4th Sunday of Lent (C) – March 19, 2023
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
2 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
“I have been ‘rerouted’. How do I respond?”
Back at the start of “Rerouting…” several questions were asked. Questions such as, “Why am I here? Where am I going? And how do I get there?” And over the last eight weeks—especially the last four weeks as we have been telling the story, the gospel, the kerygma as it’s called—over the last four weeks, we’ve discovered that our lives only make sense within this story. Pope Francis said it this way: he says that this story, the gospel message—this and only this is “capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart.” (Evangelii Gaudium 165). Everything else, every other story, every other promise made by the world and our culture and whoever else…it will always fall short, it will never and can never truly satisfy—only medicate for a time. Only Jesus Christ. Without Christ, we are stuck in a state of captivity, trapped in place from which we cannot escape and within which we can never be truly happy.
But as we heard last week, God himself, Jesus Christ—Jesus has come to our aid, he has come to rescue us, to offer us rescue—he has come to lead us to freedom and the fullness of life. And why? Why does God do this? Because you matter. You matter to God. You’re worth the trouble.
But now the big question is: “What do I do? How do I respond?”
I don’t know if you remember what the Gospel was the first week of “Rerouting…”, but I mentioned then that that Gospel was actually a spoiler for all of “Rerouting…”. The Gospel reading that day was a very famous scene. “Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And there he saw “two brothers… [And] he said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” What does Jesus do there? What is he doing now? He sees us, and calls us; he calls us to respond, to respond by following him; leaving our normal way of life behind, and embarking on a new journey, a new life. That’s precisely what Peter and Andrew do: they immediately drop everything else and respond. They make this man the priority of their lives. They follow him. They become his disciples.
Their response should be ours: to follow him; to drop everything else and follow him; to become his disciples. I told you this eight weeks: the goal of “Rerouting…” is to help those of us who have not yet made a decision to live our life for another—that is to say, for those of us who have not yet made a decision to live our life for Jesus—to begin to do so (and for those of us who have, to make a decision to do so ever more fully). If you have been “rerouted” (remember the name of this, where it came from: when you are using a GPS and you take a wrong turn, it “reroutes” you)—if you have been “rerouted”, there is still one step remaining: you still have to follow the new directions given to you by your GPS. In other words, we have to make a decision to entrust our lives to him in faith, to surrender our lives to him.
To truly be “Rerouted…” we must respond. Or better, we must decide. Our road sign this week is “Fork In the Road”—we are at a decision point. We must decide. There is no middle road. And yet, how many people here would say that their life, their entire life, every part of their life, has been entrusted, surrendered to Jesus Christ by faith? And if we haven’t yet made that decision, what is holding us back?
I know I’ve told you before about my favorite documentary ever, but I want to tell you again. Because this was quite literally the most powerful film I have every watched in my life. Because it is everything we’ve been talking about these past weeks. It’s called, “The Rescue.”
Back in 2018 there was the very famous event of the rescue of those twelve boys and their coach from a cave in Thailand. What happened, as you probably remember—the basics of it at least: there was this youth soccer team in Thailand, twelve boys, teenage boys, and their twenty-five year old coach. After practice one day they go to explore these caves—and they’re very well-known caves, like a national park. Lots of people do this. But that day, when they’re about two and a half miles deep in this cave system … the monsoon season in Thailand decides to show up early, and the caves flood, trapping them deep in these caves. And so they’re forced to take shelter on a little shelf in the cave that is just a little above the water level.
What they were fully aware of—what they were fully aware of was that there was no way they were going to get themselves out of this situation. They were stuck, trapped. They knew that they were in a helpless situation. All they could do, all they could do was to hope and to pray, to hope against hope, that someone would come to rescue them.
Eventually people on the outside figure out what is going on. And the Thai Navy Seals are called in. And Thailand starts trying to figure out a way to rescue them. But they quickly realize they are not equipped to do this. So they call in exactly who you would expect: an I.T. specialist and a retired fireman, both living in Great Britain— cave diving was just their hobby. Seriously. (Now, granted, these guys were regarded as some of the most accomplished cave divers in the world. But cave diving doesn’t exactly bring home the bacon. And so cave diving is just a hobby. It was their hobby.) Yet overnight, these two guys became the most important men in the world.
When they got to Thailand they assessed the situation, and after a few days of diving and figuring out the caves, they eventually found the boys. But finding them was the easy part. The challenge was getting them out. They realized that the only way to get the boys out was going to be to dive them out. They were going to have to get these boys to swim underwater, two and a half miles to safety. And they monsoons were getting worse! Within days the caves would fill with water completely. There was no other option! It was a decision time. A fork in the road. The boys had to dive out, or the boys were going to die.
But think of that: most of us would never even dream about going cave diving, underwater. Put on scuba gear, pull yourself through little tunnels underwater—it’s like, “Nah. No thanks.” The claustrophobia would be too much! And yet what they realized was—the only way, the only option—they were going to have to dive these boys out. They couldn’t drill some hole through the mountain and pull them out like the Chilean Miners (my favorites), no. They could only dive them out, swim them out—underwater and through incredibly narrow passages at times.
And the immediate problem was what? What’s going to happen if you get a bunch of fifteen year-old boys and try to swim them through very narrow and claustrophobic tunnels? First time every scuba diving? The boys are going to panic, exactly! They’re going to panic, pull the respirator off or start hyperventilating, have an anxiety attack—and then they’re dead, drowned.
And so what they do (naturally) is they called up their anesthesiologist friend in Great Britain (who is also a hobby cave diver) and told him, “We need you to come dive into these caves with us. And we need you to sedate the boys so that we can pull them out.” And that’s what happened! This anesthesiologist goes in, he gives these boys a Xanax to help with the anxiety, a shot of Atropine in one leg so they stop salivating, so they don’t drown in their own saliva. And then a shot of Ketamine in the other leg to knock them out. They put an airtight mask on them so they can breath, put them in an airtight body bag, and start pulling them through the tunnels. And it worked!
And think about it! These boys were sitting on a little shelf in these caves—for almost ten days, just sitting in this cave—when all of a sudden two guys they had never met before, who they didn’t know, who they couldn’t look up on Google, who they couldn’t call someone about and ask for references—two guys show up and offer them freedom, and rescue, and life. And without hesitating for a moment, with smiles on their faces—these boys say, “We will do anything you say.” And they do! These boys literally entrust their entire lives to them, surrender their lives into their hands. “Let me get this right: you want to put me in a wetsuit, drug me up and knock me out, put an oxygen mask on me, and then swim me two miles underwater? Sounds great!”
This is one of the most powerful images I have ever experienced for what it is that Jesus has done for us, AND what he is asking from us: to trust him, to entrust ourselves to him, to surrender our lives into his hands.
American Dream vs. Complete Surrender
How ridiculous would it have been if when those divers arrived they found the boys fighting over money, or talking about their schemes to make a bunch of money there in the cave? How ridiculous would it have been if they found the boys digging in the caves trying to make the cave bigger, trying to make it a nice place to live? Or fighting over who should be in charge, or who was going to be the one to make the laws in the cave? That would have been ridiculous.
Trapped in a cave in Thailand, those twelve boys and their coach were not worried about money, or a good time, or who was the most influential. They were completely aware of their need, the gravity of the situation, their need to be rescued. Day and night they waited for a response to that need. And one day, it arrived. A presence, an undeniable presence arrived with a promise: “I can take you to safety. I can rescue you.” But that promise came with a condition, “You will need to entrust your entire life to me, surrender your life into my hands—completely.”
This is where we are at in “Rerouting…”. We are the ones stuck, trapped, in captivity. We can make our cave here really nice, have the most money, the nicest stuff, the highest status, on and on and on. But it doesn’t change the fact that we are in the cave. We are never going to be able to give ourselves what we truly want: complete freedom, the fullness of life, the fullness of joy, happiness, peace. We can do the best we can, but we’re stuck. And soon, we’re going to die and have nothing. We have been captured.
And yet, the “point” of Christianity, the story, the gospel—is that someone arrived. Some Jesus guy from Nazareth arrived, and said, promised, “I can rescue you. I am the way.” But that promise, just like the divers’—Jesus’ promise isn’t magic, it requires something, “Follow me. Surrender to me. Entrust your entire life to me.” We can’t swim out of our “cave” by sheer determination. We can’t work super hard do it ourselves. No. It only happens when we give our lives over to Christ.
Friends: the way to the fullness of life that we seek, the way out of the “blah” that we so often find ourselves in, the way to the fullness of life—it’s not by doubling down on trying to make more money or buying a better house or car, having a better time and going on more vacations and parties, gaining status and influence and power. That’s the American Dream—and the American Dream is actually antithetical to Christianity.
The way to the joy you truly desire—the route is the way of absolute, total, and unconditional surrender. In fact, it is only found in surrendering, entrusting your life to the who can rescue you. Jesus extends his hand to you, he offers you freedom and life and joy. But you have to say, “Yes.” You have to make the decision to place your life in his hands, to become his disciple.
I have been rerouted. Will I respond?
In Mark’s Gospel, chapter eight, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).
We spend so much of our life trying to save our own life, provide for ourselves. Have you ever taken Jesus seriously that if you want to save your life you need to lose it, to hand your life over to a greater purpose, to lose your life to the gospel? We spend so much of our life trying to gain the whole world—again, this is the American Dream! But have you ever taken Jesus seriously that in order for someone to gain the whole world they could very well be forfeiting their soul?
The goal of “Rerouting…” is that we would be disciples, make the decision to become Jesus’ disciples. And as Jesus says, clear as day, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” What does that mean? Well, what is step number one? “Deny yourself.” This little phrase unlocks the meaning of it all. When we hear “deny yourself” what comes to mind? “Well, I gave up chocolate for Lent. I gave up coffee.” And don’t get me wrong, these are beautiful things. But when Jesus says, “Deny yourself,” he means something much deeper. In Scripture, this word signifies “complete disownment.” Jesus is inviting us to surrender ownership of our lives to him. It’s like selling a car: you sign the title of your car over to another, and once you do that your car belongs to you no more. And you no longer have any rights to it! They could sell it the next day. This is what Jesus invites us to do: surrender ownership of our life to him; completely disown our life, sign it over to him.
Today, as you walked in, you received a small card. And this card is meant to be a small, but concrete and tangible way by which we can respond to Jesus Christ: by signing over ownership of our lives to the one who loves us. This is what it says:
This is what happened in baptism. This is what your baptismal promises are saying. We once lived in darkness, blindness—but just like the man born blind Jesus has come and opened our eyes. We once lived in captivity and slavery to Sin and Death and Satan—but through the waters of baptism (just like the divers leading the boys to new life through the waters of the cave)—by faith we place our lives into Jesus’ hands and he lead us through waters of baptism, giving us new life as adopted children of the Father (c.f., Preface of the Man Born Blind). But it’s not magic. It takes an actual decision.
And so Jesus is asking, first and foremost, of each and every one of us here today: “Will you sign the ‘title’ of your life over to me? Are you willing to place your life into my hands?” How many people here would say that their life, their entire life, every part of their life, has been entrusted, surrendered to Jesus Christ by faith? And if we haven’t yet made that decision, what is holding us back?
For More This Week:
- Read: Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9-13; Matthew 16:24-28; Matthew 19:16-23; Luke 9:57-62
- Watch: “The Rescue,” Jimmy Chin (National Geographic, 2021) — Available on Disney+
- Watch: “What Does Surrender Actually Look Like?” by Fr. Mike Schmitz on YouTube
- Watch: “Francis Chan – The Last Message” on YouTube