Renounce and embrace

If you want to see Jesus, where do you go? You can go to a museum or find a big, glossy art book, or you can watch a movie to see pictures of Jesus. But you’d probably know the entire time that you’re looking at actors and models, not Jesus himself.

You could read all you can about Jesus and create your own mental image of him; that’s like seeing him, in a way, although you could never be quite sure how much of yourself has gone into your picture of him. If you want to see him in person, where do you go?

Dr. Who fans among us will suggest a short trip on the Tardis to Nazareth, Jerusalem or Capernaum, except that you’d have a hard time giving the time-traveling doctor the proper coordinates since the gospels contain only a very rudimentary calendar.

It was on Passover, John tells us, in Jerusalem, when some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” People had been talking about him. Over in Bethany, they said, only days ago, he raised a dead man from the tomb, and he was dead for sure, he had been in that tomb for four days. People were interested, people were curious, and Jesus’ opponents said, with worry in their voices, “Look, the world has gone after him!”(12:19). And as though to prove them right, some Greeks came to Philip and said, “We wish to see Jesus.”

Did they know they had found one of his first followers, or were they just happy to have bumped into a man with a Greek name who could perhaps speak Greek and give them directions they would actually be able to understand?

It’s a curious scene, as so often in the gospel of John. He tells us that Philip was from Bethsaida, a detail we could easily look up ourselves in the first chapter, but he never tells us whether these Greeks got their wish. Philip told Andrew, and then he and Andrew went and told Jesus, and Jesus’ response, Jesus’ response leaps out of the story and addresses every last one of us.

“The hour has come,” he says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

This is where you go, if you want to see Jesus. To the word that speaks of his glorification in his death. But what kind of glory is that? Where is the radiance of life, the splendor of the light of the world in that? Let’s sit with the word and our questions for a moment. Let’s sit together and meditate on this scripture, not just because it’s a good thing to do. I don’t know if I’ll ever be old enough to preach a decent sermon after reading John, so meditative reflection is the best I can do.

Jesus tells us a parable.

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.

In giving its life, the single grain doesn’t become lifeless, but rather fruit-bearing fullness of life. Later in the unfolding story of his final days, Jesus talks about branches that bear much fruit because they are connected to the vine. Jesus’ life bears fruit in the lives of the people who abide in him. His life-giving, selfless love multiplies in the life of all who believe in him, all who serve and follow him.

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the witnesses tell us – the glory of life and light, of grace and truth, love and compassion. With all that he is and does in the world, Jesus embodies divine love for the world, the same love that unites him and the one he calls Father. These relationships are his life. Now the hour has come for the Father to glorify his name and for the Son to be glorified in death and resurrection, to reveal the unbreakable bond of their love and give birth to the church, the community of  his friends who continue to embody divine love in his name. The Word became flesh, and on the cross, the gracious movement of God’s incarnation into the world is not ended or simply reversed, it is consummated in the hour of Jesus’ free, surrendering love. The Jesus we encounter through the gospel of John lays down his life in sovereign love for God and his friends. His death is not the tragic end of a beautiful life, but the complete gift of his beautiful life for the glory of God and the life of the world.

Those who love their life lose it, but those who love life (like Jesus lived to love) will find eternal life in communion with God. Those who hate their life in this world are not life-haters, but rather men and women who renounce life shaped by the categories of the world and embrace the life that Jesus’ gift of love makes available.

Renounce and embrace. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and it presents the world with an urgent choice: Will we respond with faith to the invitation to find life in communion with God? Or will we cling to the promises of the ruler of this world?

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

The world and its ruler will sit in judgment and condemn Jesus to death by crucifixion. He must die because domination, violence, and death are the world’s ways under the ruler’s reign, and all that does not fit must be eliminated. Jesus does not fit. There’s no room in the ruler’s world order for fearless truth-telling or self-less service or table-flipping temple-cleansing. Jesus can’t be silenced. Jesus can’t be bought. Jesus must die.

“If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus tells one of his judges, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” But his kingdom isn’t from this world. His kingdom is the end of this world. He refuses to fight. He refuses to respond in the ruler’s own violent terms. He lays down his life and dies.

He lets the world have its way with him. He dies as though the devil were in charge, but the devil doesn’t know that Love makes of the cross a throne. The devil doesn’t know that death has no power over the Word of life. And that is how what looks for all the world like the judgment of Jesus is in truth God’s judgment of this world and its ruler. Jesus, lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to himself. Love makes of the cross a throne, and from the throne the king of grace and truth draws all people into communion with God. Women, men, and children from every tribe and nation are drawn into the community of believers, a community that participates in God’s reconciling presence and work in the world, giving testimony with our words and actions to the light and life we receive from the crucified and risen Christ.

Where do you go, if you want to see Jesus? You follow him. “Where I am, there will my servant be also,” he says. You let yourself be drawn by him. You let yourself be drawn more deeply into the kingdom of God. You renounce and embrace, again and again. You renounce the ruler of this world and embrace the life of Jesus. The moment is always now, again and again. You renounce the logic of violence and embrace love. You let yourself be drawn by him, knowing that he won’t draw you around the world’s hatred, around the world’s rejection, around the cross. He draws you to the cross, into the hatred and rejection he faced with love. You let yourself be drawn, trusting that the bonds of love cannot be broken, knowing that the world wouldn’t hate the disciples of Jesus if they belonged to the world. You let yourself be drawn by the one to whom you belong, the Word of life. The world will hate you; you will encounter forces of evil just as he did, and you will be asked, in each encounter, to completely surrender, as he did – not to evil, never to evil, but to God. The way of life in Christ is the complete surrender to God’s love.