St. John's, Centreville
March 18, 2018
5 Lent B
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak with them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"And Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
On this Fifth Sunday in Lent, the last Sunday before Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we are starting to see what is ahead for Jesus. The gospel of John turns more somber as Jesus declares his hour has come.
The turning point is when some Gentiles come and want to see Jesus. Obviously, they have heard about him and want to meet him, maybe ask a few questions, maybe to worship him. But their coming is a sign that Jesus' ministry is to go beyond the existing covenant with Israel. Through Jesus, it is to extend to everyone and that is a sign that his hour has come.
Things are coming to a head. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead and everyone is talking about it. Mary has anointed Jesus' feet with oil and dried them with her hair. Jesus' followers want to crown him as their earthly king and set him high on a throne and the Jewish authorities don't like that. It is now the feast of the Passover and thousands of people have come to Jerusalem.
The authorities want to stop Jesus. He is challenging some of the Jewish laws and performing miracles. He eats with tax collectors and sinners. He is upsetting the status quo. Jesus is causing such a stir that the Jewish high council has gathered to decide what to do about him. Jesus will have to die, they decide, because he is causing too much trouble and is drawing unwanted attention from the Romans. Tension is building and things are at a breaking point.
In John's gospel, Jesus has already ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem. People are waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks onto the path of Jesus' donkey. He rides into Jerusalem, not as a king on a mighty horse, but as a servant riding on a humble beast of burden. The crowd swells with excitement and enthusiasm as they believe Jesus has come to set them free from Roman oppression, to be their king.
But that is not why Jesus has come. When the Greeks come and ask to see Jesus, he realizes that his time has come. He has come, not to be an earthly king and save the people from their earthly problems. He has come to show them who God is and God's love for them. His time has come to finish what he started, to do what God has asked him to do. Jesus knows that a horrible death lies ahead and he is tempted to ask God to save him from this. Who wouldn't? He doesn't want to suffer and die. But he knows he must do what God has called him to do. And if that means a gruesome end to his earthly life, then so be it.
Jesus has been vigilant about being in concert with his appointed hour. When his mother tells him at the wedding in Cana of Galilee that he needs to help with the dwindling supply of wine, he tells her, "My hour has not yet come." When his disciples want him to publicize his ministry in Judea, Jesus tells them, "My time has not yet fully come."
But now, with the political climate changing, with the push of his followers to make him king, Jesus realizes his hour has finally come. He must fulfill the purpose for which God sent him. "Father, glorify thy name." That was Jesus' response to his impending suffering and death. He did not ask why this suffering had to occur. He did not try to argue or reason or bargain with God. He responded, "Father, glorify thy name." And God replies, "I have glorified it and I will glorify it again."
When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, the full extent of God's love will be made visible, and Jesus will draw all people to himself. Jesus is lifted up for all the world to see, to see his love and his sacrifice. In his miracles and healings, Jesus has "lifted up" those who were in need, those who were suffering, those who were on the margins of society. He lifted them up to a new life, a better life, as he does on the cross - lifting us up to a new life in Christ, a better life of love and respect for others.
By caring for others, Jesus showed us how to lift each other up in times of suffering and despair, by caring for them, by being Christ for them, by walking with them, by taking care of each other.
In our world today, there are thousands of people calling to be lifted up from shattered lives - those in war torn Syria, and Afghanistan, in drought-stricken Kenya, in Nigeria where girls are kidnapped from their school and sold into slavery; in Parkland, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada, where friends and family grieve the loss of those killed in mass shootings; those who suffer from health problems......the list is endless.
To follow Jesus' example of being lifted up in sacrifice, we too are called to lift others up - those who are hungry or lonely or sick or imprisoned or suffering or afraid or in pain. We are called to do what we can when we can, not to try to solve all the world's problems, or even one problem; but to start by reaching out to those who are in need right in front of us.
God often speaks to us when we are in the midst of our pain and suffering. It is at the times when we are the weakest and most vulnerable, when all our defenses are down, that we hear the still, small voice of God and we know that God is with us. God will give us the strength to endure what lies ahead of us. It is often in our times of darkness and suffering that we find God, not by avoiding suffering but by going through it. Sometimes we don't know why suffering has to happen and we want to blame God. God does not willingly inflict suffering, but God is there with us in the midst of it. God does not cause suffering but God can use it to reach us and transform us. And because of Jesus, suffering and death are not the final words. Eternal life is ours as children of God.
May we follow the example of Jesus who did not hide from suffering and death but called on God for the strength to endure it. May we call on God during our times of suffering for strength, endurance, and direction. And when we are in the midst of our own personal struggles, may we listen for that still, small voice of God, who loves us and cares for us as God's own children. Amen.