Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent - John 12
Like many bookshelves containing epic stories about heroes and villains, and life and death, this reading from John contains two bookends. Bookends are those things we use to keep the books from falling off the shelf. Tipping over and knocking down a picture or grannies ashes. Bookends hold things together, so with John we hear first - Sir, we would like to see Jesus. Second – And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. One is spoken by Greeks, men who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. It could mean Greeks who converted. They are there for worship, so one would expect conversion. But they are ear-marked by their nationality. Greeks. Greeks who want to see Jesus.
The second is spoken by this Jesus himself. Spoken in a context that builds upon their approach to him. In just a few days he will be abandoned by his closest friends. Arrested. Tried. Convicted. Beaten. Stripped. Nailed to a cross for public ridicule and death. Dies. But on the third day rises. All because he has the audacity to forgive sinners without that pound of flesh, and He speaks these words in seeing these men come who are not of the lost sheep of Israel and he wishes to make known the very work for which he is about to do. His hour that is coming. To draw all people to himself. Echoing the words of the prophet Hosea, chapter 2 - I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’. and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”
Because we are not Jews of the 1st century, we cannot understand the exceptionalism of this story. The notion of a man being considered a Jewish Messiah. Attached to a religion that is based most closely upon one’s heritage. One’s tribal identity. To have Greeks come, who want to see Jesus, and Christ to say that he will draw all people to myself. It’s a big deal.
The closest we come in our context is one of two realities. First is the citizenship Christianity we have had for so long. People went to church not because they needed sins forgiven, hope of the resurrection, connection to something greater and beyond them. They went to church because it was ‘Merica. You went to church because that was the American thing. It was what was expected. We hear the stories of businesses being closed on Sundays. No liquor or cars for sale. Still questions of one’s religious persuasion are emphasized when people run for political office. You have to be able to show some sort of spirituality in order to get elected. Basically playing to the whims of a populace that see religion as useful but not really necessary.
That is our Judaism, tied to our life as Americans, but that idea is slowly waning. Slowly going away. People are continuing not to see religion, or Church, or Jesus, as an American ideal. It’s ok to live in America and leave church behind. It is not our tribal identity anymore.
Secondly, we can see it in the truth that denominationalism is still alive and well. That political positions, geographical location and skin color all play a part in one’s church or religious affiliation. One could not necessarily be religious and yet be connected to a particular church because that was your parents church, or that is where your people gather, or God-forbid if you went to that church. The White church, or the gay church, or the conservative church, or that old grey church where there aren’t kids.
But all of this is a colossal example of missing the point. Church attendance doesn’t define the Christian. You come here not out of obligation, or habit, or punishment. You should not come to this place to experience the same old stuff you can hear on your favorite radio station, or your favorite sitcom. It is to hear something different. To a place that is different. A place where Jesus is present. To come to devour him, or, better yet, be devoured by him. To have Jesus draw you in. To have the words escape your mouth – Sir, I wish to see Jesus.
You see, these Greeks, these Greeks are for your benefit. They are you. Those drawn to Christ. It’s the Passover festival and Jerusalem is buzzing. The Temple is full of people and these Greeks, they are spiritual seekers, looking for this man Jesus who was said to have only come for the lost sheep of Israel. One particular tribe. Yet, the Canaanite woman comes to him in faith. The Roman Centurion who showed such faith as to know that this Jesus could just speak a word and mercy would follow. Walking in the footsteps of these kinds of heroes, these Greeks are drawn to this place to see Jesus.
Well, this is you. People not religious because they are of a particular tribe or family. You may say you are Lutheran because your parents were, or Christian because of grandma. No. That is not you. I am not talking about your heritage or your past. I am talking about your present. You. Here. Now. Whether you think it or not. You are here to see Jesus. Drawn by the Spirit to this place, because you want, no, you need to see Jesus CHrist. Not knowing much, you come here with the expectation that in comparison to all other people in your life, this Jesus is different.
This Jesus being one who forecasts that all his glory is caught up in a death. A dying that fruit might come. This fruit being that seed of Christ buried and rising. But It is also this seed of faith buried within you. Where you will die a death you don’t think you can in order to have that faith sprout and grow into the fruit of eternal life in God.
This is all some weird stuff though. It probably sounds completely silly to you. Definitely not manly. Not wearing flannel, a beard, and carrying an axe. Completely contrary to the world’s thinking around life. Life as we know it is supposed to be the pursuit of happiness, of stuff, of great notoriety, or games, or other pursuits.
But here in Christ stands a spiritual existence on a plain of your life that you don’t even think about. Everything for us is what we think we see or want to see, what we can do or want to do, what we need to fix of ourselves, and yet Jesus here is speaking of life that is more than life. A work that is more than anything you can do. It is this existence that survives and thrives in a world so much unlike this world. A world that exists in spiritual time. Needing the Spirit to water your seed-faith, and fanning into flame a burning desire to see this Jesus more clearly.
The Jesus of John’s Gospel who is called God’s voice wearing skin. Literally God’s spoken word to you that could be touched, held, eventually broken and dead. Giving his life for yours. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The Jesus who gathers a ragtag group of weirdos who show no religious inclination or exceptionalism apart from that he says “Follow me” and they do.
The Jesus who turns water into wine at a wedding after the people are already drunk to show forth the need for him to fill us with his work, filling our faith to the brim.
The Jesus who cleanses the Temple to make a way for our religious life to be one of prayer and worship not transactions and personal identity.
The Jesus who tells the religious scholar that in order to see Jesus, to see the Kingdom, we have to be born from above. Reborn in Christ, because we are dead in sin and need life.
The Jesus who tells the Samaritan woman, an enemy, that he has water of eternal life to give her, living water, that her faith might sprout a new leaf.
The Jesus who heals a royal officials son to showcase his power over death.
The Jesus who heals the sick, not for healing sake, but that we might believe that he has the power to forgive every sin and to raise the dead.
The Jesus who feeds the 5000 because we must know that all our life is dependent on the goodness of God towards us. All sustenance and necessities coming from him. That even in Jesus, the bread of life come down from heaven, we receive of what we cannot procure ourselves, life, forgiveness, and salvation.
That is the danger of this story. The danger of your Jesus who calls you out of darkness to see him. He can be drawing you away from something you love to learn to love him more. A hating of this life in this world to be nestled into the life of God in Christ.
The danger of having to discipline your mind, your body, your soul to dedicate one day in seven for worship and prayer.
The danger of losing one easy morning of relaxation and doing nothing, because you have been drawn here to see Jesus this morning, to have your faith watered, tended, nurtured by the Word of God, by worship, by prayer and the sacraments.
The danger of dedicating time each day for prayer and holy meditation. For reading of the Scriptures. For doing things the world calls too churchy.
The danger of attending to the spiritual well-being of your family and friends who need to hear something of this Jesus that they wish to see too.
The danger of stepping into leadership in the church to help grow a ministry to spread the word of Christ.
The danger of faith is not joining a church but that faith in Jesus can be deadly. Trusting that when he says he came to die a ransom for many, that means you are captive to yourself and looking to things other than God. But he has bought you back. A purchase of your life that makes your life not yours, but his. A life that lives in Jesus alone.
Faith and spiritual maturity can take us along a course in which other loves or pleasures may become less in our eyes as we are drawn closer to Jesus. Dangerous in that it becomes completely countercultural to have faith and spiritual life be the driving force for all we do. We have talked about fasting, about denying oneself something for the sake of growing closer to God. Of taking on even a greater prayer life. A greater dedication to living out your faith not only in acts of love and service but in having you defined by your Savior, not your Savior defined by you.
Let us continue to be inspired by these Greeks. To be bookended as those who desire to see Jesus, and this Jesus who draws us to him. The very reason we gather for church is not to be some club that makes the point to have a meeting once a week, but a group of people whose gaze is for the face of Christ. Whose heart is for the word of the Lord. Whose works are those wrought by the Spirit in us. For you have died in Christ. Buried with him. Your life is drawn to him because that is where it dwells. Yearn to see Jesus. Make your passion be this tending of the garden of your faith that the fruit of the Lord may sprout and grow, not only in you, but in your children too. A deeper life. A life committed to this dependence on the one who gave his life for yours. Thanks be to God. Amen