The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s102g09 Lent 5 29/3/2009
'now my soul is troubled' John 12.27
This episode always seems to me to be crowded, both physically and thematically. It was crowded physically we are told a crowd was standing there. Perhaps these Greeks were a bit like those four friends who let the paralysed man down through the roof to get him near to Jesus. The Greeks couldn't get to Jesus for the crowd so they approached Philip, who went to Andrew. And it made me wonder if the church, admittedly not quite that numerous these days, actually gets in the way of others approaching Jesus if not by weight of numbers but by our very enthusiasm?
I suppose that there is a lot to trouble our souls at the moment - the threat of global warming, the uncertain financial future. Curiously neither of these particularly worries me. Humanity's ingenuity will come into play to address the former and my guess is that basic greed will eventually sort out the later.
Recently I received one of **those** e-mails all about Jesus. One of the pictures had the caption: "In physics, he disproved the law of gravity when he ascended into heaven" and it ended with the injunction: "If you believe in God and in Jesus Christ His Son .. Send this to all on Your buddy list. If not just ignore it. If you ignore it, just remember that Jesus said. 'If you deny me before man, I will deny you before my Father in Heaven.'" I have to confess I've never even considered that the ascension of Jesus had anything to do with the law of gravity, I certainly wouldn't ask others to believe this, let alone make it a requirement for belief in Jesus, or condemn myself or those I considered my friends to eternal damnation for not proclaiming this to all and sundry. How quickly some of Jesus' own supposed disciples become dispensers of eternal salvation they crowd around Jesus getting in the way of everyone else. I suppose all of the friends on the buddy list of the person who originated this all believe that they are right and the rest are wrong.
I suppose that this started my own soul being troubled, but then I heard on the television and later read a news report that: "Pope Benedict XVI has claimed the use of condoms increases the problem of Aids in Africa, .. he has maintained that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against HIV and encouraged abstinence to fight the spread of the disease. 'You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms,' .. 'On the contrary, it increases the problem,' he added. The Vatican's controversial policy on condoms continues to be tested on a continent where Aids has killed more than 25 million people since the 1980s. .. Benedict .. added that while the church does not propose specific economic solutions, it can give 'spiritual and moral' suggestions." (Wednesday, March 18, 2009 04:35am http://bigpondnews.com/articles/World/2009/03/18/Pope_Benedict_condemns_condoms_312976.html) 'Spiritual and moral' suggestions as to whom is acceptable and who is condemned? 25 million people are a lot of sinners whose lives could only be described as wretched, only then to be regarded by the church as spiritual and moral failures.
Again there are huge numbers of ordinary people for whom the law of gravity keeps them firmly on the ground, which is usually a very good thing, and don't see belief in an arbitrary suspension of this as something which ought to especially please God. There are a lot more people who live very charitable lives without believing this are these condemned as spiritual failures too?
It was precisely these spiritual and moral failures with whom Jesus associated. No wonder Jesus' soul was troubled by the crowds around him. Did they actually know what he was on about?
But the passage is also crowded thematically. The glorification of the Son through the death of the grain of wheat. The voice from heaven John's version of the transfiguration. Judgement of the world set alongside the gathering of all people.
And central is the injunction to follow Jesus and the implication is into burying and death.
This transfiguration happens when Jesus is in a crowd. As I said some weeks ago now, the other synoptic version of the transfiguration also happened in a crowd on the mountain. Jesus was not alone. God speaks to us when we are communicating with others. We may well be wrestling with the devil when we are alone.
It is important to see that it is this communion with all others that is the judgement on the world the world that marginalizes and alienates others and if that be 'the church' well then that too may be found wanting.
If this is really the focus of the passage, then the death of the grain of wheat is not so much a spiritual exercise for God or Jesus but a very practical one that others the 'hundredfold .. sixty .. thirty' might live. (Matthew 13.8) We exist, indeed we are prepared to die, so that **others might flourish** - not that others might become devoted followers. We live that others might not live lives with eternal damnation hanging over their heads unless they subscribe to unbelievable doctrines magnifying Jesus, or live wretched lives of poverty, sickness and premature death through AIDS / HIV.
Not only personally but right in the midst of the crowd judgment occurs. Do we exist as individuals for others or to exclude others? Do we exist as a group for others or to exclude others? There is no point in looking to the terrorists of September the 11th as the villains terrorism continues in the name of Christ to this day.
You see even small groups can be a danger to others. In the church one of the ways forward has been the small group movement. Small informal groups can actually do things that would not be appropriate in formal worship like extempore prayer. It is a way of giving people freedom to express themselves and support one another. But September 11th should warn us that small groups can be as destructive as large ones.
We exist, as individuals and as groups, that others might flourish, that the world might be a better place, and that individuals and groups that diminish others might be shown for what they are.
I started this sermon with the statement that this passage was crowded. Jesus was surrounded by the masses. He was the grain of wheat buried in the crowd. This again is the logical implication of the incarnation. He is buried in us as individuals, he is buried in us as all of humanity. While we remain apart from others we think that the incarnation was for us alone and those who believe like us, worship like us and live lives by **our rules**. What incredible arrogance! It is when we too are incarnated into humanity as it really is that **others will flourish** and the world might just possibly become a nicer place to live.
And isn't it interesting that being buried comes before the death of that grain of wheat. We only bury people (usually :-) after they have died. With Jesus this is the other way around. Being incarnated - buried into humanity leads to death and real resurrection. Of course all seeds will eventually wither and die, this will happen whether or not they are put in soil. If they wither and die apart from soil they die forever. It is only when seed is incarnated into soil that the miracle of growth becomes possible. So too it is only when we are incarnated into humanity that real resurrection happens. But happen it does.
I should also say that the spiritual message of the Ascension is that the risen Jesus is not ours, but the whole of creation - the message of the walking on water is that nothing will keep Jesus from those he loves all of creation - not just the disciples in the boat. If we don't get these spiritual messages, then acknowledgement of any physical miracles is utterly worthless. If we so magnify Jesus that he ceases to be one with us and all people, guess what? It is we who deny the incarnation, it is we who will be denied before the Father.
I recently read these words of philosopher and theologian, Raimon Panikkar: 'We have a tendency to construct for ourselves an increasingly uninhabitable world broken into combat zones between 'us' and 'them',' .. 'It is the cross-cultural challenge of our times that unless the barbarian, the mleccha, goy, infidel, nigger, kaffir, foreigner, and stranger are invited to be my thou, beyond those of my clan, tribe, race, church, or ideology, there is not much hope left for the planet.' http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=12408
The future of the church is to be in the forefront of this not pointing the finger at others who seem ever at loggerheads. Our future is to be with Christ buried in the multitude and indistinguishable from it for it is then and only then that resurrection will be ours - and everyone's.
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