Sermon for March 18, 2018
Lent 5B – RCL
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Today’s lessons show two sides of Jesus. In our lesson from Paul’s letter to the Hebrew’s Paul writes that “Jesus offered prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears”. We hear from Paul in this passage a very human Jesus. The one we will remember during Holy Week crying and agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane for the Father to take the cup – the coming cross – from him. In the Gethsemane we have an image of Christ praying so hard and agonizing over the events that were about to take place – yet in the end acknowledging that what he came into the world to accomplish was about to happen. In the letter from Hebrew’s and the other Gospel’s, especially Mark where we glimpse more of Jesus’ humanity than we do in our reading today from John.
In John there is never a question that Jesus is the very word of God. The very creative force that has taken human form to walk with us. To suffer with us and ultimately to be put to death to prove that God’s love will not die. The Gospel of John gives us more of the divine side of Jesus.
Today’s Gospel comes just after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem – the one we will remember next week on Palm Sunday. Jesus has just finished a whirl wind of ministry that included the raising of this friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus’ ministry has fully enraged the religious and secular powers in Jerusalem. They are not happy with this itinerate Rabbi because he is turning their economy up-side down. In the raising of Lazarus they see Jesus even turning death into life.
Indeed the word about Jesus’ amazing ministry has spread beyond Israel and the Roman occupation. Today’s reading has “some Greek’s” wanting to see Jesus. The Greek’s represent the civilized world outside of Israel. The word has gotten out and now the world wants to see this Jesus. The world wants to witness the casting out of demons, the curing of the incurable, and the conquering of death.
In response we hear Jesus say that his ministry is finished. It is time. Time for the grain of wheat to go into the ground so that it can multiply. It is time for Jesus to show that the Love that is God will not die. In this passage there are no tears but instead we see a confident Jesus who is going to finalize his human ministry by turning human economy and human sensibilities upside down.
This reading from John is all about turning things upside down – or really it is about Jesus turning things right-side up. Jesus tells us that those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life will keep it forever. What? This is madness! But listen again. Jesus is telling us that if our priority is only on ourselves. If we only focus on our inward beings we are in trouble. We need to focus on spreading God’s dream of Love into our world. And if we do that we will have eternal life.
And how do we do that? Jesus again turns it upside down. Jesus says we spread God’s love not by being powerful but by serving. Jesus tells us that power over others is not what God desires but for us to serve one another. When we allow our preoccupation with self to stop driving our actions then we can be one of that multitude that comes from the death of the grain of wheat.
This is so upside-down from what we hear in our secular world. A world that carefully maintains accounts to make sure that our side has more than the other. A world that operates out of a place of scarcity so that we have to make sure that we get what is coming to us now. A world that sees enemies in those who we think compete for the resources we desire. A world that demonizes the other instead of celebrating the wonderful diversity of God’s creative being.
This self-centered, power hungry economy is the one that God desires to turn around. God so loves us that God, as Jesus, took on humanity to show us that we can be something different. Jesus’ humanity shows us that we can serve others without losing something of value. Jesus’ shows us that God’s economy is the inverse of our economy.
It is sad that over two-thousand years later we still struggle to understand this. We still seek power. Our society still demeans those we see as lower than us. Our society still see refugees and immigrants as the problem. Our society still sees those who are sick as weak. We still treat gender issues as binomial and hierarchical – men and women with the woman in her place. And sometimes our churches are no better than secular institutions. God desires nothing more than for us to put an end to this human economy. God desires nothing more than for us to listen and to follow God’s example in Jesus.
Because power is so seductive it is hard to topple that power. Again this week the young people in our midst are working to topple power. In response to the Parkland school shooting young people all around the country are saying enough. Enough of policies that protect the powerful. Enough of blaming mental illness for killing people. Enough of this nonsense that we need to have uncontrolled access to powerful weapons. In response we are seeing some of our leaders truly looking for ways that will make schools safe. Ways that will keep powerful military grade weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. Unfortunately, we also have leaders who are demonizing the young people. We have leaders who put them down and even worse we have people who threaten the young leaders with death threats.
Once again, a tragedy is showing us that our economy is up-side down. Once again, the vulnerable are leading us from a place of service. Once again, if we only will listen, we hear God calling us back. Back to an economy that is different. An economy that values servanthood. An economy that sees all of God’s creation as being very good. In John’s Gospel we hear God speaking very loudly that Jesus is glorifying God. That Jesus servanthood is a model we should follow.
The response to Jesus’ model will be the peak of man’s inhumanity. The response we will hear next week and on Good Friday will be to condemn that servanthood to death. To condemn to death the love that walked among us to show us a better way.
We know the good news in all of this. We know the ending. We know that God’s Love cannot be killed. We know in our hearts that every time we try to kill God’s love by hating our neighbor. That every time we try to kill God’s love by demonizing the other – demonizing the immigrant. demonizing the GLBT community. Every time we try to kill that Love that it refuses to die. Every time that we try to kill Love we see it sprout up in the most unlikely places in the most unlikely people.
I invite you this next two weeks to walk with Christ. I invite you to witness with Christ man’s reaction to God’s right-side up economy. I invite you to dare to go with Christ to the foot of the cross – where we will witness man’s violent reaction to maintaining power at any cost. It is only by witnessing our inhumanity can we celebrate and work to bring the promise of Easter into our lives. A promise that God’s love never dies. A promise that God’s creation is good. Indeed it is very good!