Sunday, March 22, 2015

John 12 20 33 Hike!

let me just say this now the title has nothing to do with the sermon as far as the football reference goes.  It was just that today's reading John 12:20-33 sounded like a football call out.

I want to open with this quote…

One afternoon in the Sabbath school where a lad was asked to repeat what he had learned during the week, he said simply "Sir, we would see Jesus." The teacher was strangely conscience-smitten. He remembered that he had given excellent lessons on the Creation, the Fall, Israel in Egypt, and similar subjects, but had said little about Christ. He looked at the youth who had spoken these words, and then round on the faces of the others. And then instead of using the lesson he had prepared, he talked to the lads earnestly upon the request made so simply and opportunely. He spoke with such yearning for their souls, that the lads listened as never before; and as he spoke he felt that the Master's presence was in their midst.[1]

The process I use to write my sermons is I read the selected reading about a week, sometimes two, before I sit down to write.  Then when I feel, what I perceive to be the spirit, to be moving in my heart I look to see what other people have said in their sermons, I look to the commentaries and see what the research says and then I pray that when I am done this will all make sense.
Sometimes I have pages and pages of quotes that I love, like the one I started with. Often more pages of quotes than you would care to hear me read. Other times I have a big blank page staring at me…and then I pray again.  Sometimes All the rules I learned in seminary  echo back to me especially a quote attributed to Karl Barth that we need to have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other but ,with what the news is these days, I’d rather not.
The first thing we hear in today’s reading is the Greeks wanted to see Jesus.  What I wouldn’t give to see Jesus to just sit at his feet and listen.  What would his words be today?  Would they be any different?  Impossible to know for sure but I suspect not. 
So we have a request to see Jesus. Impossible today and yet a simple request at that time, and yet, evidently this was not a simple request for they went to Philip and then Philip went to Andrew and then they both went to see Jesus.  Now if this was a movie I would imagine the scene would be like “you ask him. I am not going to ask him you ask him, why don’t we both do it…ok together lets’ go….” ah the wise, mature, followers of Christ, sorry but they really are portrayed as a bumbling bunch of everyday people.
So the two tell Jesus there are a couple of Greeks here to see you and how does Jesus react?  Come in?  Sit Down? Relax? Nope! I think it was stated best by Christine Wenderoth, Director, JKM Library, Associate Professor of Ministry, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, April 1, 2009. 
This passage recounts Jesus' last public dialog in the book of John, and starts us on the heavy, sorrowful journey to the cross.  Jesus himself announces his own death in a sort of take charge way: "The hour has come," he declares, as though he's in on the whole plan and approving of its drift.  "The hour has come for the Son of Man [that would be me] to be glorified."

I find Jesus' clairvoyance and bravado to be off-putting, to tell you the truth.  It's a little smug-"I'm off to be glorified, so don't weep for me, Argentina"-smug and invulnerable.  I want my Jesus to be like me--vulnerable, doubting and scared witless.  Even though Jesus says his "soul is troubled," I don't really believe him because in the next breath he says one more time "Father, glorify your name," meaning "Do your worst! Slay me!"[2]

Now she admits she has a bit of attitude problem here and it is showing blatantly in her quote.  Yet in John these “Greek’s” demonstrates a definitive shift in Christ’s teaching and his life.  For John yes this is the beginning of the end, and I wanted to know why?  Who are these Greek’s and how did their appearance trigger something?

In my research I have found nothing unusual about Greeks going to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was quite the Hellenistic city at its time. “Herod once again turned Jerusalem into a Hellenistic city, including all the constituent elements and institutions of a Polis. He built a large theatre, instituted wrestling tournaments in honor of the Emperor, staged spectacles where men fought wild animals,[24] and encouraged gentile immigration to Jerusalem.”[3] So it was not unusual for tourists to come to town for festivals and to trade their wares.  It also is possible that these are Greek speaking Jewish people who have made pilgrimage for the Passover.

Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh states;

“I believe the mention of the “Greeks” here is the inclusion of the last segment of mankind represented in this chapter. In John 12, we find Jesus, Judas His betrayer, the 12 disciples, the intimate friends of our Lord (including, but not limited to Lazarus, Mary and Martha), those who came from Galilee and other places in Israel, those pilgrims who came from afar to Jerusalem for Passover, the residents of Jerusalem and Judea, those from Jerusalem who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, those who opposed Jesus (chief priests, scribes, Pharisees), and now, at last, the Greeks. To pick up on the words of the Pharisees in verse 19: “Look, the whole world has run off after him.” How right their words would prove to be!”[4]

What he is saying here is that it doesn’t matter if these are Greeks of Jewish heritage or pagan.  It doesn’t matter why they wanted to see Jesus it is the fact that they do.  At that moment the possibility of God’s message for a people, shifts to all people.  In the Johnanine context Jesus has an awakening, it is as if he sees all that is before him and the greater message that is for all people, for the world must be proclaimed.

Christ even goes on to try to explain what is about to happen to him in a poetic sense and it is a message proclaimed for all…it is not just a parable. “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” (John 12:24) What is interesting for me about this saying is, we know now, the seed is dormant and doesn’t die went it is fed by fertile ground and watered, it germinates and rises to be fruitful.

Let me say this again a seed, a grain of wheat is dormant, not dead, and it is awakened when fed and watered and nurtured.  This is what it means to be Christian. We cannot sit and be dormant and expect something to come of it.  Recently a church was telling me how they have these wonderful festivals and people from the whole neighborhood come.  They have days of service when they go out and help their neighbors and meet them one on one.  Yet no one new comes to church.

So is that the point?  Do we do things for others to get them in the door?  I am not saying getting people in the door is a bad thing.  I believe in church festivals and church picnics and services on the beach and coffee houses. However I cannot help to wonder, by my own analogy, is this just planting the seed?  How are we feeding?  How are we nurturing?

I read a survey recently that was talking about why people left Church…the number one reason people leave church is a change in their life situation.  One third said they believed they were too busy another third said they had moved away from their home church and just were not motivated to go to another.
The rest were just disenchanted with church they found it hateful, divisive or they perceived their pastor as judgmental or insincere or lacking good preaching abilities, and finally surprising to me, some just were never Christians to begin with.

Less a seed is nurtured, fed and watered it cannot grow.  It has to be placed in the ground.

Can anyone guess the most underestimated reason people return to church???    ????
41% say they were invited back.  How many of you here first came because of a heartfelt invitation?  You see it takes an invite to get someone here and …and it should be an invite from someone they have a connection too.  Do not get me wrong and invite from anyone is good but if it comes from a friend or family member it holds more value.

Now once someone comes in the door this is where the other stuff comes in.  People want a sense of community and to Make a difference

“Almost a third of the formerly churched mentioned that if they were to return to church, they would want to be part of a local body where they can make a difference. By and large, people within the church are more fulfilled in ministry when they sense that God is using them. And churches with high expectations of their members are more likely to draw people back into the fold. The de-churched may have left due to insincerity, but it’s the high standards and expectations that draw them back. People want to serve and know that they are contributing something significant.”[5]

I know that if it wasn’t for the food program and or the knitting project some would not be here today.  I know for a fact if not for the love of music and singing there may be some who would not be here today.  The church festivals and dances and other outreach projects lets people know we are here.  It gives people a sense that this is where part of their community is and it builds upon that concept of making a difference.  We are building community and making a difference when we offer these types of outreach and yet more is expected of us.

We have to feed and nourish people…but how do we do that?  I mean what more can we do?  I know we are asked if we are doing the Seder meal for the earth on Holy Thursday again.  That feeds people, spiritually and physically.  People miss it when Bible exploration doesn’t happen on Sunday morning. 

Okay now here is the thing...I didn’t start the hat and scarf project.  I did not start the feeding program.  Bob started the Sunday morning exploration of the Sunday reading.  You see the question I want to ask right now…right here is what feeds you.  What would you be interested in seeing happen for your ministry, for your spirituality?  You see if we start doing something that YOU like, that YOU want, then you might be enthusiastic enough to invite a friend.

I have spoken of this concept of the seed in other ways before.  I took this opportunity to speak of exciting possibilities for us as a congregation but this metaphor of nurturing and feeding actually works well for the self as well.  This speaks of more than a Sunday spirituality.

I am going to ask some questions you do not need to answer just listen.  Do you have a particular spiritual practice that you find nurturing or have you made something of your own enjoyment into a spiritual practice?  Do you play and pray?

Do you take timeout for daily scripture or reflection?  Are you seeking more than just a Sunday type of relationship with God? What could we do for you here that you might want to experience participate in?

It is funny, to me, that Christ reiterates the metaphor a bit more harshly and not any easier. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life!” (John 12:25)

And to quote Christine Wenderoth again; “And so the more I thought about the grain of wheat, and its journey into the dirt, the more I came to realize that for me this is not an attractive vision at all.  I don't want to go into the dirt.  I don't want to die.  I don't want to die, even in the service of truth and justice and the American way.  I don't even want to sacrifice my comfort and serenity, if the truth be told.”[6] She is feeling the uncomfortable truth that The way, as taught and modeled by Christ, is not easy is not comfortable and can be messy and dirty.

Yet for me, what I find even more challenge is this concept that one who loves their life here will lose it.  Ok that’s true we will all lose our life.  I had a professor who would say it is not a matter of if you should die but when. But Christ says; “those that hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life!” (John 12:25) now that is hard, especially since it is so easy to hear wrong.

If heard wrong it sounds like we are all going to die but if you hate it here you are going to hate it forever.  But what it says, to me, and let me say this has nothing to do with luxury, rich or poor.  If you are satisfied with the way the world is, if you have no care but for yourself and your own comfort well you lose in the end for that is not what all this is about.

However, no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey if you find yourself hungry for more knowledge of Christ, if you find yourself not comfortable with the world the way it stands and you want to find a way, the way…too make a difference then, then this is your eternal reward.  You get to continue loving, caring and enjoying being in community.

Now l am not saying the other person goes to a fiery Hell.  I have a hard time with that concept.  I believe they, come into the all loving presence of God, the redeeming Grace and love of God, that is eternal, that changes the spirit, moves it, and that beings existence will no longer be the same.

In the presence of God and God’s love one cannot continue being apathetic.  You are going to lose the apathetic life you once had.

But here and now, we are so blessed because we have a knowledge of Christ and we come together as a community because we need that relationship with each other and with God.  And because we are Children of God we are also called to nurture our lives in God, in Christ, through prayer and spiritual practice.

Then as we do the spiritual work for ourselves we find we are called to invite others to join us and grow our community.  We are also called to serve.  We know, I hope, that service takes many forms from charitable giving, to physical participation in programs, to Prayer.  Of course, I am going to tell you, Prayer in all things and all things should be prayer. 

If you are surprised that I have brought this back to prayer…you probably haven’t been paying much attention to many of my sermons.  But I want to add something here.  Payer in all things and in all things prayer and in all prayer joy, so that all things are joyous!  Especially in this Lenten season. I think we have had 2000 years of hearing how bad people are, how sinful people are, how God is angry, and we need to be miserable to be good Christians.

I really do not want to be invited to THAT party!

In Corpus Christi by Terrence McNally Joshua says “Be awake every moment and give thanks to God the Father for it.  Give back as much-no more!-than you have been given.  Laugh.  Fill your lungs with good air and pray.”[7] Joshua goes on to explain that we are not to fear God but pray smiling and boldly even.

So to day I ask you again envision what you may want to see here to help us nourish you and your spiritual life.  What is going to make you smile in the spirit of Jesus? I pray that we all become a Living, growing seed of the spirit of Christ for each other and the community around us. Amen.

[1] Pastor W. Baxendale, A lesson to Pastors and Teachers, 2002, accessed March 17, 2015,
[2] Christine Wenderoth, John 12:20-33, April 1, 2009, accessed March 16, 2015,
[3] wikipedia, Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, last modified December 19, 2014, accessed March 16, 2015,
[4] Robert Deffinbaugh, The Greeks Seek Jesus (John 12:20-50), August 20, 2004, accessed March 16, 2015,
[5] Thom Rainer, Why do people leave and how to bring them back, Medium, accessed March 16, 2015,
[6] Wenderoth, John 12:20-33.
[7] Terrence McNally, Corpus Christi (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1999), Digital eBook.

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