This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on March 22, 2015.
Gospel: John 12:20–33
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27Now 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. 28Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
I bet, that Jesus’ disciples were getting pretty excited. Big things were beginning to happen, like really big things. Sure, Jesus had done some pretty amazing things, or miracles, before. Miracles like feeding thousands of people with only five loaves and two fish. Miracles like, making a blind man see, walking on water, and even changing water into wine.
These miracles were impressive, but they paled in comparison to Jesus’ latest feat, the raising of Lazarus, from being most certainly dead, to all the way alive. This latest miracle, done in the city of Jerusalem, while the Passover Holiday season was beginning to enter into full swing, was beginning to really stir-up interest in Jesus.
And so, I’m sure Jesus’ disciples, his inner-circle, were pretty excited because now, the time had come for the Jesus Show, the greatest show on earth, to become successful, to go viral, to finally start turning a profit of glory and power for Jesus, and of course those who knew him best.
This is where our Gospel reading for today picks things up. The Jesus, Son of God marketing phase of the campaign was over, and now was the time for the main event to begin. And here come some customers, some Greeks, that wish to see Jesus, the one who raises the dead.
Now was that time, as we hear Jesus saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
But there were no great miracles, instead, Jesus compares himself to a grain of wheat that must die. Raising people from the dead can draw a crowd, but comparing yourself to seeds isn’t going to keep them coming.
Our Gospel isn’t clear if the Greeks ever got to see Jesus, but it does seem pretty clear that the greatest show on earth, the Jesus Christ Show, isn’t really what we humans would expect. If the time had come for Jesus to be glorified, wouldn’t it make sense for him to continue doing glorious things, like raising people from the dead?
Today, over 2000 years since those Greeks wanted to see the Jesus Show, it seems to me that as we come to see Jesus, our expectations are a little lower. When it comes time to see Jesus, we have different, less miraculous needs that we want to see filled. We want the guy who will restore some sanity to our fast-paced world, and give us some peace of mind in contrast to the images of violence and terror that are plastered all over our various types of media. We want the, bumpers sticker, “Let go, let God” Jesus. Or the country song, “Jesus take the Wheel” type of deity. Maybe, we want the “power of positive thinking Jesus.” The Jesus who, with enough faith, can take away our stress, and replace it with a calm and confidence that everything will work out for God’s glory. In an age of modernity and convenience, and an area of the world that is about as wealthy as they come, we don’t long to see Jesus the miracle-worker as much as we long to see Jesus the affirmer, motivator, and comforter, who gives us balance and purpose. The one who tells us that we are ok, and that everything will be ok.
Though the needs we want our image of Jesus to meet are often different than those of the Greeks so long ago, the Jesus that actually reveals himself to us remains the same. This is the one who is like a grain of wheat, the One who will be glorified not by his miracles, or his ability to meet every need that each person has, but by his death.
When we long to see Jesus, sometimes he surprises us, disappoints us even, and gives us an image of a God who brings us salvation not by deeds of power, but through the vulnerability his great love for us and all of creation, produces in him. It is hard for us to fully comprehend this image, because we tend to romanticize this sacrifice and take for granted the extent of God’s love. Even today, in our quest for spiritual fulfillment, or satisfaction, we tend to separate the fact that if Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, he could certainly find less painful ways to give us what we need, to make sure we act right, or to keep us in line.
But Jesus loves us, and is devoted to us, and, though he doesn’t always give us what we need, or think we need, he is willing to share his life-giving truth with us, even though he knows we’re going to nail him to a cross. Which is really a hard thing even for Jesus to do.
As we read in John, at this time, the hour of his glory, Jesus isn’t in a state of equanimity or mindful balance, his soul is troubled, he’s stressed out over the sin of this world, our sin, and what this sin will cost him in his service to the truth.
Is this, stressed out Jesus, the Jesus that the Greeks came to see? Is it the Jesus that we want to see? Is this the Jesus we want to trust, the one who doesn’t give us all we need, but who calls us to serve and follow him wherever he may lead? In my own life, I like the idea of trusting in God, and depending on a Savior named Jesus who loves us, but on those occasions when I say “here Jesus, you take the wheel”, I grab it right back the minute I see that he’s driving me straight to the cross.
The Good News in all this, is that the Jesus Christ show which has brought salvation to our world, doesn’t depend on me in order to go on. Jesus continues to be the grain of wheat that dies and from this death new and abundant life has been born. This is life so abundant, that it continues to feed us today, with Christ’s body in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This is the feast that will continue feeding the world with God’s life and love for all of eternity.
When Jesus is revealed to us, in the glory of the cross, it might not be the Jesus we were expecting, or even the one who fills all our needs, but it is the Jesus who loves us so much that he gives his life for us. May this truth, whether it troubles our souls or brings them peace, be enough.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,