"The Great Disconnect" - Lent 5B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 18, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 12:20-33

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: March 18, 2018 – Lent 5B

Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33


The Great Disconnect


            Someday soon, I’m going to have to clean out the garage. A lot of stuff has accumulated over the past eight years, and much of it needs to be thrown out or given away. (Hopefully we have another hazardous waste day coming up soon!) Among the debris are probably a packet or two of unused seeds.


            They might still be good; I’m not quite sure how old they are. As long as they stay in my garage, though, they will never be more than seeds. Their potential for growth will fade as they remain on the shelf. If they are planted, though, there is a chance – however small – that they will grow. Through exposure to the outside elements – sun, soil, and water – they have a shot at fuller life.


            Jesus uses this seed metaphor in today’s Gospel reading from John. While his biology is technically incorrect, his theology and cosmology is spot on. Unless Jesus himself goes up to suffering and death, he will never bring life and light to the entire world. Unless Jesus goes to the cross, his ministry will be nothing more than a blip on the religious history of the world – an obscure, forgettable sect within 1st-century Judaism. Jesus himself will have to die for the sake of the Gospel message which brings eternal life to those who have faith.


            At first, this Gospel reading seems…off. For context, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on a donkey. It’s the beginning of Passover. Some Greeks – Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel – were there, and had heard about Jesus. They wanted to see him. They approach Philip (maybe because of his Greek name?), who then goes to Andrew. It’s a reprise of chapter 1, when Andrew and Philip become disciples of Jesus. Only this time, it’s Gentiles, not Jews, who wish to see and meet and know Jesus.


            Then we get to the disconnect. Jesus launches into what sounds like a non-sequitur about “the hour” and “a seed” and so forth, but if you take the whole of the Gospel, it makes sense. For the first eleven chapters, “the hour” has been a recurring motif, signifying the time when Jesus will go to the cross, and thus usher in a new age of the fulfillment of God’s promises. In John 2, Jesus tells his mother at Cana that his hour “has not yet come”. In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that “the hour is coming when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”. In John 5, Jesus tells the crowd that “an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”. Both in chapters 7 and 8, John notes that the religious authorities try to arrest Jesus, but could not, because “his hour had not yet come”. When these Gentiles come to Jesus, this is a cue for him. The time has come for Jesus to fulfill his destiny, to go to the cross.


            Notice that Jesus isn’t stoic about it. He says that his soul is “troubled” – a term that also means “shaken up”. We’ve all had that feeling, I’m sure, of being shaken by something. For me, I think of that time I almost took a two-story fall off the house we were tearing down. Jesus is shaken by the cross. Yet he knows that this “hour” is the crucial point in his ministry to bring light and life to the world.


            And so, we get to the great disconnect in all of this. Jesus’ death will bring life to us. When he goes down into the earth, he will be raised in the fullness of his glory, with the promise that we too will be like he is. But how? As far as we know, dead remains dead. Flesh remains flesh. How can the cosmic Christ, the one who has conquered the world (16:33), be one and the same as the human, mortal Jesus? How can a gruesome, humiliating death – a state-sponsored execution, egged on by the unholy alliance of religion and the state – be the means by which death is ultimately destroyed? How can our bodies one day be raised into glorified, spiritual bodies – still physical and yet raised to a plane where there is no more disease, death, or decay?


            Reason can’t get us from point A (death) to point B (life). We only have our limited, human, one-dimensional point of view. We can only get there through faith. God-given faith, granted through hearing God’s Word and receiving God’s gifts in Holy Communion. It is only through our faith that we can understand what Jesus is talking about. Remember the crowd at the end of our Gospel reading today? The Father’s voice was heard from heaven in response to his Son, and the crowd didn’t know what to make of it. Some said it was thunder; others said it was an angel. No one thought that God had spoken. Because they did not have faith, they could not understand the truth.


            And when we don’t make use of the means of grace ourselves, our faith can also become weak and distorted. We become disenchanted, disillusioned, maybe even cynical about our faith. We cannot see how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection can have anything to do with us or with our day-to-day lives. We cannot make the connection between the great cloud of witnesses described in the book of Hebrews and the people sitting in the pews. We cannot see faith as an everyday reality that is lived more than believed. It is when we receive God’s gifts that we receive God-given faith.


            Jesus is the seed that bore much fruit for us. Now we follow. As Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” It is when we receive God’s gifts, when we serve Christ and his Gospel of eternal life with an open heart, that we ourselves die to ourselves. God connects us with the eternal life of Christ, and overcomes the great disconnect we experience between the world as we know it and the world as it will be. We, too, become that same seed that falls into the earth and undergoes a radical change – a change like death – so that we can experience a life we never could imagine.


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, through your death you bore fruit for eternal life for all of us. Give us the will and courage to follow after you, to receive the faith that makes us worthy of life. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.