Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 – Sermon on John 12:20-33

John 12:20-33
20 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.

Just a couple of verses before our gospel reading, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And now it is Passover week, a huge festival and celebration for the Jewish community (including Jesus, remember), and Jesus has made his entry into Jerusalem, what we know as Palm Sunday, which is next week.

And the Pharisees, watching Jesus enter into the city and the crowd following him, say to each other, “You see! You can do nothing! Look, the world has gone after him.”

The whole world is starting to follow Jesus. And then immediately after they say that, comes our first verse for today – Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. Meaning non-Jews. Gentiles. The other.

Remember last week, we talked about John 3:16 – for God so loved the world. And now the Pharisees are saying that the whole world is following Jesus. And then in walks a group of non-Jews, Greek gentiles.

It is just perfect story-telling. It would be like if I spoke about how culturally diverse Owatonna is becoming and then in walks a family from Somalia.

It is just perfect timing.

Do you remember learning about foreshadowing? Foreshadowing is a literary device, a way that authors give a hint of what is to come. It would be like if someone was telling the story of the Titanic, and as someone walks on the ship, they say, “I just hope we don’t run into any problems on the trip.” That’s foreshadowing. Hinting at what is going to happen in the story.

The entrance of these Greeks hints at the fact that Jesus’ love is for the entire world. And that the church’s mission will be to include all people and not just some people.

So the Greeks arrive and they tell Philip and Andrew that they want to see Jesus. And then Jesus speaks these two quotable phrases. First, 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.”

It’s perfect timing for this phrase for this season. Because our farmers and gardeners know this is true, right? When you plant you a seed in the ground, you don’t want the seed to remain a seed. But in fact, you want the seed to die. To break open, so as to plant itself and then grow and bear much fruit. Death must happen in order for there to be new life.

Or Jesus puts it another way, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

I think Jesus is saying this for two reason. First, he’s talking about his own death. Jesus could stop everything right now if he wanted to. He could take back all that he said the upset the authorities and return home and protect his own life from being destroyed. But he is unwilling to do that. Because he knows that his life is like the seed of love, that when it is planted in the ground and dies, it produces a harvest of love throughout the world.

But Jesus is also saying this because Philip and Andrew can’t be that happy about the Greeks showing up. I mean, these were the Gentiles. The ones they weren’t supposed to be seen with. The unclean. But in order to God to love the world and welcome all, it would mean that Philip and Andrew, and all of us, will have to let some of our own prejudices die and fall to the ground, so as to produce more room for love of others. This is death and resurrection. It is the way of Jesus. It is the way of discipleship.

Those who love their life. Those who seek to preserve their life will lose it. But those who are willing to give up their life, will find it and keep it.

I think we know this to be true. We just often learn it the hard way. No one really feels good when they spend their whole life focused on themselves. No one really feels good when the only person they look out for is themselves.

I just watched the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a wild movie about Jordan Belfort, who after losing his job as a Wall Street broker, he starts working at brokerage firm selling penny stocks, small shares of public companies. Through this, he makes a small fortune, and starts his own business. He and his friends use a scheme to get rich by scamming other people out of their money. The goal of course was to get rich and live the high life. Well, he does get rich. And he does live the high life. But as the story goes on, you watch as his life slowly crumbles around him. Jordan does anything and everything to preserve his wealth and his lifestyle, even risking both his life and the lives of others.

Those who love their life above all else will lose it, Jesus says. But those who are willing to give up their life. Those who, like a seed, are willing to die, will gain their life and bear fruit.

Sometimes we want to protect our own life. But other times we want to protect others from giving up their life. Most notably between parents and their children. Parents want a successful and happy life for their child. And so parents will often to try prevent children from giving up their life.

There is a story about a well-know preacher, Will Willimon, who received a panicky phone call on Monday morning from a parishioner. The man said that his daughter Anne had just decided to drop out of pharmacy school. She had just come home for the weekend and, in fact, she had been to church just that Sunday. Everyone was shocked by her decision and so they ask the preacher to give her a call and “talk some sense into her.”

So he did. He called up Anne and reminded her about how hard she had worked to get to where she was and that she couldn’t just throw it all away. “What inspired this decision anyways?” he asked. “Well, it was your sermon,” she said.

She talked about how she realized she was only in school to meet her own selfish needs and his sermon on God calling all of us to do something important in this life shook something loose in her. She remembered how much joy she had in teaching migrant workers how to read one summer through a church program. She felt close to God then, and now she is leaving school because she wants to spend her life helping underprivileged children. “Now look, Anne,” the preacher said, “It was just a sermon…”[1]

Sometimes, we want to protect others from giving up their life for the sake of another.

Those who love their life above all else will lose it, Jesus says. But those who are willing to give up their life. Those who, like a seed, are willing to die, will gain their life and bear fruit.

So Jesus is welcoming and loving the whole world, and the way to do this demands letting some things die away, allowing other things to grow. Death and resurrection – it is the way of Jesus and it is the way of discipleship.

Now, I promise that I won’t spend the next 5 weeks talking about myself and me leaving, but in some ways it feels like we are in a death and resurrection time here with the upcoming transitions. And it’s really hard. Outside of our relationships and our mutual love for one another, this change simply causes some upheaval and real uncertainty for some of you. And it means that there is work to be done. And work that has come sooner than some had hoped.

But it isn’t the first time we’ve faced death and resurrection. We have physically lost people we love in our congregation through death. And yet now we’ve seen the youthfulness that young children bring back into the church. It’s death and resurrection.

Here at Trinity, we lost our volunteer organist of 65 years. And we learned to sing on our own. And now we have Debbie. And what life her music has brought back to our worship. It is death and resurrection.

Over the years, we’ve seen long time, significant members leave the church for other churches. And yet we’ve also seen the gifts that new members can bring into a church too.

And you know, even in the past week, I’ve seen little flickers of resurrection begin to sprout, as I hear from members of the mission committee who do not want to stop meeting, but who want to start making plans for the future. As I see councils dreaming up plans for the 50th Anniversary of the Diner and the 140th year for Trinity. It is death and resurrection.

And this just happened this week too, but Kim Wilder, Jace Hendricks, and Payton Terpstra have all been nominated to be voting members for our synod at the ELCA Churchwide assembly in New Orleans in 2016.

There is a future here. God is doing something here. There are already new leaders and new ministries emerging. God will stir up the Holy Spirit and will send a new pastor your way who will walk with you and who will bring you new life in ways maybe you can’t see yet.

Death and resurrection. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s the way of discipleship. 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.

The Greeks want to see Jesus. We want to see Jesus. But the way of Jesus is one of death and resurrection. Of giving your life away in love. May we all be so courageous and full of hope so as to enter into this way of death and resurrection, trusting that it is the Divine Pattern. It is the heartbeat of our lives, the core of our message, and it is the way to new life. May this be so. Amen.

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