Note to New Readers: On Sunday Pastor Yolanda posts her Sunday sermon! Monday-Saturday she offers a very short devotion or meditation! God bless you!
Fifth Sunday in Lent
John 12:20-33 (NRSV)
The grain of wheat dying in the earth
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.
Today’s Bible passage really excites me because it is a glimpse into the heart and mind of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This portion of John begins with Jesus’ disciples being approached by some Greeks who want to see Jesus.
Now, we don’t know a lot about these Greeks. Some have theorized that they were diasporic Jews or Jewish converts or recruits. Others have said that perhaps they were God-fearing Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to pay their respects. Still others have said that they were just dirty, no good, Gentile, foreigners.
We really have no idea who these Greeks were; history leaves them in obscurity. But, I’m not extremely worried about the ambiguity. In my mind, it makes them ready fodder for us to discuss how we—as modern-day disciples of Christ—treat the strangers, foreigners, and/or Non-Christians who come to us asking, “Please, may we see your Jesus?”
Now, in today’s Gospel we are offered one way of handling the strange folks amongst us. When Philip was approached by the Greeks he was obviously taken aback. I can just imagine his “self-talk” as he debated what he should do with these folks.
Can’t you just hear Philip saying, “Should I bother Jesus with these people? But, aren’t they’re Greek? They’re nothing like us, are they? Are they unclean? But, Jesus seems to like unclean people! What should I do? I’m just not sure…Let me go ask Andrew.”
At this point, Philip interrupts his “self-talk” and invites Andrew into the conversation. Together they decide to go and tell Jesus about strange visitors.
As they approach Jesus I can just imagine Andrew shouting, “Hey Jesus! There’s a bunch of GREEKS here to see you!”
Wow! These Greeks wanted to see Jesus. Isn’t it awesome that Jesus’ name had become famous near and far because of the testimony of his many followers? Folks must have been sharing GOOD NEWS with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and friends…
See, it occurs to me that the Greeks must have been hearing the rumors about Jesus swirling around the city. See, human beings love to gossip and I can only imagine that the folks in the city were talking. There must have been whispers and shouts about Jesus’ many good deeds.
Perhaps the Greeks had heard about the miracle in Cana when Jesus multiplied the wine for the wedding feast. Or maybe they had heard tell of Jesus clearing the temple of the salesmen and money changers who were taking advantage of the saints of God. Or possibly they had heard about Jesus healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, or raising the dead.
Whatever it is that they had heard about Jesus, it captivated their hearts and minds so much that they sought out Jesus through his disciples. Upon hearing the request, something weird happens. It actually appears that Jesus ignores the Greek-issue all together and launches into a seemingly disconnected soliloquy about life, death, seeds, fruit, following and serving Jesus.
Wow! Can you imagine being Philip and Andrew? I’m going to be honest and say that in their position I might have worried that Jesus had finally “fallen off the deep end.”
But, in 2009, and this side of the cross, we have a unique perspective into how all of these seemingly disjointed and disconnected images--and discussion points--fit together rather nicely in regard to welcoming the stranger and the outcast.
See, when Philip and Andrew brought the Greeks to Jesus, Jesus said, “The hour has come for me to be glorified…”
How would Jesus receive this glory? He makes it clear by saying in essence, “Look ya’ll I’m about to die. But, my death won’t be for nothing. It will produce much good fruit. My immanent and violent death scares me. I’ve even considered backing out, but I won’t, for this is the whole reason that I have come…”
Wow! Isn’t this a great example of Jesus’ being fully God and fully man? The man was scared to die and even considered backing out. But the God would not back out, would not abort the salvation plan, and was determined to forge ahead—no matter what the cost—thereby securing our salvation and eternal life!
And isn’t it great that salvation was not just for Philip and Andrew? It was not just for the other ten disciples. It was not just for practitioners of Judaism. It was not just for those Greeks who sought him out. No, salvation is a free gift offered to all who are willing to receive it!
John 3:16 makes this perfectly clear. It reads, “For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only begotton son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Those Greeks, those outsiders, those “so-called dirty folks” were a part of the whole wide world that God loves and Jesus came to save! When they arrived on the scene it reminded Jesus that in as much as he was willing to lie down his life-- the whole wide world would be given the opportunity to be saved!
Isn’t that amazing!? But, let’s not miss out on something here. In addition to talking about his own death, Jesus had a word to say to his followers. He said, “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.”
Whoa! Jesus said that if we want to be his followers, we must be willing to follow him to the foot of the cross and to lay down our lives in willing service to Jesus.
What does it mean to lay down our lives in service to Jesus? Well, first of all, it means being willing to bring those whom others consider “foreign, strange, or unclean” to Jesus! I’m always concerned when I walk into a church and everyone appears to be “clothed and in their right minds.” I’m always a little worried when everyone appears to be very clean, have immaculately groomed hair and nails, and smells like roses. I’m always a little taken aback when everyone appears to be of the same race, ethnicity, and social class.
It makes me wonder, “Where are all of the people whom Jesus called “the least of these?” Where are the outsiders whom Jesus welcomed with open arms? Where are the outcasts of our society who were continually invited to feast with Jesus?
Remember, Jesus said elsewhere in the Gospels, “Truly, Truly, I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my friends, you have done it unto me.”
Today, we could make a long list of those people whom Jesus might consider “the least of these” in our community. It would be people who are homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, carriers of HIV or AIDS, and/or the poor and unemployed. Additionally, it would be folks who have lost their homes due to foreclosure, Black men, people of color in general, new immigrants, Muslims, people who don’t speak English and the list goes on and on.... These “so-called strange people, unclean people, foreign people” are not unlike the Greek people that Philip and Andrew brought to Jesus.
See, evangelism, otherwise known as sharing GOOD NEWS, is hard and dirty work. As we associate with folks that other people choose to ostracize, we join with the broken-hearted in their oppression.
Now, let me be frank, it is easier to be selfish. In fact, we are carefully taught in our consumeristic society to look out for Number 1, to get ahead at any cost, and not to worry about stepping on the little guy on the way to the top! But, let me warn you my friends, Jesus has said that this path always leads to death and destruction, for those who love their lives loose them. No good fruit can be born from the seeds of selfishness, prejudice, self-centeredness, stinginess, or pettiness.
But, let me share some GOOD NEWS with you. Jesus has promised that, “those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” As we lay down our lives and our reputations in love for the least of these—and in service to Christ—our families, churches, and communities are positively transformed as a result of God’s efforts through us! As we die to self, and live in Christ, God will produce good and abundant fruit which will remain forever.
I can hear Jesus saying to us today, “Let them come…Let the stranger come. Let the outcast come. Let the foreigner come. Let the weirdos come! This is exactly why I came to the Earth and died on an old rugged cross. This is exactly why I did not turn back when the going got tough. Let them ALL come…”
As we lay down our lives in service to Jesus by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, filling sandbags down by the riverside, providing cards for soldiers overseas, caring for an aged relative, or offering any other act of kindness in the Name of Jesus, we become participants in the greatest story ever told.
Aren’t you glad that Jesus did not forsake the way of the cross? He bled, and suffered, and died to make provision for our sin and to open the door to eternal life. It is our greatest honor to follow Jesus to the cross, bringing friend and foe with us, so that all of us—together—may behold the lamb who takes away the sin of the whole world!
Many of the prophets made promises about the coming Messiah, but in Jesus all of those promises were fulfilled!
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ shall come again!
Now, ainta that GOOD NEWS?!
Loving God, thank you that you were willing to die on the cross, that all of us might be drawn to you. Today we are so grateful for your sacrifice and it is our desire to lift Your Name on high so that all people might know the joy of loving and serving you. In response to your great love poured out on Calvary's tree, we gladly pledge to follow and serve you all of our days! We look forward with great anticipation to the good fruit that you will produce as we lay down our lives in service to you. In Your Holy Name, Amen.
If you have questions about how to become a friend and follower of Jesus, please see the devotion entitled, "Come To Jesus" found at http://aintathatgoodnews.blogspot.com/2009/03/come-to-jesus.html
We are celebrating with all of the people who have recently put all their hope in Jesus! Happy Re-birthday!
Pastor Yolanda extends a very special welcome to all of our friends reading outside of the United States of America! We are honored that you are sharing with us today.
From Pastor Yolanda's blog http://aintathatgoodnews.blogspot.com/