Written by Pastor Ed
We Would See Jesus
March 18, 2018 Lent 5
Jer. 31: 31-34
John 12: 20-26
Somewhere I once read a statement that said all of life is a lesson in letting go. And there’s a lot of truth in that, I think. One could even say that birth is a letting go of the security of the womb, and then there are the stages of growth when we leave behind certain things, eventually letting go of our youth, our parents, and finally the ultimate letting go of life itself. And there are all those things that we let go of throughout our lives, our parent’s home, perhaps a job, a girl or boy friend, dreams and hopes.
I’m not saying any of that is easy, but it’s simply a fact of life and, of course, some people handle it better than others. John 12 marks a shift in John’s gospel, following the raising of Lazarus which John portrays as the impetus, the reason, for the plot against Jesus. From here on in John, Jesus marches steadily toward Jerusalem and the events of Good Friday. The passage we read follows immediately after Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem (so it’s a bit out of order since we will look at that event next week). Some Greeks, who were among those gathered in Jerusalem for the festival approach Philip with a simple request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
We don’t know exactly who these Greeks were, if they were Greek speaking Jews, or if they were, more likely, Gentiles, and even though they are the initiators of this encounter, we never learn whether they actually got to meet Jesus or not. They simply seem to be a vehicle for John’s account of Jesus beginning to speak of his death. If you want to see Jesus, John tells us, then you will have to come to grips with letting go, with dying. “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.” (John 12:24)
Interesting concept, and yet so hard to apply to ourselves; to let go of something recognizing that what awaits us may well be something better. The exiles in Babylon faced a similar dilemma, which Jeremiah addressed in the well-known passage we read from Jeremiah 31. Part of the exiles problem was that they clung fiercely to the hope of a return to a restored Jerusalem where God dwelt in the temple and all would be right with the world. It would be a return to the “good old days” when law and order prevailed.
But the prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both told the exiles that wasn’t going to happen. Jerusalem would be destroyed. There wasn’t going to be a return to the way it used to be. They needed to give up the dreams they had and “seek the welfare of the city where they were.” But, Jeremiah promises, if you can let go of those impossible dreams and put your trust in God, then something new will be put in place. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant.” (Jer. 31: 31)
It won’t be like the old covenant, because that covenant was broken, but rather it will be something new and better, written not on tablets of stone, but rather written on “the heart” that is, on the will and mind of the people. It will have to do with forgiveness and with knowledge of God. And Jeremiah follows up that promise by buying a field, an audacious thing to do when the land you are buying is about to be overrun by your enemies.
Last week we spoke of the darkness and the barriers that come between us and God, or between us and our brothers and sisters. Today’s passages give us the promise of something new, but also I believe a clear message that that something new only comes when we are ready to let go of the old. If I insist on clinging to the past, to what was, I can never experience what God has in store for me in the future, the promise of something new. A new covenant opens us up to new and exciting possibilities, a dynamic future with the possibility to grow and change. Who wouldn’t want that? And yet, all too often, we face those times of letting go with fear, rather than with eagerness to see what comes next.
I’m often reminded of my father-in-law who often said that if we really understood what heaven was like, we’d be eager to go. And yet we often cling to life as though it were the end. Jesus faced his own death recognizing that, as he put it, “for this reason I have come to this hour.”
How often do we hang on to past hurts and refuse to let them go in order to move on to new and better things? That doesn’t mean that we just ignore what may have happened and sweep it under the rug so to speak, but it does mean coming to terms with it and letting it go. One of the things I have learned over the years is that forgiveness has a lot more to do with allowing me to move on with my life than it has to do with the person who wronged me.
How often have I watched elderly who could not let go of their home and move to some kind of senior housing where they could maintain more freedom and actually maintain more independence for longer, and yet were unwilling to let go. (Oops, now I’m getting personal) Or pastors who were not willing to let go of their positions even after resigning, causing all kinds of problems and not allowing themselves or their former congregations to move ahead to something new.
Even congregations tend to hang on to what they have always done, keep things the same, sometimes after a program or idea has long since outlived its usefulness. I sometimes recall my first congregation where, when I started, they had something called Membership Dues, which were I think $10 a year. Being young and new, at the first congregational meeting I asked what those were about and an older gentleman in the congregation began to explain that the dues had been instituted to pay for the coal to heat the building. I don’t know how long it had been since the old coal stove had been gone, but it was at least decades and the more he explained the more it became clear how ridiculous keeping the dues in place was, and a motion was quickly made to abolish them.
If, or when, we come into contact with Jesus we are faced with the need to let go of some things. Jesus called his followers to a life of trust in God, giving up the security that we might seek in things or in armies and violence. Jesus calls us to even be ready to lay down our lives, as he did for us. In our society we don’t face that kind of threat, but our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world can face persecution and even death for asking to see Jesus.
We are approaching the final weeks of Lent and nearing Holy Week when we remember Jesus’ death. But Jesus’ being lifted up didn’t stop with the crucifixion. After giving himself up and letting go, came resurrection and finally ascension, a lifting up to sit at the throne of God.
What are we willing to let go of in order that we might experience even greater things to come? Can we allow God to write a new covenant on our hearts so that we might experience anew what it means to be in relationship with God and experience all that new life brings? The Psalm appointed for today speaks of that need to let go and allow God to recreate in us something new and so I invite you to listen and make this your prayer as well. Psalm 51
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Join me as we sing a song of letting go, Take my life, and let it be #389 in Hymnal