Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 18, 2018

2018.03.18 “When the Hour Has Come” – John 12: 20 – 33

Central United Methodist Church
When the Hour Has Come
Pastor David L. Haley
John 12: 20 – 33
The 5th Sunday in Lent
March 18th, 2018

Grain 1

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 willmy 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.” – John 12: 20 – 33, the New Revised Standard Version


Just two weeks from Easter, we are also 17 days from the 50th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in American history, the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, TN, on April 4, 1968.

From the time of his rise to public prominence after the Montgomery Bus Strike, Dr. King as well as his family lived under the shadow of death threats. When a bomb exploded on his front porch in 1956, he courageously chose to face his fear, and not to back down but continue the work he believed God had called him to do.

In 1958, a mentally disturbed woman stabbed him in the chest while he signed copies of his book, Stride Toward Freedom, at a bookstore in Harlem. The next morning in the New York Times, it was reported that the knife blade was so close to his aorta, the main artery supplying blood to the heart, that if he had sneezed, he likely would have died. Afterwards he received a letter from a little girl, which said, “I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
By 1968, the threats were almost daily, and serious. When King went to Memphis in support of the garbage worker’s strike, after a protest march through downtown Memphis on March 28 became violent, the national news media, baited by secret memos from the FBI spinning the events, condemned King for “running” from the march (he had pulled out when it turned violent). King vowed to return to Memphis to lead a nonviolent march, despite opposition from his staff and a number of warnings that he would be killed if he did. He warned his parents and his wife that someone had put a price on his head. As he left Atlanta for Memphis, airline officials delayed his flight for an hour as they searched for a bomb after someone phoned in a death threat against him.

On the evening of April 3, King gave one of his most dramatic and prophetic speeches, his “I’ve Been to the Mountain- top” speech, one of the greatest speeches in American history. In the middle of a violent thunderstorm, with tornadoes and lightning touching down in the surrounding area, King arrived at Bishop Charles Mason Temple without a script, with a sore throat, and slightly ill. To this gathering, King poured out his heart and his last testament. In the speech, King seemed to have a premonition of what lay ahead. In fact, the next day would be his last.

We will return to Dr. King’s speech later, but understanding that historical moment and how Dr. King felt that night, April 3, 1968, helps us in our understanding of how Jesus must have felt, in our reading from the Gospel of John today.

At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry has reached its apogee. After the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, crowds follow Jesus, but at the same time it provokes an equal and opposite reaction; there are rumors of a plot to kill him. Like that night years ago in Memphis, the threat of death was in the air. “The hour has come,” said Jesus, “Now my heart is troubled.” But, foreshadowing and transcending his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, he resolves: “What should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

Such feelings, such statements, and such courage might not be understandable to us, except for the fact that we too face such moments in our lives. We may not be powerful religious leaders or modern-day prophets stirring up storms of controversy like Jesus or Dr. King, but sooner or later, the “hour” comes for each of us, and our heart is troubled, as we face the prospect of the imminent end of our lives.

Images and conversations come to mind, out of my years of ministry. I can see in my mind’s eye the face of a young woman, at Northwestern’s Prentiss Women’s Hospital, being treated for cancer, as she says to me: “I don’t think I’m going to beat this.” She was right; she did not. I recall a conversation with someone with multiple recurrent tumors, with both of us acknowledging: “Now you know how you’re going to die, you just don’t know when.”

But shouldn’t all of us know that already? Because even though we may not be facing a known imminent threat, our egos blind us to the fact that human mortality is still 100%; we are all going to die. It’s only a question of time; some of us obviously have less time than others. Did we not begin Lent with Ash Wednesday, acknowledging our mortality: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

What shall we do? Panic? Fight? Despair? Or embrace it, and go gracefully, in confidence, courage, and peace? In this text – facing his own death – Jesus gives us an image to cling to, an image that he must have loved, because he used it so often:

“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.”

The example of a grain of wheat that dies, only so that it can be reborn. Even though we are not farmers, most of us have held in our hands, and buried carefully in the warm soil, a seed, for which we patiently wait, to grow and harvest. It became such a powerful symbol that it was found in many other early Christian writings, such as by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, as he discussed the resurrection. Jesus uses the wheat grain to explain the seemingly paradoxical statement that if anyone wants to save their life, they must lose it, give it away. Still, – as then – to follow Jesus means to live this way; to let our lives go, to live in risky love, to be buried like a grain of wheat, in order that new life might spring forth.

This letting go is not just a general concept, it is something we have to do in every area of our lives. We don’t want to be 60, or 90; we want to be 30 again. But that’s not possible; we’ve got to let it go. We don’t want to accept that our children are growing up, becoming responsible and independent, we want them to remain in our control and under our management. But that’s not an option, to be good parents, we have to let them go. We don’t want to acknowledge that our bodies (and minds) are not what they used to be, and that we can’t do everything the way we used to do it. We have to acknowledge that old ideas and beliefs that we once held – perhaps for a long time – have proved to be untrue, even harmful, and we have to let them go. We absolutely do not want to accept that we are going to lose those we love, just as those we love will eventually lose us. We’ve got to let them, and ourselves go, and be buried in death, like a grain of wheat. There is a Buddhist saying I’ve always appreciated: “Go ahead and die; then live the rest of your life.”

While Jesus bore fruit through his dying for us; we bear fruit not by dying, but by living, so that when we do die others might acknowledge the seeds we have sown, planted in the lives of our families and our friends, our children, our church and our community and country.

It has been my privilege, as one who has presided at many funerals and memorial services, to have had a front row seat for this over the years. For example, yesterday I went back (not to preside but to attend) a Memorial Service out to West Chicago, for a friend’s father. In his life, he had served as a teacher and former principal of West Chicago Community High School, and served on many boards and commissions in the community. Even though he died January 2 at the age of 88, 200 people filled the hall at the American Legion, with stories to tell about his life and how he – through his life and work – had helped them. Through his life, seeds were planted, that continue to blossom and bear fruit. After 45 plus years in the ministry, with nobody’s threatening me yet except the Grim Reaper himself, I pray that I have planted some seeds that will continue to bear fruit. Wherever age and stage we are at in our lives, every one of us desires this too.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, until his assassination by right wing death squads in the Cathedral in San Salvador on March 24th, 1980, was the fourth Archbishop of El Salvador. Since that time, he has been celebrated as a modern-day martyr and candidate for sainthood. About a year before he was assassinated, on April 1, 1979, he preached these words of Jesus, and – like King – in words that would soon be more personal than he could know. He said this:

“To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. Those who shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not fear death or threats; the Lord goes with you.” (Oscar Romero, April 1, 1979, Rivers in the Desert by Rowland Croucher (ed.) Albatross Books, 1991, page 398).

Now, in remembrance of Dr. King, and that night in Memphis fifty years ago, when he realized his hour had come, let us conclude with the powerful words of his speech, one life that continues to bear fruit. [Video] (From the Smithsonian Channel, January 29, 2014).


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