This sermon was preached at Starr Presbyterian Church in Royal Oak, Michigan and was focused upon the story that is told in John 12:20-36. The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.
I imagine that the people were perplexed… Jesus, his disciples, and many others were at the festival of the Passover in Jerusalem. That week had been a whirlwind of events, many perplexing and unexpected. In the midst of it all, Jesus’ name and reputation were growing.
In the chapter before our passage this morning, Jesus stays in the town of Bethany, and while there, he raises a man named Lazarus from the dead. This took place just six days before the Passover. This is perplexing and astounding — certainly for the characters in the stories, but many years later, it may also seem bewildering to us as well.
And then, after raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem in a stunning way. John tells the story of it here after these events when we typically hear it during Holy Week. As Jesus rode into the city, people waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.”
In fact, some Greeks were at the festival as well, and they wanted to speak with Jesus, so his disciples sent for him. We don’t really hear what the Greeks ask him. We only hear his response.
He begins to talk about the Son of Man… who is this Son of Man?
Jesus says that, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” What does that mean?
And then he talks about this imagery: “Very truly I tell you,” he says, “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.”
And then he says some words that might make us uncomfortable, even as they might have made the characters in the story uncomfortable: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”
What does Jesus mean when he talks about our life in this way? He’s perplexing.
And he says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
I’m not sure the people present knew what to make of all of this… They just asked questions: “We’ve heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
They are confused. Even though we know where this story leads, these kinds of words make us confused or uncomfortable too.
And Jesus says, “The light is with you a little while longer. Walk while you have the light.” Walk, he says. Follow. It seems that following him is light. He says, “Walk while you have the light, and believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” That sounds like life. That sounds like Jesus is inviting us into something.
We can be honest with one another. Jesus can be confusing.
And the Gospel of John is different than the other Gospels. It’s a theological Gospel, which isn’t to say that the others don’t have a theology attached. Certainly, they do. But in this Gospel, Jesus gives all kinds of theological discourses. Sometimes, he says the kinds of things we wouldn’t expect in typical conversation. That seems to be true here.
I know I don’t typically make grand analogies about loving life… and losing life… and grains falling into the earth, and being lifted up from the earth… in my everyday kinds of conversations. I imagine you don’t either. But I think the author of this Gospel is up to something here. He places great theological invitation in Jesus’ words — not as some kind of verbatim record of what happened on one particular day in a particular, historical account 2,000 years ago. The author of this Gospel places words and meaning in the conversations of Jesus which invite these things to be true for us now. They become an invitation now.
Jesus might sound a bit cryptic and perplexing if we imagine these words taking place in an everyday conversation. But they are written for an audience. They are invitations now. Wherever we are, even 2,000-plus years from the life of Jesus, time collapses and we are invited into a new way of life for this moment.
And so Jesus talks about life — losing life, allowing his life and ours to be lost into meaning that is greater than simply living out our chronological days. We lose our lives into his vision, and we gain greater life, bearing fruit. We become children of light.
We do this by following him. Sometimes, that involves taking risks. Sometimes that involves giving up security. Sometimes that involves trusting that God is calling us — really and truly calling us, beckoning us to new life, new ventures, new connections with our neighbors, and new flourishing that we’ve yet to dream about.
A mentor of mine once had a dream. And it changed his life. And it changed many lives. It’s still doing that. I could tell you that story, as I know it well but I think it’s best to hear it from him. So I’d like to share this video today from Ben Johnston-Krase and Allen Brimer, the co-planters of Farm Church.
This is just one example.
Friends, where is God calling you? Where and how is God calling us? What dreams are emerging?
You know, sometimes we come to worship — and sometimes, I do this as the pastor too — and we get in a rut. We don’t expect that anything significant will happen. But every time we are together, we are being invited anew. We are being invited now.
So how is Jesus calling us to follow him and walk toward the light right now?
What do we need to lose, and what do we need to give up, so that we can bear fruit and gain the life that God calls us to — right now? this very day?