Sunday, September 20, 2015

The World Goes after One Buried Grain

The World Goes after One Buried Grain
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
September 20, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 12: 12-25

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

This morning I'm going to do something a little different with the scripture reading. . . I'm going to break it into two parts. So as to look at the two movements in them with more focus. . . because the second half makes more sense in light of the context of the first. So will look at John 12: 12-25, but 12-22 first, and then 23-25 in a moment.

12 The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.” 20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-saida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. 

Now what you have here is the Palm Sunday text from John's gospel. . . and we know that Palm Sunday Marks the beginning of Holy Week, and the beginning of the end. . . We also know that this crowd assembled here on Sunday, come Friday, change the shouts of Hosanna, and Blessed is He, to Crucify him. . . . I've had us look at the face of the mob before, and I will again, but in minute, for now I want you to put yourself in the place of the Pharisees, I want you to pretend that you are Caiaphas, and you have already decided that it is better for this one man, this Jesus of Nazareth to die, rather than for the entire nation to be put into Jeopardy by angering the Romans. . . so you are Caiaphas. . . and here comes Jesus in his grand entry, for today is Palm  Sunday, and here comes Jesus, the crowd proclaimed king of the Jews, the conquering hero, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey's colt, like he thinks he is someone out of the prophets or something, and the crowds have gathered, and they are fired up.  . . excited about who they think Jesus is, what they think his life means for theirs, what his coming means. . . they are shouting hosanna, and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna which means, save us now. . . save us now, from whom, the Romans. . . you think to yourself, it's going to take alot more than a donkey for such a coup. . . but here they shout, believing their salvation has come, for here is the Christ, God's anointed, just like David, a new covenant, a new king.
The crowd is rowdy, and you are getting nervous. . . you start shaking in your boots, for  you've heard the stories, and you know that these crowds have heard the stories, too. You've heard the hype, they've heard the hype. . . this man performs wonders, he's healed, he's given sight to the blind, he's fed a multitude by the sea, word is he can even walk on the water, and he's raised this man Lazarus from the dead, who I've heard tell he was dead for four days. He's done all this but what is he against the Romans? What is one man against a Legion? What is one man up against the power that is wielded in their systems of bureaucracies and their wealth beyond measure? We've seen centurions on the move. . . he can raise a sick man sure, but when the Romans kill you, you stay dead. We are an occupied nation, and we need to remember that, to follow this man is fool hardy, and look the world is following him, the entire world will flock to him, and where does that leave us? You say to yourself, v19 "You see that you can do nothing, the entire world has gone after him." and in saying that you think that all is lost, for the world has been swept up in Jesus mania. . . and for a Pharisee like Caiaphas that is a disaster, and they have lost hope, but they do  not know the world like Jesus does. . . .
Caiaphas and the others are afraid, worried, and concerned that the entire world is set to follow Jesus. And it may seem like that some days. When the world is caught up in the frenzy, the music is playing, the promises are made, and faith is easy, blessed is he, therefore blessed are we, here we are, and we are gathered, the whole world is ready to follow, and the rest of the world is shaking in their boots. . . And the world does follow, Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, slave and free ,even the Greeks show up wishing to see Jesus, and the Pharisees are convinced they've already lost, sure that the world, the entire world has shown up, but the thing about the word is that it keeps turning. . . and so. . . in truth the world never follows. . . .the world never follows, Caiaphas and his friends need not be nervous because the world may follow on parade day, but the parade ends, and Jesus keeps going, the parade stops, and Jesus heads on, the crowds disappear and Jesus continues on, steady as a rock. . . alone. . . and he goes alone because he is heading to the cross.
Now I'll pick up the reading here with verse 23. . . remember that the crowds have gathered, the Pharisees are nervous, a couple of Greeks make their way to Jesus, asking the disciples to see them. . . and here is Jesus answering the disciples. . . for Jesus always knows:

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. [1]

The crowds may be gathered, but just like Jesus does in the other gospels from time to time, he lets his followers know the cost  . . . the tremendous cost of discipleship, picking up the cross and following. For as Jesus says the grain of wheat must be planted, it must die to being a seed in order to grow into another fruit bearing plant. And in the face of such truth, the world turns and the crowd disappears. Why oh why was Caiaphas ever afraid? Because the hard days come and the world falls away. Jesus says you have to give up  your life to bear fruit, and no one really wants to do that. . . they are screaming Hosanna, save us now, and Jesus is leading them to the cross, dying, planting a seed out of his own and very life. . . he lets them know that, he lets them know that, that is what it costs, that, that is what life costs, that, that is exactly where Jesus is leading, and he says He who loves life, loses it, and he who hates life in this world keeps it for eternal life, such is the promise of the man who walked on water, fed the multitudes, made the blind man see, and raised Lazarus from the dead, and it is real leadership because he is going to make that same sacrifice himself, Jesus is leading, but Caiaphas need not worry, the world may follow on parade day, but few show up to continue through the fire to the cross.
In our world of air conditioned comfortable churches. . . we seem to be good at the parade. . . but do everything we can to avoid planting the actual seed that Jesus is talking about, and we wonder why we don't often see the fruit. I think that it is for us, like it was at the parade, you can get caught up in it all, the peace, wonder, joy of life, that we forget what it costs, and forget who our leader is, and where he is calling us to go. . . but he's such a great leader because he goes there himself. . . and comes out the other side, he shows us the way,  just like his parable about the seed suggests. . . this gospel is about believing and receiving, it has been so up to this point, but here there is a great change, and it is wrapped up in this idea of following. He says later a few verses later. . .
The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”[2]

In the darkness you get lost because you can't see where to go, but Jesus is the light of the world, and his light is leading to the cross. . . and we follow the light, believing in the light, so that we too may become sons of light. . . but we have been told again and again that people have chosen the darkness instead. . . and we will see why because we are being called to sacrifice and to risk. . . 
I was thinking of great examples from history of leaders leading men to almost certain death for a cause. . . and the difference always was shown that the real leaders lead from the front. . . I thought about Lo Armistead as I was watching Ken Burns' Civil War Documentary this week, as he during Pickett's charge at Gettysburg took his brigade further than most others, crossing the fence. . . he led with his hat on his sword, up front so that his men could see him. I thought about William Wallace in Braveheart, standing before his men saying . . .
Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!

Henry V at Agincourt saying, we few we happy few we band of brothers, and then he led them himself from the front, once more into the breach.. . . We can be inspired by such things. . . the right words, the right actions, the right leadership. . .it can make men forget all that they hold dear to risk, to put on the line, to plant their seed in the ground so that others may benefit from the fruit. . . what a tremendous act of love it is. We can see it, in our minds again and again, and we are the beneficiaries of so many who have made such a sacrifice. . .
It made me think of Thomas Paine, and his writing "The Crisis" that he wrote in December 1776, after the Independence Parades and signing was over, the summertime joys were replaced by the tremendous hardship of winter at war, he wrote, and for some reason his words rang through my ears as I was studying and thinking about this passage this week:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Everyday you hear someone say that the world's crisis is upon us, that all of the troubles in the world are staring us in the face, and that they are too much for us. . . I'm not sure if these times are any worse than any other because the world has faced much in the past, but our leader has long shown us the way. . . and we each have a life to give. . . and love demands we give it. . .
Now I want us to remember a few things about what that is all about because I know that it is pretty intense. . . 1. Your life is precious, it matters, it’s worth it, when God made you there was a reason, there is a reason, find it, be it, give it. . . 2. It is not easy, despite what you hear about Christianity and Christians, the so called prosperity gospel, the promises from people on TV, the permasmile that some folks wear, it isn’t easy, it takes the giving of all of you, but you are worth it. . . 3. Since it takes your all, and you are valuable, come to know yourself, figure out what your talents are, develop them, they often live outside of what others may think of you, or even what you may think about yourself, but God has equipped you with them. . . God has equipped you with them to give them, not to hoard them, to plant them, so they can bear fruit  4. Just like for Jesus, time is important, the fullness of time, the right time, now may not be the day, but there will come a time to give of yourself. . . wait patiently in prayer     5. No one else can tell you when that time is, and what that time is about, what giving your all means, except for God, pray, listen, discern. . . come to know in your heart that things are right. . . I begin every sermon with a prayer of discernment, not my eyes, but his, not my will but his, not my life, but his, show me the way Jesus, and he does, and has. . . it just often is the opposite of the way the world wants to work. . .
1.      Your life is precious
2.      It isn’t easy
3.      Come to know yourself
4.      Be Patient, you can’t force the moment
5.      Listen, Discern, Pray
God give us the discernment and patience to know when we are called to give it, and the strength to follow where God leads. . . St. Francis' famous prayer has always been a favorite, and it speaks of this upside down world of opposites that Christ shows us. . . it is printed in the bulletin. . . may we pray it now together.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

[1]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 12:12). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2]The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Jn 12:35). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.