A sermon for Lent 5
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33
Jesus has gotten everyone’s attention. That happens when you raise someone from the dead, as he did Lazarus. In Jerusalem, brimming with people gathering to celebrate Passover, the crowds are following Jesus. It gets the Pharisees fatal attention; they observe that the whole world is going after Jesus.
Among those in the crowd are some Greeks, not unheard of, but unusual. They also want to see Jesus. Some suggest they don’t speak Hebrew, so they make contact with Greek speaking Philip. (Hoezee, 2015) Their request is simple: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Their request reminds me of Philip’s first encounter with Jesus. Perhaps he is the second of John’s disciples Jesus invites to “Come and see.” for when Nathanial hears the messiah is from Nazareth, and asks “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip answers “Come and see.” In both chapter 1, and here in chapter 12, the verb ‘see’ expresses not a just a visual sensation, but the desire to be in relationship. What they seek is beyond a casual introduction. They seek the covenantal relationship Jeremiah describes, one that is written on the hearts of God’s people. Through Jesus they seek to know the LORD God. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) The Greek seekers would not use the word, nonetheless they seek shalom, the peace, the wholeness of life, lived in the presence of God. The Greeks desire to see Jesus denotes that they recognize Jesus as God’s son. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) The Pharisees are right, the whole world is seeking Jesus.
I want to continue exploring the idea of the Greeks among us, but first we need to explore
Jesus’ strange reply. Philip tell him some Greeks want to see him. Jesus answers: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified….” Jesus is not looking at a clock, nor at the position of the sun in the sky. The term “The hour,” or ‘the time’ denotes the decisive moment to act; it’s that moment “when people are challenged to decide how they are to prepare for God’s imminent intervention.” (Sakenfeld, p. time) The Greeks’ visit is a clue to the Pharisees the whole world is following Jesus. (Harrelson, 2003) Their presence is also a clue to Jesus, his time is now. (Petersen & Bevery, 2010)His wandering answer, and much of the next five chapters is to prepare his disciples is to prepare us, for what’s come. In John’s Gospel, this is the last public appearance of Jesus, until Friday. (Lewis, 2015)
The Pew Research Center “is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.” (Pew Research, 2013) I’ve known their work for years. Their Religion and Public Life Project, Religious Landscape Survey provides a wealth of information. Among which are maps that show the percent of religious traditions by state. You’ll not be surprised to know in Arkansas 53% identify as Evangelical. You may know 16% identify as Mainline Protestant, which includes us. I expect you do not know the third largest religious group in Arkansas are the 13% who identify as unaffiliated. (Pew Research, 2013) Note, they believe in God, they are unaffiliated with any religious tradition, for a variety of reason. In terms of this morning’s Gospel, they are the Greeks among us. They want to see Jesus. If my math is right there are about 2000 neighbors in our near parish boundaries religiously unaffiliated, who want to see Jesus. We have the opportunity to go beyond these open doors and just by being who we are make ourselves known. And as this morning’s Gospel story reveals, when they are ready seekers will ask, in one way or another to see Jesus.
In the Gospel, the question is a sign that it was Jesus’ time. Today, the request to see Jesus is a sign it’s a seekers time, their hour to discern how to grow in faith community into the fullness of God’s presence right here, right now. It is also a sign to us, it is our time to be disciples, to be an evangelist, to warmly, honestly, with their apprehensions, excitements, misgivings, and anticipations as guiding beacons, welcome them into the house of the Lord, which may or may not be within these walls, but is within this community. And yes, we are among the smallest of many faith communities here. And it’s true, our collection of traditional ways of being present are less than others. But I am coming to believe this not a deterrent, but an advantage, because the unaffiliated seekers are not attracted to the usual and customary trappings of faith. And with less to sustain, we are perhaps less likely to be restrained, perhaps we are more likely to simply welcome those who, even if they don’t know it, know the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:34) As we approach Psalm Sunday and Holy Week may we be at peace, the time is ripe for a stranger, friend, or neighbor to seek Jesus the hour is now to journey with them to see Jesus, from the foot of the cross, from the door of the empty tomb, at the right hand of God.
Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.
Hoezee, S. (2015, 3 22). The Lectionary Gospel. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/
Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 3 22). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org: http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=604
Lewis, K. (2015, 3 22). Commentary on John 12:2033. Retrieved from Working preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/
Petersen, D., & Bevery, R. G. (2010). New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.
Pew Research. (2013). Religion and Public Life, Religious Landscape Survey, Religious Groups, Maps. Retrieved 3 2015, from Pew Research Center: http://religions.pewforum.org/maps
Sakenfeld, K. D. (2009). New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon.