Monday, March 23, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Things to Come - John 12:20-33

vv20-21          Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request.
“Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

            I think that most ministers, when they reach the end of their ministry, must ask themselves this question: “Did I help the people see Jesus?” It might not be something that other people worry about, but I believe that most congregational pastors feel troubled by this challenging question. When I speak with my clergy peers, many of them carry a similar burden in their hearts and on their minds. They feel that they cannot do enough, be everywhere, and see to every need that each church member requires of them. And the longer pastors stay in a church, there are more occasions where people can feel let down, dissatisfied, and uncared for. This is why I believe most pastors only stay with a congregation between 4 to 7 years and move on to a new place, a new people, and new opportunities.
            When I became a Christian almost forty years ago, all I ever wanted to do was to make people aware of who Christ was, what He did for me, and how they could experience the same blessings. I gave out Gospel tracts in the busy downtown streets of Glasgow; I preached, sang, and witnessed to folks at street corners; I gave messages, played my guitar, wrote songs about Jesus in a young people’s Gospel Club. My whole life at that time was to help others see Jesus.

            These days, I preach, teach, write, and draw for the very same reason: I still want other folks to see Jesus – to know Him and love Him – to be known by Him and loved by Him. And this is not just because I’m a pastor or a Presbyterian; this is because I’m a Christian, sometimes a not very good one, whose only purpose is to serve and follow Christ. But this is not just my calling – it is the same calling for all Reformed Christians because we fundamentally believe in the priesthood of all believers, in the ministry of all followers, in the pastorate of all those who put their faith in Jesus.

            Today’s Gospel passage shows us something similar. Some Greek people, who have come up for the Passover feast, have heard other folks talking about Jesus. They have heard some interesting stories and amazing reports about this Carpenter-preacher-prophet from Galilee. Now they want to satisfy their own curiosity. They want to personally see and encounter Jesus. They want to come into His presence and experience His preaching, teaching, and healing for themselves. We may not realize it, but this was a pivotal moment in Christ’s ministry. His work went from being regional to becoming international. His fame was spreading and this meant that the Kingdom was advancing, not just all over Galilee and the Holy Land, but into the hearts and homes of Greek Mediterranean people, who would take His message when they went back home, and share it with their own families and friends, colleagues and peers.

Christ is pleased with the request from the Greeks, but He also uses the opportunity to present one of His special teaching moments.

v26      “Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”

            We no longer belong to a servant society, so a lot of Christians don’t understand what Jesus is actually saying here. We want other people to serve us continually – the restaurant server, the grocery clerk, the public servant, or the company representative for our cable, telephone, or internet service. We want immediate attention and instantaneous results. We pay for our taxes, rates, purchases, and even our church offerings with our hard earned dollars, so we expect results and demand respect. We sometimes don’t know how to serve, but we do know when we are not being served properly, fittingly, and satisfactorily.

            Do we misunderstand Jesus? Have we forgotten that we are His servants? Have we managed to set aside what He purchased for us with His blood? He saved us from our sins, and yet we still continue our selfish ways. He bought our souls with His sacrifice, and yet we still say ‘No’ when asked to serve. He gave everything of Himself, so that we might have everything from God, and yet when asked to give anything for Him, it takes too much time, too much effort, too much trouble. In other words, we want Christ to serve us – our prayers, our projects, our ideas, and our dreams.

            This week has seen our denomination redefine marriage as between two people, no matter what gender they belong to. It’s part of the ongoing Interpretation Wars that are destroying denominations and creating chaos across many congregations. How we interpret the Bible is important because it reveals to the world what we believe, who we are, and how we actually serve Jesus. And if you don’t think this has any relevance to what the Gospel passage reveals to us today, then let me introduce you to the beliefs of a PCUSA pastor on the West Coast. Just recently, he wrote these words:
“I believe that: Religion is a human construct

The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
In short, I regard the symbols of Christianity from a non-supernatural point of view.
And yet, even though I hold those beliefs, I am still a proud minister. But I don’t appreciate being told that I’m not truly a Christian.

So who does he serve? Who does he follow? In whom does he place his beliefs? And how on earth has he been able to remain as a PCUSA pastor? Remember Christ’s words:

v26      “Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”

As well as teaching the Greeks and the others around Him of what following Jesus meant, he also used this incident to remind His disciples of His mission – He wasn't here for fame or fortune, His popularity or pride. So He told them:

v31      “Now is the time for judgment of this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

            Judgement is not a very popular word in Christian circles. It very quickly gets transformed into ‘judgmental,’ which is something that Christians are continually told that they should never be. Judging and judgement belong to God, or in this case, Jesus Christ His Holy Son. As He expresses it, the world is presently being judged by God. However, when folks tell Christians to stop being so judgmental, what they are really saying is this: no one has the right to judge me, not even God.

            When Jesus talked about judgment at this time, He was confronting evil and telling it that its course, time, and hold over humanity had run out. He would bring all the conflict in the world to a climatic point when Jesus Himself would be lifted up on the Cross to draw all evil from the past, present, and future and pinpoint its destruction on Himself. This is why we are constantly told that He who was sinless became sin itself. Christ bore God’s wrath for our sinful behavior. He took upon Himself the judgment of His Father so that we may be totally forgiven of every single one of our mistakes, in order to be fully cleansed, made holy, and eternally reconciled to God. Without Jesus, we would be eternally annihilated by God; with Jesus, we are entirely accepted by God.

So, what does all this mean for us here in church this morning? What should we do about Christ’s words and deeds from this Gospel passage?

Firstly, as Christians, we need to remind ourselves that we are the vehicles of faith, the channels of mercy, and the instruments of God’s love to enable other folks to see Jesus. We are not only meant to be believers or followers or disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to be witnesses of His grace and truth.

Secondly, we are servants of Christ and not just seekers of God. This requires commitment and consistency, humility and faithfulness. Servants are not meant to choose to come to church in order to get something out of it; servants are supposed to obediently come to church in order to give something into it – whether it be time and talents, money and meaning, or service and faith.

Lastly, judgmental Christians make poor witnesses, however setting aside or ignoring the fact that Christ is actually judging the world is spiritually dangerous, and may cause people to wander down into dark tunnels of their own misunderstanding, instead of paying attention to Christ’s words and ways, which are meant to lead us toward His Light and God’s gift of everlasting Life. In Christ’s Name. Amen.

Prayer & Apostles’ Creed.

(As we say the Creed, let’s be reminded of the fact that when Christ returns, He comes to judge the quick (those still alive) and the dead – in other words, everyone who ever existed in the past, lives now, or will be born until the Day in which He returns).

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