Fifth Sunday in Lent – 03.25.18

The themes for our readings during Lent this year are covenant and knowing God.  We learn about the many covenants God made with God’s people in our readings from Hebrew scripture, and we get to know God incarnate, God in Jesus, through the gospel narratives.  In our first reading, God entrusts the prophet Jeremiah with the job of explaining the new covenant God will make with the people in exile in Babylon.  It will be accompanied by a repopulation of the land of Israel and a rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is an earthly covenant.  It is given to Israel, not to some new people that God will create.  God will make this new covenant with all Israel, both the Northern and Southern kingdoms. The promise is given to a discouraged and disheartened people who are in exile.  This new covenant is God’s promise for this specific group of people, assuring them they will return home.

The old covenant formula of relationship still applies, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” Jeremiah says. But Israel will now be constituted as the people of God in a new way. God will give them a new heart so that all the people will know the Lord.  The law will remain a key component of the covenant, but now it will be written upon their hearts, not just learned, but internalized.  Forgiveness is the basis of the covenant, the people have broken former covenants, specifically the one made at Sinai during their wilderness journey, but God offers them grace-filled forgiveness.  God remains faithful to the covenants God makes with us – with Noah, with Abraham, with the people as they wandered in the wilderness, with the exiles returning from Babylon and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is we who so often turn away from our covenantal responsibilities, always needing to get to know God in a new way.

In the Gospel of John, seeing and hearing are the new ways people come to know God in Jesus, to believe and trust in him, and to recognize his unity and singleness of purpose with the Father. The opening verse of today’s gospel reading takes us back to chapter one, when Jesus said to Andrew, “Come and see,” and to Philip, “Follow me.” In this story, some Greeks say to Philip, “We want to see Jesus.” They may be Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora or Gentiles converting to Judaism.  Either way, they represent the wide range of interest in Jesus.  Right before our reading some of the religious authorities were complaining that “The world has gone after him!”  It seems that people from all walks of life want to see and believe in Jesus.

Ironically, we don’t know if those Greeks ever got to see Jesus.  John goes on to tell us that this is a Kairos moment.  The time is now right for Jesus to share with his disciples as much as he can about the ordeal and death that lie ahead of him.  In John, following Jesus is the path of abundant and eternal life.  In this gospel, the word “hate” means “reject”; it usually refers to what the world does to Jesus and ultimately, to his followers.  So, when Jesus says, “Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”, he is encouraging us to follow his lead in rejecting this world’s definition of life as a small and isolated negative existence.  He will not, and we should not, depend on just one small seed and thereby fail to bear much fruit.

Ultimately, bearing much fruit can mean losing one’s life. This is not done easily or thoughtlessly.  According to John, Jesus considers and rejects a prayer like the one he prayed in Gethsemane in the synoptic gospels (“If it is possible, Father, save me from this hour.”).  John tells us at this moment he chooses a different prayer instead, “Father, glorify your name,” and he hears in reply, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”  To all those who will listen, the connection between Jesus and the Father remains steadfast even as the hour of his death approaches. In John, Father and Son are always on the same page: if you have seen one, you have seen and know the other.  The glory of each is the love that they share, the love God shared in the covenants, the love that Jesus shares as he washes the disciples’ feet, the love that he shows as he lays down his life for his friends and as he is lifted up on the cross, he draws all people to himself.  Unfortunately, not all have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Yet, John insists on offering hope that those who cannot see Jesus now will recognize him soon. Jesus will be lifted up for all to see.  As the result of his crucifixion (being lifted up on a cross), resurrection (being lifted up from death) and ascension (being lifted up from the earth to return to the Father), people will see that he and the Father were always one.  Questions about who Jesus is, where he has come from, and with what authority he speaks will be answered. Jesus holds out hope that these events will reveal him to those who could not before recognize him as the only Son of the Father.

His disciples were the first for understood this revelation.  After his death and resurrection, John tells us, “They remembered.”  They remembered and connected what Jesus taught them.  After Jesus was raised, after he was glorified, the disciples could see even more of who he was and what he had been doing during his ministry on earth. The end of the story helped them to see what they had been looking at all along.  John writes that it will be the same for us: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” he says, “and that believing, you may have life in his name”.

Here’s the challenge offered by our lessons today – do we really want to see and know God in Jesus?  John says that in order to truly believe, we must accept Jesus’ teaching.  Do we want to do that – accept the command to love one another as God loves us, an unconditional love extended to all people, of all genders, sexual identities, ethnicities, cultures and faiths – or do we think that maybe Jesus wasn’t serious about that, that we know better to whom we should extend God’s love, mercy and compassion?  Truly knowing Jesus means not just learning stories about his life, but accepting and believing what he teaches, and therefore rejecting the division, hatred and intolerance taught and promoted by the forces of evil in the world.  Jesus said “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” in other words, the promise is extended not just to the people we approve of, but to all people. 

We understand that these texts from the prophet Jeremiah and gospel writer John have not been fully fulfilled. We still need to encourage others to “know the Lord.” The claim from Hebrew scripture that “all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” remains a promise for the future.  Not everyone looks upon the cross of the crucifixion or the empty cross of the resurrection and understands who God in Jesus is.  It is up to us to share the good news, to believe in the teaching of Jesus without reservation and to model it for others, to truly see what we have been looking at all along, so that by our words and actions all may come to know the true God.  Amen. 

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