seem far away and like they cannot affect me, in the here and now, in the closeness of near.
Death is one of those things. It seems so far removed, a future reality that’s out there somewhere though not affecting this moment. Until it does.
And the nearness can be nearly suffocating.
Then a week like last week happens. A beautiful high school senior named Grace dies on a winding Georgia road, a faithful servant named Ralph quietly crosses over from the arms of his beautiful bride to the very presence of Jesus and children in a school are brutally assaulted in a place where they should only be safe.
The far comes near.
The outward, physical reality succumbs to every worst inward fear.
Life is swallowed by death and what we want near seems oh-so-far.
These are the times that it looks like grace is gone and we are alienated, strangers in a hostile world.
It is a world that is hard and unbending and unwilling to dwell on grace and truth.
Social media, regular media, have only magnified the underlying ruin of sin that erodes communities, society, the world at large.
When the now becomes engulfed in the nearness of hostility, of death, it is easy to feel crushed and defeated.
We fight back and defend and know that something is missing. There has to be a solution, answers.
The natural inclination is to fix it.
Let’s find the problem and eliminate it by changing some things. We have this power, we think.
There must be some blame for a crash—the road is too dangerous, the speed limit too high.
A doctor can run some more tests, find a new treatment, prescribe a new medicine.
There must be some kind of law to put in place that will stop people from shooting kids, shooting each other. Take away guns, work on mental health issues.
There has to be something we can change that will keep hostility, even death, at bay, far away.
Even in the solution-seeking, we cannot escape the hostility because everyone has an answer. Laws and arguments are convoluted at best.
Solution-seeking devolves to conflict and we seem to thrive on the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.
People pick sides and not one another. We are desperate and we know our way is the way and the result is heavy, sad and not what anyone really longs for.
At the very core, we want life.
It has eluded us since we chose to live apart from the Creator of all life.
So when JP talks more about Ephesians 2 and reads: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” hope wells again within.
I only have one sermon my brother says. It is always only Jesus, he says.
Not long before the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, Mary anointed him with nard, or spikenard. It was an expensive oil used traditionally to prepare someone for burial.
At the time Jesus was very much alive in this world and the disciples were indignant over the waste of something so valuable and the death of their leader seemed only a distant, far off notion.
They protested and insisted it would’ve been better spent on the poor somewhere far, not near and now, on this lowly king.
Spikenard is made from a flowering plant that grows in places like Nepal and Kumaon in the Himalayas. To extract the oil, the underground stems are crushed and made into the powerful, aromatic oil. It is expensive.
This King made man was also crushed so we no longer have to be.
I realize that Mary was giving away more than oil of significant value in John 12. She was worshipping by pouring out, giving away what was costly to her. Could she have known that He would be crushed and the sacrifice would be the one pleasing aroma to God?
Then I think this is what is required to heal hurt, bring strangers near, to even conquer death.
We must follow Mary’s lead which is Jesus’ lead and pour ourselves out for one another.
It is a costly venture, but we have the single most valuable gift to share that will help prepare others for burial.
Grace is not gone.
There is life still and it comes only when we’ve poured out the one true gift, revealed it through love for others to see, to understand.
At the end of a week full of earthly death, I was grocery shopping. Nothing enticing, not a what I’d call a good time. But that particular Friday, there was no school and two of my boys went along.
On the frozen aisle of Walmart, my 7-year-old stopped me to say that he asked Jesus to save him that morning.
We’d been discussing this gift of eternal life for the last several days over The Chronicles of Narnia and the approach of Easter.
Holding my hand with a wide smile, he stared up at me.
My brother has it right.
There is the only one sermon worth preaching, every day and with all of our lives.
It is the one sermon that will bring the far near without fear, without worry.
It is the sermon that brings all of us who were far near to the cross.
It is the one sermon that will kill hostility for it crushed a King and it doesn’t end with a burial but with a resurrection and reconciliation.