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Sermon - 5 Lent

In the Name...

A Jesuit, a Dominican and a Trappist monk were cast way on a desert island and found an old lamp in the sand. They all rubbed it and out came a genie who said, "Normally I would grant three wishes but since there are three of you I will grant one wish each." The Jesuit said, "I want to teach at the greatest university.", and poof, he disappeared. The Dominican said, "I want to preach in the greatest church.", and poof, he disappeared. The Trappist looked around and said, "I've got my wish."

Tell me, who would you really like to see, in person? We all have someone in mind. Maybe we go to a concert or play to see a particular band, musician, or actor. Maybe we go to a sporting event or race to see a certain player or driver. Maybe we go to some other event to see an important politician or a celebrity. People who organize charity fundraisers trade on this and know that a big name generates big crowds and big bucks.

Churches do it, too. Driving around you can see churches advertise in big letters the names of special musical performers or visiting preachers. I always wondered what was wrong with the musicians and preachers they'd already got. But, when we go and see famous people, do we really expect we're going to actually get to meet them and spend some time with them one-on-one? Even if we ask their managers or agents for an interview do we imagine our request will get very far?

Well, in our Gospel today a request is made which obviously unnerves a couple of the disciples. Some Greeks want to meet Jesus.

In understanding this scene, we need to remember that the Ancient World was a religious hodgepodge. Traditional pagan religion was all about ceremony and magic - not morals, ethics or spirituality. What we call today a "secular" lifestyle was all there was. Except for the Jews. They were the only people of the Ancient World with what we would recognize as a religion - a personal God, a moral code, a spiritual meaning for life, a world view. And those qualities were attractive to some non-Jews who were dissatisfied with the emptiness of their own traditions.

Of course, the only way to be part of the Jewish covenant was to be born a Jew, so what we call "conversion" was impossible back then. Nevertheless, non-Jews, as long as they were circumcised and kept a kosher diet, could attend synagogue as "proselytes" or "God-fearers", as they were called - Righteous Gentiles. Sort of a third-class affiliate status. In fact, most Jews didn't recognize them.

But, these were the people at this Passover festival who ask Philip if they can have an audience with this Jesus about whom they've heard so much or, maybe, whose sermons and parables they've even heard as part of the crowds. Well, Philip's obviously not real sure what to do about this. Back then, people really stuck to their groups. So, he goes to Andrew for advice - hey, what do you think? And together, the two of them decide to present the request.

Now, Jesus had had some dealings with non-Jews. He'd healed a Roman officer's servant, but, it could be argued that the servant might have been Jewish, anyway. He'd visited with Samaritans, but, they were more like heretics than foreigners. Greeks, on the other hand, are a whole other race - Europeans, not Middle Eastern. Why would Jesus want to talk with them?

Well, how does he respond? How does this man who presents himself as the Messiah of the Chosen People react? Well, about the only thing he doesn't say is "Hallelujah!" (oops, shouldn't have said that in Lent). Yippie! The hour has come. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!

Ah, ha! I can imagine Philip and Andrew's thoughts. Does this mean Jesus is ready to assume the gilded throne for which they had hoped? Is he about to don a red robe, a gold crown studded with jewels? Is that what he means by "glorified"? Alas. Afraid not. Yes, there will be a throne, a robe, and a crown, but, the throne of a wooden cross, a robe stained with red blood, and thorns, not jewels, for studs on the crown.

In an agrarian society, the image of a seed dying in order to produce wheat was nothing new. But, while his disciples would have understood that about seeds and wheat, applying the image to his own life would confuse them. For any human being, even for the Jews, Death was the enemy to avoid. "Who can praise God", says the Psalmist, "when they lie in the grave?" Death is the end of life, of hope, of joy, of everything.

But, at the heart of the Christian faith is the message that nothing lies outside the experience of God - even death. Like the seed, Jesus died and was buried, but, on the third day, he rose to new life.

And, Jesus not only used the analogy to teach his disciples that hope lies beyond the grave, he also uses it to describe a life of discipleship. Anyone who loves his life, he says, loses it. The more we cling to the material possession of this world, the more we grasp for reward and honours in this life, the more we tragically lose the very thing we seek.

There is a story about a dissolute nobleman who saw a monk who lived by himself in the desert. When the nobleman met the monk, he said, with genuine admiration, "You're making a wonderful sacrifice!" The monk looked at him blankly and replied, "It's nothing, really. Your sacrifice is much greater." Surprised, the nobleman asked, "What do you mean? You have given up everything." The monk answered, "No. I am only giving up the passing world. You are giving up the eternal world."

Back in 1992, the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. I remember it well because I lived near Buffalo, NY, at the time and the losing team was the Bills - again. Anyway, there was quite a victory party in D.C. Over 100,000 people attended the celebrations and Coach Joe Gibbs gave all the players a well-deserved vacation. Later that week, the head of a local prison ministry rang the Redskins' office and asked if any of the players might be available to speak that Sunday. Joe Gibbs took the call and apologized that none were around, but, he said, "I'm here. Will I do?"

And so, just a week after winning the biggest sports prize in America, the coach of the Washington Redskins told 500 inmates at Lorton prison that winning Super Bowls was nothing compared to having a personal relationship with Jesus - and these are his words - "Otherwise, I'm telling you, we spend the rest of our lives in a meaningless existence."

The monk and the nobleman had very different perspectives on what was important in life. By choosing to indulge himself in this world, the nobleman was losing the next. Coach Gibbs, on the other hand, like the monk, knew that the only way to save his life was by losing it to his Saviour.

We never find out what Jesus said to those Greeks when he met with them. What he says to his disciples and to us is more important. The hour has come. The hour has come for the world to be judged, to be exposed, to be seen for what it is. Whereas when I am lifted up, everybody will see me for who I am.

We'll do almost anything to see famous people. What will we do to see Jesus?

In the Name…

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