The Hour of Reckless Love (Sermon)

“The Hour of Reckless Love”

John 12:20-33

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

3/21/21

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, 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. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 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.”  (NRSV)

         Yesterday was the first day of spring. The calendar told us, but it only confirmed what we already knew. Even before the vernal equinox, the days have been lengthening and brightening with sunshine and birdsong. Ducks and geese have paired off on riverbank and pondshore. Daffodils, crocuses, and trout lilies are blooming in yards and on damp hillsides. Maple trees are blushing with their deep, rich red. And with all that is flowering, many of us are starting to wheeze and sniffle.

Unlike July 4th, or Labor Day, or a birthday, spring is more than a single day. It’s an unfolding, a season of change that builds toward the hot, earth-swell of summer.

         As Jesus’ third Passover approaches, signs of other changes have begun. The Jewish leaders rejected him. He wept publicly at Lazarus’ grave. In a surreal moment fraught with the tension of things to come, Mary, the sister of both Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus’ feet with an entire pound of expensive perfume, and wiped them with her hair. Then Jesus enters Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!”

And now, among the pilgrims who have made their way to the City of David, a contingent of gentiles makes an appearance—Greeks John calls them. Finding the disciple Philip, they say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” They want to talk with this Jewish anomaly for whom neither age, nor gender, nor race, nor class, nor physical infirmity can hinder inclusion in God’s household of grace. And if, as Luke alone records, Jesus really did pray, from the cross, for forgiveness for his accusers and executioners, then Jesus’ grace embraces us even when we surrender to sin’s most merciless impulses.

That one bothers me. Something inside me would rather believe that the likes of Derek Chauvin, Dylan Roof, and Wayne Williams would feel more wrath than grace. But grace is always a stumbling block to Pharisees.

Back in John 7, the Pharisees, unwilling to accept Jesus’ authority, sent their police to arrest and silence the rabbi. Jesus put them off saying, You may know where I come from, but you don’t know where I’m going. And you can’t follow me there, either.

Stunned, these “spiritual” leaders reveal both their graceless outrage and their racial prejudice: Where’s this guy going that he thinks we can’t find him? Is he going among the Greeks? (John 7:28-36) Imagine everyone’s surprise when Greeks show up at Passover, in Jerusalem, asking for Jesus. When he learns of their presence, Jesus says, “The hour has come.”

Whether we’re observing signs of the arrival of spring or of the kingdom of God, those signs tell us that some kind of ‘hour has come.’ And Jesus says that we’ll know when the kingdom hour arrives because, like a grain of wheat, something will die. For us, it may be the death of materialism, the death of some prejudice, the death of the fear of taking a prophetic risk for the sake of others or the gospel. I’m praying that the turmoil in our culture today is a decisive wave in the all-too-slow death of racism.

Whatever deaths people or communities must die to experience greater liveliness, and wholeness, and holiness, those deaths do not come easy. Not even for Jesus. “My soul is troubled,” he says when things take an ominous turn. And after wondering if he might even pray his way out of his quandary, Jesus steels himself saying, “No,” this is my hour. I will face it for the sake of all Creation.

         Like the crosses we take up, the “hours” that truly define God’s people are not hours of our own making. One metaphor for the life of faith is a journey of openness to the various moments of consequence that God gives to us, “hours” in which we are called to respond in servant-hearted love to the people and events around us. Such faithfulness, says Jesus, demands that “Those who love their life lose it…[while]…those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

The word hate causes many of us to recoil. But we’re talking about Jesus, the incarnation of love, so, we have to understand hate in the context of Jesus’ love. In The Message, Eugene Peterson illuminates this verse by rendering it this way: “Anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

“If you let [your life] go, reckless in your love,” you will live your days emersed in the ever-arriving hour of God’s grace in Jesus, the “author and perfecter” of reckless love.

When the Greeks arrive, Jesus knows that his message has spread beyond the house of Israel. The world is knocking at his door, and Jesus knows that this will threaten Caesar. There are both ancient and modern Caesars, and they all symbolize worldly power. And Caesars will never willingly share their control with the likes of Jesus, who leads people in the ways of compassion, justice, and collaboration rather than power, wealth, and domination.

In reckless love, Jesus embraces his hour. And in the fullness of that love, he issues a call to everyone who would be his disciple. If you want to serve me, then follow me, he says. And wherever I am, you’ll be there, too, ready to embody reckless love when your hour arrives and asks of you what you can give only through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Last Thursday I heard thunder for the first time in many months. A herald of springtime, thunder stirs the heart and shakes the walls. When it’s close enough, we can literally feel it in our bones. When we hear thunder, we know that warm and cold air are colliding, and that change is at hand.

When God speaks of the glorification of God’s name through Jesus, some of those standing nearby hear thunder. Others think that an angel has spoken to Jesus. And perhaps they’re both right. Jesus makes it clear that it’s the people’s experience that matters. “The voice has come for your sake not mine,” he says.

I hear Jesus saying: You all needed to hear this, because you need to understand that what’s going to happen in Jerusalem will reveal the ultimate impotence of the ways and means of greed-driven economics, violence-driven power, and fear-driven bigotry. Those are the ways of the ruler of this world, and they will be driven out. By grace.

As followers and servants of Jesus, we are called and empowered to participate in the ever-arriving hour of God’s kingdom on earth. That’s what salvation and new life look like—our fearless, grateful, and hopeful engagement of the Holy Spirit’s work as we declare that God does, in truth, “so love the world” that God sends the Son, not to condemn it but to redeem it. Jesus comes to make you, and me, and all things new and whole. That’s what he means by drawing all things to himself.

Christ’s hour has come, so this day and all days, let us continue to die to all that is selfish, fearful, and violent so that we may we experience and share the ever-present, always-redeeming, and recklessly-loving grace of God.

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