Thursday, April 5, 2018

Sight, Sound and Fruit

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 3/18 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is John 12:20-33.

The twelfth chapter of John is the conclusion of what is called the gospelbook of signs.” Signs are prevalent throughout the first section of Johns gospel. Now we come to the bridge, as we transition to the second part, called the book of glory.

This portion of Johns gospel provides us with a sensual feast. The senses of sight and hearing are employed by John as we are encouraged to follow Jesus. 

First of all, the Greeks want to see Jesus. Seeing means more than getting a simple glimpse of him from afar. They want to meet Jesus and to speak with him.

This begs the question, just who are these Greeks? They may either be people who had converted to Judaism from another religion and so came to Jerusalem to worship or they may have been Jews that lived in gentile areas like the Apostle Paul did. We dont know for sure. At any rate, they do not approach Jesus directly, but rather go through Philip. Then Philip told Andrew and both went to tell Jesus. They may have gone to Philip because he had a Greek name and was from Galilee, which was known for having many gentile residents.

True to form, Jesus does not give a clear-cut response to the Greeks. Does Jesus ever? Jesus seems to respond with a non sequitur about grains of wheat falling in the earth and dying. The image of the grain of wheat shows John imagines Gods paradox of life through death already manifest in creation and now spread to the Greek peoples. Perhaps Jesus is reminding his disciples that they will only truly see him on the cross. The gist of what he says is, If you want to see me, first look down into the dirt; then look up to the cross” (sundaysandseasons.com).

Jesus’ message breaks down barriers of exclusivity but challenges all who hear it. Jesus clearly welcomes the inclusion of the outsiders. 

Ultimately, the Greeks are treated symbolically, representing the world seeking Jesus, for once they make their request they disappear from the story.

Jesus says that the hour has come” (v. 23). For the very first time. Jesus’ “hour” is announced as being present, as having come. The Greeks’ arrival signals that Jesus’ earthly ministry is over and the time for his death and resurrection is near. Before this time, what Jesus did and his response to threats against his life were explained that his hour had not yet come” (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20). 

The hour has come because opposition to Jesus reaches its inevitable outcome. Officials are seeking Jesus’ death. The hour is also coming because of Jesus’ successful ministry. However, the crowds are fickle, going after anyone who might do astonishing signs or give soothing advice. The world finally is unable to believe that Jesus is from God. Jesus’ popularity quickly fades turning into the hostility that confronts Pilate and demands Jesus’ crucifixion (18:28-19:16). Now the hour had come. Jesus must now make himself available to the world.

Jesus said, Whoever serves me must follow me” (v. 26). Following Jesus means not merely admiring his teaching and life, but adopting his model of unselfish love for others as the direction of our own lives. Embedded in being a disciple of Jesus and following him is this phrase, Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v. 25). Doesnt that sound a bit harsh? 

However, here in todays gospel, hate does not mean detest, but to not choose. In other words, do not make something else the top priority of your life.  Discipleship here is not a matter of self-hatred, but of choice. Jesus frees his followers from compulsive service to ones own image, which is a form of idolatry. 

Ultimately, it isnt all about us. Martin Luther defined sin as being turned in on ourselves. Those who love their lives means they are living life so that its all about them. They are turned in on themselves.Thats sin.

To lose ones life doesnt mean its been misplaced, but rather its destroyed. What is needed is a detachment from self. This is what it means by hate. Jesus is not speaking of self-hatred but of a rejection of the selfs claim to autonomy and control. This hearkens back to our baptismal profession of faith. Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? [We respond with,] I renounce them” (ELW, p. 229).

As we give our lives to Jesus, we will bear much fruit, just as each grain of wheat produces a large crop. As the grain of wheat must die first in order to produce, so must we die to self and those things that make us love our life. But that is not the end of the matter. Following Jesus means we are with him and ultimately we will receive honor from the Father. 

Gods rulership has been hijacked by a rebellious creation, headed by the Satanic power of evil. Christs death and resurrection accomplish a cosmic exorcism. God casts out the demonic power that rules the world and reasserts his own rulership over the universe. However, Satan is not yet destroyed, (Rev. 20) but his power has been broken. As Paul wrote, For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may live free from that control. Gods love has joined us and will continue to do so in whatever pain, loss or sorrow we may encounter. 

So if Jesus triumphed over evil in his death and resurrection, why do we still struggle? Why would Paul write what he did if the defeat of evil was already accomplished? The thing is, Gods rulership is something we experience in the now and the not yet. God reigns, but we do not fully experience this until the end of time. 

Then a voice came from heaven…” (v. 28). The Fathers response to Jesus’ prayer comes with the sound of his voice. Jesus had prayed that the Father would glorify his name. The Father responded, I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28), meaning Gods name has been glorified in Jesus’ ministry and it will be glorified in Jesus’ coming death and resurrection. Jesus understood, but the crowds thought it was thunder or perhaps an angel. I find it a bit puzzling when Jesus said the voice was for the benefit of the crowd, not his own benefit. They didnt get it. Either way, the voice serves to authenticate Jesus as being under divine favor, supported by angels in Jewish tradition or confirmed by the thunder of Zeus among gentiles. When we hear the word of God, is it thunder or a word of grace?

When Jesus speaks of being lifted up,” he is referring to the cross and his crucifixion and resurrection. The cross was a curse and humiliation. However, in the irony of Johns gospel, the cross is bravely accepted as the means to glorification (John 7:39; 12:16).

Like the Greeks, we come forward to see Jesus lifted up on the cross, drawing the whole world to himself. In baptism, Gods new covenant was written in our hearts and God has promised us Christs eternal salvation. At the table, we think of Melchizedek and his offering of bread and wine. At the table, God feeds us with Christs own body and blood. 

With the Greeks, we too wish to see Jesus, especially in our daily lives and routines. To do so, we need to look up because Jesus has been lifted up on the cross to draw everyone to God. The hour of salvation has come. In the eating of the bread, we celebrate that life in Christ and are fed by him.  

Do we long to see God, to follow Jesus and to hear Gods voice? Are we hungry for God? It is only then that we will we truly see Jesus. Do you feel like youre starving for reality? Come to the bread of life in the sacrament of the table.

John chapter 12 focuses us like a laser on the cross and on what true submission looks like when we may be struggling the most. We see a Savior who clearly sees his future on the cross. He is troubled but doesnt shy away from it or his Fathers will. It demonstrates what it costs to draw all people to God. We need to keep this clearly in our own congregational vision as we seek to serve the Lord (Amanda Allen).

Lets not be selfish or stingy with Gods love. If we want our church to grow, then share the good news with everyone, not just in word, but in deed. Open your heart and arms to all, just as our Savior did. 

There are opportunities all around us. We do this by feeding the hungry through the food pantry and the 5 & 2 Ministry. If you cannot shop for the 5 & 2 Ministry, then give money or go to Clymer and help with the monthly packing of the food. The poor are helped through other ministries as well, like the mens shelter in Jamestown. St. Susans feeds the hungry. Love Inc. collects articles people need for their homes. There is prison ministry. You can mentor a student. There are so many hands-on, concrete ways to share Gods love. Listen to hear what Gods voice is saying to you about ways to share your faith. 

Yesterday I read an article by and about millennials and the church. We know they are leaving or not coming at all. His response to the church was this:

Do your thing. Live your mission. Live into the hope of Christ that overthrows evil regimes and sets captives free. Live into the confidence that knows Christs work is finished, and the churchs mission from age-to-age, generation-to-generation, doesnt change.

But first, maybe stop for a minute. Remember who you are in the first place.

Worship together as if your lives depended on it. And invite us to join you, not as your honored guests, not as your coveted demographic, but as your brothers and sisters. Let us feast on Gods Word and dine at Christs table. Teach us the drama of your calendar, the discipline of your liturgy, and the joy of your melodies. Many of us are trying to follow Jesus on our own, and its tough. Its just not working

Thats just it. Following Jesus is a scary prospect, a costly endeavor, a daunting task. Thats where you come in. We need you, just like our parents did, and like our own children and grandchildren will, too. We need a community of faith that reminds us who we are and Whose story we live out.

In the end, church, it wasnt you that lost us, anyway.
It was who you were trying to be.
Its time to be uncool.
Its time to be your beautiful self.
Its time to be the church. (Jonathan Aigner)

Our true prayer for this hour, like Jesus’, is Father, glorify your name.
Amen

References

Sharron Blezard, stewardshipoflife.org
M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock, The Peoples New Testament Commentary
Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Guide Based on the NRSV-Year B
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B
Inter Varsity Press: New Testament Commentary
Cynthia A. Jarvis & Elizabeth Johnson, editors, Feasting On the GospelsJohn, Volume 2: A Feasting On the Word Commentary.
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

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