Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
April 10, 2022
Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, April 8, 2022
At the beginning of worship:
Palm Sunday. We begin Holy Week as we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Later, when I read the Scripture, I am using the account told in John’s gospel, which is often overlooked on Palm Sunday. But John has something important to tell us. John reminds us of the political nature of this date. The crowds are present at the beginning. They’re ready. They want to see Jesus because of what he’s done, especially raising of Lazarus from the dead. They wave palm branches, symbols the Jews used in their revolts against Rome.
But Jesus downplays all this by coming into Jerusalem on a donkey.In the ancient world, if a king came upon a city riding a stallion, it was a sign of war. But if he rode a donkey, it was a sign he was coming in peace. Our world today can use a little peace, don’t you think?
Before the reading of the scripture:
Our reading this morning is from the 12th Chapter of John’s gospel, beginning with the 12th verse. This incident occurs shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, and a few days before his crucifixion. The situation in Jerusalem is tense. Paradoxically, we learn in John’s gospel, Lazarus’ life-giving miracle serves as the final straw for the Jewish leaders. In the previous chapter, we learn the leaders in Jerusalem fear Jesus will force the Romans to respond brutally. The decide to kill him. “It’s better to have one man die for the people than the whole nation destroyed,” the high priest said. He had no idea the truth he proclaimed. Providing life for one, Lazarus, leads to the death of another, Jesus. We shouldn’t be surprised, that’s the gospel as Jesus gives his life for ours.
After reading the scripture:
Jesus comes into Jerusalem. John leaves off the story of the disciples borrowing a donkey and all that. Instead, John gives us the basics. Jesus rides a donkey, and a crowd has already gathered to see him. They wave palm branches and shout out the from Psalm 118, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They also quote from the prophets, “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
John tells us that even the disciples are dismay and unsure what to make of it all. Only after the resurrection do they understand. The Pharisees, however, are worried. From their perspective, Jesus appears to draw the entire world into his camp. Again, as with the high priest, John foreshadows what will happen. In the very next verse, some Greeks asks for Jesus.
Who are these Greeks?
I like the question they ask Philip. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It’s a line often found inside the pulpit, a reminder to the preacher that his or her goal is to introduce the congregation to Jesus. Hopefully, at times, we experience Jesus here, as well as in our lives.
Greeks are outsiders. They are not ethnically Jews. A shift occurs. Jesus primarily worked with the Jews. Now, Greeks seek Jesus. There are disagreements among scholars if these “Greeks” were Greek-speaking Jews, Jewish proselytes, or straight-out Gentiles. Since they’re in Jerusalem right before the Passover, it seems that they must be interested in Judaism. Maybe they are considering the adoption of Jewish practices and becoming a proselyte. But John doesn’t say. Regardless of their background, John uses them to foreshadow Jesus’ larger purpose—salvation for the entire world.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they ask. Jesus draws people to himself, which he still does today, but we’re not told if they ever saw Jesus. The question is asked of Philip—a disciple with a Greek name. Alexander the Great’s father was named Philip. This may be why they approached this disciple, thinking if his name is Philip, he’s one of them. Philip, it seems, can’t do anything by himself. Instead of answering, he runs off finds Andrew (the other disciple with a Greek name). The two of them take the request to Jesus. But John doesn’t tell us if Jesus granted them an audience. Instead, John notes Jesus’ shift in conversation, as he talks about what’s going to happen.
Jesus takes the conversation in a different direction
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Now that John has shown that interest in Jesus extends beyond those from in Judah, Galilee and Samaria, Jesus focuses on what is about to unfold.
Hearing that Jesus is to be glorified was probably sweet music to the disciples’ ears. They’ve been wondering when Jesus would usher in his kingdom. They’ve had visions of Jesus sitting up on David’s throne and them all around him in positions of power and glory.
But Jesus doesn’t stop at the glory, he continues with a disturbing parable. “Unless the wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a kernel, but in dying it can grow into a plant which bears fruit.” Jesus isn’t just hinting around; he says clearly that he must die. The Pharisees and high priest will get their wish. As Jesus peaks in popularity, his life and ministry on earth comes to an end.
Parable of a seed
Let’s consider this parable. Farming was tough back in Jesus’ day. There were no Co-ops or Farm Supply Stores where you could buy seed. Instead, you kept a portion of your previous harvest as seed so you would have something to plant during the next season. This means that if you had a poor harvest and, as the winter continued, your supply of wheat would dwindle, and you’d have to make a hard decision. Do you eat all your wheat, or do you tighten up your belt and go with less so that you will have seed enough for another crop? Consider your thoughts as you, on an empty stomach, sowed the seeds into the ground. It took faith to be a farmer back then, just as it does today, to bury seeds knowing they’ll die but in the hopes they’ll sprout.
Some of the disciples listening to Jesus’ parable had probably experienced such situations. They knew the value of planting, of letting the seed die in the hopes that God would give it new life and an abundant harvest. Here Jesus talks about himself, about his death, but quickly shifts to talk not just about himself but also about his followers.
The lives of Jesus’ followers
“Those who love their life will lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…” This idea of losing our lives or losing ourselves for Jesus isn’t too appealing, but there is something to it because variations of this saying by Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels.
What should we take from this passage? Jesus wants to make sure his disciples, and his followers who come later, know that he came to die. Jesus’ death is counter intuitive. Through his death, through being lifted up (if you’d read ahead to verse 33), Jesus draws all people to himself. Like the seed that dies in the ground as it sprouts new growth, Jesus knows his sacrifice will reap an incredible harvest.
Jesus like a parent protecting children
“I love you enough to die for you,” Jesus shows. Jesus is like a good parent who will do anything and everything to save the children. It is something instilled in mothers throughout the animal kingdom. I have seen it when paddling on a river and come near to the nests of ducks and one bird takes off, limping, as if to lead us from the nest. The bird keeps moving away from the nest until you are far away and then, flying normally, circles back.
I’ve also seen this behavior when hiking. A grouse will wobble away from the nest, acting hurt, staying just out-of-reach, until you are a safe distant from the nest. Then the bird flies off normally and circles back to the nest. Both birds make themselves vulnerable to save their young.
I read about such people in the news this week. A Ukrainian couple who could have fled the Russian army, but instead stayed back to help those who weren’t able to flee. And they were killed as they sought out food for their elderly neighbors.
Jesus’ sacrifice and our call
Jesus sacrifices for us, but he also calls on us to sacrifice for others. It is not just about Jesus’ sacrifice, but our willingness to work on behalf of others. If we follow Jesus, we must, as he said in another place, “Pick up our cross daily.” The Spiritual life is about being in tune with the needs of others. We must be willing to sacrifice, to let go of things we hold dear which hinder our walk with Jesus.
This passage confirms that following Jesus has cost. It may cost our own lives. Yet, our focus isn’t on what we’ll lose, but on what we will gain in the end.
Anything worthwhile comes with a cost
We always must give up something to acquire something else, that’s a principle of economics. You can’t have it all. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. So, we make economic decision to sacrifice one thing for another. If you’re a kid and you have a dollar burning in your pocket, you decide if you’re going to spend it on an ice cream cone that’s been tempting you or save it, hoping one day you’ll have enough for a bike. One satisfies an immediate need, the other a long-term need.
Unfortunately, in our society, immediate gratification generally wins. But not in the gospel! Long-term gratification always takes precedent. Consider Jesus’ words about storing up our treasures in heaven where we don’t have to fear thieves and where they will not rust.
Where is Jesus calling us?
What is it that Jesus is calling us to give up for him? A lot of what is being taught in this passage has to do with death, but I hope you can see a linkage between this parable and Jesus’ teachings on stewardship. In the parable of the talents, in which those who were rewarded had invested all they had, the ones who were rewarded did not hedge their bets. They had faith.
Jesus calls us to be faithful and willing to invest in the building up of his kingdom. As an individual, that may mean being willing to give sacrificially to Christ’s work in our church and in his missions in the world. Or it may mean you give up a pleasurable vacation and volunteer to go on a mission trip. As a congregation it may mean us making uncomfortable changes in our music or time of worship in hopes of making new disciples. When we follow Jesus, we are forced out of our comfortable zone as we strive to help others.
Let’s go back to the question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” How would we respond to such a request? Although we can’t take them physically to Jesus, we witness to our Lord through our lives and in the life of his community, the church. For we are his body in the world and when we follow him, he should be seen through our lives. As Jesus reminds us in the Parable of the Judgment of the Nations, when we show kindness, we serve him. But you know what; Jesus doesn’t want us to wait for that question. Instead, he wants us to share him by showing his love to others. Are we willing to make such a sacrifice? Amen.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 709-710
 John 11:49.
 See Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, and Luke 19:28-40.
 Psalm 118:26 and Zechariah 3;14 and Zephaniah 9:9
 Bruner, 712.
 Brown thinks they are Greek proselytes. See Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 466. Sloyan thinks they’re Greek speaking Jews living outside Israel’s borders. Gerald Sloyan, John: Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988),155.
 Bruner, 722.
 When Philip was called to follow Jesus, he went and got Nathanael to go with him. John 1:43ff.
 See Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33.
 Luke 9:23
 Matthew 6:19-21.
 See Matthew 25:13-20
 Matthew 25:31-46.
March 30, 2022, Early Spring sunset