Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2015

We all have experienced holding our breath either literally or figuratively waiting for a big moment to come. Most of us have waited for that Saturday morning to dawn when we were scheduled for the SATs. We have waited for the curtain to rise on opening night for a play we have a role in. We have waited for the doorbell to ring on prom night. We have waited for the receptionist to say, “The manager will see you now” just before a big interview, and we have waited for the magic moment when it is time for us to go to the hospital to give birth. These momentous times in our lives do not just pop up all of a sudden. We prepare for them beforehand – we take practice tests, we enroll in dance classes, we rehearse our lines, we study the company and its products, we take part in Lamaze classes. As we go about our preparatory activities, we know the time is coming but it is not here yet. And then all of a sudden after everything is in place, there it is, staring us in the face. And we do what we have been training to do.

Jesus’ big moment, his “hour”, has come. It is time for him to fulfill his purpose, to do what God had sent him to earth to do. From the moment of his incarnation, his whole life has been preparing him for this moment. Three other times in John’s gospel, his “hour” has been mentioned, but at those points, Jesus’ hour has not yet come. Now, as he enters Jerusalem it has. Jesus knows his death is just a short time away and he is ready for it. He is ready to surrender his life to God on behalf of the world.

How does Jesus know that his hour has come? First, there is his enormous popularity. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead, and this miracle caused many Jews to believe in him. The crowds that follow him to Jerusalem and shout “Hosanna” include some of these people, as well as others who had been witness to this sign and others that he did and wanted to see more, without having come to faith. There were so many people that the Pharisees said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. The whole world has gone after him.”

And that brings us to the Pharisees and all the other Jewish religious leaders who were angry about Jesus’ popularity. That anger is another sign of Jesus’ hour. It is the raising of Lazarus that has put the Pharisees over the edge, moving them to put killing Jesus at the top of their lists. They were afraid that if Jesus performed any more signs, then everyone would believe and the Romans would come and destroy their temple and their nation.

Jesus knows his hour has come because the world, not just the Jews, wants him. Some Greeks ask Philip about seeing Jesus, and Philip took Andrew and went and told Jesus. Jesus’ mission is to save the whole world, and having the Greeks come to him was a sign that the whole world was noticing who it was that was performing all these miraculous acts.

Jesus’ hour is here. Now what is Jesus’ hour about? Jesus’ hour is about selfless love for the world. The fully human Jesus offers himself to be tortured and killed so that the world through him might be saved. So far human beings have said “no” to a God of love and mercy asking for us to practice the love and mercy we have received, but Jesus says “yes”. Yes to sharing our experience but responding to it in a different way. Yes to surrendering to God’s will. Yes to redeeming the world through his death. As the Word made flesh, he saw the world as God saw it, not in need of punishment, but in need of salvation.

Jesus’ hour is about creating a new community of believers, a group of disciples who would carry on his mission. He tells Philip and Andrew about the grain of wheat that must die and fall into the ground to produce new life, to bear good fruit. Jesus is the grain of wheat, who, limited by time and space, cannot “draw the whole world to himself” alone. With his death, resurrection and ascension comes the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers so they can bring the good news of Jesus to all the people. Jesus also has promised to be present with the disciples as they follow him as well. They will abide in him and produce good fruit.

Jesus’ hour is about the judgment of the world. Not the creation, which God so loves, but the systems and institutions of the world that destroy God’s creatures. Materialism is one example. We think that we need so many possessions or so much money to be safe and happy that we turn them into gods. When we focus on acquisition to the exclusion of everything else, we become isolated in silos of our own making. We cease belonging to God’s community and become like the farmer who built bigger barns to hoard all his possessions rather than share from his bounty. Our society is also plagued by a culture of domination. There have to be winners and losers, haves and have nots, higher and lower rungs on the social ladder, instead of everyone being equal before God. We are constantly assaulted by the “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” ideal. One of the most dangerous social ills in this world is violence. We think that to achieve peace, we must defeat the other. We can magically think that using violence to get our way will not affect us or cause us pain, and we are hardened to what it will do to those who are its victims. Many who have suffered from abuse as young children abuse in return and become bullies – or murderers. Might makes right. But Jesus’ hour is about casting the ruler of this world – this un-Godlike world –  out. With Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, God makes a definitive statement about love being the way to eternal life, both now and after death.

Finally, Jesus’ hour is about glorifying God. Though Jesus mentions a troubled soul, he soon recalls his purpose and overcomes his momentary qualms. At his call to his Father to glorify his name a voice from heaven lets Jesus know that all has been done in accordance with God’s will and will continue to be done that same way.

What is the message for those of us who seek to follow Jesus as Lord? One lesson is that we can trust Jesus. Jesus was human in every way that we are except sin and went through all the pain and suffering we go through. His witness was authentic to our experience and we can turn to him with whatever we are facing. Another lesson is the one he gives Philip and Andrew. If we love our life we will lose it, and if we hate our life in this world we will save it. Once again “this world” is about destructive human systems and institutions. God loves creation and wants us to love it too. God wants us to enjoy our lives and love our neighbors. God wants us to use our gifts and take care of ourselves. What we must refrain from is loving ourselves as the be-all and end-all of creation. We must refrain from turning inward so that all we can see is ourselves and our own needs and how we can get what we want regardless of how it will affect others. When we hate our lives in this world, in contrast, we turn against all the destructive things we have built and work to follow Jesus in making this world a world of love.

Jesus embraces his “hour” as a series of events that will glorify God. We usually do not have just a single hour, but many hours – many opportunities to embrace that which will glorify God in our own lives. Loving God and our neighbors are the twin purposes of our lives, and we can do that every day. As Lent draws to a close, let us look for ways to show God’s love to the world, as Jesus did, and know that Jesus is with us in that work, giving us the grace and strength to do it.

AMEN.

     - Rev. Ann Barker