Psalm 51:1-17, John 12:20-32, March 22, 2015
It’s not time. Wait a little longer. Just be patient. We will sell no wine before its time. The moment is not right. That item is on back order. Will you hold please?
We have a lot of ways to say that the thing we want isn’t available. When my older son was 4 he woke up early one spring morning and asked, “Is it day?” Now, technically, the day began at midnight, but he wanted to know whether it was morning and he could get out of bed. Mom and Dad decide when day starts, that particular morning we decided that 5:50 a.m. did not qualify as “day” and told him so. Then, he caught us on a technicality, “but it’s light outside, it must be day!” So the Willadsens got out of bed that day at 5:52 a.m. Peter was ready for it. Looking back, it was kind of nice to know that at least someone was pleased to greet the new day, not stuck wishing for a little more sleep.
People were eager for Jesus’s time to come too. John’s gospel tells a story different from the other gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke the transfiguration, the moment when Jesus appeared with Elijah and Moses to Peter, James and John on the mountain, was the beginning of a new phase of ministry for Jesus. From that point on, Jesus was more resolute and began the journey that took him directly to Jerusalem. John’s story is different.
When Jesus was at the wedding in Cana and his mother told him they were out of wine, his response was, “What concern is that to you and me?” My hour has not yet come.” Then he went on to change the water there into really, really good wine. A little later people started asking whether Jesus was the Messiah, and while teaching in the temple he said, “’You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him because his hour had not yet come.” [John 7:28-30]
Another time Jesus was talking to his brothers and they told him to perform miracles in public, where lots of people can see, otherwise, what’s the point? But Jesus said, “My time has not yet come…” [John 7:6]
One more time Jesus was teaching in the temple treasury and Pharisees disagreed with his testimony, because under their law one could not testify on one’s own behalf. So they said that everything he said was not valid proof that he was the Messiah. Jesus said his testimony was valid because he was sent by the Father. They asked, “Where is your Father?” Jesus said, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” This was a provocative thing for Jesus to say, it was illegal blasphemy. “But no one arrested him because his hour had not yet come.” [John 8:20]
Jesus restored sight to a blind man, but his hour had not yet come. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, but his hour had not yet come. Jesus went to Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ house for dinner and Mary poured expensive perfume on his feet, but Jesus’ time had not yet come. The Passover festival came and Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The town was buzzing like a beehive with people who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.
That’s where our lesson from John picks up. Some Greeks approached two of Jesus’ disciples, wishing to meet Jesus. It was no coincidence that they went to Phillip and Andrew, because they had Greek names. Phillip and Andrew made the introduction and Jesus said, “The moment has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” At last, after all the signs and miracles. The moment had come. And it was outsiders, foreigners, Gentiles, who indicated to Jesus that the time had come for him to be glorified for all the world. Not as the Messiah for the Jews, but for everyone on earth and for all time.
And Jesus makes three points to those who hear him. First, his death is necessary for eternal life to begin. That is, that life with Christ has a cost, an inevitable cost, in the same way that a seed falls into the ground and dies, giving life to the next generation, so he must die. More than ten years ago, I heard a the preacher make the same point. In the beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The comfort comes only after having mourned, those who never mourn, those who refuse to give in to their emotions, never experience the grace on the other side of difficult, pain-filled, sad times. Most of us don’t want that. Most of us would rather be like Woody Allen who said, “I don’t want to be immortal through my work, I want to be immortal by not dying.” Jesus offers a more wrenching and starker path to eternity. He says those who love their lives lose them.
He isn’t talking so much about physical life as the death of self-interest. And the need for his followers to put aside their own security that God offers us through the Savior. The world calls it foolish and reckless. And we ourselves struggle with letting go of our own efforts to control things and trust God’s control. Elsewhere in scripture Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it…Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9: 23, 24, 27] It’s tempting to interpret those words as Jesus saying that he promised to return before the last of his disciples died, but what he probably meant is that there would be some who heard those words who would not have the courage to take up their cross and follow him, that to follow Jesus is to taste death. Some will hear the Gospel and turn from it. Others will hear it and try as best they can. And still exalt Christ imperfectly.
The final point that Jesus makes is that the author of creation and master of the disciples is not exempt from the fact of death preceding life. Jesus didn’t change God’s rules, Jesus fulfilled them, made them altogether complete and perfect. “For this purpose I have come to this hour,” Jesus says. And an amazing thing happens. For the rest of John’s gospel there is no talk of agony or pain or suffering on Jesus’ part. In fact, before this moment when Jesus’ time had come Jesus was often described as “troubled” in his spirit. But after being recognized and brought to the world’s attention--it is as if Jesus’ death had already happened. John is unique among the gospels because of the lack of pain in the crucifixion. There’s a gospel hymn that catches this feeling, “He Never Said a Mumbalin’ word.” In John, Jesus simply said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, “on the cross.” [19:30]
For several years I have used Psalm 51 as a daily guide through Lent. This was the psalm we read at Simple Supper Wednesday. Every time I read it I encounter the power of this part toward the end of the psalm: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit…” And I think of the moments when my spirit has been broken—or my heart. Some people say that God only gives us as much difficulty as we can handle, but I know from personal experience there have been moments when I’ve had more difficulty than I could handle. When I’ve been pushed beyond the beyonds—or pushed myself there—or thought I could get back from there all by myself. And I’ve been broken.
And it’s at that point that God’s economics are so stunning. Sacrifice isn’t about wealth or money or buying God’s favor. Sacrifice is about humility and despair and brokenness. Because brokenness isn’t foreign to God, it’s the very thing that God used to bind us together. Christ on the cross, your heart, your spirit…A new set of rules was put in effect when Jesus’ moment came. He was killed but raised to life for all people. Our despair became our ticket home. Amen.