Defining Moments: Lent.5

by admin on March 27, 2015

Reflections for 22 March 2016
John 12: 20-33

It’s garden time. Dirt is turned over. Plots planned out. Seeds purchased. Hope springs eternal. NPR We plant hope in a garden. Hope that plants sprout. Fruit is grown. Food is harvested. Hope depends on if the seed works, germinates, breaks open to change into a seedling, stem, flower and fruit.

There is something hopeful about a garden. Hope for another day. For another harvest. For another go at life, depending on the natural cycle of things, but also depending on a process outside of all human control.

How do plants work anyway? By hope.

My father’s number one criterion in determining if you were worth your salt was whether or not you planted a garden. “So and so is just too lazy to plant a garden” and therefore outside the realm of approval. Too lazy to sink hands into dirt, hands into hope, hands into planting a future. It was one of our family’s defining moments.

Today’s reading in John is a curious mix of various one-liners, choppy transitions, and an emerging picture of a collage centering around planting a garden of sorts. It’s the fulcrum story in the fourth gospel….the movement from Jesus public ministry to his passion…it’s a defining moment in John. Here is the first story in Holy Week right after the Palm Sunday entry.

Occasioned by some Greek folks seeking in interview with Jesus he announces that with this Gentile request comes the very hour he’s been born for. Born for what? Crassly put: to die. It’s exactly like those seeds packs from Andersons marked “string beans,” “radishes,” “Boston lettuce.” You buy them to plant them, you plant them so the seed will disintegrate and become a plant. “Plant a radish; get a radish….” So sing Fantastiks.

Jesus calls that “glory” and it includes many things.

Greeks = Gentile world.…non-Jewish population. The utter ends of the earth. God’s love is the purpose of Jesus ministry—John 3:16. Once again John underscores the radical nature of the love of God…all comers included. This is why it’s proclaimed as “time’s up.” Three times in John’s story Jesus had said “it’s not time yet” but here it is at last. Glory in a seed.

The dying seed was a picture borrowed from the rampant fertility cults in the near East and the Greek mystery religions of the Mediterranean world. Once again John our evangelist co-opts all the familiar symbolic currency in his culture to reinterpret it in light of the source of all Truth, Jesus.

Jesus says that if a seed remains un-germinated it remains alone….not the purpose of the seed to begin with. His life is given to be given away. And in that giving away is the salvation of the world. Salvation is eternal life now and hope for true living in the life to come.

V25, 26⇒ discipleship is redefined from just hanging around Jesus for a day of male bonding, watching the countdown to the final four and munching on wings and fries. It can be summarized in the radical idea of handing over your life too. Interestingly these verses and the message are in all four gospels, which means that it’s standard operating procedure for all the gospel writers. But John alone has this way of saying it: anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life, Gk= hate. Radical indeed.

There follows a brief interlude of what looks like a moment of self-doubt in Jesus mind; NOT so in John. Quite a different portrait is painted in the fourth gospel about Jesus facing the reality of the cross. While Matthew, Mark, Luke all have the agony in the garden, this passage is as close as we get to it in John. Instead of asking for release from the obligation of death, Jesus here willingly embraces it, and in fact, proclaims it as the very heart of his purpose. Indeed this is John’s take on what we call “the incarnation”– the invasion of Almighty God into human life through the flesh of Jesus.

It’s no coincidence that thunder is heard. Even here the people who stand by can’t agree as to what is happening and who is making noise. This is exactly the response Jesus presence provokes wherever he goes. Belief is always squared off by unbelief. That is the real context of John’s writing, remember—pagan Greek society, challenged by the source of Truth.

Several months ago I had dinner with a young man who I confirmed ages ago. He is bright, a true intellectual, and a budding Renaissance man. Over the sushi and tempura veggies he tells me he has opted for atheism. I relished the ensuing conversation. Atheism, unbelief, is the whetstone for Christians to hone their beliefs, values, and theological perspectives. Not to be seen as trite, or a waste of time, unbelief is the place where our defining moments are created.

V 31-32…..If this is the hour Jesus proclaims, then this is the moment of crisis.; a defining moment…moment of decision. In reality the glory that Jesus prays for is displayed in two movements here….1) the world will be judged…not by rules but by irresistible love and grace. It is a crisis indeed, especially for the ruler of the world…Satan and his tribe. He will be expelled, Jesus says the dying seed will have revolutionary power to end forever the domination of those who would thwart the kingdom of god. The Kingdom remember, which began so long ago in another garden called Eden. Hope is planted in the garden.

That kingdom hope is big. How big? 2) “As I am lifted up from the earth, I will attract everyone to me…” As I am lifted up on the cross…up from death…up into heaven…the love of God will saturate the hearts and minds of men and women and draw them all to me. Talk about an audacious claim. That audacity is the call of every disciple, every church, every community of faith, for the heart of this daring mission is the redemption of the world.

Us preachers are told these days not to use church-y words, to make Jesus more palatable, more user friendly, more like one of us. I’m not so sure any more that dumbing down is the best thing to do. Mostly because when we do, we refashion the truth of the Gospel into short sound bites of recycled self-centeredness.

Some time ago I read in Ann Landers the plaintive cry of a young mother who, together with her husband, the young father, has decided that they made a mistake becoming parents. The kid, she wrote, was a royal pain in the neck, with its incessant crying, endless demanding, and frankly, self centered personality that she couldn’t take care of her own wants and that of her kid’s, too. The kid had to go. What should she do? she asked.

The so longed for baby put a crimp on their style and was a major inconvenience. Ann Landers was dumbfounded by the most pitiful letter ever received. Get some help she said…you’re in very dangerous territory.

Might this just be a tiny vignette of a real character defect? The first call of being a parent is sacrifice. You got to give up a lot to be the major nurturer of another’s life. It’s a direct illustration of Jesus picture of that tiny seed. If a parent’s life is really described as sacrificing your own comfort, convenience, and sometimes career for the sake of your children, things go better when you know this is the probability.

Parenting is a divine vocation. But you don’t have to be an actual parent to have this vocation, this calling. Every adult whose life interacts with a younger person, has that possible calling too. We plant hope in a garden. Several years ago there was a best selling book entitled, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. What do you learn in the children’s’ garden? Play fair, clean your mess…..we also learn faith, hope and love.

That is The Jesus Way. Twenty years ago Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses….defining moment in adulthood is the ability to embrace loss as part of life; the giving up, sometimes begrudgingly of certain places, objects, people in our lives as life moves on. The difference in this reality between resentful loss and redemptive sacrifice is the ability to believe that God is with us working out a hope larger than our imaginations could ever think of. The Jesus Way is the glory of God unleashed in the world, a glory so compelling, and magnetic, so attractive that all people will be drawn not to church, but to Jesus. This is the garden of hope.

Are we planting a garden of hope at Nova? O.S. Guinness, The Call: finding and fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your life “God calls people to himself. But this call is no causal suggestion. He is so awe inspiring and his summons so commanding that only one response is appropriate—a response as total and universal as the authority of the Caller.”

Can we be a faith community whose own life will be given up for the life of the world? More to the actual point of Jesus teaching Will you allow your life to be that seed which germinates into a tree whose branches become hope? A tree that reaches out to embraces and redeems a culture that’s so caught up in not being inconvenienced that it misses the real point of living at all?

Only then can any disciple or church ever claim to be on the mission of God. And that’s a real defining moment.

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