Sermon by Martin James: 21.03.2021

Sermon by Martin James: 21.03.2021

John 12:20-33

 

On line and streamed services have become popular during the pandemic. I know that the Archdeacon did one for you recently and for those of you with internet access it was very helpful. But I’m not going to get into the merits or otherwise of them. They are good for some and not for others. However, one thing did catch my eye recently. A survey - lots of young people turning to the BCP on line. Neither how nor why this should have come about is not at all clear except that it seems to have arisen out of anxiety during the pandemic. God moves in mysterious ways? Who knows what these youngsters expected. They were simply seeking and it seems from what the survey said that the lovely traditional wording of the Prayer Book spoke to them in some way. We can only hope that some at least came to faith.

 

In the Gospel this morning we read of a group of Greeks who came to worship at the Festival - that would be the Passover. As non Jews they would be welcome into the Court of the Gentiles. Like those youngsters finding the liturgy of the Prayer Book, those Greeks were seekers. It was characteristic of them. They would go through philosophy after philosophy, religion after religion in search for what they wanted to know was the truth. The meaning of life and indeed death as well.

 

There’s another similar occasion with some Greeks. In Acts 17 we read that there were some who were involved in a discussion with St Paul in Athens about Jesus. Paul was preaching in his usual forthright way and led to quite a conversation. Seeking again.

 

But here in today’s Gospel we get the first hint of the good news going beyond Jews and out into the world. Because that group of Greeks at the Temple that day very pointedly said to Philip “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Why they chose to approach Philip we don’t know. It may simply have been that Philip is a Greek name and maybe they thought that someone with that name would help them. Poor Philip didn’t seem to know what to do so he went to Andrew, who was in no doubt. And then they took them to Jesus.

 

And look what it leads to. The rest of the passage here in John finds Jesus taking about his forthcoming agony. It begins with v23 - Jesus said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

 

Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent. More traditionally known as Passion Sunday. This marks the final two weeks of Lent and provides a time for closer focus on what was to come for Jesus. His arrest, trial and crucifixion. So it’s no longer just our giving up for Lent in whatever we may be doing. It’s preparing ourselves spiritually for Good Friday, and then the glorious Easter Day of resurrection.

 

But as part of that hear two of the things Jesus says at this time. Things that speak to us in our christian lives.

 

First he talks about life - v25 - Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Two rather strong words here about life in this world - love and hate. As so often Jesus liked to exaggerate to make a point. Which of course he did spectacularly in his parables. Here he doesn’t literally mean love and hate. There is nothing wrong with loving our lives here. 1 Tim 6:17 - God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. What Jesus actually wants to get across to us here is our attitude. Are we too bound up in the so called pleasures of the world that there are times when we don’t look to him?

 

And then the strong word hate. Again Jesus doesn’t mean that literally. It’s our attitudes again. What, who are our priorities. In the Sermon on the Mount - Jesus said - Matthew 6:33 - But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. He wasn’t being glib when he said all these things will be added to us - he never would be like that. He was urging us to a closer walk with him. To live godly lives as far as we are able.

Which incidentally is where we need each other for support and so on. Difficult at the moment I know. But we can do all we can within the current restrictions to get alongside each other. And of course it’s great that we can meet like this on Sundays.

 

So Jesus speaks about life.

 

And then he speaks about service - v26 - Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. Serving in his name.

 

We naturally have a special appreciation for those people who serve others. And I’m sure each one of us can think of folk like that. Famous ones certainly but no doubt more personal ones as well. I know such service doesn’t belong exclusively to christians. There is so much good work going on in all sections of society. It’s just that in a christian context it has another dimension. Serving quite literally for God’s sake.

 

And - same verse - Jesus also talks about following. Whoever serves me must follow me. During Lent, and indeed at all times, we are called to follow the Lord. Obviously not physically. But in the way we lead our lives.

 

Yes, so Jesus is talking about what was awaiting him in Jerusalem.

 

He then talks about his own feelings - v27 - 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. Unlike the other Gospels John doesn’t mention Gethsemane. What is written here is John’s kind of equivalent of the soul searching that Jesus went through there. But here in his passage there is the special touch of God’s audible voice - v28 - when Jesus prays “Father, glorify your name” - Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” And the crowd heard it, even though they didn’t understand. Some thought it was thunder and others thought it was an angel.

 

How do we hear God’s voice? Not audibly of course. But there are many ways he reaches out to us. When we are silent and expectant in our prayer times. The still small voice that comes into our thoughts. Through our private Bible readings. Also through a friend. Or something said in a sermon maybe. Not that I or any other preacher claim any special kind of hot line to God. Indeed, I’ve had occasions after I have preached when someone has made a comment to me about something I said. I couldn’t recall actually saying what they heard. But that is because God speaks to each one of us in his way in what he wants us to know or to do. We hear his voice any time we are open to him by his Spirit.

 

Jesus knew what was going to happen to him. His destiny for the whole of mankind. So, v 32 - And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Lifted up from the earth. That is not only literal - yes, he hung on the cross. But also it means he will be exalted. His resurrection and his ascension. He will - he does - reign at God’s right hand and his desire is to draw all people to himself.

 

Think back to those young people I mentioned at the start turning to the Prayer Book. They must have been seeking. As we seek more of God in our lives we will want to walk closer with him. We will want to love him more for all he has done for us. That is in a particular sharp focus at this Passiontide as we come closer to another Good Friday and Easter. And as we do that we will be more open to him and his will for our lives.

 

Martin James 21.03.21