“It is for This Reason …”
March 22, 2015
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
One thing is becoming increasingly clear.
The older I get
The more focused becomes the line
Separating the HERE from the HEREAFTER.
Life and death and life everlasting take on
Greater depth and meaning
With each waking day,
With each creaking bone,
With every visit to the doctor,
With every hospital call,
With every passing funeral.
Children are full of life, vitality, and curiosity;
Exactly as kids should be.
Death only becomes a reality
If the family is exposed and is
Unable or unwilling to hide its mourning.
Though I’ve celebrated 219 funerals in my life,
And have attended a great many more,
The one I remember more than even my father’s,
Was looking at my aunt Thelma laid out at the funeral parlor, circa 1967.
Seeing through the eyes of a 6 year old
My first corpse
Began the flow of mortality dripping
Drop by drop;
Carved its way in my life
With the passing of each family member, friend, and parishioner.
The drip accelerates with age.
Like hot water poured on a rooftop ice dam,
I can’t help but wonder when it will become my turn
To break loose,
Fly through the portal,
Cross the abyss,
And be set back home to my heavenly Father.
This is not a death wish.
Not at all.
This is simply wearing mortality on my sleeve,
And in doing so,
I hope to give each of us permission
To talk about mortality and death openly;
And in the context of faith
As a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Lent will do this to a person.
So will today’s Gospel.
We find ourselves in the homestretch
Leading to the final destination
Of suffering, death, resurrection, and Jesus ascending back to the Father.
Jesus had been in Galilee,
In the North Country.
Jesus responded to Mary and Martha’s request
From their home in a nearby suburb of Jerusalem,
In the South,
To call upon their sick brother, Lazarus.
By the time Jesus arrived
Lazarus was dead and buried four days.
Yet, Jesus commanded the tomb be opened
And, after a conversation with His Heavenly Father,
Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out.
The resurrection of Lazarus became the
Spark that touched off the fire
In the Gospel of John
For the Chief Priest and the Pharisees to
Have Jesus arrested and killed.
Today, Jesus speaks about his death openly
To some non-Jewish sightseeing,
Who happened to be in Jerusalem during the Passover.
They knew some people who knew some people
Who knew two of Jesus’ disciples.
Andrew and Philip approach Jesus
With their acquaintance’ request
To see Jesus.
If it had been today,
They’d ask for Jesus for an autograph
And to pose for a selfie.
“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.”
– John 12:24
Jesus knows his agriculture.
A seed must stop being a seed
If it is to grow into a plant.
A seed that remains a seed
Is nothing more than just another grain of wheat ready for the grist mill.
Like a seed,
Jesus explains he must cease to be as he was
If He is to return to the Father.
His purpose is not to be ground into flour.
Christ’s purpose is to willingly return to His Heavenly Father.
“Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
- John 12:25
This, then is the Happy Meal prize …
This is the nugget of Grace
From our Gospel of John for today:
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
- John 12:32
Jesus will be lifted up:
- His return to the Father –
That all people
- Not just some people –
That all people will be drawn to Jesus
Into the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Jesus completes the circle.
At every location on His life circle
The invitation is made
For all who are created by the Father
To join with Christ
In returning to the Father.
Christ comes from God;
Is created as God’s own Son.
Christ is God’s gift to the world;
And Jesus is born a baby.
Who isn’t drawn into a deeper exploration of faith
With the Advent and birth narrative of Jesus?
Crowds come out on Christmas
Because of the invitation
To experience anew the gift
Of God’s only Son.
Christmas, viewed through the lens of John,
Is about incarnation
That invites the world
- everyone –
To hitch our wagons with Jesus
On life’s spiritual journey that returns us all to God.
Jesus comes round full circle
Through his teaching, healing, and raising from the dead.
Reaching out to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind;
All-the-while thumbing his nose at
The corruption that organized religion had assumed back in his day.
Jesus draws a completely different group of people
To Himself in His journey back to the Father.
The call to bring healing to this world
Appeals to some who are not led by a star to a baby in a manger.
A call for social transformation, social justice, and for laborers to usher in God’s Kingdom will appeal to yet others
Into deeper exploration of faith,
Who are called to be spun into the heart of Christ
On the journey back to the Father.
The Passion, suffering, and death of Christ
Experienced during Holy Week
Will stir deep emotions
To all who hear.
Think of all who were drawn by the blood and the gore
To “The Passion of the Christ” eleven years ago.
Suffering has even become a YouTube sensation.
- the agony –
Of the Cross
Will draw yet other seekers
Deeper into faith,
Closer to Jesus,
And onto the journey back to the Father.
Likewise, an empty tomb and ascension back home
Will lead others
Back to our Creator and Heavenly Father.
Like crowds drawn to Criss Angel or Harry Houdini
There are throngs of people
Willing to pay good money to see
A certified corpse reanimated to live another day.
Penn and Teller draw millions to see one or the other levitate.
How about seeing Jesus whisked off into heaven?!!!
Oh my goodness,
Can someone get Jesus a Hollywood agent?!!!
My point being
Is that every place on the spiritual journey with Jesus
- from birth to ascension, and every place in between –
Is an invitation
That draws the world of
People back to the Father
Who first created us.
From the Father,
Jesus draws us all back to the Father
Who art in Heaven.
The appeal of Jesus can stand on its own.
The invitation to join with Him on this spiritual journey appealed to us.
So why doesn’t it appeal to others?
Why aren’t people breaking down the doors of the church to come to Jesus?
The truth is twofold.
First, the appeal of the world is a powerful intoxicant.
Money, lust, power, envy and arrogance constantly call out
To never start the journey,
And to those of us on the journey,
The call of the world is to abandon the journey
That leads full circle back to God.
Why aren’t people breaking down the doors of the church to come to Jesus?
The other half of the truth is that we’ve
Allowed ourselves to become the barrier that repels people away.
I stand here condemned and in need of pardon just like everyone else here today.
We’ve become the object.
Church growth has become the object.
Playing church and not being Church has become our purpose.
As the letter of James says it this way:
Our double tongues,
Our selfish ambition
And our trumpeted faith in the absence of fruit,
Drives the hungry and the seekers away from our doors by the bucket load.
The solution is to first confess and then repent.
The solution is to remove ourselves as barriers to people drawn to our Heavenly Father.
When we repent and return to the ways of God,
When we embrace humility,
Purify our hearts with confession and cleanse our hands of sin;
When we return to authenticity;
Draw near to God, and allow ourselves to submit to Him,
Then the way is made clear
- the valleys are filled,
the mountains are made low,
the rough places are made plane –
That all might be drawn unfettered
Back full circle
On the journey that leads to the Father.
It is for this reason Jesus has come.
It is for this reason Jesus served, suffered and died.
It is for this reason Jesus was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven.
It is for this reason Jesus invites all to return with him back to the Father.
Join in the journey.
Make way for others to be drawn in, too.