“The Weight of Glory”            John 12: 20-33          March 29, 2009

I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because, by it, I see everything else. –C.S. Lewis

There is one single fact which we may oppose to all the wit and argument of being an atheist or agnostic, namely that no man ever repented of being a Christian on his deathbed. --Hannah More

When debating issues in church and society, people sometimes shrug and say, "Well, I wouldn't go to the cross for it" - meaning, "It just isn't all that important to me." Realizing that there are many degrees of devotion to issues and ideas, Bob Wendel, a Presbyterian leader, has come up with a "Cross Scale of Commitment," running from the most serious commitment to the least:

10. Go to the cross and rise in three days.
9. Go to the cross and rise in two days.
8. Go to the cross and rise in one day.
7. Watch someone else go to the cross.
6. Visit Golgotha on vacation.
5. Wear a cross at work.
4. Wear a cross to church.
3. Buy a cross for a friend.
2. Look at crosses in the Cokesbury Catalog.
1. Write with a Cross Pen.[1]

Obviously, a hand on a slick and shiny Cross Pen is a sorry substitute for a hand nailed to a rough and rugged Roman cross. . . and yet, there are those in Christian circles who deliberately avoid any mention of the cross of Jesus Christ. CS Lewis wrote, If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.
In today's passage, some Greeks wanted to know. Philip and Andrew told Jesus that some Greeks (Gentiles) "wish to see Jesus."
All who have ever wished to see Jesus must first see him on the cross. Only then will the miracle of Jesus' resurrection impress, convict and inspire us

Preceding this week's gospel text is the stunning miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Yet as amazing as Jesus' ability to bring Lazarus back to life was, for John that event is simply an introduction to the real heart and power of the gospel.
In the gospel of John, Jesus concludes his public ministry with a bold statement about the last days of his life. Far from fleeing his fate on the cross, Jesus proclaims that "it is for this reason that I have come to this hour" (12:27) - it is toward crucifixion that his whole life and ministry have been heading. "Now is the judgment of this world," he intones in a grave voice; "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" (vv. 31-32).

Jesus turns appearances upside down when he goes to the cross and spills his blood. Those who heard Jesus' words that day did not know that the nature of the Messiah would embrace servanthood and dying. Jesus completely crisscrosses expectations when he introduces a new cross-based reality rather than the power-based reign of the religious rulers of Jesus day.

• A gruesome death does not destroy Jesus - rather, it glorifies him.
• Crucifixion does not condemn the Christ but instead judges the world.
• Satan is not victorious when Jesus dies - he is driven out.
• And Jesus, when lifted high on the cross, does not repulse people. Instead, he draws them to himself.                

"Very truly, I tell you," whispers Jesus to his closest confidantes, "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" (v. 24). Jesus is not interested in his own survival as an isolated individual, as a single "grain of wheat"; instead, he sees his death as the key to new life for the entire world. He knows that there will be no good fruit among Jews and Greeks, Africans and Asians, Europeans and Americans, unless he first takes a seed-like plunge into the earth and dies.

As Jesus describes how a grain of wheat must first die in the earth before bearing fruit, it appears that his message is actually a call to discipleship. Jesus implies that for the glorification of the Son of Man to be complete, there must be a new crop of disciples who can proclaim him as the glorified one.
Like himself, his disciples must be willing to follow God's plan to the end, even death itself, if they are to "bear fruit" (v.24). Jesus speaks about both his own destiny and that of his disciples in the three declarations of verses 24-26. To "bear fruit" is, first, Jesus' own mission, but it becomes the mission of each new disciple as well. Losing his own life in order to be lifted up and attain eternal life is part of the Son of Man's glorification.
But eternal life does not come sequentially after death. Eternal life is the life promised now to all who become disciples of this glorified one. Eternal life is primarily a qualitative, not a quantitative, concept. Finally, Jesus makes it clear that all those who call themselves his servants share in this eternal life by remaining always in his presence.

(from CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory) "The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God…."
            For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last."
            "To please God...to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness...to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is."
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.
Lewis sees the eternal glory of God already present here in our world—as Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is among you.
"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and Goddesses (self-made individuals who think they are all in all), to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be tempted to worship, or else run from in horror."
"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours." (CSLewis)                            
Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses on earth. If he or she is your Christian neighbor he or she is holy because in him or her is the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself.
31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The text concludes with Jesus' revealing more of the events that make this the hour for his glorification. It is a time for judgment, a time for the Devil ("the ruler of this world") to get his due and be run out of this world.
The power that can accomplish these feats, and also "draw all people" to the risen Christ, offers us the merest hint of what the glorified Jesus will be like. His primary message here is that he will achieve this glorification through a shocking means: suffering and death. But he will be raised in glory and power.

Some Greeks (Gentiles) “wish to see Jesus.” Do you wish to see Jesus? Jesus, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified”—that is, his crucifixion will reveal the presence and power of God. So if you wish to see Jesus, look at Jesus lifted up on the cross and you will see Jesus for who he is—divine love drawing all to himself. Whoever wants to serve Jesus must be where he is, accept his way, and follow him, even to the cross. But beyond the cross, lies eternal glory; not only for Jesus the Messiah, but for everyone who believes. Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz

[1] (Adapted from "Late Night with Bob Wendel," Presbyterian Headline News, July 3, 1998, 4).
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