The 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: This Lent is rapidly coming to a close. Next week we celebrate Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. That begins our journey through Holy Week. We will soon gather for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as we are drawn to the momentous events of Easter Sunday.
But I don't want to get ahead of myself.
Here we are at the Fifth Sunday of Lent and we have the opportunity to reflect and review what we have experienced and what we have been challenged by this Lent.
The reading from Jeremiah this morning is a reminder of what I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Here the Lord speaks through Jeremiah and outlines God's desire to have a personal relationship with us, his people.
The new Covenant that is laid out through Jeremiah is outlined in a very personal and engaging way. "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
This is the New Covenant that Jesus came to fulfill. An opportunity for each one of us to come into a personal relationship through Jesus.
Then we share in the Psalm this morning. We are brought up short by our own unworthiness. We are reminded of our inability to fulfill the requirements of the covenant. In the Psalm we are invited to plead, as we do every week in our participation in the Confession of Sin, for the Lord's compassion and grace to be exercised in our lives.
I spoke at the Healing Service on Wednesday evening of how often we find ourselves tempted to not even come to the Lord because we realized how we have failed to meet our own expectations of being people of faith. If we are truly honest with ourselves we know that we cannot measure up to the expectations of the Lord. Yet like the Centurian in the passage from Luke, that we read each month at the Healing Service, we know that Jesus can heal and redeem those we love. "We are not worthy to come, but just say the word."
I want to spend a few minutes this morning exploring this tendency within all of us to not feel worthy of the Lord's love and redemption. I find it really interesting that many of us can see and understand how the Lord could heal and redeem someone else but we find it so difficult to believe it for ourselves.
"We are not worthy, but just say the word." Say the word for someone else, for someone we love and care about. We can see it and believe for someone else, but struggle to believe it for ourselves.
Then I would like to take a moment to reflect on one of the things that we do when we don't believe we are worthy.
Last week I asked the question what have you learned about yourself through the process of our wilderness experience, in this past year?
Well, can I be really honest here and say that one of the things that I have learned about myself is my tendency to NOT come to the Lord and ask for the intervention that I need. At one period in our spiritual journey together Fiona and I had a period when we listened to the teaching from Joyce Meyer. Joyce is someone who has a practical approach to faith. She talks a lot about her own journey. She talks about her faults and failings and how the Lord has taught her and trained her for the ministry position that she holds now.
Joyce is a master of the short quote. She has the ability to say in a brief quip or a quick quote something that contains a treasure trove of spiritual wealth.
One of the most memorable quips or quotes that I remember from that time is: "When you are in a crisis, do you go to the throne, or do you go to the phone?"
For me, that quip held my attention. I found myself going back and thinking about it often and for quite a while. In my thinking that quip connected really well with an old adage, I heard many times when I was growing up: "Misery loves company."
When it came right down to it the reason I liked the quip from Joyce was that in my thinking that I was unworthy I would not seek out a spiritual answer to my dilemmas. I was much more likely to talk to someone else.
Rather than going to "the throne" - going to prayer, going to the Scriptures, or seeking out some spiritual practice that would mean I was leaning into my faith - I would seek out someone to "share" with.
As I look back now I usually would find someone who was also struggling and finding it difficult to make a difference in their spiritual lives. We would commiserate with one another over the difficulty we were facing and assuring each other that "well, there is only so much one can do, and we wouldn't want to become too spiritual."
I have to admit that is still my tendency. Unless I can remind myself of how destructive that course of action is I very easily slip into that pattern of behavior and find myself bemoaning my unworthiness and my inability to make any gains in my spiritual outlook or behavior.
How do we break that pattern and begin to live into the truth of the Gospel? Well, I am / we are going to have to exercise some spiritual discipline. To pick up Joyce's challenge, I am going to have to find my own way to the Throne.
The Meditation from -Br. Luke Ditewig of the Brothers of Saint John the Evangelist from yesterday morning offers one way. Rather than bemoan my situation, with someone willing to listen to me, I need to learn how to put the things I am wrestling with into prayers of Lament.
Brother Ditewig says in his meditation entitled Lament. "About half of the psalms are laments. Lament is a cry of pain, a cry for help, and a cry of trust. As humans, we lament; lament is our prayer. Be stark and boldly real, naming your pain, fear, protests, and questions. Write them out, speak, draw, or act them out. Let yourself weep and groan. At the same time, remember and trust that you are being heard. As from the beginning, God hears every cry, even from the grave. As on the cross, Jesus, too, laments. Our God and helper grieves with us."
Isn't that a beautiful picture of the personal nature of the covenant relationship the Lord seeks to have with us? A relationship, as Jeremiah puts it, of the law being written on our hearts. A relationship of God being our God and we being his people.
At this point, we need to turn to the Gospel passage for this morning.
Here in the passage from John, we find ourselves engaged in a discussion of the covenant. I am going to lean into the words and thoughts of the Working Preacher commentators. They stress that we need to understand that this is Jesus' last public discourse, his last public statement, before what we know as the Farewell discourse. So, this is his second to last public utterance.
John sets the stage by explaining that there were Greeks present. We might not be too excited about that or we may not put too much stock in that simple sentence. The commentators point out that this means there were people from outside the original covenant who approach the disciples, those in the inner circle of Jesus followers, and they say they want to see Jesus.
Now, that doesn't mean they just get a look at Jesus. They want to meet him, they want to get up close and personal with Jesus. The disciples tell Jesus about these outsiders and his response is to say: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
Jesus is saying if they stick around they will see Jesus as he is truly meant to be seen and understood. He illustrates what he means by telling a very short parable about a grain of wheat.
Most of us are familiar with this story right? A grain of wheat has to be buried in the earth and be changed if it is to fulfill its purpose and be fruitful.
Obviously, this story refers to Jesus. But it also refers to us who are in covenant with him. "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor."
Jesus goes on to lament what is about to happen to him and then in response to that Lament, he states that he is willing to fulfill his purpose. “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.”
The Heavenly Father responds by declaring that Jesus has brought him glory and in being willing to fulfill his purpose will bring further glory.
Jesus seeks the Lord and in doing so he shows us a pattern of going to the throne. In accepting the suffering that is coming (and the wilderness experience that he will go through on the cross of being totally separated from the Heavenly Father) Jesus shows how the grain of wheat illustration will be fulfilled in his own life and how it can be fulfilled in ours.
He declares the victory over the "ruler of this world." He promises that in doing what he will do he will draw all humankind to himself.
“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.”
So, as we come to the end of this Lent what can we Lament? How can we honestly and in true repentance bring before the Lord and offer to him? How can we become the grain of wheat, we are designed to be, so that we will bring forth our fruitfulness? What spiritual disciplines can we exercise so that we seek to draw near to the throne?