This is the message I shared with St. Timothy Lutheran Church this past Sunday. The sermon was slightly modified for St. Mark's. The scripture was John 12:20-33.
In today's gospel, once again we see Jesus acting in an unexpected way. Unlike the previous weeks of grumpy, angry Jesus, today Jesus just seems to be rude.
John tells us about some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. They were in Jerusalem for the feast, so they were not pagans. They were likely Jewish proselytes, converts to Judaism. First they talked to Philip and then Philip talked to Andrew and then Philip and Andrew talk to Jesus.
Jesus responded to the Greeks by saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified..." What in the world does that mean and how does it have anything to do with the Greeks' desire to meet with Jesus? Prior to this, in John's gospel, Jesus kept saying that his hour had not yet come, even when his life was threatened.
As far as we can tell from scripture, Jesus totally ignores these Greeks and they disappear from the scene. After verse 23, we don't hear any more about them. It seems that Jesus' words were addressed to Andrew and Philip, but there was likely a larger audience that may have included the Greeks who had wanted to see him in the first place.
Jesus spells out for all to hear that death awaits him. If anyone wants to follow Jesus, they too can expect a kind of death in order to be faithful followers. Jesus teaches that in the kingdom of God, death brings life, hating life in this world is the way to eternal life. If one serves Jesus he or she must follow him and this will result in the Father honoring them.
Couldn't Jesus have answered Andrew and Philip with a simple yes or no regarding the Greeks' request? We might paraphrase Jesus' answer in this way, "If you want to see me, first look down into the dirt; then look up to the cross."
This begs the question for us today, like the Greeks, "Do we really want to see Jesus?" We see him teaching children, feeding the multitudes, healing and driving out demons. But do we want to see Jesus in his glory--on the cross?
It is easy for us to see Jesus in the faces of fellow worshippers, but what about seeing Jesus in the faces of the homeless and hungry, the suffering and the dying? What about seeing Jesus in the face of someone on death row? Seeing Jesus means all this and so much more.
Those who are going to Honduras have a unique opportunity to see Jesus in the faces of the poor, the abused, the needy in ways the rest of us don't have. They will return to us as different people. An encounter with God through service to others turns one's world upside down. In this way, our lives more truly reflect the upside down kingdom of God.
Is our congregation a place where unbelievers and outsiders can come and see Jesus? Do we have the skills to bring the unchurched to Jesus for a conversion experience? The 21st century is much like that of the early church. We can no longer assume that people have been brought up in church. There are those who have never been inside the doors of a church.
We do not need a theological degree to simply tell people our stories of what God has done in our lives. However, we must be careful about the language we use when we are talking to the unchurched.The longer we have been following the Lord, the harder it can be to speak in a way outsiders can understand. It's hard to drop the churchy language or churchspeak that we know so well that others do not understand. It is difficult, but I challenge you this week to practice telling your story of what Christ means in your life, what this congregation means to you and how your life is different because of Jesus without cliches and churchy words.
We have experienced the great good news of what God has done for us and it is news worth telling well. As we draw closer to Easter, let us prepare ourselves to tell the world the greatest story ever told, that a dead man got up and walked and ascended to heaven to draw the whole world to himself and to his Father. Amen
Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Guide Based on the NRSV-Year B.
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B.
John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary
Gail R. O'Day, The New Interpreter's Bible: Volume IX John
Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes.
Sundays and Seasons