Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon for SUNDAY, March 18, 2018 - Fifth Sunday in Lent (Passion Sunday)

"Following His Footsteps"

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.

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ. Amen

Jodi Kantor, in her book, The Obamas portrays Michelle Obama as struggling with the cost of being “The First Lady.” Kantor writes that Mrs. Obama shied away from the spotlight and fought against the loss of freedom and privacy. Michelle wanted the Presidency for her husband, but she did not like the personal cost that its reality required of her.

Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta Mellark, in the film “The Hunger Games,” longed for the part. But, he was not prepared for the hype and super-stardom that was suddenly his. He is now struggling with the demands that success and fame have placed upon him.

The disciples were excited about being members of Jesus’ inner circle of followers. They envisioned lives of power, and position. The early Christians, to whom John was writing, basked in the knowledge of God’s love and the experience of God’s grace. The words of Jesus that John records were sobering reminders of the price for love that Jesus paid, and the cost of being a disciple of Jesus.

The scene of today’s gospel lesson takes place early during Holy Week. Scholars aren’t sure when Jesus realized what the cost of being the Son of God, the Messiah, would be. Certainly, by the time he entered into Jerusalem he realized that the cross was in his future.

In verse thirty-three, Jesus says that “When [he] is lifted up from the earth, [he] will draw all people to himself.” He made reference to the type of death he was to die. He also made reference to an Old Testament Story.

The Israelites had sinned against God and once again had rebelled against his Lordship. As punishment, God sent poisonous snakes that bit many people. Moses was instructed to craft the image of a snake and place it on a pole. If anyone looked at that snake, they would be healed from the snake bite. Like the snake, Jesus would be lifted up on the cross. If anyone looked to him for deliverance, they would be saved. Jesus’ death and resurrection provided salvation, established a new relationship between God and humankind, and defeated the forces of sin, death and the devil.

The kingdom of God was established at a great price. This fact was something that the disciples and the early Christians slowly came to realize.

We often imagine that Jesus’ resurrection is the only resurrection ever recorded in the history of the world. In reality, life, death, and resurrection are common realities in our world.

Jesus points out this fact in his discussion with his disciples. He points out that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it can never come back to life, sprout and produce an abundance of fruit. Death and resurrection happen every day; they are facts of life.

We know that this is true in our lives. We all know of people who have gone through the traumatic experience of losing their job only to find a better job. Some of us have experienced the pain of leaving family and friends, the trauma of moving, and the joy of making new friends. The promise of a resurrection empowers us to go through the death.

Jesus also told his disciples that, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (vs. 25). We have met people who loved their lives inappropriately. They lived selfish, self-centered lives—lives that were empty at their very core. We have also met people who have lost their lives for others, and we have been amazed at the richness and depth of their lives. We know the truth of Jesus’ words from firsthand experience.

Understanding what Jesus is saying and knowing the truth of his words, does not make the process of death with the expectation of resurrection any easier, or any less difficult.

Facing his death was not easy for Jesus, even when he knew how it would benefit all of humanity, and that the resurrection was on the other side. He admits, in our gospel story, that his soul was troubled. In other gospel accounts, Jesus struggles mightily with the terror that confronts him.

Even with a troubled soul, though, Jesus moves forward toward the cross. He asks only that God will be glorified, and his father assures Jesus that he will be glorified.

To be glorified is to have the fullness of one’s person and character revealed. Jesus knew that in his death and resurrection, the personhood of God would be seen by the people of the world. Humankind would be amazed at God’s love, overwhelmed by God’s grace and humbled by God’s mercy. People would be drawn to such a God and would enter into a new relationship with God and walk in his kingdom.

It is not easy being a disciple of Jesus. The consequences of our faith cause our souls to be troubled, also. Still, the truth that God will be glorified—that others will behold the person of God in his totality—is worth the cost. Having of lives glorifying God is the central purpose of our existence.

Christians are notoriously uneasy with decisions and choices for Jesus. We like to place the emphasis on the truth that Jesus chose us and we did not choose Jesus. At the same time, it seems true that choices are made each day to follow Jesus and to live by faith. Even with troubled souls at the prospect of death, we choose to allow God to be glorified in our lives. In response to what Jesus has done for us, it is a choice that we make over and over again.
Father, we don’t pray for a life of ease since we know that virtues listed in Scripture are often refined in our lives through the challenges, the overcomings, the mistakes and the hours we spend in prayer seeking You above all else. May the nature of Christ be much more visible than our human nature so that we are truly a reflection of Your image that is stamped deep in our hearts. We desire to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness” so that we are truly fruitful in our pursuit of holiness. Amen.
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The Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. Sermon contributed by Rev. Kevin Ruffcorn, Desert Streams Lutheran Church, Surprise, Arizona on Mar 29, 2012.
It is not easy being a disciple of Jesus.

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