John 12:20-33 • March 25, 2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
I’m intrigued by technology. Kind of a gadget geek so to speak. I think one of my favorites is the telephone. I’m not all that interested in how technology like the telephone works, but why it works. As telephone technology has improved, it seems to enter nearly every facet of our lives. Many times, when we least expect it or want it to enter our lives. During a family dinner. In the middle of a meeting or church service. Or, in the case of a pastor’s life, in the middle of the night. I thought I’d seen nearly every interruption possible with this technology, until recently.
I was in a restroom at the Bismarck Civic Center. Someone was in one of the restroom stalls with the door closed. I’m assuming they were doing what a famous children’s book says that everyone does, when their phone rang. Rather than waiting for what I thought would be a more appropriate time to answer it, this young man chose to answer it right then and there. Wow – I thought. The relationship with the person who’s calling you must be really important if you’re willing to answer the phone in that location and at that time.
Today’s telephones are a significant part of our lives. No longer to just “keep in touch.” They connect us to relationships and an endless amount of information.
Interruptions from technology like this were beyond anything that anyone in Jesus’ day could have imagined. When “some” Greeks went to Philip and asked to see Jesus, they didn’t have access to Jesus’ Facebook account on their smart phone in order to see if he was scheduled to be at the Passover festival or to find out what topic he would be speaking on that day. For some reason it didn’t matter either that, as Greeks, they were the outsiders at this festival. The Greeks, these outsiders, just wanted to see.
I’d like to take a quick poll. All you need to do is raise your hand. If you are in a relationship, with your spouse or children or a friend or your banker or the barista at Starbucks or your neighbor or your neighbor’s dog, or any other relationship that you can think of, raise your hand. Raise your hand if you are in a relationship of some kind. That’s great. If we are honest, every one of us should have their hand up right now, whether we want to admit it or not. And even if you’re unwilling to participate in my silly poll, I’m confident that you are in fact in a relationship.
Before you put your hand down, here is the second part of today’s poll. Keep your hand raised if you can honestly say that ALL of the relationships in your life are always perfect. These relationships are never challenging. They always happen exactly the way you expect them to happen at the exact time that you expect to have them AND they are always filled with joy. There is never a moment of pain or anger or anxiety in them. In essence, the telephone interruption is never at the wrong time. If your relationships are always perfect, keep your hand up. Otherwise, put your hand down. I’m also a bit of a sociology geek with stuff like this, but I find those results quite interesting.
Relationships in our life are not always easy, they often interrupt us in the most unusual places and times, and they often cause us to step out of our comfort zones and try something new or try doing something in a different way. We don’t know from our gospel text if the Greeks ever do in fact see Jesus, but I think they heard what Jesus said. And after that, their relationship with God was changed forever.
I walked through a local bookstore the other day looking for books about living in the kind of relationships that Jesus talks about. I couldn’t find any books on following. Only a couple about serving. Nothing on hating one’s life in this world. A few books on dying, although nothing on surrendering or being obedient, giving in, or giving up.
What I did find were hundreds of books on self-help, on getting ahead, on becoming wealthy beyond your wildest imagination, and how to compete and be number one at almost everything and anything you could think of.
Is that how we see Jesus in our relationship with God? Jesus as a super-hero that can help us get in front of our competition. Help us make the most money or have the most toys in our garage? The Jesus that John’s gospel reveals to us says something very different. John’s Jesus presents a very different way of seeing the world. A very different way of living in relationship with each other. A very different way of seeing Jesus.
And most often, seeing Jesus leads us to places we are not always willing to go or ever consider going. Seeing Jesus leads us into relationships with others that are not perfect all the time. Seeing Jesus leads us to the cross, which I don’t think we understand even today. John’s gospel, in particular, implies that the cross is not to be understood; it is simply to be seen.
A few years ago I was invited to offer a pastoral visit to a woman who was in her final hours of life in this world. Over the course of many years, she had faded away from her family and friends as the result of Alzheimer’s disease. There was little question that this beautiful child of God was in her final moments before death.
Her daughter was sitting at her bedside when I arrived. She told me that her mother hadn’t said a word in weeks and had not received any nourishment for several days. She said that it had been months since she last recognized any family or friends. She was grateful for my visit, but didn’t think that her mother would even know I was there.
Even though she may not have known I was there, I pulled up a chair and sat at her bedside. Read scripture. Held her hand. Offered prayer for peace. And concluded my short visit by saying The Lord’s Prayer. As I began the prayer, I felt a little firmer grip on my hand and began to see her lips gently joining me in The Lord’s Prayer.
Her daughter couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It was a sacred moment in time. We were on holy ground. I believe I saw Jesus on that routine pastoral visit.
And I believe that God become human because God wanted to know what it is like and what it means to live like us, not just die like us.
A major theme in John’s gospel is the ability to see what is not seen with ordinary sight. Life in Christ is most often not about seeing in the literal sense of the word in order for us to believe. One of the last encounters that the disciples have with Jesus in John’s gospel is Jesus’ saying to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Jesus brings us to God. Jesus also brings God to us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it matters that God became human. I hope you believe that it matters too. It matters that God became human when you are interrupted by God’s call when you least expect it to come. It matters that God became human as you try your best to live in the relationships that you have been given – the good ones and the bad. It matters that God became human so that you and I would be given life – and not just the life that we see today.
It matters so that as people of the resurrection, followers of the risen Christ, you and I are being invited each and every day to look around.
As you look around in these final days of Lent, what do you see?