Sermon for Sunday, March 18, 2018 || Lent 5B || John 12:20-33
Imagine with me the thoughts of Jesus that might have been swirling around in his head during the day of the Gospel passage I just read.
It finally happened. Word of our little movement has reached past the confines of our stomping grounds, past Jerusalem, past Galilee. Philip and Andrew brought some people from Greece to see me. From Greece! Imagine that. I did not set out to become a household name; my name is so common that you’d have to ask which Jesus someone was talking about. But our mission, our movement – that is less common. To be honest, I thought the movement had died last year after so many left me. They were looking for more miraculous signs, sure; but still, I pushed too hard. You’ll never know how it feels to have so much power at your fingertips, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could compel people to stay if I so desired.
But above all else, I want people to be free, not to trade one empire for another. I yearn for everyone to choose the light, to walk in the light, for that is where Truth lives. And the truth will make you free.1
I feel the light inside me, and I see it inside others. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.2 And so many have, even after the mass departure last year. And now, I can’t believe it – Greeks!
Now my soul is troubled.3 That’s the sign. The Greeks, they’re the sign. I’ve spent all this time talking with the lost sheep of Israel,4 but now word has gotten out about our movement of love and healing and reconciliation. At least, that’s how we describe it. There are those who think I have a demon. Some on the council have accused me of wanting to set myself over the Romans. I don’t know where they got that from. I’d rather the Romans join the movement of their own accord. If we got some Greeks, who knows!
But my soul is troubled. I knew this was coming. I didn’t know exactly when. We’ve had a lot of close calls. I was overzealous a few years ago when I first came down to the temple. They had made my Father’s house a marketplace.5 The temple! The first I heard that someone wanted me dead was after I released a man from his paralysis. I tried to explain the way I saw the Sabbath was that it was a day of restoration, so what could be more natural than healing someone. But all my new opponents heard was that I seemed to equate myself to God our Father. I kept having run-ins with those same people, and I tried to explain our movement to them. But it always came out wrong or got misinterpreted. Twice they tried to stone me.6
Then there was Lazarus, my beloved friend. He died, and I wasn’t there for him. This is recent, just a few weeks ago. I brought him out of his tomb, back into the light of life. Again our numbers swelled because of the miracle instead of the message. The signs are passing things; the message is what matters. I came that all may have life, and have it abundantly.7 I came that all my find joy – the deep gladness that comes from loving and being loved by God. I came to make that joy complete.8
That’s why I came back out of hiding. After raising Lazarus and hearing of the council’s plans, I holed up in a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness.9 But I couldn’t stay there. Fleeing was the only surefire way to kill the movement. If I left it would mean I wasn’t truly serious about what I had been teaching. So what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.10
But still my soul is troubled. I know what happens next. 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.11
When I am lifted up. They’re going to get the Romans to do it. To justify it. It’s gonna be a cross. I’ve imagined death so many times, it feels more like a memory.12 I felt Lazarus’s death. My Father feels every death because my Father is there, present at every one. But that means death is not the end. I remember what I told Martha. I told her I am the resurrection and the life.13 The resurrection is not an event for the distant future. I can feel it coming like another memory, like it couldn’t care less about time and place. The resurrection is present. The eternal present. Eternal relationship with the God who is always present.
Father, glorify your name.14 You will be with me when I am lifted up: I in you and you in me.15 If you are with me and I am with you, I can do anything. I can bear what needs to be done.
I just hope my friends understand. I hope they give me time to explain everything to them. I’m going to start by washing their feet. That’ll get their attention. They call me Teacher and Lord—and they’re right, for that’s what I am. So if I wash their feet, they’ll know they ought to wash one another’s feet.16 That’s where healing and reconciliation happens – in mutual, loving service.
After that, I’ll tell them I’m sending them another presence. An advocate. A comforter. The Spirit of Truth that will guide them into all truth.17 The Holy Spirit will empower them to walk in the light, will flood them with the very breath of God. Their souls will be troubled at times like mine, and still they will know that I am in them and they are in me.18 And they will be able to do all things through my strength,19 just as I find strength in you, Father.
I feel like I am no longer in this world, but my sheep are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.20 Give them courage. Give them wisdom. And give them abundant life in eternal relationship with you.
Yes, my soul is troubled. But you are with you, and I am with you. And that means I am ready.
1 John 8:32
4 Matthew 15:24
5 John 2:16
6 8:59 and 10:31
8 15:11 and 16:24
13 John 11:25
17 14:16 and 16:13
19 Philippians 4:13
20 John 17:11