This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 21, 2021.
March 21, 2021
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.
I feel like one of the Greeks today – one of those saying, “…we wish to see Jesus.” That is part of the reason we come together for worship on Sunday mornings – collectively, we wish to see Jesus. Actually, we need to see Jesus. When our hearts and minds are troubled, even when our souls are troubled, we need to see Jesus. We know Jesus identifies with our suffering and our burdens. We even hear today that the very soul of Jesus is troubled. And what does he do? He turns to God. He does not give up. He embraces and accepts what life has put in front of him. (And sometimes life throws an awful lot our way, but God promises never to leave us or abandon us in the midst of life’s struggles.) Jesus endures, he suffers, he dies unto himself that God might be glorified, that love might be born, that hearts might be changed and that true joys might be known.
Therein lies our hope.
We are in the last days of a long and unusually dark Lent with all that is going on within and around us. As our opening collect said, “among the swift and varied changes of the world.” That is why we need to see Jesus. That is why we remind each other that we are together on the journey, together in our wish to see Jesus.
We wish to see Jesus in the midst of a pandemic where loss, grief, isolation, fear and illness have been wreaking havoc on our world for over a year now.
We wish to see Jesus as we continue admitting and reckoning with racial injustices and racial discrimination in our communities and in our nation.
We wish to see Jesus in the increasing polarization of our political system.
We wish to see Jesus in our personal struggles whether physical, financial, emotional, or relational.
We wish to see Jesus as the 12-year litigation comes to an end in our diocese. We wish to see Jesus as many of us leave buildings where we have worshiped for years – celebrating baptisms, weddings, funerals and weekly gatherings for Holy Eucharist. We wish to see Jesus as we imagine and move forward to new ways of following and serving Jesus.
We have something in common with these Greeks that arrive on the scene in John’s Gospel today. They approach a disciple and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” These Greeks were wanderers in search of truth, souls hungering for more, individuals seeking meaning.
The arrival of the Greeks was a sign to Jesus.
Every time I read this gospel, I remember a sign God gave me one time. I had stopped at a McDonald’s in Dallas when I worked as a hospice chaplain. I noticed a teenager who appeared to be homeless. I felt like I should ask if he needed help but decided to ignore that nudge and get on with my day. I pulled out of the parking lot, turning right and immediately ended up at a railroad crossing when the arms dropped to stop me in my tracks. Obviously, I got the sign from God and returned to offer help to this homeless teen. I wish God’s signs were always that clear. No telling how many opportunities I have missed because there was not railroad crossing to stop me in my tracks!
The Greeks were that kind of sign to Jesus. They were the sign that told Jesus the time had come for him to offer his greatest act of love. For God’s message through Jesus had traveled beyond the Hebrews to the Gentiles, beyond the Jews to the Greeks. This is the first step to the Gospel being spread through the world. Now Jesus gives himself for ALL people, not just the Jewish people. Jesus’ love is for all nations, all races, all people. Jesus’ love is for the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the free and the oppressed, the gay and the straight, the least and the great. Jesus gives himself for all to draw all to God. Did you catch that language? “to draw all to God”? Jesus does not drive us to God or force God on us, but invites us through his love into relationship with God.
God’s constant mission is to draw us to God’s self. We hear this in Jeremiah – it is God’s initiative to restore relationship. It is God who says: “I will make a new covenant,”
“I will put my law within them,”
“I will write it on their hearts,”
“I will be their God,”
“I will forgive their sins” and
“I will remember their sin no more.”
This is God’s promise – the new covenant – that shows the extent of God’s grace and patience with us and for us. We are God’s people – people who live by the grace of the new covenant in Jesus Christ.
God’s grace is extended to us through Jesus. We might even find comfort in how Jesus models for us “prayers with loud cries and tears,” showing us that it is okay to cry out – to scream and holler, even – to call God’s attention to our circumstances, as if God isn’t already aware.
I have lost count of the number of people who have said to me about their anger, frustration, worries and concerns, “I could never say those things to God.” But truly, God is as close as the very breath you breathe, knowing your burdens, sharing your tears. It is in praying with bold honesty that we relate more deeply with God. It is in praying with abandon that we connect more fully with God, with God who was clothed in the flesh of Jesus to show us that sometimes suffering is not just something to be endured, but something to be embraced.
That is not easy, but when we trust in the life-giving, redemptive grace of God to see us through our seasons of suffering, we are sure to find silver linings of God’s love and mercy breaking through, helping us to “see Jesus” even when our souls are troubled.
As we begin these last two weeks of Lent leading us to the foot of the cross, keep your sights set on “seeing Jesus”. Try not to be as blind as I was and need a railroad crossing sign to help you “see Jesus.” Take every opportunity to serve him and follow him. For on the other side of all this suffering is new life, indeed, resurrected life.