Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 12:20-36

In my line of work in carpentry, there is always a very clear line of steps to accomplishing a job. For example, I am finishing up a bathroom right now, and the first step was, as it so often is, demo. The flooring was old, peeling up vinyl. The tub was grimy, and it leaked, as did the toilet,  so that the drywall behind the tub and subflooring plywood under the toilet were rotted and moldy in certain spots. The sink was old and dingy, and moisture stains were on the walls. It was a serviceable bathroom, it functioned more or less, so on paper it sounded fine; but it needed to be gutted. The tub was taken out, the subflooring ripped up, the drywall torn down. Everything came out; the room had to die, so it could be rebuilt. It now has new subflooring and flooring planks; a new tub, and new tiles, certified by me; the drywall has been replaced, newly mudded, and freshly painted. A new vanity and toilet will go in, and now it is no longer an ugly, decrepit, mold-infested space, but fresh, clean, even beautiful. As we approach holy week, we get this account of Jesus, his public ministry coming to a close, teaching that as he must go down into death so that he may rise again, so we too must be gutted, demo’ed, must hate our lives so that God might make us clean and restore us, making us whole, beautiful, and sound.

We begin with the arrival of Greek-speaking people, probably from one of the Greek-settled Roman provinces surrounding Palestine, and their request to see Jesus. His response is to state that “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” For his whole public ministry, Jesus has focused upon the Jews primarily (with some notable exceptions), and in leading the chosen people to see him as the Messiah. They, however, having largely rejected him, will do so even more dramatically in the days to come. His gospel will go to them first, but ultimately to the whole world, spreading beyond the Jewish people to embrace any who would believe in him. In John’s gospel, the only one with this account, it seems that the arrival of these Gentiles is a marker of this important shift, the embrace of all people by God and call to believe the gospel.

It is time. The road to the Cross is beginning, and so Jesus teaches his disciple yet again what is required. Life, paradoxically, must come from death. The emptying must occur before it can be refilled. The room must be demo’ed before it can be restored. Jesus uses this vivid image of wheat: a single grain, fallen into the ground, in a sense “dies,” but from it comes all the plentiful abundance of a wheat stalk, filled with more grain (you gardeners are quite excited for this, right around the corner!). 

Christ dies and rises again so that many may live through their union with him, the reception of his life to those who are now his body. As I meditated on this passage I thought of pregnancy: sacrificing autonomy, a significant portion of your “life,” so that this other life may exist. Childbirth with its pain is a death as well, that brings into existence another human, full of potential and possibility, like a flourishing wheat. Your life from then on is a death in that it is now bound inextricably to theirs, you are not as free as before, so that they might live and flourish, and that too can be life-giving.

We, in believing and desiring to follow Jesus, also must then have a death of sorts. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” Put simply, We must embrace the death of ourselves in order to grow in the life of God. Now “hate is a very strong word, but it is necessarily hyperbolic as the most natural word that parallels with “love.” The point, though, is this: “the [person] whose priorities are right has such an attitude of love for the things of God that it makes all interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred.” That is a work by the Spirit, and it is what is implied in our believing in Jesus; we are accepting that a transformative work must be done in us, one that is messy, dirty, painful, like a demo; but one that is then restored, made clean and pure and bright and beautiful as it was meant to be.

The work of Jesus on the Cross and resurrection is what makes this possible, his life given for ours, death defeated by his restoration. And in that moment, the “ruler of this world” is defeated, Satan and his weapon of death being laid low. His power is broken, so that even now, all he can do is hurt you, but never destroy you. And the gift of God that is life and life abundant is for all people: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We should take this in the context of how this started, with Greeks approaching him; no special rules, no excruciating Pharisaical laws that cannot be followed, but as his arms are spread on the Cross, they welcome “all [kinds of] people,” no one being excluded or prejudiced against because they are Jew, or Greek, or man, or woman, or old, or young, or whatever else.

But what is the logic of “losing one’s life”, this overweening interest in the affairs of this life? For Jesus, it is to be the Paschal sacrifice to take our place in death, and then rise again to defeat it. For us, it means we make room for God’s life. Giving up our lives, the sacrifice of ourselves and our human predilections is an offering to God so that we might be filled with the risen, new life of Jesus, becoming ever more deeply intwined and united to God. We die to mortal, finite human life so that we might then be reborn, full of God’s unending and unquenchable life. Salvation is not static but dynamic, and as we continually see and struggle with the darkness within us, and believe in God’s promise so that he might work, that darkness is removed and we grow into the life of God. We must embrace the death of ourselves in order to grow in the life of God, and as we do, we will find that it is true freedom and true life, and we will be able to marvel at the beauty that God draws out of us, who are in him. Amen.

Copyright ©2021 St. Aidans Anglican Church / Spokane, WA / All Rights Reserved