Sunday, March 21, 2021

Lent V

 John 12

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

I can confess a certain passion for borrow-words.

If I told you that the melee we call the Norman invasion caused some malaise in our milieu, you might say ‘yes, but at least we gained some dandy borrow-words from the French.’ And we did. And even before the Normans, the Vikings who “visited” the land of our language left behind some helpful words: ransack and berserk, for obvious reasons; heathen and troll (the bridge kind, not the internet kind), and the more earthly words dirt, mire, and muck. All fine words, but none as evocative or enjoyable as schadenfreude, which means ‘taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.’

To be clear, I enjoy the word, not the sentiment (unless we’re talking about crossing the line ahead of the rest of the fleet). But it got me thinking about the last few weeks and whether our German friends have a word for the opposite, ‘feeling displeasure at the good fortune of others.’ More research is required. Maybe we could simply default to another borrow-word, actually a double borrow-word, (envy) that began as Latin, then French, then English.

O envy, you are so much more than one of the seven deadly sins. You appear every time someone gets something we want, and can lead to upset, frustration, and often anger. Some have learned the hard way that sharing the news of your recent vaccination can generate a variety of responses, and not all positive. Rather than a sense of relief that one more person is edging toward immunity, and therefore making all of us safer, we have witnessed upset, frustration, and even anger.

We’re simple creatures, we humans, and we frequently default to assessing worth, or value, or deservedness, rather than taking pleasure in the good fortune of others. As some medical person said this week, it’s Team Human versus Team COVID, and we should be cheering on our side rather than second-guessing who gets to score first. So the next time you’re offered the opportunity to share someone’s outrage, remind them that epidemiologically speaking, we’re all in this together. End of sermon.

Well, not really—more end of rant. But my rant does relate to the Gospel lesson for today, when Jesus says “we’re all in this together,” or rather, we should be. The heart of the passage is right in the middle: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. And my Father will honor the one who serves me.” But before we examine the heart, let’s zoom out (no pun intended) and see where these words are set.

Chapter after chapter in John, Jesus says, “my hour has not come.” His mother needs more wine, but his hour has not come. Twice they tried to arrest him, and twice he said his hour had not come. But here in chapter twelve, finally, he says his hour has come. In Luke, we famously get the phrase “he turned his face to Jerusalem,” but for John, his hour has come.

So Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, and he says “Whoever serves me must follow me.” Think about these words. Whoever serves me must follow me. We tend to conflate them—service and following him—but Jesus wants to keep these two ideas separate. We serve Jesus whenever we seek the lost, or slake the thirsty, or visit the sick—but can we also follow him? For you see, following is another thing altogether.

And it’s something Jesus tries to explain again and again. In Matthew (20) he’s confronted by the sons of Zebedee (and their mom!) about this question of who gets to sit at the right and left of Jesus in eternity. Again, Jesus famously asks “can you drink the cup I’m going to drink?” and the sons say “oh yeah!” This was not the answer the Master was looking for. But he doesn’t give up on these two (or their mom), choosing instead to restate the lesson they struggle to understand: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Again, the difference here is between service and giving his life. Whoever serves me must follow me. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. These are hard words, words we struggle to understand, so maybe it’s time for an example.

Remember back in January, the Vancouver couple who chartered a plane to some remote part of the Yukon, got in the queue pretending to be workers at the local hotel, got the shot, then made the mistake of asking for a ride to back to the airport, proving that clever and stupid often live on the same street? They clearly love their life, and love it enough to break the law, to put an entire northern community at risk, and risk the infamy that comes when every half-baked plan fails. This is what happens when you love your life, to the exclusion of others.

Jesus would have us do the opposite, obviously. ‘Hate your life’ is meant to get your attention, but it just means doing the opposite of the excessive life-lovers, or those who are willing to risk the lives of others in order to preserve their own lives. Yes, we need to avoid doing foolish things; yes, we need to love and serve others; but we also need to follow in his way. And following in his way means loving our own lives a little less.

Back to our example, knowing that remote and northern communities are ahead in the queue should be gratifying— these places where there is no 9-1-1, or a big hospital, or an ambulance on the way. It should be gratifying to know that we are part of a society that works, giving priority to the most vulnerable, and not the people who can afford to charter a plane. It should be gratifying to set aside our own sense of urgency, knowing that we can love our own lives a little less for the safety and well-being of others.

As we get ready for our annual meeting, we can take pride in the fact that the building is filled with food, and boxes, and clean needles, and packaged meals, and clothing (sometimes on the street too). We can take pride knowing that we set aside our own comfort, we set aside the urge to find the building exactly the way we left it, and we set aside the need to control the space—for the sake of others. It’s not a small thing, even if you don’t feel directly involved.

In other words, we serve, but we also follow in his way. Amen.


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