Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 17, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 5

Lent 5, 2024
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.  (In the same way you don’t need to be Irish to go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade this afternoon.)  It’s, you know, a festival.  So people of a different faith—or of no faith—want to come 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 tell him that they wish to see Jesus.  Phillip goes to Andrew, and then they both go to Jesus.  End of story.  Poor Greeks.\

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

And in typical John’s gospel fashion, after Jesus hears that these Greeks want to see him, his answer has nothing to do with their request.  Instead, Jesus starts telling the disciples 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 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, “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.  Doxazo: 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 tells us, “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, Jesus contradicts our view: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  But that’s kind of an unfortunate translation, because it misses the sense of the present tense.  When put that way, it sounds like, if you sacrifice now, some day you will have life.  Which suggests 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 focusing 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 off that shelf and give it away; then you will know what it means to truly live.

And speaking of sitting in a box on a shelf, let’s go get those Greeks out of the waiting room where we left them.  Back in the 7th chapter of John, there’s this interesting exchange after they fail to arrest Jesus because his hour had not yet come.  Jesus tells them, “You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” They say to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

And right after the gospel reading we heard this morning, the crowd says to Jesus, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah  remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”  Jesus responds with some metaphors about light and darkness, and then, “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”

Jesus hides from the crowds.  Jesus hides from the Greeks.  Those who seek him cannot find him.  He goes with his disciples to share a final meal, and then he is handed over to the authorities to be lifted up . . . on the cross.  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  The Greeks had come to Phillip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Do they?  Well . . . has Jesus been lifted up?  Yes, and 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.

And since we’re all floating around in John’s metaphors and deeply symbolic language already, let’s go ahead and press forward.  If someone comes to you and says, “Sir, Madam, I wish to see Jesus,” what should you do?  You should point to Jesus, who has been lifted up, and draws all people to himself.  If someone asks, “Madam, Sir, where can I see Jesus?”  You can point to the places where he is lifted up: where relationships are restored, where the outcasts are welcomed, where the good news is preached, and at the Altar, in the moment where the bread is lifted up and you say AMEN, which means, let it be so.  All caps.  In italics.  That’s the point where you are saying, “We wish to see Jesus, and by God’s grace he is here.”

Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come and he is lifted up.  Lay down your life, and God will lift you up.  Kneel down in Confession, and God will lift you up in forgiveness.  Go down to the grave, and God will raise you up in glory.  God is always lifting us up, so that God’s name will be glorified.  This is all God’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.


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