First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Psalm: Psalm 51:1-12
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my offenses,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment.
5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10
5Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
6as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel: John 12:20-33
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever 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. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Do you remember that scene near the beginning of “Chariots of Fire” when Abrahams, new to the Cambridge campus, prepares to challenge the 700 year old record for racing around the quad at the college? He has put on his racing outfit, is wearing his racing shoes, takes the proper position crouching down and listens for the bell to strike noon. Before the 12th gong, he must circumvent the quad. A fellow student joins him “to push him along” and comes in a close second. The bell rings once and the race is started.
Let us pray: Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Today Jesus gives his last public discourse. He has come to Jerusalem for the Passover. The chapter before Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and so people are excited. The Messiah has come! He has been welcomed like a triumphant King by the masses in Jerusalem. The text starts with Greeks who came to Jerusalem to worship, going to disciple Philip with one request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Let me ask you, we have come to worship today and what is our request? Are we like the crowds in the narrative, hoping to see a Messiah making Israel great again? Making Bethany great again? Are we like the disciples, following but a bit confused by the agenda? Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and we will enter Holy Week, ending with the crucifixion on Good Friday. What do we need from Jesus today to make it through the next two weeks? At the beginning of the race, at the beginning of the week, we don’t know the outcome. We can only stand and echo the words of the Greeks, “We want to see Jesus.” This seems to be the gong that signals the start of the Passion story.
Philip and Andrew go to Jesus with the Greek’s request and Jesus responds, “The hour has come for the son of Man to be glorified.” When we think of “glory” or “be glorified”, perhaps we think of Abrahams standing on the winner’s platform and receiving the gold medal for his country and for his effort. We might think of the inauguration of our president. After 45 years of government work, President Biden has been elected. He has reached a long desired goal. Perhaps we think of a wedding and seeing the groom and bride smiling at each other. Glorious. We remember that moment of birth, seeing a new life – a miracle! Jesus does not talk about a moment of exaltation, crowds cheering, our emotions overwhelmed with gratitude, but rather talks about a single grain being buried in good soil, to produce a yield, – productive and glorious. He is talking about the seeming death he and we will experience that precedes glory. Glory comes at the cost of death. If we want to see Jesus, we must be willing to fall like that grain so that God can raise a harvest.
““25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
“Chariots of Fire” traces the training of two very different men as they prepare for the Olympics. They will both run for the United Kingdom but they train differently. Harold Abrahams hires a trainer and we see his hours of dedication. Near the end of training, he tells his girlfriend that he cannot even spare energy to focus on her. He risks the wrath of Cambridge by hiring the trainer and he risks the rejection of his girlfriend. He sees his goal and its glory but like that grain he must die to personal desires. On the other hand, there is Eric Liddel who has returned from China as a student at University but is helping his sister run the mission. To train for the Olympics he must put aside his studies, turn over responsibility for the mission to his sister, and ultimately decides he cannot run the Olympic trials on Sunday as he believes it is against God’s will. We see him training with his friend and we see the agony of the decision to not run on Sunday. There is a kind of death to self. Death to self is the cost of glory.
Even we make decisions when we decide to follow Jesus. I do not know what choices you made but I had to choose between my newly acquired scuba diving license with weekend adventures promised and how I would use my time on Sunday. I love the ocean! I love Sunday worship! The choice was mine. I believe I have mentioned before the struggle with Friday after school TGIF times with fellow teachers at a local bar that I finally gave up. Today there are still choices about Sundays, gossip, integrity on IRS reports, and spending money and time. Following God and seeking his glory will involve turning eyes from self to him and involve a sacrifice of my agenda, a willingness to loose my life. We keep our eyes on the goal, the big picture. We choose God’s glory over our momentary pleasure. Seeing Jesus involves choices that feel like death.
“26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
As we look at Christian history, there are certainly actions for which we hang our head. The Crusades are not a proud moment in our history. As we confess in our opening, “we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” Serving Jesus is not a call to success but a call to faithfulness and following. Jesus goes to some of the horrible spots in our world – disaster zones, sick zones, uneducated areas – many of the places Christian organizations have gone. Serving means following Jesus to places of death to bring glory to God. To see Jesus means following him to some of the ugly places of life.
Service to Jesus comes in many forms. It is not a momentary decision about visions, but more a course of action. It is possible to applaud pastors and missionaries but we can also acknowledge the love of parents for children with disabilities or dealing with elders who are cognitively challenged. I think of my maid who worked for me day in and day out doing dishes, washing clothes, cooking and cleaning. She did receive a very minimal salary by American standards and sufficient by Kenyan standards but I believe God sees the hours she put in and will reward her some day. Following Jesus is not going to be in a triumphant parade following the newly elected but will be a challenge of obedience unto death. Jesus does not sugar coat it. But Jesus assures the Greeks, those listening and us that God sees and rewards, will glorify Jesus and honor us.
Jesus then reflects, “What shall I say?” “Father, Save me from the trial?“
Jesus’ soul is troubled thinking of what he is going to pass through and it is not the Garden of Gethsemane yet! Choice. It would appear that even Jesus had choice about his destiny. I do not think he was a programmed puppet of God, destined to live out a preordained plan. Jesus agonizes over what is coming even as Eric Liddell agonizes over whether he should race on Sunday. We know the outcome, resurrection, in hindsight but often the choice before us looks like a choice with a definite death outcome. Jesus chooses to glorify God and not try and save his own life. He will still battle the decision next week. Decisions are not easy. Jesus refuses the temptation to flee and says, no, his prayer is that God’s name be glorified. To see Jesus is to embrace the unknown future, trusting God.
“We want to see Jesus!” with the Greeks. We want God to be glorified with Jesus. And we will agonize with Jesus. “What shall I say?” Following Jesus is not automatic because of a decision made during some mountain top experience like the Mountain of Transfiguration or made in our youth. Following Jesus is an on going choice, it is a daily renewal of our baptismal vows as Luther says. On Sunday morning of the trial race Eric Liddel was suppose to run, the movie shows him preaching in a church. He quotes Isaiah 40: 29-31,
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youth grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
Liddell reflects through out the movie, “Where does the strength come from to see the race to the finish?” “It comes from within.”
Abrahams and Liddell both have the right shoes, the right running outfit, train hard and have natural talent. Liddell tells his sister, “God made me to run and I feel his delight when I use my gift.” But the outcome of the race will lay in the hands of God. The Greeks want to see Jesus. We want to see Jesus. This signals the start of a race that looks like a grain falling in the soil, a seeming death to self, that produces the glory of bearing much fruit. As Jesus dies and is lifted up, many will glorify God. As we serve faithfully, God is glorified. And that is what is important. Making those choices to follow will not be easy. Jesus had to go through the cross for God to be glorified. We too have to prepare ourselves to do the tasks on our plates. But we are not alone. God is watching and is walking with us and the Holy Spirit is interceding for us with deep sighs. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Thank you Lord for the privilege of following you and serving.