Sunday, April 09, 2000

The Hour Has Come

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: John 12:20-33
1. Not So Long Ago

It is not so long ago that we lifted our hopes and desires to God in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We sang carols and hymns about a manger and a star, a word become flesh.

Nor is it that long ago that we witnessed again Jesus’entrance into a public life, alongside his compatriot John the Baptist. Weremembered our own baptism, and were comforted and made confident, given thecourage to lift our own voices, and the power to resist all that hurts andhobbles.

Just a short while ago, it seems just a moment, we marveledat God’s grace, flowing through Jesus’ life and into our own, grace thatfalls like glistening snow to cleanse and restore.

Was it not just a little ago that we marveled at Jesus’power to heal? We too need healing, and look for the power to heal.

How long ago was it that Jesus took our full measure, and weHis, as we honored the gentle spirit that is our inheritance from Him? How wehunger and thirst for a daily portion of gentle love! People want to know howmuch you care, before they care how much you know.

It is not so long ago that we ascended the Mountain ofTransfiguration. There we saw Jesus, in white robes, conversing with Moses andElijah. He gave us insight that day. He gave us clarity that day. He gave us aMountain view of life that day. How good it is to view things from a higherperspective! Every passage in the Gospel of John is a transfiguration passage.

Nor is it very long ago that we walked with Jesus into awedding feast, in Cana of Galilee, and found human courage and divine presencecrossing the thresholds of life.

No, not so long ago.

Not so long ago did Jesus interrogate Nicodemus. We heard Himright here: "You must be born anew".

It was not long ago that Jesus tenderly touched the woman atthe well, that Jesus healed the man born blind, that Jesus raised Lazarus fromthe dead.

No, no. Not so long ago.

And now there is a great hush, a magnificent silence. NowJesus stands at the door of his glory, his passion, his mission, his revelation,and at the door of our deepest life. The hour has come.

2. The Hour Has Come

Now Jesus stands before us at the feast, talking with Greeksas a reminder in John that Jesus came for us, the non-Jews, so that theboundaries of Israel might be expanded, and a branch might be grafted onto thetree of life. Today Jesus stands before us in all his young masculinity, in allhis vigorous virility. He stands before us as a young man facing certain death.He is a grain of wheat that is cast into the earth and that then brings forthmuch fruit. His is a life of servant love, given over against so many others whoclutch at life, and tragically lose it. Selfishness kills. Generosity saves.

But now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

For John and his church, this meant that the hour has comefor faith. The hour has come to see past and see through the physical reality ofdeath to its true significance.

The hour has come to see past and see through the shamefuland painful reality of crucifixion to its true significance.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Thisfourth gospel trims out of the story of Jesus’ death almost all the harsherdetail, all the spitting, all the degradation, all the abject humiliation, allthe brutality-they are gone. Peter’s denial and the crown of thorns aloneremain. And this is because for John the cross of Jesus Christ is notcrucifixion alone, nor departure alone, nor exaltation alone. This hour is firstof all the hour of glory.

So Matthew may end his gospel with a cry: Eli Eli lamasabacthani. Luke may conclude his gospel with a prayer: Father forgivethem for they know not what they do. But John ends with a single word, teleestai-itis finished.

What the world sees as defeat is really a triumph and whatthe world sees as the end of Jesus’ hopes and aspirations is really thebeginning of his ascent to glory. (Blessed Ashton)

The heart of life is found in love and death, and today weare right at the heart of life. Love and death, these are our existential spaceand our daily time.

We are told today to find our life by losing it, to drop ourgrain that fruit we may gain, we are taught again to love our neighbor as if shewere our very self.

  1. Loss and Love in John
  2. In these verses, John 12:20-33, there lingers an essence, afragrance that eludes description. Why did Doestoevsky choose these verses asfrontispiece to his greatest novel, Crime and Punishment? John seems tohave distilled a potent nectar, more potent than that found elsewhere, from hisknowledge of loss. Why are these verses so haunting?

    I believe they astound us so, because they reflect a doubledeath. I believe the sense of glory found in the cross here comes from the hardlesson of loss, in a little church, somewhere in Turkey, turned out of thesynagogue, and losing or about to lose, long after the death of Jesus, theirlast link with the primitive church. In the cross, in their loss, they saw boththe death of Jesus, and the death of their beloved disciple, their belovedpreacher, their pastor, John. The fourth Gospel is so strange and so startlingbecause it operates at two levels, first that of Jesus and second that of John.After decades of pastoral care, guiding them through change, leading them out ofthe synagogue, protecting them from their own worst selves, reminding them ofChrist the Lord, and showing them how to walk in the light, the toweringfigure of their beloved preacher was overtaken by death.

    First they lost Jesus, then they lost John. Both losses hurtwith unspeakable pain. But here is what they learned: love carries us throughloss. Love carries us through loss. Love outlasts loss. In fact, only selfopening love can bring any meaning through loss!

    You know this Gospel in your bones, in the old bone structureof Asbury First. For you too have known the loss of Jesus, and the loss of abeloved disciple, an originating pastor, who guided and lead, and reminded andshowed, and at last was overtaken by death. You too know about the two leveldrama of faith, the loss and love of Jesus Christ our Savior, and also the lossand love of a beloved disciple who brought us out from the city, who located uson East Avenue, who helped us through a depression and a war, who had a visionand built a building. And then one day, in the pulpit, he did not feel well. Andthen, soon, he died. He is buried right under our cross, his ashes are interredhere. And every moment of loyal offering, and every baby baptized, and everycouple married, and every moment of eucharist, and every funeral service bringus back here, to the twin shadows. The cross of Christ and ashes of WeldonCrossland.

    We can feel the Fourth Gospel here.

  3. Glory

From Calvary to the altar at Asbury, the same voice ringsout. I overhear it at Westminster Abbey, where John Wesley is buried. I overhearit down in Maryland where Bishop Francis Asbury is buried. I overhear it inDelaware, Ohio, at the grave of James Whitford Bashford. I overhear it everySunday here, beneath the cross of Jesus and before the ashes of Dr. Crossland.

The hour has come for the glorification of the Son of Man.This is an hour, amid this beautiful music, an hour for faith. It is an hour foryou to let the grain of selfishness fall down into the earth, where it can bereborn as love. Love outlasts loss. No. Love alone outlasts loss. Lovemeans offering yourself. Love means tithing your income. Love means talkingabout tithing your income. Love means keeping physical faith with those whom yousexually love-sharing board with others but not bed. Love means giving away yourlife. For the preacher, at least in our church, it means itinerancy, thespiritual journey of an annual appointment, subject to change every June, tovarious leaky roofed parsonages. Love means taking charge without takingcontrol. Love for the layman means enduring the endless contention andintractable difference of the church, and her meetings. Love means going tochurch and knowing there are people there whom you do not like, maybe evenclergy whom you do not like, but whom you are intending to love. Love meansprayer and reading in a world of action. Love means, according to this passage, serving,following, and honoring.

I go back 20 years to a trailer straddling the Canadianborder, and a legless man dying from diabetes and cancer, on a dirt road, closeto nowhere, with a scraggly beard and tobacco stained fingers. I hear his son,guitar in hand, singing at the man’s funeral, about love that outlasts loss.

Are ye able? Still the Master

Whispers down eternity

And heroic spirits answer

Now as then in Galilee

Lord we are able

Our spirits are thine

Remold them make us

Like Thee divine

Thy guiding radiance

Above us shall be

A beacon to God

To love and loyalty.

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