March 22, 2015 – We wish to see Jesus

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.

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Lent 5 March 22, 2015   (Psalm 23, Jer 31:31-34, Heb 5:5-10)   John 12:20-33

We wish to see Jesus

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I’ve known some people who say they read the obituaries in the newspaper, first thing, every morning, ‘just to see’ (they often say) ‘if I’m still alive.’

And I remember talking with a former parishioner in Vermont, about her grandfather, whose ashes we were preparing to lay to rest in a hillside cemetery… As we drove along, going to the cemetery, she was telling me about her grandfather, highlights of his life, what a lively, interesting, sometimes colorful man he’d been…Telling me how she’d been his care giver… Then, as we drove along, telling how, once, just before he passed away, her grandfather woke in the middle of the night, looked over to her, and asked – “Am I dead yet?”

“Not yet,” she told him. “You’re still here with me… and I’m still here with you…”

Now here’s Jesus, telling us he’s heading on into his death today – and if we’re his followers, we’re heading there with him. Yet almost all-in-one-breath, he also tells us – as long as you’re with me – I’ll be with you – and together we’ll live forever… And sometimes I wonder – “Are we there yet?”

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Some Greeks from afar are in Jerusalem for a religious festival, as we pick up in the story today, and they come to the disciples, saying “we wish to see Jesus.” Back in John chapter 1, we’ve heard Jesus tell a pair of his first followers – who’ve asked him where he’s staying – “come and see.” Then another follower of Jesus calls still another, to come, meet Jesus, saying again, “come and see.” And in chapter 4 a Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well calls her whole village to come, meet Jesus, saying yet again, “come and see.” Come and see is one of the mega-themes of John’s gospel. Seeing Jesus – for who he really is – is a take-away in almost every verse…

Now these Greeks are coming to see Jesus from afar, from another culture. They approach Philip (who’s got a Greek name), saying “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip gets Andrew and together they bring the visitors to Jesus.

Which is the last we hear of the Greeks – who make just this one brief appearance. But somehow just the fact that these people from afar have come looking to see Jesus – is enough to let Jesus know his ministry’s reached the take-off stage. Now it’s Mission-Israel-Accomplished (in spite of some unresolved issues). Now the next part of the mission – our part – bringing the good news to all the rest of the world – has begun. As Jesus says, “now’s the time – now my hour has come” – and now, with this part of the mission fulfilled or about to be – Jesus talks about his glory time has come. Glory meaning what? Glory as in (woo-hoo) March Madness NC-double A champions?

Well–? Glory for Jesus is about is about Jesus lifted up in his greatest triumph. Not however exactly lifted up like a star basketball player, hoisted high by teammates, crowned with the victory net, holding a trophy in hand. Last week, remember (in John 3), Jesus talked about how he’ll be lifted up like Moses lifted the bronze serpent in the wilderness on a pole, as the cure for a sin-induced epidemic of snakebite (Numbers 21). (Jesus also talks about being lifted up in chapter 8.) Now for a third time, Jesus says he will be lifted up – this time adding that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself… And the gospel writer tells us this is all about the kind of death Jesus is to die…

Up to now in John’s gospel, Jesus has been saying his hour, his time, has not yet come. Now Jesus says my hour has come. Now the hour of judgement and the hour of glory has come. Now the power of the devil, the ruler of the world, will be overthrown. And this triumph is accomplished, Jesus says, even before it’s completed on the cross and in the empty tomb – accomplished already in the resisting of the temptation to avoid death on the cross…

And even though Jesus never talks about the cross directly in John’s telling of the story – Jesus does say rather plainly – ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to earth and dies, it bears no fruit. And anyone who loves their life will lose it – anyone who hates their life in the world will keep it for eternal life. (The word hate in those days often meant to love less than something else.)

And even though he’s used to living sacrificially all the time, every day – still, for a moment – Jesus contemplates death on the cross, which he knows is coming soon – and as he ponders, he says, “Now my soul is troubled…”

Some bible scholars hear these words as an anguished prayer – the fourth gospel’s version of the “let-this-cup-be-taken-from-me” Gethsemane prayer in the garden, recorded in the other three gospels, but not in John… As Jesus continues speaking, saying, “And what should I say? Father, save me from this hour…?”

Others hear what Jesus says here as not a prayer of anguish – but as Jesus doing a rhetorical question-and-answering-of-himself for our benefit…Showing himself contemplating the options very briefly, before calmly affirming the cross… Only God knows for sure exactly what was going on in Jesus’ mind… But Jesus does seems almost eerily calm, even as he’s on the way to the cross, in John’s gospel – much more so than in all the other gospels.

Which doesn’t mean looking ahead to the cross doesn’t painfully trouble his soul. Jesus is very able to have and hold more than one strong emotion at a time. He’s fully capable of being troubled and calm in soul and spirit at the same time… (And again– ) Jesus doesn’t spell it all out or explain…He just says to himself in our hearing, “No, it’s for this reason I’ve come to this hour. Father glorify your name.”

A moment ago, remember, Jesus has said ‘the time has come for the Son of Man–(meaning himself)– to be glorified.’ Now he says “Father, glorify your name.” God the Son gives the glory to God the Father – and vice-versa – as God the Father, speaking about his Son, replies, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again…”

And from here on in John’s gospel, we see Jesus, leading us calmly, steadily, through the valley of the shadow of death… into eternal life. Patiently coaching us…Steadily helping us… to stick close by him as he goes… Coaching us in the art of giving up life…to keep our life forever…

The dying Jesus does on the cross is, of course a literal death. The dying to ourselves Jesus is talking about is a metaphor, a figure of speech. Which doesn’t necessarily make it easier…

It may actually be less difficult, sometimes, for some people at least, to be a martyr, once, and get it over with (so to speak) – than to commit to day-in, day-out, daily dying to ourself…(Which is what Jesus usually asks us to do…)

Either way – dying literally, or dying to ourselves metaphorically – dying is no small thing…Yet at the same time, following Jesus, we also see –

Dying to ourselves is, in fact, mostly one small thing after another… One small death at a time… One little dying to self… moment by moment…

And yes, sometimes it can be easier to die a martyr’s death once – to fall on a hand grenade (literally or metaphorically) for others – than to get up every morning and take out the garbage, run the vacuum, go to work, take care of the kids (or the grandchildren – or our parents or grandparents or neighbors)… Forgiving and being forgiven and turning the other cheek and judging not and biting our tongues instead of flaring up in anger and irritation – doing all this every hour, every day…. As long as we’re alive…

Giving-up-life like this, little-by-little may indeed be the more difficult route… But this is nearly always what Jesus is talking about… as he tells us to die to ourselves… to bear fruit and live, forever, with him.

It’s the day-to-day-life-of-following-Jesus, trying always to stay close by him, wherever he leads – the daily life most of you are already very familiar with – that Jesus is talking about today… So –

Hear again the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

You may be already living in the life that is eternal, here and now, already. Not to say it won’t get a whole lot better when Jesus returns in fullness of glory – but –

Now, already – just like it’s already Spring even though there’s still cold days and ice on the ground – still now already Spring is here – and –

Any time you or me or anyone, anywhere, is really trying to see Jesus for who he is – really trying to believe in him and to be following Jesus where he leads–

Any time we die to our self and live for God and neighbor –

All the way to heaven now, already, is heaven (as Catherine of Sienna has said) – all because Jesus has said, “I am the way and the truth and the life…” And –

Now, in Christ, our life eternal has already begun –

As we believe in Jesus – Follow Jesus…

Dying to ourselves… Bearing good fruit for Jesus…

In every small act of dying…each small act of faithful following…

Drawing ever closer to Jesus…

Who draws us ever closer…

Closer to himself…

Thanks be to God.