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We Want to See Jesus, But We Can’t (March 18, 2018)

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–“Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

I have a couple of acquaintances who are homeless. Each of them live primarily in their cars and each one stops by a couple of times a year or so. One sometimes wants a shower to recharge her phone, and just to rest a while. The other usually wants to talk, to update me on his health and work situation, pray together, and maybe get a grocery card if it’s not too much trouble. He’s the one I’m talking about here.

The last time he came by, he was contemplating suicide because he couldn’t find work, couldn’t get the medical care he needed, he was in constant pain, and he felt his son (who lives with his ex-wife) is embarrassed to be seen with him. He thought his son would be better off without such a failure of a father. “I think God has abandoned me,” he had told me. “I want to see Jesus, but I can’t see him anywhere.” He was really in a bad way.

I wonder if the Greeks in this gospel text might have been in a similar situation. “Sir,” they said to Philip, “we want to see Jesus.” Because we can’t see him anywhere.

Maybe they just wanted to interview him because he was becoming well known. Get his autograph to impress their friends. Maybe they wanted to be healed of something and heard Jesus did that kind of thing. Maybe they just wanted to see the “water into wine” trick, because that would be amazing.

But somehow I don’t think so. I think there was something much deeper and more significant going on. I suspect something was missing for them, something was wrong. No matter how hard they tried to fix it and make things right, it wasn’t working. They couldn’t see Jesus anywhere.

What do you do when you can’t see Jesus? How do you deal with it when there just doesn’t seem to be any evidence of new life, or love, or compassion, or mercy, or forgiveness that are part of his presence? “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” because we can’t see him anywhere.

What do you do when your classmates are scared to come to school for fear of being gunned down? “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” because we can’t see him anywhere.

What do you do when the person you’ve devoted your whole life to up and leaves you? What do you do when the one you love gets sick and dies? What do you do when you feel betrayed, lost, helpless, alone? What do you do when, despite working hard all your life, your pension is taken from you while at the same time the CEO of your company gets a $300 million golden parachute? What do you do when a so-called Christian university, in the name of Jesus, calls for its students to arm themselves to take care of the Muslims? “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” because we can’t see him anywhere.

Jesus’s answer may not seem very helpful. When Andrew and Philip come to him with this request from the Greeks who want to see him, he starts talking about a grain of wheat dying in order to bear fruit. Although I think we can understand the basic botany behind what he’s saying, that a seed has to die to being a seed in order to grow into a wheat stalk and make grain for bread, what does that have to do with those who need to see Jesus because there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him in their lives?

Then Jesus goes on to say that whoever serves him must follow him, and that following him means giving up our own priorities. Following him means gaining real life. Following him means going with him to the cross and therefore into new life.

Wanting to see Jesus and following him don’t seem to make a lot of sense together until you begin to experience it.

Some young people walked out of their schools, risking suspension or worse, on Wednesday. They did so demanding that adults hear their fear and their experiences and do something about the guns in their schools. In seeking signs of new life, they’ve mobilized a nation. They may not say it this way, but they want us to see Jesus.

Our own youth are preparing to commit to shining the light of Jesus in their schools so that the love and the compassion of Jesus can be more clearly visible. You’ll be hearing more about this, I suspect. Our youth want others to see Jesus.

Our own Renewal Team is going to be entering into a process that will help us all learn how to listen to each other and listen to our neighbors more clearly. Because it’s in the relationships that Jesus is seen. We want them to see Jesus.

Because of your generosity and the hard work of our Samaritan Ministry, we’ll be dedicating 12 new Chromebooks—school laptop computers—for Green Mountain Elementary School today. So much homework, test prep, and learning takes place online that without access to these computers, many students are at a huge disadvantage. We aren’t doing this to benefit ourselves, but to reveal the compassion and generosity of Jesus. We want GMES to see Jesus.

My friend who’s been living in his car and who was so down on himself showed up this week again. This time he came up to me with a big smile on his face. He’s starting a job in May, his health is much improved, and his relationship with his son has never been better. “I showed my son what God’s love looks like,” he said. “I wanted him to see Jesus. I know he was there the whole time, but in showing him Jesus, I could see him myself.”

What do you do when you can’t see Jesus? You show him to someone else. When someone says, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” that’s what we do. We show them Jesus. We show them love, compassion, forgiveness, grace. It’s in following him that we see him.

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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Like a Seed (John 12:20-33)

A seed is planted in the ground. The darkness is a difficult place to be. In the darkness you are alone, isolated. In the darkness, none of the things that used to work, that used to bring light into your world, will work any more. In the darkness none of your strategies will bring the light, none of your efforts make any difference, none of your talents or knowledge or experience have any impact. Even everything we thought we knew about God is useless in the darkness. You are helpless and cannot find the light, much less be a light. It the darkness it just won’t work.

Sometimes the darkness descends on us individually. Other times the darkness descends on us collectively. Maybe you are living in the dark today. Our whole world can seem dark sometimes. Some feel that this is the experience of LCM, that darkness has descended on us as a congregation. Many things that used to bring life is working. Some of our efforts seem to be failing. We keep trying different things to recapture life and light, and yet the darkness doesn’t lift. We desperately look to what we know and what we trust to get us out of the darkness.

We fix worship styles and music styles, but there is no new life.

We seek to reinstate a dead Sunday School institution because it used to work, but there are few kids.

We want to start new programs, correct our doctrine, get the new members to bring life and energy. But the darkness isn’t lifted.

We cling to memories of the magical days of the 1960s, or 70s, or 80s, or whenever, wondering why those days seemed so bright and today seems so dark.

We tweak and we work and we struggle in the dark. We argue and we look for someone to blame and we defend what we love, and the darkness still permeates.

When you are in the darkness, nothing you do or know or try has any effect. You can die in the darkness.

So it makes sense that we would cling to anything, to everything that we think can give us life. We cling with desperation to the things that made sense before the darkness descended. We even cling to our former notions about God and call that faith. But the more we cling, the deeper the darkness.

Eventually, in the darkness everything will be stripped away. All our notions and preconceptions. Our pride, our justifications, our desperation, our knowledge, our certainties. Even what we know–or thought we knew–about God will all die in the darkness.

And then can new life emerge.

Like a seed.

“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.”

Some Greeks came up to Philip and wanted to see Jesus. Jesus replies, “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.” If you want to see Jesus, it will involve darkness. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” To see Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live in Jesus means a journey into the darkness. Like a seed being planted in the darkness of the ground.

A seed can cling to anything in its former life as a seed. Sunshine, birds flying by, life hanging out on a branch or a stalk. But clinging to that won’t bring it life. A seed has to be buried in the darkness of the earth in order to spring forth in its new life, a life bearing fruit.

The very core, the very breath, the very heartbeat of Christianity is that there is a God who brings life out of death, light out of darkness.

Like a seed growing up from the darkness of the ground.

Like a crucified body rising up to life from the darkness of a tomb.

“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.”

Are you in the dark? Is the world around us in the dark? Is LCM in the dark? What is being stripped away in the darkness? What is being opened up, made new, given new life in the darkness? What is emerging from the darkness that will bear much fruit?

What is dying in the darkness so that something new and fruitful and alive can be brought forth? This is what God does. This is what we say we believe. This is the heartbeat of our faith: God brings life from death. God brings light from darkness.

Like a seed. “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,” Jesus says. Then he goes on, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We have a God of light who is with us in the darkness. And new life comes.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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