Sermon for Hope Lutheran based on John 12: 20-33.
“We want to see Jesus.” It almost sounds like a poor orphan child from a Charles Dickens novel in my mind, “please sir, may I have some more?” In Dickens’ famous novel, Oliver Twist, an orphaned child is sent to an orphanage where he suffers from hunger and cold. When the gruel, which is cold oatmeal, runs out and he is hungry, we read the famous line, “please sir, may I have some more?”
It tugs at the toughest heart strings, this idea of a child hungry and cold. It’s why the images starving children of Africa, South America, and China were used for years for commercials to get folks to help, let alone used by more than one mom to get her kids to eat their peas and carrots. And for the record, I still won’t eat peas no matter who is starving. They can have mine. I am all about sharing.
When we hear this plea, our hearts swell with desire to care for and provide what is desired, let alone needed. These Greeks, though grown men, are no different. They are spiritual children, orphans, who understand that there is something more and they are hungering for it. They believe they must ask for it to receive this soul nourishing encounter. And I wonder, have you ever had to ask for something you really needed and were afraid you might not be given? In the vulnerable moments, we know that even in the asking,we take a risk, we die a little. Just by asking. But these men, they knew they had to take the risk. They had to ask. They were starving for more spiritually.
There is someone in your life waiting for you to show them Jesus. They are too afraid to ask and they are starving spiritually. They are hungering to hear that they are not too broken for this gift. That they are not too depraved, too sinful, too far gone. They are starving to hear that they are precious, a gift, created by God exactly as God wanted them to be, down to the last precious hair on the head. Knit together in the womb by a loving God who wants deep and abiding relationship with THEM. They are yearning to hear that their choices have not taken them too far from God, that God is with them. But they are waiting for a personal introduction. Like the Greeks, they don’t understand this gift is already theirs, already has their name on it and already belongs to them for eternity.
Jesus explains to the disciples, “those who hate their life in this world will lose it.” And I wonder if that is part of what keeps people from letting Christ in. In that personal introduction that others are seeking, they need to hear that this life Christ speaks of hating is not the life we imagine. It is the one we have bought into. The one that says we have to get ahead of our neighbor and protect ourselves first. In the recent movie, The Black Panther, the nation of Wakanda is the wealthiest nation in the world, but only they know it. They have secrets to long life, nearly miraculous healing, space age technology that will knock your socks off. No one is poor, everyone has all they need. And they keep it a secret. They keep it a secret because it also comes with knowledge that can be misused. So in their misguided attempts to save the world from potential harm, they also hoard the answers to life. Children in other countries, like ours, grow up without education, skipping meals and watching their only caregivers die of disease that could be treated. It takes an entire movie, and horrible loss for the to finally realize the error of their ways.
Today, Christ tells us that if a single grain keeps to itself, it is just a dead grain. But if it dies to itself, if it offers itself up, it is broken open and life will spring forth. Sharing what Christ has done for you is the same process. Embracing vulnerability and letting people know your past that God has saved you from and even more importantly, the imperfection of your life today, like that you drop curse words like bird seed, is being broken open and offers up new life to those who are silently begging, Please sir, we want to see Jesus.
The life Jesus tells us to hate is a life of limitation and lonliness. The one he asks us to share and receive is one of unlimited spiritual wealth. He is telling the disciples and us that if you are going to live his way, it needs to be with your whole heart. Do it well. Life is too short to live half heartedly.
In week 5 of our Lenten focus on our mission statement, we focus on the line that reads our mission is “To serve Human needs in our community.” It is paired up with a Lenten discipline this week of offering our bodies up to those around us. What might that look like for you? For me as a young mom, that might mean getting down on the ground and playing barbies or trucks or dinosaurs with my children. It might mean sitting patiently in a doctors office with a sick friend, or offering to keep company with an elderly shut in. It might mean making a meal for a frazzled parent, or sitting with my 18 year old and listening to him explain his gaming and the techniques he has mastered. It might mean taking a walk with your lonely neighbor or signing up to help make meals for the homeless. And it might mean sharing a story of your life that might make you cry and hurt or be ashamed to talk about, but might show the person listening the face of Jesus in your life now.
The Greeks implored Phillip, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” We do not know if they ever got to see Jesus in person. But we do know within days he was lifted on a cross and died, so that the world might “see” his message of love and mercy. It isn’t the way of the world- it is a life that is so much more expansive and unlimited than we can imagine. It is a world where all are fed, all are loved, all are free, all are equal, and all are in relationship with God. He did not hate his life. He loved his life and everyone in it. But he lived a different kind of life, one where he offered his body up so that we too might have eternal life.
Which life will you choose to love today? The one that says there is not enough and goads us to hoard our wealth, freedom, and luck? Or one that generously shares radical hospitality through love, justice, and mercy? Jesus offers either to you. Choose carefully .