20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
I have so enjoyed traveling deeper into the Enneagram world with you this Lent, making the work of spirit practical in our everyday lives- like laundry and relationships and why we do what we do! Thank you for the insightful conversations you’ve offered along the way- my favorite part of worship is to hear what the Spirit stirs in you along the way. We complete our series this Lent by leaning into the story of Christ explaining his suffering to bewildered disciples. Christ’s story is one of true redemption BECAUSE he chose to endure suffering. Not for the sake of pain, but because he believed his death would ultimately bring life to countless others. Our suffering savior. We too, as people living as Christ, have this promise: when we endure suffering, it doesn’t have the final say over us. Not if we trust that following Christ’s way will lead to redemption.
But here’s the rub for me. As a minister who consistently sits alongside people in very real pain, I believe that glorifying pain is wrong. I hear Jesus’ words, “those who hate their life” and I think of people struggling with all forms of mental and spiritual and physical illness- and I think, “Jesus, don’t use that language! Don’t attempt to falsely minimize pain by glorifying struggle in life!”
Yet the discipline of following Jesus means staying tuned into his teachings, even the hard ones. And when we stay attentive, reserving our judgment and bias, we just might hear this parable of a grain of wheat as an invitation to consider our own losses and how they might hold promise of new life.
This is the exact work we’ve been exploring with the Enneagram as our tool this Lent. Jesus embodies vulnerability so that we might be brave to explore our own tender places. Jesus does this very thing in today’s story. Less than a week before Jesus dies at the hands of Romans on a cross, he extends himself to curious newcomers. Three years of itinerant ministry, he had to be exhausted. But he reaches out with a powerful parable about what truly matters in life.
“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.”
Jesus predicts his own fate AND acknowledges that the cycle of life, even for Jesus, inevitably involves pain. The glory Jesus speaks of is not a result of his pain. Pain is pain is pain. Jesus’ life is glorified because he believes in promise beyond pain. And that promise is what gives his life purpose: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We know this promise in our lives too, thanks to Jesus’ courage to live through pain into promise.
In John, “Fruit” is Jesus’ metaphor for the life of the community of faith. Jesus, like a grain of wheat, offers himself in order to produce a more fruitful kingdom- one in which all people are drawn to his love. That is the promise that assures Jesus his pain on earth will not be as lasting as his glory eternal. And that promise belongs to you and me too. If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit. With time and grace, loss can actually move us closer to love.
It’s been a painful year for us all. Those who follow our e-news know I’ve asked you to bring your pain to worship today. This week marks a full year since our lives of worship and our lives in general have been stretched to the max, maybe even beyond recognition for some. It’s important that we acknowledge the weight of this year.
As we pause for this moment of silence, I invite you to take one pain in your life- and visualize it as a tiny grain of wheat. Maybe hold it in your hand as you ask Christ to take this pain and hold it with you. Let’s gather in silence. (silence) “If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit.” I welcome you to release this grain of wheat from your hold- let it fall away, gently, without judgment, as you ask, ‘God, how might you transform my loss into life?” (pause) We don’t have to have the answers today, we live in faith that they will come. Amen.
One of the greatest graces for me in the midst of this pandemic has been you. My church family. You have kept me afloat on days that felt too hard. You have inspired me to envision bigger and bolder changes than I ever could have on my own. You deepen my conviction that when we share the losses and grief of life together, it lessens the burden for all. This is the stuff of faith. This is the way of Christ. This is the promise of hope that will see us through to the other side, where the sweet glow of redemption awaits.
I know the Enneagram may not have been intriguing for all of you this Lent, but I hope that this truth has stirred within you: You ARE capable of co-creating your redemption story with Christ. We all are, because Jesus' promise reigns supreme, even above our deepest pain. He assures you and I today, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Amen and Amen.
"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I’ve titled our Lenten Series: “Breaking Free” because the gospel is filled with language of freedom from all that distracts us and diminishes abundant life. Jesus WANTS our lives to be full of what truly matters. “I came so they may have life and have it in abundance.” One thing I know diminishes abundant life is resentment. Yes? We hear this in Martha’s response today. As an over-functioner myself, I know this feeling well and I hear it in the stories of so many relationships. Why doesn’t he pull his weight! Why can’t she see how much I truly do for this family! Why don’t they appreciate how good a friend I really am! Familiar? I suspect you’ve felt your own version of resentment along the way.
Here’s the good news: we have control over our response to what happens in life, if we have the courage to dig deep. If we are truly interested in living into the redeeming hope of Jesus, we need to do the tough work of discerning what keeps us from lives of abundant hope, joy, and peace. This includes asking why we hold onto resentment and how we might learn to break free. To release what distracts from true life. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Love.
The Enneagram tool, as I’ve described these past few weeks, gives us a framework for understanding ourselves better: What values motivate us and what keeps us from right relationships. Rohr says, “The “discernment of spirits” that Paul and St. Ignatius spoke of means developing a spiritual instinctive certainty for which of my impulses really create life and which ultimately destroy it.”
Would you like an example of how practicing self-awareness can actually lead to life more abundant? I’ll get real practical: let’s talk laundry. Even with the convenience of modern technology, someone’s still got to do it. If you live alone, it’s fairly cut and dry. But if you live with others, laundry can quickly become a thing. This week I was searching for a particular laundry meme my friend recently posted, I came across several good ones: Indulge me for a moment: 1. “Based on the amount of laundry I do each week, I’m going to assume people live here I have not yet met.” 2. “Not sure if I should do laundry, or buy more underwear.” 3. Printed on the tag of a sweater: “Just give it to your mother, she knows how to do it.” 4. “I don’t want to make you jealous of my glamorous lifestyle, but I’m sorting laundry on a Saturday night.” 5. And the one I was looking for in the first place: “Wait, did you know there are people who wash, fold, AND put away their laundry on the SAME day?!” That one’s for my mom, who took her laundry day very seriously.
In fact, it’s my mom who modeled for me that women do the laundry in the house. And it took me 4 years into our marriage to realize the reason my mom did laundry for our household is because she worked outside the home 1 day a week, not five. My mom and dad worked out household equity in which laundry was her thing, and she never resented it. At first in our marriage, neither did I. As a grad student with a flexible schedule, me doing laundry made sense. But things shifted when both AJ and I had full-time jobs, and then enter children, and I began resenting not only doing the laundry, but also him not truly seeing my efforts.
Enter my Enneagram type 2 status. I love helping, until it becomes overwhelming, then I still help- but you better be grateful for it, or my inner sense of justice begins to roar! At the time this laundry business came to a head, I didn’t yet have the capacity to understand WHY I was holding resentment, I just knew something had to change. So one day, I stopped. I stopped assuming that AJ needed me to do his laundry. And you know what? He didn’t. In fact, the reason he couldn’t see how much I did his laundry, is because his threshold for when laundry needs to get done is very different than mine. Remember that meme, “Not sure if I should do laundry, or buy more underwear?” You get the point.
I assumed I was needed more than I was actually needed. Turns out, this is pretty common for twos. We think we’re being helpful (and sometimes we are), but we are prone to overextending, just like Martha. We get distracted by all the tasks, that we sometimes lose focus on what really matters. Even now, as I’m folding laundry at 8:30pm on Saturday night, AJ will say, “Emily, just relax.” And when I’m healthy, I can hear the invitation like Jesus offers Martha, “Emily, Emily, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Love.
This is why understanding what motivates can truly lead to a more abundant life. Rohr says, “Twos, for example, develop guilt feelings when they have the sense that they are not doing enough for others.” No one is asking me to overextend. It’s just a part of who I am. And when I can recognize those forces within me, I begin to have control over them. I can begin to co-create my redemption story away from resentment and toward life in abundance. I can begin to say no to someone else’s dirty laundry.
Rohr says, “Based on our predispositions, parental and environmental influences, as well as societal factors, all of us create in the course of our development certain ideals, whose realization we pursue. Our self-image is determined largely by these ideals, which we also use to measure other people. Feelings of guilt arise when we do not live up to these ideals. Likewise, we reproach others if they disregard our ideals. Unfortunately these internalized accepted ideals are often false or at least exaggerated.”
You know what’s happened since I stopped doing the laundry AJ never asked or expected me to do in the first place? 1. I learned AJ knows how to operate a washing machine. 2. I learned how freeing it can be to simply step over a pair of socks rather than give into my compulsion to pick them up. 3. On the rare occasion I throw a load of his laundry in- I do it because I love him, not because I feel obligated. That is “the better part” that Jesus speaks. Helping for the sake of love, not obligation.
I never thought I’d be able to use laundry as an example of abundant life- but it’s true. I’ve released my Martha-like resentment about a household task that was keeping me from right-relationship. And now, I wonder how Christ can help redeem the work of doing dishes!
No matter what Enneagram type we are, all of us have room to move further from resentment and closer to redemption. In the name of the one who asks us to keep our focus simple: Life is about love. Let’s figure out how we each do that best, because love will set us free.
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
That’s a pretty great definition for sin, right? “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” And news flash: the person writing this is literally a saint. So we’re in good company with the Apostle Paul as we consider why we do the bad things we don’t want to be doing in the first place.
Last week I laid out the theology of Jesus and his own suffering as the reason why we engage this spiritual work of self-reflection: it’s for the sake of transformation. A change of heart toward being the people we were inherently created to be. That’s what it is to co-create our redemption stories with Christ. So are we ready?
Now I know I cannot give you all the layers of meaning found in the Enneagram, but I want to pique your interest enough that you decide to check it out. So here are the 9 types (or as Richard Rohr says: the “nine faces of the soul”). Be discerning what number speaks to you most truly about primary motivation:
Type 1 is the need to be perfect.
Type 2 is the need to be needed.
Type 3 is the need to succeed.
Type 4 is the need to be special.
Type 5 is the need to perceive.
Type 6 is the need for security.
Type 7 is the need to avoid pain.
Type 8 is the need to be against.
Type 9 is the need to avoid.
Richard Rohr incorporates “root sins” into his descriptions of each type as well; these are harder to hear- and maybe more important.
One’s go to anger; Two’s fall to pride; Three’s wrestle with vanity; fours struggle with self-pity or envy; for fives its greed; sixes experience fear; sevens gluttony; eights are prone to lust; and nines, well- they’re a little lazy. Hard to hear, right? None of us want to think about these aspects of ourselves, but when we do, we can begin to understand why we act the way we do sometimes.
Discerning our core spirits involves taking a hard look at all the forces that impacted who we developed to be. To add more dimension to this work, we also have “wing types,” always on either side of our numbers. So I’m a two, with a strong three wing. Or at least those are the numbers that make me feel most uncomfortable when I read what Rohr has to say. That’s supposedly the best way to figure out your number. Reading full descriptions of each number, and as Rohr says is his rule of thumb: “ If you don’t sense the whole thing as somehow humiliating, you haven’t yet found your number.”
Another description of the types for you: This time, a look at how Jesus in his ministry on earth, embodies each type’s redeeming qualities:
In Jesus we see Ones possess skills for teaching, tolerance, and patience; we see Twos enact care, compassion, and solidarity; we see threes offer others their ambition, energy, and vision; we see fours evoke creativity, sensitivity, and naturalness; we see fives use healthy distance, sobriety, and wisdom; we see sixes practice fidelity, obedience, and trust; we see sevens share festiveness and joy; we see eights embrace confrontation, clarity, and authority; and finally, we can see in Jesus how nines restore composure, peace, and love.
When the Apostle Paul asks himself who will rescue me from the sin that holds me capture? The answer is the same for him as for us. Jesus, of course. The only person on earth who realized full integration and maturity, even in the midst of being executed.
In other words, we Christians have a pretty great example AND reason to do this discernment that leads to transformation. Jesus already did- and paved a way for us to experience redemption, one glimpse of our true selves at a time. You’ve likely not figured out your type based on this sermon alone- but if these descriptions have gotten your attention, go ahead and do some self-study this week. Remember, you’re in good company when you do. The Apostle Paul’s writings are filled with his own self-reflection for the sake of transformation.
Koller says, “for this spiritual self-work on existence we have been given a tool--the capacity to perceive. The instrument of transformation is not moral reflection on the self, but content-free perception of the self.” This is the gift that Christ offers us on the road to redemption. A way to perceive ourselves as Christ does: with infinite grace.
Don’t let sin shame you for another second. The gospel truly offers us good news: we no longer belong to the sin that leaves us feeling shame. Shame, that inner voice of judgment, often telling us we’re not good enough?” That voice is never Christ’s voice. Christ gave his life so that we might begin to perceive our true selves the way Christ does, filled with the potential for transformation. Amen.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.