This sermon was originally preached on Sunday March 25, 2012. The scripture focus is John 12: 20-33.
Are you angry yet?
Are you angry for how you know they will treat our Lord?
Have the emotions that can define this season of Lent begun to permeate your soul?
As we journey through Lent, do we do so as a church long removed from the events that happened or are we present walking with Jesus? Walking with Jesus as he journeyed to the cross.
In our Gospel reading this morning we read these words of Jesus, “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.”
Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am.
Just where is it that Jesus is going?
Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am.
Following Jesus takes on a whole range of new meaning when we start really thinking about it. Jesus was going to the cross, he knew it when he said these words. So before we get too excited about following Jesus during this Lent season let’s take a moment for some sober reflection.
Was Jesus really asking his followers, is Jesus really asking us to follow him onto the cross?
The earlier members of the Christian church certainly thought as much and many of them did. But is Jesus really calling all of us to martyrdom? Is that the only way that God will honour us? By following Christ all the way onto the cross?
John Calvin writes “That death may not be exceedingly bitter and disagreeable to us, Christ invites us by his example to submit to it cheerfully … he leads the way to us to suffer death. The bitterness of death is therefore mitigated, and is in some measure rendered agreeable, when we have in common with the Son of God the condition of submitting to it.”
Just what is going on here? The cross as we see it today is very different from how it was viewed during the time of Jesus. In those days it was a tool for torture and death. Even to the earlier Christians, who were being crucified it was not a symbol of hope. Rather it was a symbol of the pain and of the death that they might endure for being a believer in Jesus Christ.
It is only later in history that the cross came to be viewed as a symbol of hope. The hope that is the resurrection. To us in the reformed tradition, we have the empty cross. Symbolizing that Christ overcame death and rose again. That Jesus Christ is the risen Lord.
However, this knowledge does not cause our unease with the passage to be put aside. Christ is calling us to join him in death, to follow him and be like him.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Let’s put it in context.
Though we certainly understand that this life here on Earth is temporary or transitory, as we understand that we through our faith in Christ we will be welcomed into heaven, but it does not mean we are in a rush! If we were, what would be the point of the great commission, of the great commandment love your God and love your neighbour as yourself? If Jesus just expected all his followers, all those who heard the message to jump on the cross with him his sacrifice would have meant little and his teachings even less.
Jesus knew that he was going to die, that he had to die to fulfill God’s plan for all people. So when Jesus asks us to follow him, to be like him what is he really asking of us?
Not that we die a literal death. But as Christ sacrificed we too are being asked to sacrifice. That we serve others; that we love others even when we don’t want to. If you are willing to give up and I mean give up a lot and to remain faithful to the call that Jesus places in each of our lives to love one another. Not just for our own sakes, not for the sake of the world, but for Christ who shows us the better way.
I believe that this is what Jesus is telling us when he says, “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.” Not that we join him on the cross, but that we serve him.
If we look closely at the first clause of that statement we realize that it is perfectly balanced. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me. Naturally, to serve Christ, we must follow him. How else are we to serve him?
The Jesus continues saying that my servant will be where I am? Yes, Christ is on a journey to the cross. But where was he in society? He was a servant to the people, a teacher and a healer to the people. This is where Jesus is calling us to be. The subtle undercurrent in the passage is the cross. The recognition that not everyone is going to think so highly of what we as Christians are doing. Jesus was counter-cultural. For a long time the Bible was a defining document if you will on how society reflected on itself.
No longer! Once again the Bible and being a follower of Christ is to be counter-cultural. I’ll reckon you didn’t think you were going to find yourself as part of a revolutionary movement when you woke this morning. But what Christ calls us to, is so contrary to anything that society holds as valuable, it is contrary to everything that society today views as acceptable or normal.
I’m a big fan of the music of U2. I find that much of their music has a religious and questioning element that resonates with me, they also have a streak of social justice running through them which I also like. One of their songs entitled “Wake Up Dead Man” goes like this and no I’m not going to sing it.
Jesus, Jesus help me
I’m alone in this world
And a messed up world it is too
Tell me, tell me the story
The one about eternity
and the way it’s all gonna be
Wake up wake up dead man
If I have ever heard a prayer, that’s it.
How many of us have felt alone in our lives.
How many of us believe that this world we live in is heading in the wrong direction and fast.
How many of us long for eternity and promise made manifest in Christ?
The final words of that verse, ‘wake up wake up dead man.’ I don’t believe that they are a plea for Christ to come back into the world. It’s not Christ that is being asked to wake up. I believe that when Bono wrote these words he was talking about himself, he was talking about the world.
Those words are a prayer, a plea, a cry for help! Wake up and take a look at the world. Shake off your sinful nature, shake off your selfish nature and do something about the state of things. The world is a mess and we need to wake up! We need to do something about it and it needs to be more than a token gesture. It needs to be more than money in a plate. It needs to be tangible, it needs to affect people’s lives, and it needs to be transformative.
Friends, nothing short of the power of Christ, the power He commands is going to make that difference in the world. Christ shook up the world when he walked it all those years ago. He called his followers then and he calls us now to follow him so that we can serve him. So that we can go to the places that he went.
So that we can go and heal the sick. So that we can feed the hungry, in this neighbourhood and in the greater world. That we care for our planet. That we can love all people, in all times.
Friends Christ came to die on the cross, that sacrifice was necessary to bring us back into relationship with God. That if we accepted his sacrifice we would enjoy the eternity of heaven. But before he died for us, Jesus let us know what his expectations of us are.
We are the seeds that have resulted from Jesus’ death. We carry on Christ’s mission in the world until the time he comes again in all majesty and power. That’s what he calls us to do.
I asked you at the beginning of this message if you were angry. If the feelings of the season were having an effect on you.
Friends, I’m angry. I’m angry because of what happened to our Lord, even though I recognize that it needed to happen. But what really makes me angry, and it shake me to core is that not enough of us are angry about what we haven’t done. About our inaction in the world. Don’t get me wrong the church does good work, but it doesn’t do enough and it doesn’t call on a society that is so materially wealthy, though spiritually bankrupt, to account! We don’t keep society accountable for its actions and we do this because we are no longer providing an example on what should be done in the first place!
Friends most congregations in our denomination are more concerned about how to keep the doors open than going out the doors and doing the work Christ calls us to do. Are we also spiritually bankrupt? Have we gotten so pre-occupied in self-preservation that we aren’t even doing what we are supposed to be doing? Is that want God wants us to be in the world? Is that what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.”
I know of a congregation that for ten years has been unable to commit to a vision. For ten years it has not taken action. It has shied away from opportunities because of fear of committing resources of time and money and having that vision fail. For ten years, they’ve done nothing new. And now they are all ten years older and it’s not a young congregation.
Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.
If you’ve been paying attention over the Sunday’s that I’ve been with you, you will notice that there has been an undercurrent of Social Justice, of mission. That hasn’t been accidental. In February Rev. Rick Horst, our current moderator visited Knox College. During his time with us he reflected that congregations need to stop looking inwards for growth. He suggested that to grow is to simply do Christ’s work in the world. If we do that, the growth will just happen and if it doesn’t at least we’ll have continued to make a difference rather than becoming irrelevant.
Following Christ means to serve him, so we can be like him. I don’t recall ever reading about Jesus attending a committee meeting. I don’t recall ever reading about Jesus debating how to feed to poor or heal the sick.
To quote Nike, Jesus just did it.
Jesus took action.
Jesus was a servant.
Jesus calls us to serve him, so that we can follow him, so that we can be like him.
Servants who takes action. Amen.