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Lent 5B Sermon
John 12: 20-33

March 22, 2015

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.
Our gospel lesson begins with a comment that is a bit difficult for modern day Christians to understand: Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. Who are these Greeks? Since the nation we know today as “Greece” wasn't in existence then, what makes these people Greek? And why are they coming to Jerusalem to observe a Jewish Passover? Where did they come from and why are they there? In addition, why are they looking for Jesus? They go to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Why are they so curious about this travelling preacher?
In all likelihood they were part of one of two groups: they may have been Gentiles who were not Jews, but were devout and religious, open to Judaism as a philosophy to consider and incorporate into their life. As such they were permitted to worship on Passover in the court of the Gentiles; or they were Gentiles who were proselytes – men who had already been circumcised, and had the right to worship with those who were already Jews. Either way, they were people who were kind of part of the group, but not fully part of the group.
If we were to ask who in our society are like this today, we might say that those who consider themselves, “Spiritual but not Religious,” fall into this category. Who are these people? We can generally define SBNR's (Spiritual but not religious) as those people who are open to a sense of mystery, curious about the divine, wonder about God and the spiritual life, but have not found these inclinations and needs met by the traditional religious institutions. They may have been hurt or pushed away because of personal experiences in churches at a young age. They may have just come to not accept the teachings that they accepted for many years in their childhood. Whatever the reasons, they claim that they can connect with the spiritual without the need for a connecting with a community of faith, a church. These folks sort of remind us of the Greeks in this reading: they don't come to Philip asking for information about Jesus; they don't inquire about a new member's class or asking to join a committee. They don't ask for a statement of beliefs before joining. They simply want to see Jesus – to really see him face to face.
Interestingly, they are on their way to the religious celebration of Passover when they make this request. Evidently something in their upbringing or recent years of formation has included a religious aspect to it, but for now, they just want someone to show them Jesus. Were they dissatisfied with the faith of their parents? Or maybe they were looking forward to this Passover but were (like many of those folks) curious about all that they'd heard about Jesus. It probably doesn't matter why, but the fact is they want an encounter with Jesus.
If we liken these Greeks with SBNR folks then we might say that we know our mission field! And in knowing our mission field, we also have a sense of what these folks are looking for when they venture into our church for worship occasionally, or when you see them in the grocery store, coffee shop or neighborhood. Quite simply, our missional task is to show them Jesus, for that is what they truly want and need. They may not say it exactly like that – heck, they might not know that this is what they are looking to find! But Jesus is really what all of us are looking for, whether we know it or not!
One way to connect with these folks is to be honest about what we are still looking for as well. A popular song by the group U2 is called, “I still haven't found what I'm looking for.” They lyrics speak of someone who is seeking desperately to find something in life to give them what they are looking for in life: “I have climbed the highest mountain, run through the fields only to be with you; I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls; but I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I have kissed the honey lips and felt the healing in her finger tips, it burned like fire, burning desire; I spoke with the tongue of angels, I have held the hand of a devil, it was warm in the night, I was cold as a stone, but I still haven't found what I'm looking for.” The song even comes from a Christian perspective – U2 is a group of 3 Roman Catholic men from Ireland who still rely heavily upon their faith in their lives. The last couple of verses proclaim the truth about how even wrestling faithfully with questions will often not bring answers: “I believe in the Kingdom Come, then all the colors will bleed into one, but yes I'm still running; you broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, of my shame, you know I believe it; but I still haven't found what I'm looking for.”
I think that if we were honest, there would be some measure of doubt in each one of us, and we can all identify with some of the words of that song to some extent. No matter what we have done, where we have gone, what we have experienced and been taught, none of us has completely found what we're looking for! It is in this place that we can connect with all people regardless of their spirituality or religious nature.
Perhaps the key to finding what any of us are looking for – Greeks, SBNRs, Cradle to grave Lutherans and everyone in between – is the cross. The cross is where spirituality and religion meet us, and reveal Jesus to us in his greatest power and glory. It is in the cross that we find the answers to our spiritual questions because the cross is the ultimate symbol of what God has given to us so freely through his son. In addition, the cross is also the ultimate symbol of that which makes our spirituality and religion complete, and that is turning away from our own comforts, desires and lives and being ultimately concerned about those around us. It is in giving ourselves away that we receive life, just as it is in falling into the ground and dying that a grain of wheat produces more fruit for the sake of others. Knowing that we all will one day fall into the ground like that grain of wheat, I think it would be best to see the point of religion is to dwell in and encourage faith in Jesus. And the point of faith in Jesus isn't simply faith or comfort or satisfying the spiritual desires of those who still haven't found what they are looking for. The point of following Jesus is that we might be drawn more deeply into the kingdom of God through the cross; and that is experienced in our love for, service to and sacrifice on behalf of those around us. Where do we find Jesus? We find him in the faces of those who call out to us in hunger or want of any kind. We find Jesus in the presence of those who are lonely, abused or hurting in mind, body or spirit. We find Jesus wherever we encounter those who are in need. Jesus comes to demonstrate strength through vulnerability, God's power through what appears weak in the eyes of the world, and God's justice through love, mercy and forgiveness. He calls us who follow him to the very same kind of life and love.
Is this the Jesus that those Greeks wanted to see? Is it the Jesus we want to see? Is it the Jesus that the world that witnesses us wants to see? Maybe yes, no or something in between! But this is the Jesus that we get! A Jesus who reveals the heart of our loving God by going to the cross; a Jesus who is raised again on the third day to demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate and life more powerful than death. A Jesus who draws all people to himself, no matter how spiritual or religious they are, just as he promised in our Gospel reading today. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.