Living on Purpose

March 22, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 5th Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 31:21-34; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

Question-MarkIs it just me, or does this gospel lesson feel a little awkward? It starts with some Greeks telling Philip that they want to see Jesus. Philip then goes and gets his friend and fellow-disciple Andrew. The two of them then go and tell Jesus that some Greeks want to see him. That seems normal enough, I guess.

But then, instead of Jesus saying, “Great! Where are they? Let’s talk!,” Jesus goes into this whole thing about the Son of God having to be glorified, and a grain of wheat having to die, and losing one’s life to keep it… it’s really quite confusing! What is the gospel writer doing with this story?

Well, not unlike the turning over of the tables we talked about a couple of weeks ago, I think John is using this passage to reveal Jesus’ full awareness of his purpose. Even more, I think this story shows us that Andrew and Philip also understood and lived into their purpose.

From the outset of John’s gospel, in the very first chapter, we were introduced to Andrew and Philip – they were among the very first followers of Jesus. Andrew’s first act after encountering Jesus was to go and find his brother, Simon Peter. When he found him, he not only told him about Jesus, but “He brought Simon to Jesus.”

Then the next day, Jesus goes to Galilee and sees Philip and says “Follow me.” Then immediately after that, Philip went and found Nathanael and told him about Jesus. When Nathanael was skeptical, Philip didn’t just give up, he simply said “Come and see.” (Jn 1:40-46) And now, as Jesus’ public ministry is coming to an end, as he enters Jerusalem for the last time, Andrew and Philip continue doing what they are PURPOSED to do – they are a path for people to see Jesus.

When the Greeks approached Philip and said they wanted to see Jesus, Philip didn’t reject or exclude them because they were outsiders. [Step 1 of being a good disciple of Jesus!] Instead, Philip went and got his friend Andrew and told him about this amazing thing… even Greeks are coming and wanting to see Jesus!

Then, these two disciples didn’t interrogate these strangers; they didn’t question their purpose and intention, and even more importantly, Philip and Andrew didn’t try to take the place of Jesus. There was no “Well, what is it you want, I’m sure WE can help. Jesus is a very busy man and only the ‘insiders’ can see him.” [Step 2 of being a good disciple: don’t block the path, but be the means for others to see Jesus!]

This is a role for all of us as Christians – to share what we see in Jesus; our experience of Jesus – with others, and then invite them to see Jesus for themselves.

And just as the beginning of today’s reading reveals the purpose and intention of Andrew and Philip, what follows reveals all too clearly that Jesus also knew HIS purpose.

Remember, in John’s gospel the act of turning over the tables in the temple happens at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not at the end. In this act, Jesus was calling the temple back to its intended purpose – not as a marketplace, but as a place for connection with God.

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus also reveals his purpose to not only affirm the Laws of Moses, but to elevate them to a new level; a new covenant through Jesus. The sign at the wedding in Cana showed his purpose through the transformation of the water of purification into the wine of the Eucharistic feast in which ALL people share, not just a chosen few.

And now we see the Greeks, outsiders; not just the chosen few, coming to see Jesus. We aren’t told whether they got to see Jesus. Instead, at the moment that Andrew and Philip tell Jesus of the request by the Greeks, it says: Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

The Greeks arrival and pursuit of Jesus was evidence that Jesus had accomplished his purpose of opening the boundaries and expanding God’s message and intention of universal love and relationship to ALL people. Nothing more was needed to show that this purpose had been fulfilled.

Changing water into wine, or feeding lots of people with a few loaves and fishes, were images of transformation from what had been to what was being made new. But, unless it could be actualized through actions of the people of the world, it was not yet complete. So, the Greeks coming to see Jesus shows this actualization, and the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified has now arrived – Jesus purpose was realized.

Even so, it wasn’t going to be the kind of glorification the disciples had hoped for. It wasn’t going to be easy-glory.

Continuing to use the imagery John’s gospel is famous for, a different image of the Last Supper, or Eucharistic sacrifice is provided:

Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

The grain of wheat is the source of the bread that Jesus is for us in the Eucharistic meal. And unlike the other gospels in which Jesus’ prayer in the garden begins with an appeal to have this cup taken from him, yet ends with acceptance to do God’s will, John’s gospel reveals a Jesus who knew and was fully committed to his purpose, even though it would be difficult:

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’

And also unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels that depict this prayer on the night before his crucifixion, in privacy of the garden of Gethsemane, with only a few sleepy disciples nearby, in John’s gospel it’s not so much a prayer, as a public proclamation. The are among the last words of Jesus’ PUBLIC ministry in John’s gospel; explicitly making clear to all people of his purpose – to be that single grain of wheat that must die so that we all may live.

Somehow, in God’s infinite God-ness, the shameful death on the cross would be transformed with the resurrection, and with it, bring salvation for all people. Yet, through the death comes the judgment of the worldly-world; the human-centered and human-directed world.

all_are_welcomeAnd in the resurrection, ALL people are drawn to Christ; to God – no longer the chosen few, but the multitude of ALL people – the Greeks and Jews together. And ALL who wish to see God, will see God.

And so, as confusing as the gospel lesson seems, in it we see vivid examples of what it looks like to know one’s purpose. Andrew and Philip knew theirs – to share their experience of Jesus with others, and to bring them to see Jesus for themselves.

And, Jesus knew his purpose. To transform the laws of old into the broader love for all, and the command that we serve one another and love one another just as Jesus loves us; just as God loves us; fully and unconditionally – losing our own prejudices and preoccupations, and allowing ourselves to be transformed to new life, so that we can lift up the lives of others.

And as we near the end of our Lenten journey this year, walking toward Jerusalem ourselves, I invite you to get fully connected with, and committed to, your purpose. What is God calling you to do? What injustices in this world are you called to confront? What tables are you called to over-turn for the sake of others? What outcasts are you called to uplift and bring into community? What shame are you called to release, allowing your authentic light to shine more fully in the world?

As a congregation, and as the church universal, we carry the title of “The Body of Christ.” As such, do we as the people of Christ Church, and Christians in the world, reveal Jesus to those who come into our midst? Do we serve one another AND the outside community in a way that reveals Jesus command to love all others as Christ loves us?

  • Are those who understand God differently welcome here?
  • Are those who look, speak, dress or love differently welcome here?
  • Do I share my experience of Jesus with others and invite them to Come and See?
  • Does my purpose – God’s purpose for my life – bring about the Kingdom of God?

IMG_4120-cropAs we walk these last steps toward Jerusalem, moving closer to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I invite you to reflect on these questions.

As we make our Affirmation of Faith; as we hear and respond to the Prayers of THESE People, I invite you to reflect on these questions.

As we come to the communion rail, partaking in the grain of wheat that died so that ALL could live and have life eternal, I invite you to reflect on these questions.

As you go back to your daily lives – prepare your families meal, or drive to work, or walk the dog, or read a book, or pick up carpool, (fill in the blank)- I invite you to reflect on these questions.

Know this: YOU are a vital part of God’s dream for a world filled with love and unity. It can’t be fully realized without YOU.

And for those who may be thinking ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”?  With God’s help, we will embrace together the truth that “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’”



Gospel Text:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (Jn 12:20-33)

One Response to “Living on Purpose”

  1. The clarity you bring to the Gospel is the fruit of the Spirit-I am blessed to have you in my life. CCG

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