Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 21, 2021

YEAR B 2021 lent 5

Lent 5, 2021
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33
Psalm 51:1-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen

Well, as you can see, this week we have another fine example of John being John in this gospel reading.  There’s a lot of mystical-sounding language, that we’re not quite sure we get, and—just like we had a couple weeks ago—John feels the need to explain the one metaphor we do get: that is, Jesus’ being lifted up indicates the way in which he is to die.  But let’s jump in at the beginning . . .

The scene is the Passover Festival, and people have come from all around to celebrate, or to watch the Jewish people celebrate.  It’s, you know, a festival.  So even people of a different faith—or of no faith—want to come by and partake in the celebration.  That’s why “some Greeks” are there.  And they come to the one disciple who likely spoke Greek, Philip, who was from Bethsaida, and they say they wish to see Jesus.  Phillip goes to Andrew, and they both go to Jesus.  End of story.

We never get to hear whether the Greeks got to see Jesus.  It’s like they’re just left in the doctor’s waiting room and the story moves on.  Strange, right?

And in typical John’s gospel fashion, after they say some Greeks want to see Jesus, his answer has nothing to do with their question.  No, instead, Jesus starts telling them about something else: The hour has come.  To us, that sounds disconnected from the request from the Greeks, but that’s because we forgot about the rest of John’s gospel.  So let’s leave the Greeks to reading their magazines in the waiting room and think back to what “the hour” means in John’s gospel.

Early in the second chapter of John, Jesus is at a wedding in Cana, and they run out of wine.  His mother, Mary, asks him to do something about it.  And Jesus says to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  In the 7th chapter of John, Jesus is teaching at a festival and the religious leaders are worried that he is winning over the crowds, and they try to arrest him, “but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.”  And then in the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is teaching in the Temple, and the Pharisees are challenging his authority on technical grounds, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”

And then today, in the 12th chapter of John, Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus about the Greeks who wish to see him. And Jesus answers them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  This is it, you see?  It’s a turning point in the gospel of John.  Twelve chapters in, and the hour has finally come!  Great!  So . . . um, what exactly does that mean?  We’ve been waiting for the hour of Jesus to get here, and now it’s here, but now what?  Well there’s the second half of that to look at: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The Greek word doxazo is the one that gets translated as “glorified.”  (You can probably see that it’s where we get our word, doxology.)  Doxazo.  This word comes up in John’s gospel 23 times!  It is an important concept in John.  Glorified.

So, the hour has finally come for Jesus to be glorified.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean for Jesus to be glorified?  Jesus says, “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.”  So it sounds like to be glorified means that Jesus has to die.  But that is certainly not how we think of someone being glorified.  We think of glory as being full of life, with winning and adulation, right?  Gold medals in the Olympics and stuff.  But here we have Jesus saying that he will be glorified by dying.  It’s not right.  You bring honor and glory by living, not by dying.  At least to us.  To be glorified is to grab hold of life, to love life.

But, right after that, Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  That’s kind of an unfortunate translation though, because we lose the sense of the present tense.  When put that way, it sounds like, if you sacrifice now, some day you will have life.  Which sounds like a cosmic retirement account.  But in the original text it is all present tense:  That is, those who love their life now lose it now, and those who reject their life now keep it forever.  But here again, it’s some of that tricky metaphor stuff that John likes to give us.  We’re not sure what it means, exactly.  

I like to think of it as a call to turn away from turning inward.  To be open to others rather than focusing on ourselves.  Not, lay down your life for others so that you will have eternal life some day.  But more like, lay down your life for others right now, because in doing so you will experience the glory of God today.  If you want to truly live, stop focusing on living.  If you want to know how to be alive, well, remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  

Have you ever known someone who collects toys simply for the purpose of the monetary value of them?  Closets full of toys still wrapped in cellophane that no one has ever played with.  It’s kind of like that.  You don’t know the true joy of a toy until you are willing to unwrap it and hand it to a child so they can play with it.  And you can’t know the value of truly living if you are sitting in a box on a shelf, afraid that you might lose your life.  Take your life down from the shelf and hand it to someone else, then you will know what it means to truly live.

One year ago today, we first began streaming our services.  It’s been an entire year of all of . . . this.  Like it or not, we’ve all been forced to lay down our lives.  To change how we do, well, everything.  In some ways we’ve been living like those wrapped up toys sitting on the shelf.  In other ways—by keeping one another safe—we have all been giving our lives away in the service of others.  Sacrificing daily so that others might live.

Along the way, we have lost beloved members of this parish who have passed away.  And we have lost others who grew tired of waiting for us to re-open the doors responsibly.  It has been a frightening and challenging year.

But, to paraphrase what Jesus said, “Our souls have been troubled. And what should we say—‘God, save us from this hour’?”  No.  This is the hour in which we have been called to live.  We cannot hide from it, or act like it’s not real, or pretend things have not been incredibly difficult.  But in pushing forward with patience, God will be glorified.  Just as God has been glorified at St. Timothy’s over this most unusual year.  And God will continue to be glorified in this place for generations to come, no matter what.  Because Jesus has been lifted up, and draws all people to himself.

The Greeks came to Phillip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Can they?  Well . . . has Jesus been lifted up?  Yes, and in being lifted up, he draws all people to himself.  You, me, Greeks, Pharisees, Phillip, Andrew, and the family that keeps toys wrapped in their original cellophane in the guest-room closet.  Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come.

Lay down your life, and God will lift you up.  Kneel down in Confession, and God will lift you up with forgiveness.  Go down to the grave, and God will raise you up in glory.  This is all God’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.  May God continue to be glorified in this place, on this day, and all the days yet to come.


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