Gospel: John 12:20-33
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.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
Message: First of all this morning I want to thank all those who participated in our Service of Morning Prayer worship last Sunday. I was able to watch on Facebook on Sunday afternoon and I was blessed to see and hear your offering to the Lord in the presentation of our worship last week.
Then, I have to say that I was blessed by Jack's comment at the beginning of his Homily that I usually have something profound and wise to say when I come before you to share my thoughts in reflecting on the Scriptures of the day.
If I am being totally honest there are some Sundays when I wonder if there is much logic to what I have to say, talk about being profound and wise. Some days there is a direct thought that comes and I follow it to a conclusion that seems to resonate within our community.
At other times I feel like I have a scattershot series of related thoughts that I seek to hang together and bring into a cohesive message.
I heard another preacher, this week, talk about how he understands a sermon is a lot like the back of a woven tapestry. He said when you look at the front of the tapestry it can be a beautiful interweaving of colors and can convey a beautiful scene. He then compared what it was like to look at the back of the tapestry. The back is a bunch of knots, hanging threads, and unfinished ends.
This week's message is more like a woven tapestry. I know what I hope the front is going to look like and I am hoping there aren't too many hanging threads, knots, or loose ends.
So, let us begin.
I am going to begin the way that I often do and ask a question. What are you longing for? As we journey through Lent, and as we realize that we have never really got out of Lent from last year, what is it that you are longing for? What is it that you desire?
Then, my secondary question is: "what does that longing show you or teach you about your spiritual condition or spiritual situation?"
Perhaps I should ask that question a different way? What have our disappointments taught us about ourselves?
What have you learned, or are you learning, about yourself? What have you learned, or are you learning, about your spiritual condition or spiritual situation because of your inability to do what you have wanted to do in the past year?
This past year we have experienced limitations in all areas of our community life. We have been told what we can do and what we can't do. We have been told when we can do things and when we can't do them.
Early on in the pandemic, I preached about how I understood that we were individually and collectively going through a period of grief. We were all, and are to a certain extent are still, grieving the loss of so many things in our lives.
I encouraged us to consider how people in grief go through a wide range of emotional attitudes and responses. I talked briefly about the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. I encouraged us all to consider where we might be in the process of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Now, I did say at the time that this was not a perfect system, by any means, and we would all individually deal with the situation and our circumstances in our own way. I tried to encourage us not to get stuck in one of the stages.
The reading from Numbers, this morning, is a good example of a group of people finding themselves dealing with their disappointment and their frustration. Dealing with their grief and being stuck in one emotional response. The people had expected that Moses would lead them out of their captivity and into freedom. Instead, they find themselves in the wilderness. They were not able to obtain the thing that they were longing for. They find themselves reacting and responding to their situation. They blame Moses, and they act out, in response to the situation.
I am not going to say a lot about that. It is a subject that is a Sermon all in itself. I will just say that it is when the people do finally recognize their fault and go to Moses and ask for his intercession that God tells Moses to create the symbol of a snake raised up on a pole. When Moses raises the symbol up before the people they are healed and released.
That theme of being raised up is continued in the Epistle Lesson this morning. Paul lays out the nature and the behavior of the Ephesians before they came to know the Lord. He states that their former behavior was dictated by their emotions - their passions and their desires. He encourages them to understand that they were lifted up by the Lord to a new experience of love and the Holy Spirit. That the way that they are to live is now modeled on Christ. That just like Jesus who did the things the Lord had designed for him to do, they were to live their lives to fulfill the opportunities that the Lord was providing for them.
"But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-- by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
Paul understands longing. Paul is longing for an active and personal relationship with the Lord. That is the goal that Paul is interested in. He wants that for us as well. He wants us to understand where we want to be, where we need to be.
David expressed that kind of longing in the first two verses of Psalm 42: As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
But Paul never lets us forget that we can't do it ourselves, that we have to depend on the Lord to do it for us.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast."
So, how does that work? How do you long for something and have to depend on someone else to make it possible? I believe we have to turn to Paul again and take some time evaluating what our wilderness experiences are for.
Let us briefly look at what Paul says in Romans 5: 1 - 5
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."
So this is what we know from that passage: We are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Christ, we have access to grace, we boast in our hope. Not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, character, hope, hope that does not disappoint because of God's love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Going back to my original question this morning what has the past year taught you? What is it that you are longing for? What is it that you desire?
Then, my secondary question: "what does the experience of this past year, this year of wilderness living tell you? As you have been longing in the wilderness what does your longing show you or teach you about your spiritual condition or spiritual situation?"
I am going to suggest that for many of we have been longing to get back to church, to get back to being in church. For many of us that is a deep longing. This morning I would like to ask if you are willing to examine that longing? What does that longing tell you about your spiritual condition or your spiritual situation? Has the wilderness experience we have been through confirmed for you the spiritual truths that we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Christ, we have access to grace, and we boast in our hope. Has our experience in this past year, this year of living in the wilderness caused us to boast in our sufferings? Knowing that suffering produces endurance, character, and hope. The kind of hope that does not disappoint because of God's love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Now I can't end my message without touching on the Gospel for this morning. In the reading from John, we see that same phrase "lifted up." Jesus is "lifted up" so that those who believe in him may have eternal life.
The Cross is central to our belief as Christians. But the story of Christ's suffering must also contain the last supper, the arrest, the trial, the betrayals, the scourging, and the carrying of his cross. All of these elements lead to the cross, to the crucifixion. Jesus is the ultimate example of suffering leading to endurance, character, and hope.
But we have to know that the story doesn't stop at the cross. We have to remember that the story doesn't end there. We must go on to the story of the burial and resurrection. Without these elements, it is an incomplete story. The ultimate victory over death is the very thing that we rejoice in. We are invited to rejoice because Jesus suffered, but in the end, he was victorious. John 3: 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, what is our longing teaching us? How are we doing with rejoicing in our suffering?