Sermon: The Fifth Sunday in Lent (B) – 22nd March 2015

St Aidan’s Anglican Church West Epping  8.30am

Readings:     Jeremiah 31:31-34;  Psalm 119:9-16;  Hebrews 5:5-16;   John12:20-33;

In John’s account of Jesus’ ministry up to today’s reading has been in Galilee, though John tells us he has been to Jerusalem twice before. Today’s reading has him there for the festival of Passover. It will be his last. As we head toward his last three days and the celebration of the Christian Passover, we have the opportunity to reflect on Jesus, what he thinks, knows and does (the choices he makes and why) as he moves deeper into his reason for being. He is heading home.

Until now, when Jesus is called upon for special action, or when he escapes various threats, John explains it by telling us that Jesus’ “hour had not yet come”. But on this return to Jerusalem, Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead, and many of the Jews believe in him. Many, not all; some go to the Pharisees to report on what Jesus has done. The Pharisees, rather than be awed, are threatened and report it to the chief priests. Together, these religious leaders convene the ruling religious council and decide that Jesus must be destroyed and Lazarus with him. Otherwise, the whole world will soon believe in Jesus, and Rome will come and destroy not only their temple, but also them as a people.

Now, as if in fulfilment of the council’s fears, two Greeks come asking to see Jesus. Are they proselytes, converts to Judaism, or simply nameless “God-fearers?” A number of Gentiles living among Jews were drawn to their ethics and traditions. Called God-fearers, they honoured Torah, tried to keep its precepts but for whatever personal reasons, did not convert. There were many such Greeks in the Galilean district from which Jesus, Phillip and Andrew came. They have come to Jerusalem for Passover, and approach Phillip, who has a Greek name, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus”. When Jesus hears of it, he responds, “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified”.

How does Jesus know that? How long has he known that? Over and over again the New Testament tells us that Jesus was just like you and me. In other words, no matter what we mean when we call him God’s Son, he had emptied himself of any divine attribute to become fully human. As it says in Hebrews, just before our reading, he was “in every respect … tested as we are, yet without sin.”

Without sin: what does that mean? Sin is something that separates us from being aware of God’s presence. It keeps God obscure and veiled. Jesus, however, was determined to allow nothing to do that. From the moment he first became aware of the presence of the One he called “Father”, Jesus was steadfast to the relationship, allowing nothing to separate him from his Father.

Second, sin is a matter of falling short of the mark of who we were created to be. Somewhere in his thirst for God, it began to dawn on Jesus that his heavenly Father was calling him to do and be more than he or anyone around him had ever imagined: his reason for being. He would not allow himself to fall short of that.

His reason for being, how did he know that? Because he nurtured the dimension of the divine in his life, in prayer and in studying the Scriptures, he came to know whom he was and what it was he was to do.

How do you and I know who we are? How was it you became you? Better still, what are the things shaping you in your own becoming? What are the input, the forces and choices that impinge upon your growth? This faith community, or your family; scripture or the Sydney Morning Herald, prayer or conversations with those you think have succeeded, or someone as equally confused?

Have the decisions all been your own, or do you find them being made around you by forces, some joyfully serendipitous, some sadly disappointing, but often beyond your control? For Jesus it emerged out of his intimate prayer life with the one he called Abba. Out of that, Jesus realized he was being called to take upon himself a role that the ancient prophecies described sometimes as work reserved for God alone, and, at other times, as the work of God’s special servant.

Jesus had wrestled with his calling for God only knows how long. Now, somehow, he knew he was to be the one through whom God’s act to renew Israel, and through Israel the whole world, would take place. God’s new covenant with Israel, promised by Jeremiah, would emerge because of him. But that said, we should not think he had an easy passage through life, much less to Jerusalem because of his conviction. We must put away those childhood notions that he knew every moment what was coming next, that because of his divine dispensation he was different, that he did not suffer pain or doubt. He was just like you and me if it were not so we are not saved.

Our reading from Hebrew’s today tells us that as his vocation became more and more clear to him, he “offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death … “ He objected, he wrestled, he tried to leave it behind. He struggled with his vocation the way you and I struggle with our calls to be sisters and brothers of Christ, daughters and sons of God. He objected to the calling as you and I do. And because of his reverence for God, he was heard. But it did not change his reason for being; it did not save him from the cross. Hebrews says, “Although He was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered”.

What an extraordinary assertion! It is the only place in all of scripture that gives us any insight into how Jesus came to know who he was, through his suffering with it. Suffering can teach us many things, and comes in many ways. He suffered the rejection of the religious community. He suffered the rejection of his family; remember, they thought he was mad. And there must have been moments in his life, especially as the scope of his vocation became clearer, when he had to consider the possibility that he was mad. He learned through suffering: not the physical suffering that had yet to come, but the suffering he went through as he tried to remain true to his Father.

We should also note that even Jesus had things to learn on his way to becoming who he really was, if he was to do what he had been sent to do. He did not come with an instruction manual other than the one you and I have, scripture. He had to sort it out, as you and I try to sort it out for ourselves.

But by the time the Greeks arrive he knows “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”. His life will not bear the fruit for which he was born into this world without his death. God has said “No!”

God says “No!” to his beloved son and we complain about the times God says “No!” to us! Knowing what it is he is called to do and who is doing the calling, he says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. The word “hate” does not mean despise. It simply means realizing that his life is no more his own than yours or mine are our own because they belong to the One who brought us into this world. So, what should he say, “Father, save me from this hour?”

It is for this reason that he has come, “Father, glorify your name.”

We are told that everyone else around him simply heard a clap of thunder, though some thought it might have been an angel. He heard his Father say, “I have glorified it … ” the affirmation of his choice. He is doing what he was born to do. “And, I will glorify it again”, God’s confirmation that it is time to come home. The world is about to experience the beginning of God’s judgment. The rebellious one who rules it, who promises power, success, riches and fame to those who fall down to serve him, and who brings suffering, pain, hardship and death to those who resist, is about to be driven out.

It will be a paradoxical moment. At first it will appear that evil has won. It will look like anything but victory, a crucified Messiah. But because he steadfastly refused to fall short of the mark for which he was born, because he was faithful unto death, he awakened in that tomb on the other side of this life. But more than that, he is again filled with such divine life and power that now that he has been lifted up, he has become the source of salvation and life for all who follow him. He has power to save now, power to give new life now, power to enable us to discover our reason for being in God’s world now.

Not one of us is an accident; each of us is here for God’s good reason. What is it? He has the power to turn us toward home ourselves now, as part of his new creation people. What is your reason for being? How does it serve God’s purposes?

Jesus is in his home, preparing a place for us. He is designated by his Father to bring an end to all that tries to separate us from God, and is empowered to bring all who truly want to, to come home, just as he is home.

Isn’t it time for us to turn toward home?

 

The Reverend John Cornish