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Lent 5B Sermon
John 12:20-33

March 21, 2021

Sermon Archives


John 12:20-33

20 Now 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 judgement 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.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

One year ago today was my first Sunday as a televangelist. We really didn’t know too much of what we were doing then, but we did know that if our faith was going to sustain us through a difficult time we were somehow going to have to use the technology available to us to share God’s word through scripture, liturgy, song, preaching and prayer. No one dared come into this building for fear that we might touch a surface or breath some air that might infect us with a disease that uses its very victims as the vehicles to spread to other victims. Speaking for my family and me, we were scared. When we heard of someone who was diagnosed with Covid, our first reaction was, “Oh no …” and we often thought the worst. Cleaning and paper supplies flew off shelves, people scrambled for the N95 masks, and we wondered how long we would have to live like this - a month? A few months? Six Months? Don’t dare say a year … or more!!

As the weeks wore on, we got better at being together apart - encouraging folks to send messages to each other, resuming meetings & studies by way of Zoom, better cameras and editing of worship services, and even some in person gatherings outdoors when the weather was favorable. All the while we learned new things about the virus - while less than 1% of people infected get sick enough to die from Covid19, it is so contagious that this seemingly insignificant percentage of the population still adds up to 534,000 as of Thursday, some of those are people that all of us knew. We cannot ignore the loss of life that has happened, but we also cannot ignore the strides that we have made in treating those who contract Covid19, in understanding how to best prevent its spread, and the downright miraculous speed at which vaccines were developed and produced. I received my first shot about 10 days ago, and within the next 10 days all adults in Ohio will be eligible to receive theirs!
We have come a long way in the last year. As part of my first “virtual sermon” last March 22, I said this, “There are mysteries that are not solvable at this time – like what the next step might be, how many people will be sick or die, how our society will be affected, how our families, churches, institutions and communities will be affected financially and relationally. And how long we are going to be socially distancing ourselves from our friends and family. There are questions that science and medicine are working hard to answer, and we should encourage them in their endeavors to treat victims, find a vaccine, and in preventing our medical systems from being overwhelmed. The role of our communities of faith in all of this is to hold them up in prayer as they do this important and fascinating work, and to be a community to each other even as we grieve the fact that we cannot be together physically. In addition, each of us is called to do the works of God as we best can. For many that means staying in your house so that you and the ones with whom you come into contact will remain healthy and safe. For some that means going to work at hospitals, grocery stores, warehouses, clinics, carry-out restaurants and other places to look out for the well-being of people who are sick or hungry. For all of us, it means finding ways to show love to those around us – a telephone call or facetime chat with someone who is alone, ordering items from a local business, dropping off essentials on someone’s porch – there are so many things that we can do if our attention is not focused on blame or faulty questions.”

In verse 24 of today’s Gospel reading from John 12, Jesus says, “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.” Over the last year we have had to let things die in our communities, churches and relationships so that new life can not only appear but can blossom and bloom and produce fruit a hundred-fold. Our attitudes about technology and the importance of the ability to connect with people remotely by way of video and the internet has vastly changed in the last year. We have had to lay aside the importance of our individual rights so that our neighbors might know the love of Jesus in their lives - the clerk or wait-staff at the store or restaurant who appreciates you wearing a mask, even though you would really rather not do it; we have paused large gatherings for parties, concerts, sporting events, plays and other important social outings like travel and vacations; we have sacrificed of our time and resources to pick up groceries and dropped them on the back porch of an elderly or immune-compromised friend; we see how our brothers and sisters in Christ are now healthy and vaccinated a year later in part because we have been careful about our worship plans. It has been a long time since, “Fourteen days to flatten the curve,” and we have done well at times and not so well at others. All the while Jesus has blessed us and has even blessed our sufferings and the deaths of so many things that we have held dear. I am certain that we will once again rejoice at the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring new life in the months and years to come.

Another thing that I think we must allow to die is blame. It does no one any good to blame those who we think started or helped to spread this disease; It does no good to blame those who have profited from it while others have suffered. We cannot blame care facilities for the negative impact that being alone has had on elderly residents. We cannot blame politicians either, even though they are easy targets! No one has navigated through this once in a hundred-year catastrophe perfectly - not our previous president or our current president, no state’s governor, city’s mayors or even the CDC or WHO. Mistakes which have been made are opportunities to learn and grow, not to vilify or shame. Putting blame to death will result in growth as we all recognize that not a single person on this earth has been spared the effects of the last year. We are all in this together and we should act like it!

By putting to death the priority of our individual rights and the blaming of others, we partner with God in fighting the cosmic battle over the one who Jesus refers to as, “the ruler of this world.” Jesus defeated the ruler of this world when he was lifted up on the cross, and as he draws all people to himself. Last year I shared a quote that one of my pastoral colleagues said on a Zoom gathering: “Don’t let your sufferings go to waste.” Losing out on things that we pride ourselves in having the rights to do and blaming others for this situation has brought immense amounts of grief to all of us. We all have suffered in some way - some physically as the Coronavirus has affected some of you personally. Some emotionally through losing a loved one or changing the ways that you live and relate to others. If there is anything that this past year has reminded us of, it is that we all are broken, and this is a broken world. But remember it was Thomas Merton who once said: “We are all bodies full of broken bones. We are all simultaneously broken and God’s vehicles for healing brokenness in this world.” That is reality, no matter if we are able to embrace each other - which we hope will be happening more and more soon, or if we need to keep 6 feet between us.
Some things had to die this last year because it was necessary to share God’s word with all of you. In so doing, we produced even more fruit as folks who are not regularly here at Clinton Heights for worship have been watching and listening. God has expanded the number of folks in our circle of brokenness, in our circle of love and care, just as a grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies bears much fruit. May we continue to pray and seek to do God’s works as God’s broken healers for this broken world, so that the ruler of this world may be defeated, and we can rejoice in new life through Jesus Christ; Amen.