The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very 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.
“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“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.
“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.
“Now is the judgment of this world; 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.”
He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent.
There is an account in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, of a young man who had seen Jesus and was taken by what he said.
He saw the goodliness and the godliness in Jesus, and he was drawn to him. He thought he wanted to follow Jesus. To be with him daily, and learn more about how to serve God.
He was a young man who had been given all the benefits and privileges of wealth and position. He was educated, and sure of himself.
He was of the ruling class.
So he approached Jesus, and told him of his desire: “ I have been moved by your words. I have realized that there is much more to life that just enjoying oneself; that one cannot continue to live only for self. I would like to be one of your followers.”
Jesus looked at the young man, and his heart went out to him. He was certainly in earnest. He seemed to know what he wanted to do, and had come directly to Jesus to talk about it.
Jesus told him how he and his disciples lived. Sometimes they were offered shelter in someone’s home. Sometimes they ate well. But mostly, they lived outside, gathered around a campfire. They often didn’t know where the next meal would come from. Jesus’ disciples had left family and loved ones behind to follow him.
Are you prepared to do this? Jesus asked. “ Are you prepared to give up what you have? Can you live as we do? Do you realise what you will be giving up?”
The young man was eager at first. ‘Of course, I can. Of course, I will.’ But as he thought more about it, his eagerness began to flag. Maybe, he thought he could live at home, and come out mornings, and join the group. Maybe he thought that he could be in the new life, and still have a foot in the old life too. He hadn’t realized the depth of commitment required.
Jesus looked at him with love, and with tenderness.
“Give away all that you have, and come and follow me,” he challenged, gently.
The young man slowly stood up, looked at the men lying around the fire, some in conversation, some already asleep, and he knew he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give up the fine life he had, and live as an itinerant.
Reluctantly, he turned, and began to walk away.
“Who was that?” Peter asked Jesus. “What did he want?”
“Oh, a young man with high ideals, but without the determination to grasp them fully.”
“Never mind.” Peter said, “You have us.”
“Yes Peter, “Jesus replied.. “But……”
And the next night, as the group gathered around the fire, Jesus drew away from his friends and stood outside of the firelight, looking into the darkness – looking for the one who had wanted new life, but couldn’t let go of the old.
“I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat.”
I don’t know if we really believe that. I think a lot of us, and I am no exception some of the time, have the idea that we can get by, following Jesus part-time.
It may be that we have never been asked to make a solid commitment.
Sometimes, I regret that in the Anglican church, we are mostly baptised as infants. Our parents make a commitment for us.
Committing to baptism is an important moment in a person’s life Especially if it happens in adulthood. It denotes a real commitment to change.
Sometimes I regret that in the Anglican Church we don’t baptize by full immersion. I once attended a full immersion baptism of two young adults and it was incredibly moving.
Imagine coming to the minister and asking to be baptised – knowing the importance of that act in one’s life, and witnessing to one’s commitment, and embracing a new life – being submerged under water, and then bursting forth into the light.
They used to say, those who were baptised this way, that it was like dying and coming back to life again.
And you can see that can’t you? The washing away of the old life, and the putting on of the new.
The care that one would take before making the commitment, and the great start to one’s new life that such a ritual would be.
We have confirmation of our baptism, of course, and I would hope that Confirmation is an experience that makes our baptism more meaningful, a moment when we make our own commitment to add to the commitment our parents made when they brought us to be baptised.
We are talking about the depth of commitment here, aren’t we?
As Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, being one of his followers, isn’t a part-time thing.
It isn’t something that you can do Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons, and Sunday evenings. It isn’t a hobby.
You can’t follow Jesus just when he happens to be going through your neighborhood, and then leave off when he leads you too far from home.
It requires commitment, and it always means change.
And it means that we have God’s love and strength and his Spirit inside of us to help us make that change.
It may mean getting new friends. It may mean changing the way you do your job. It may mean giving up some things you like to do – things you know are bad for you, but which you do anyway.
A neighbour of mine, had a heart attack. He was relatively young, early fifties. But he had always lived a sedentary life. The heart attack was a wake-up call. He came through it well, but his doctor warned him that he would have to change the way he lived. And he did.
I would see him walking up my street, each morning.
He ate better.
He quit smoking.
He cut down on his drinking.
In just a few weeks he began to look much fitter. He began to look like a new man.
But then, after a while, I didn’t see him walking by as often.
He started smoking again, to try and control his weight – he had gone off his diet – and he had resumed drinking.
See, the new man had checked out.
And the old man was back.
He didn’t have the commitment.
I doubt he is still alive today.
Jesus could see in the young man, a real need for a new life. A life that would be hard, but rewarding. A life of giving, rather than a life of taking. But he couldn’t let go, could he?
Taking on the new life is a bit like being a trapeze artist. You have to let go of the bar you are hanging on to, to be able to grasp the bar you want to go to.
It’s not easy, is it? To let go.
But it wasn’t easy for Jesus either. Nobody wants to die. Do they?
Hardened murderers, vicious rapists, gangsters. They all shrink from the gallows, or the chair, or the lethal injection, when it is time for them to pay the ultimate price.
How much harder must it be for an innocent man? For someone who has loved and cared for, and healed people?
How much harder for someone who has tried to bring freedom to those enslaved by sin?
No, Jesus didn’t want to die!
But he would not go against the Father.
“ I will go ahead, and will glorify the Father.”
“ I have already been glorified,” God says, “ And will be so again.”
That’s kind of like a parent telling their son or daughter, “You have already made me proud, and I know you will make me proud again.”
Jesus was glorifying not himself, but his Father in Heaven.
So, willingly, yet fearfully, for he is, after all a human being, Jesus continues his journey to the cross.
He will die a shameful death in this world and find glorious acclamation in the next.
He will be the wheat which bears its fruit in dying.
And the truth of that saying is a historical fact, isn’t it?
Christians baptised into Christ as children, still have to make the choice, when they are old enough to do so: Will I die to my old life and live to the new?
It’s the only way, isn’t it?
It takes resolve to follow Christ at home, and at work, and at play, and any time, and any place.
Stop fibbing… swearing…., telling smutty stories…., manipulating, ….gossiping,… grasping, ….damaging your body by eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much,…. exercising too little, stop putting people down and start building them up……. turn your whole life around – if you haven’t already done so. Completely. One hundred per cent.
Because if it’s not one hundred per cent, then all you have is the old life with new bits stuck on.
Like a wall that has been painted over, but the old paint still shows through.
There is a saying, isn’t there, that a leopard cannot change its spots, or is it a tiger can’t change it’s stripes?
It means of course that people can’t change who they are.
Maybe we can’t, change ourselves, but God can.
And maybe the outside doesn’t change, but the inside sure does.
And that will begin to show through on the outside.
People will notice the change.
For the better.
The story of the young man is taken from John Shea’s Experience of Spirit.