Location and Timing, Sermon on John 12:20-33 for 5th Lent B, March 25, 2012

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.

Real Estate people used to say that the three most important things about a house are, in order of priority: location, location, and location.  Now we

.

know that’s only half true.  Now we know that most important are the combination of location and timing, location and timing, location and timing.

Those who bought great homes in great locations just before the housing price-bubble burst have learned the hard way the lesson of timing.

Location and timing are central to this text from John that we just read.  We will look at this text together, and as we do, we are going to come to the question of our  location and timing.  Where are we, right now on the map of our lives, and where are we on the time-line of our lives?  Are we where we want to be?

John will be John

Before we start, let’s just remember one thing: John’s gospel is different from the other three.  It was written perhaps sixty years after Jesus earthly ministry, so there has been a long time to think through the meaning and significance of his life and teaching.  John loves to embed symbols in his telling of the story, and he is quite comfortable with time-shifting events, like a lot of modern films do.

For example, there is only one time a voice from heaven is heard in John’s gospel, and it is here, not at Jesus’ baptism nor at the transfiguration as in the other gospels.  Why?  Because this moment is the tipping moment: the dramatic, decisive turn in events that lead to the conclusion.  The voice from heaven is all about making the timing of this moment utterly unique.

The Greeks are Coming

But let’s start where the story begins, with these Greek people who want to see Jesus.  Who are these people?  They are the rest of the world.  To Jews in those days, the world had two kinds of people: Jews and non-Jews.  Sometimes non-Jews were called gentiles, sometimes, “the nations” or, because everyone in the world back then spoke Greek, they were simply called “the Greeks.”

Now, the Greeks they have changed locations.  Now, they are not living in some no-go zone of gentile foreign-ness.    Now they have come to Jesus.

It’s Passover time in Jerusalem.  Lots of people come to celebrate the change of location that started the whole story of the Jews: the movement from Egypt and slavery to freedom across the Red Sea.  Now a new change of location is happening, a new exodus: from not being with Jesus to being with Jesus.  And the whole world is involved.

Jesus had predicted that he had sheep to bring into his care who were “not of this fold” – meaning non-Jews (John 10:16).  Now it’s finally coming true.  Here is how it goes:

 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 

Why all the attention to the way these non-Jews come to Jesus?  John is symbolically representing the perfect scenario.  Disciples are there to help people get to Jesus.  We are here to help people get to Jesus.  All kinds of people.  People like us, and people not like us.

The Greeks are here: the time has come

When the world starts coming to Jesus, the dramatic moment has arrived.  Jesus says to Andrew and Philip,

23 “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Again we have a time-shift.  The Greeks come now, but Jesus says the moment at which he will “draw all people” to himself is when he is lifted up – meaning on the cross, a few days in the future.  But looking at this moment from sixty years afterwards, this was only a blink away.

32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 

So the story continues: the moment that the world comes to Jesus is so dramatic that it means Jesus, the Son of Man, is being glorified, and this is exactly what that mysterious voice dramatically asserts.   Some may have heard it as thunder, but Jesus heard in it a confirmation.  God was at work, and the world was becoming aware of it.

The Darker Side 

But here is where the story takes a turn.  Perhaps those thunder-clouds darkened the whole sky.  Jesus now teaches what it means to come to him, as the Greeks of the world have just started to do.  It’s quite serious business.

In the black-and-white, all-or-nothing way in which John reports Jesus’ words,  we hear about loving and hating our lives.

Jesus, as John tells it, begins with a stripped down, short parable of a seed:

24 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. 

What is the point?  Each of us are like seeds.  Each of us has the capacity to produce huge amounts of fruit, but only under the right conditions.  A seed sitting on the couch all day produces nothing.  A burial is required if you want new life.  Planting the seed in the soil, symbolic death, is step one.

Hating the Dead-Zones in us

What does this mean?  There are parts of our lives that we should hate so much we should wish them dead.  If instead we love these parts of our lives and keep them above ground, no harvest will come next spring.

25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

This sounds like a call to be a Taliban suicide bomber – but it’s not.  The Taliban  path is utterly destructive; the opposite of what Jesus wants for us.  The starkness of these words are exaggeration for the effect of emphasizing the importance of their meaning.  And what in the world could it mean to hate life in order to “keep it for eternal life?”  The very next line is the explanation:

26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 

Notice this is about location too; being in Jesus’ location.  The whole point is that following Jesus leads to life.  Not following him leads to death.

Where are we on the map of our lives?  What is our inner location?   Well we have come to a place where we have accumulated a lot of baggage.  We are now in familiar territory and comfortable with our surroundings – even though, by the standards of Jesus, we ought to hate it.

What kinds of things are hate-able?  Anything that is contrary to following Jesus.  Anything that represent a way of living or a perspective contrary to the Jesus-way.  Anything that is a barrier to being a “red-letter Christian;” a follower of Jesus in thought, word and deed.

Just like doctors hate cancer cells and bacteria, and like judges hate violent crime, like coaches hate sloth and disunity, so there are parts of our lives that we should hate.

Lenten Self-Examination and Renunciation

In lent we practice self-examination and renunciation.  There are things to give up, things in our lives to give up, to hate, that go way beyond desserts and steaks.   I started with myself, and I came up with these things to hate.

Even though we are used to it, we should hate our natural selfishness.

Even though we think that we are in good company feeling this way, we should hate our fear of people who are different; that is, people who look differently, like Trayvon Martin did, people vote differently, who worship differently, who speak differently, even who love and couple differently.

Even though we are a lot like our culture here, we should actually hate our:

Trayvon Martin
  • apathy towards suffering,
  • our tolerance of injustice,
  • our complicity with discrimination,
  • our materialism,
  • our addictions
  • and our compulsions.

We should hate how soft we are on ourselves, how willing we are to believe our own excuses, how much comfort we feel we deserve.

Jesus says, rather,

25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  

The Benefit

This is the good side: there is eternal life on offer here.  Not just life in the sky by-and-by, in some post-death future, but starting now.  In John’s gospel, “eternal life” is often the way he speaks of the thing the other gospels call the “kingdom of God.”  It starts now.  Timing is crucial.

It starts were Jesus is.

26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

Where is Jesus?  Following him inevitably leads to pain.  It lead him to pain as he was “lifted up” on the cross, in total solidarity with all who suffer the effects of evil.  All through his life he led his followers to places of pain, showing them what he expected his servants to do.

He led them to a well where a marginalized, shunned woman showed up and he offered the living water of forgiveness.  He led them to places of scarcity and hunger and showed his followers how seriously God takes human need.  He led them to an impending execution of a caught-red-handed-adulteress and shut it down.  He challenged entire systems of oppression as he cleared the temple.

We began by discussing location and timing.  Where are we in relation to Jesus?  And what time is it in our lives?   It’s almost Holy Week – time is short.  And for most of us, we are far closer to the end of our lives than the beginning.  Time is short.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s