Fifth SUNDAY in lent, March 18, 2018
5 Easter, Year B: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
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This is Jesus’ final public speech. To all who were present, the Greeks, his disciples and the crowd, Jesus explained why he must die and what would happen after his glorification.
It is Passover; Jerusalem is full of people who had gathered to celebrate the festival. Among those were Greeks who were probably “God-Fearers”. Those were people who were attracted to Judaism by its message of one God and by its religious laws. They worshipped in the synagogues but did not become converts.
The presence of these Greeks is significant because up until then, Jesus had taught his disciples to minister to the Jewish people. Now the Greeks were coming to him.
They approached Philip because he was the only disciple with a Greek name. Philip went to Andrew and both of them approached Jesus.
Instead of responding to the Greeks’ request for an interview, Jesus answered his two disciples with: “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This “hour” would be a time of risk and danger when he would be arrested. Soon afterward, by his death and resurrection, Jesus would be glorified.
Jesus then delivered a parable about a grain of wheat. He said: “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”. New life or the ‘much fruit’ of eternal life comes only through death of the earthly body.
As part of a memorial service in the Eastern Orthodox Church, a large cake of boiled wheat grains that is spiced, sweetened with pomegranate seeds or honey, and covered with white icing is prepared by a family member of the deceased. It is placed at the entrance of the church before the memorial service begins. Each person attending the service as he or she leaves the church is given a small bag of the boiled wheat mixture. This is to symbolize and affirm God’s promise that those who die in Christ will rise to life again.
Jesus completed his parable by saying: “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 my servant is also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor”.
In this parable, a person’s life is defined as his or her life in this world. The world and eternal life are presented as opposites. Jesus demanded that his disciples reject the world in order to follow him. God will honor everyone who serves Jesus.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus did not agonize in the garden. He acknowledged that his soul was troubled but quickly added: “And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was true to God. He was always the obedient Son. Jesus ended his statement by saying: “Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven. We have heard this voice before in the other Gospel accounts, both at Jesus Baptism and from the cloud at his Transfiguration. It was God’s voice. God responded to Jesus’ promise of compliance when he said: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The crowd heard the voice. Although God spoke clearly, some people heard indistinct sounds like thunder. Others thought it was an angel. The disciples knew that God had spoken. But, whatever anyone heard Jesus quickly said: “The voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” Jesus already knew what was ahead. It was time that everyone had to accept the fact that Jesus had to die.
Jesus then stated what would happen as a result of his glorification. He said: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”
Jesus wasn’t speaking of himself or even the political leaders of the day. He was speaking about Satan. Jesus dying on the cross at first would seem to be Satan’s triumph but in fact, it was his defeat. The phrase “driven out” is the language of exorcism. Jesus on the cross would be exorcising the world itself by throwing out its ruler.
So, what you might be asking yourselves does this have to do with us today?
As I’ve said before, unlike the people who were with Jesus that day in Jerusalem, including the Greek visitors, the disciples and the crowd we have the benefit of knowing what happened on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday. Listening to Jesus speak and hearing the voice of God must have been extremely confusing and distressing, especially to the disciples who were like a family. They had traveled with Jesus, ate with him and watched him perform healings, exorcisms and other miracles.
The disciples must have felt great anxiety and pain as they listened to Jesus’ statements in this passage.
When Jesus spoke about the seed dying in the ground he gave us clue about the mystery of the transformation of death into a new life. We are the seeds who will be buried after death. Jesus died but was not put into the ground.
Jesus can transform us from earthly seeds into a vibrant new life. This is where, as Paul tells us in the first letter to the Corinthians: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
As modern-day disciples of Jesus, we are called to refocus our lives in this world. This means not being self-centered, not striving for the status brought of our material possessions, not striving for power over other people, not striving for our security and convince and not striving for pleasure for its own sake. We are called by Jesus to come out of ourselves to serve and to love each other. We are to release control of our lives and transfer that control to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Surely the “ruler of the world,” Satan, still seems to be around. Things haven’t seemed to have changed from Jesus’ time on earth. There are wars still being waged and constant threats of more wars. Many people are suffering from malnutrition resulting in blindness or deformities. There are parts of the world where known and unknown diseases are killing whole families. There is the trafficking of people in various kinds of slavery, especially women and children. Christians, Muslims, Jews – anyone who is an “other” in a different society is being persecuted. So how has Satan been exorcised?
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says that when things are no longer clear, we have to start believing in God all over again, day after day and week after week. We have to let our old ideas, our old ways become like that grain of wheat. Let them fall to the ground. Let them disintegrate and then be reborn.
In a way, we are continually learning to see Jesus over and over again, learning how to believe. Learning to have faith, to trust, to enter into Jesus’ passion and death and resurrection.
Day by day we learn to trust. We have let the grain of wheat fall to the ground. We do not know how it will be reborn. From here, we do know one thing.
That one thing is that God will be with us no matter what happens. That grain of wheat will be reborn in some way. God still calls us to help others see Jesus just as the Greeks wanted to. We are to live our lives as people who day after day, again and again, believe in God as if for the first time as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross evil has no power over the souls of Christians who truly follow Jesus.
Through Christ, we have the ability and power to fight evil and help people heal in its wake. And, if we ourselves sin, we can come to Jesus in confession and repentance and be forgiven.
Death has no power over us. In the mystery of his crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death so that we may follow him into eternal life to the place that he has prepared for us.
Finally, by the mystery of the cross, Jesus calls all people to himself. The Greeks wanting to see Jesus in this passage are a sign of the inclusion of all people into Christianity. In order to perpetuate peace on earth, the Church universal, the holy catholic and apostolic church, that brings people of all races, nationalities, and cultures together.
Let us rejoice today. All that Jesus spoke about has come to pass. All glory and honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.