To see Jesus

John 12:20-33

Last Sunday evening, I spent about two hours over at the Foltz’ house with Pastor Foltz and Faith, and a number of our young adults, around conversation and of course, around small feast as well.

The question that guided our conversation centered around our Lutheran doctrine of Justification… the manner in which we as Lutheran’s believe God forgives us for our sins.  A fitting question for our reflections during the Lenten season.

In the Book of Concord, our doctrinal collection of writings, Luther explains that we cannot be justified before God by our own powers, merits, or works, but rather, as a gift, on account of Christ’s sake, we are saved by grace through faith.  That our place in heaven has nothing to do with what we do or fail to do, but rather, what Jesus has already done in the suffering of his crucifixion and his death on the cross.

With this belief in mind, we spent time talking about some of life’s heavy hitters, those sins often described as worse than the rest, even by the Church itself, that bring about our most sensitive questions in regards to salvation and ones’ place in the afterlife.

Suicide, obviously a topic quite personal for me… acts of mass violence, like the recent school shooting in Florida… and too, at the most basic level, our day to day activities and decisions of which we will all have to answer for as we meet St. Peter at the pearly gates when our time has come… those activities and decisions we are called to reflect on all the more deeply as we move through this season of Lent on our journey to Golgotha.

The next day, after dropping off a car full of food for students at the seminary just up the hill, my pastor-father and my pastor-grandfather, made their way here to St. James to pick me up for lunch. As we sat over burgers at ABC, I reflected on my conversations from the night before.

Sounds a bit like the beginning of a bad joke right? Three generations of pastors walk into a bar… I’ll let you fill in the rest…

As you might expect, with three generations of pastors, my reflections led us into a deeper conversation about scripture and theology… about human sin and how our actions in this life may or may not affect what happens to us in the next, and of course, since part of our conversation from the night before revolved around suicide, we talked a bit about Olivia.

From there, my dad began to talk about his uncle Jake, a man I knew absolutely nothing about previously, who committed suicide while my dad was in his first year of ordained ministry. He shared that on what appeared to be an ordinary day, he received a phone call from his aunt, telling him that uncle Jake had taken his own life, and went on to ask if he would be willing to conduct the service, to which of course he agreed…

As he does in every sermon he preaches, he offered a message of grace, forgiveness, and promise… a message received well by all, minus a small group of family members, who, after the funeral, thanked him for his message, and then, as politely as possible, went on to tell him that, although they appreciated it, he was wrong in his interpretation of scripture and that there are some things in life not even God can forgive…

What does it mean to be justified by grace through faith? What is sin and what is not? Out of this sin, what is if forgivable and what is not? What sin is worse than others, and who determines such? You and me, or God?

Not easy questions… certainly not easy answers…

Today’s gospel from John chapter 12 draws our attention both to questions of life and to those of death… of how the manner in which we live our lives in the here and now affects our place in the life to come… of how Jesus’ death on the cross does the same…

We read that a group of Greeks, who came to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, approach Philip with the request to see Jesus. With this request Philip goes to Andrew, and then, the two of them go to Jesus.

In response to the request, Jesus offers a parable about a kernel of wheat, predicting his death and making it clear that a life of discipleship is one of made up of service and of sacrifice, and of promise as well.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will loose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow; and where I am, my servant also will be.”

On three occasions throughout John’s Gospel it has already been said that Jesus’ hour has not yet come, and on another three occasions Jesus himself speaks of his impending hour, the first of which is found in the parable before us. The hour Jesus is glorified by God, when his earthly ministry will be completed… when he will die, that new life can be had…

As Jesus continues, he expresses the agony that he feels as his thinks about this hour that has come…  Looking to God the Father he prays, “My heart is troubled, and what shall I say?

The word in the Greek often translated, as “heart”, is psyche. Used intentionally by our gospel writer, many times translated as “soul”, we are to understand that the total person of Jesus is in agony over what is to come. Not just his heart, but his very being…

Yet just as quickly as he expresses his pain, he moves back to the end result.  “No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour.”

In reading on, Jesus offers us an explanation of the hour of which he speaks. He describes that it is a time of judgment on the world, when the prince of this world, satan, will be driven out, and when through his being lifted up from the earth in his resurrection, all of humanity will be drawn along with him…

Here, Jesus offers us, and all the world, His promise and the good news for us today…

That in the hour of his suffering, judgment is complete, all are justified, forgiven, and drawn to Him… That through the cross, the ultimate symbol of divine love, the devil is driven out, judgment is complete, and all are held in the arms of Christ… that as he was lifted up from the earth, so too will we…

As the Greeks come to Phillip with the request to see Jesus at the onset of our text, Jesus directs them not simply to look at him, but to look at that which he has come to achieve…

This is where we are to look as well…

As we walk closer to the foot of the cross, may you leave your pain and your guilt along the way, trusting in this promise… that of grace through faith… the promise that is freely given regardless of our own merits, powers, or works… that wipes away our sins, forgives us when we cannot, and draws us to Christ through the greatest act of love the world has ever known… that allows us to see Jesus in our moments of deepest need, when our hearts are troubled to the core of our very being… and assures us, that, in these moments, just as God the Father heard the cries of the Son, so too are ours heard as well…

For the hour has already come, the act has already been completed… Thanks be to God, Amen.

~Pastor Andrew Geib

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