Devotional Message for the Fifth Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/18/2018)

REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
St. John 12:20-33

Prayer of the Day

O God, with steadfast love you draw us to yourself, and in mercy you receive our prayers. Strengthen us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, that through life and death we may live in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, 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. 25 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.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

St. John 12:20-33 New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Glory of Jesus

My copy of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a gift from my parents when I headed off to college in 1975, and a trusty resource for these past 43 years, defines glory as: “exalted honor, praise, or distinction accorded by common consent; renown… majestic beauty and splendor;… a state of perfect happiness…” Common visions of glory include: soldiers returning from a hard-fought, victorious battle; athletes holding high the championship trophy in front of network cameras; a Broadway actor delivering the final, breathtaking line of a play; the thundering refrain of an orchestral performance; the faithful walking through pearly gates into heaven; Jesus being welcomed by adoring crowds into Jerusalem. Attributes of a glorious life might include honor, authority, prosperity, adoration, and accomplishment.

It is with this backdrop that the words of St. John’s twelfth chapter come thundering our way. Jesus announces: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” We might be tempted to affix an exclamation point or two at the end of that sentence. Maybe even tweet it in all caps. Images come to mind of Christ seated on a mighty throne, his opponents destroyed, his followers standing by in awe.

St. John may seem to be leading us towards just such an image of glory with verse 23 of this week’s Gospel lesson, but he quickly disabuses us of this notion in verses 24 and 25. Again, Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” In fact, this is a central theme of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus, the Christ, is seen most clearly in his glory as he is humbled and obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. This is not what the contemporaries of Jesus expected, and it may  not be what we expect, but it is the message of Christ crucified, which leads us to new life in God. Glorious new life in God.

I’ve been battling my way, lately, through “The Weakness of God” by American philosopher John Caputo (Syracuse and Villanova). He contrasts what he describes as a strong theology with a weak theology. Is God an omnipotent being who “runs roughshod over the settled ways and rules of the world?” Or is God ultimately a servant, whose very name stakes a claim on us, and invites us to join in a selfless, passionate love for God and neighbor?

Glory visible in suffering. Strength embraced in weakness. Wisdom known in foolishness. Such is the story we hear in the coming weeks. As we draw near to the glory of God, proclaimed in the suffering and death of Christ, may we be transformed by sacred love, and inspired by the image of one who loves us more than life itself.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What surprised the disciples about the ultimate fate of Jesus?
  2. What is unique about the way Jesus understands suffering and glory?
  3. How did Peter and the others eventually give of themselves to the world?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When I think of glory, what images come to mind?
  2. What is glorious about the suffering death of Jesus?
  3. How does this view of God welcome me into new life?