Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 2, 2006
The Gospel: John 12:20-33
Sermon: "Hope for the Journey"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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.
Hope for the Journey
Fifth Sunday in Lent - April 2, 2006
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. We might be saying to ourselves we are just a little weary of the purple color, just the greenery on the altar, the recitation of the Decalogue, the more sedate hymns, and the silent procession. Yes, we might just be a little weary on this spiritual journey. Journeys can get weary and can get tiresome and can get boring.
Yet, journeys are important to us as a people. They are important to us physically, mentally and spiritually. For a journey, while it can be tiresome, is also capable of refreshment, wonder, awe, and most importantly hope. Hope often comes from the most unexpected places.
I am currently reading a journey of a man who is exploring his heritage as a landowning family in South Carolina. The book is called, "Slaves in the Family." He knew for many years that his family history included owning five rice plantations around Charleston. He was well versed in the history of direct family, the owners. It bothered him that he did not know anything about the families and descendants of the slaves his family had owned. This lack of information drove him into an historical and spiritual journey. He took it upon himself to explore the family records. He found the names of past slaves. He learned about what happened to them after freedom was granted. He went to the descendants. As I am still reading the book, he has knocked on many doors. Each time he has knocked on a door he has done so with some trepidation. Each time he has left with a sense of wonder and hope. He has been the only one of the family to see what the times so long ago really meant to the descendants of today. His journey has been one of intense discovery, awe, and incredible hope. For as the doors have been opened new relationships have begun. These relationships have been forged on equal ground with a common ancestry and a heartfelt, spirit driven openness. As a result a great deal of healing has begun for everyone concerning feelings that were once long buried.
We are probably a little amazed at this man's story, his journey, and the hope he has encountered. We shouldn't be and yet we are. We shouldn't be amazed because like him we are also on a journey. We are supposed to be believers in the true and wondrous hope of God. We claim to be believers in Jesus Christ, the hope for the world. Yet, sometimes we don't see it. Perhaps the terms of hope and wonder are just too familiar. Perhaps we see the insanity and craziness of the world around us and wonder if hope still exists. Well, hope does exist. Hope is real. Hope is the one thing that became permanent for us in Jesus.
We are not the first ones to recognize that hope in Jesus. We are not the first ones to step out on this journey with God. First the disciples saw the hope in Christ. If they hadn't seen that hope they would never have followed him. Furthermore, we see other people in the scriptures looking for hope in Jesus. In the lesson today, Jesus is in Jerusalem. Some Greeks come to see Jesus and introduce themselves to Philip. Philip takes them to Andrew. And then, the two disciples take them to Jesus. These people were not Greek Jews. They were Gentiles. The Gentiles were not usually greeted warmly or affectionately. However, this group came to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew did what good disciples do. They took them to see Jesus. This group of Greeks comes to see the one person they have heard offers hope. Jesus' reply is phenomenal. Jesus sees these people who have come to see him. He recognizes that they are not Jewish. He acknowledges the importance of their visit. For now Jesus says, "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.
Jesus is predicting the fruits of his offering of his life. Jesus will freely offer his life so that through his death many will benefit. The followers of Jesus, the people of the earth will benefit in two ways. First, Jesus freely offers his life for the world. He takes the worst the world has to offer and bears it all the way to the grave. The worst the world has to offer is buried with him. Yet, even though the worst has been buried with him, it can not hold him down. The resurrection breaks through the heaviness and the burden of the sins that killed him. As he is resurrected, the world is offered salvation because not even death, painful, sinful death, can prevent God from restoring life through love. The love of God overcomes all obstacles, even death. So, through resurrection the broken relationship we have with God is restored. We too can experience new life through Christ because of Jesus' free gift.
The followers of Jesus, the people of God will benefit in a second way. This way is best explained by the analogy of the wheat seed. A grain of wheat is not very big. One grain of wheat will not make much in the way of bread. Take that seed and plant it. Bury it if you will in the ground and let God work with it. From that seed will grow a seedling. The seedling becomes a stalk. The stalk is topped with many grains of wheat. All of them come from the single one buried. The second way that we benefit from Jesus' offering of himself is the community of believers that results from his death. We are not on this journey alone. Yes, we always have God with us, but we are also surrounded by many others. We are surrounded by the presence of those who believe that have gone before us. We are surrounded by the presence of those who walk this road with us. We are surrounded by those who are to come; who will raise the cross before us when we are too old to raise it ourselves. When the shadow of the cross falls on us we will take hope. For we will be reminded that we are not alone on the journey. The saints are with us, our friends are with us, God is with us. In God, we find our hope.
Now, I know we are entering the fifth week of Lent. Sometimes the journey is tiring. We might look at the greenery and wonder how long? God is with us. We are walking on that spiritual journey. We are getting close to Jerusalem. We are still on the road and Jesus is with us. Jesus is still trying to teach us. We are with the other disciples. They surround us and encourage us. Can we hear the voice of Jesus call to us? Can we hear his words of encouragement? Just a little farther. We are almost there. The day is coming when you will all see clearly the love God has for each of you. Perhaps you see glimpses of it now? Walk a little farther with me. Walk with me and be filled with hope, hope in every step of the journey.