Wednesday, 26 September 2018

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Sobering Discipleship Realities

March 18, 2018

SOBERING DISCIPLESHIP REALITIES

March 18, 2018 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

New Millennium Church – 9 AM

Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church – 10:45 AM

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

John 12:20-33


20 Now 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 honour.

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 judgement 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.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

 

In this passage we read that some people identified only as “Greeks” approached Phillip and asked to see Jesus.  That request eventually led to Jesus saying that his hour had come.  The hour had come for him to be glorified.  The hour had come for a climactic showdown between the power of divine love and life and the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death represented by religious elites, commercial greed, and imperial domination (the Roman Empire).  

 

The teaching of Jesus about that showdown was triggered by a request from Gentiles, people considered “outsiders” by the religious elites who ruled from the Jerusalem Temple.  It is important for us to understand the context of that request.  Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from death, restored him to his family, and been the guest of honor at a dinner in the Bethany home of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary (John 12:1-8).  His ministry of teaching, healing, and embracing people from all walks of life as equals, known before Lazarus was raised, became known to even more people as the annual Passover festival in Jerusalem approached (John 12:9-18).  

 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival at the head of chanting festival pilgrims, his religious critics realized that their efforts to discredit him as a religious fraud had failed.  The request by Gentiles who were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival to see Jesus shows that his message of God’s inclusive love had gone beyond the traditional Jewish audience.  The gospel of divine love and kinship with all humanity had become viral (John 12:20-21).   This was the context for what Jesus was about to proclaim about discipleship in the passage we consider today.  

 

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?  Is it simply a matter of believing certain things about Jesus and God, or is it more than that?  When we speak and think about following Jesus, we must not ignore what Jesus said about his life in God.  We must not overlook what life in obedience to God’s love meant for Jesus if we want to understand what it means to follow Jesus in that life.  We must pay attention to what Jesus said about where following him will that take us and make of us.  

 

Many people believe that the gospel of Jesus is primarily focused on saving individuals from personal sin and divine judgment.  But the Fourth Gospel proclaims, from start to finish, that the ministry of Jesus involved a lot more than that.  What the Gospel named for John shows is that in God was, in Jesus, engaging the whole “system” of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death that threatens our lives and relationships with God and others.  

 

Each Gospel account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus presents Jesus exposing that System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.  

By the time of the events mentioned in today’s lesson, the Fourth Gospel shows that the sharp difference between the ministry of Jesus and the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.  

 

In John’s Gospel, we learn that the System includes religious institutions and practices, represented by the elites who claimed the authority to define life from the Jerusalem Temple, based on notions of ethnic and male privilege.  We learn that the System includes national power, represented by the Roman Empire.  We learn that the System seems to control everything.  

During the time of Jesus, the System included the Roman Empire which dominated the world by the threat of violence backed up by military force.  Religious life in Palestine was controlled by privilege based on Jewish ethnicity and male gender.  Access to healing was controlled by wealth and privilege.  When we remember these realities, we can better understand the meaning of Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection.  

 

Jesus represents much more than God coming into the world to save individuals.  Jesus represents God taking on the whole System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.  When Jesus said that his hour had come, he was trying to help his first followers understand that it was time for the showdown between the power of divine love and the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death that threatens everything about how people live together, how we relate to one another, and how we live and relate with God.  This isn’t about private salvation.  It is about God saving all of us and everything from the System that is built and thrives on domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.

 

  According to Jesus, the showdown between the power of God’s love and life with the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death required him to let go of his concerns about self-preservation.  Jesus used the metaphor of a grain of wheat germinating to become “much fruit” to show us that taking on the System means we must be willing to follow Jesus in loving something much more than ourselves. 

 

Jesus shows us that humanity and the creation are not saved by the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death!  Humanity and the creation cannot be redeemed from the System by religious versions of the System, however they may show up.  

 

Let me be clear.  Humanity and the creation cannot be liberated from the oppression of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death by religion – any religion – built on domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.  Jesus calls us to follow him in the showdown with religious versions of the System that claim to operate as barriers between God and humanity.   Across history, some of the most tragic situations have been caused or influenced when religious versions of the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence and death have held sway.  The Crusades, the global exercise in human trafficking we call chattel slavery, racial segregation, subjugation and violence against women and girls, abuse of persons who are LGBTQ, mistreatment of workers, and so many other violations of divine love and human dignity were influenced, and even condoned, because religious institutions and actors became complicit with and coopted by versions of the System Jesus confronted and overcame.

 

Jesus also shows us that humanity and the creation are not saved from the System by commercial versions of the System, be they Wal-Mart or Wall Street.  The System constantly tells people to work harder so we can buy more, and use our wealth as a weapon against others who are less fortunate.  Jesus calls us to follow him in the showdown with commercial versions of the System of greed, materialism, and prosperity.  

And, Jesus calls us to follow him in the showdown with what New Testament theologian Walter Wink has called “the myth of redemptive violence.”  According to this myth, the way to bring order out of chaos is by violently dominating and eliminating those we consider our enemies.  When Jesus said that the hour had come for him to be glorified, he was foretelling the violence of his impending arrest on trumped up charges and all the other expressions of violence he would suffer at the hands of agents of religious, commercial, and political empire leading up to his crucifixion and death.  

 

The “myth of redemptive violence” is all around us today.  Walter Wink points out that we see it in the old Popeye cartoons in which Bluto sexually assaults Olive Oyl and beats up Popeye until Popeye eats his spinach and then beats up Bluto.  Do you remember the line Popeye sang at the end of each cartoon?  “I’m strong to the finish ‘cause I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye the sailor man.”  Bluto and Popeye are opposing (male) characters in an ongoing cartoon saga based on the myth of violence in which the female character, Olive Oyl, is always portrayed as either the helpless captive and victim of violence (from Bluto) or the suffering person dependent on being rescued (by Popeye) due to the victory of violence by Popeye over the violence from Bluto.  Popeye’s strength – from the spinach – only operates to more violently respond to the threat and oppression presented by Bluto’s violence.  

 

Jesus confronted the “myth of redemptive violence” and its focus on domination, intimidation, and the threat of death by the power of divine love.  His crucifixion resulted because religious, commercial, and political actors resorted to the myth of redemptive violence in an attempt to do away with God’s message and ministry of love and life.  

 

Do not make light of what Jesus did at Calvary.  Jesus exposed how imperial religion, imperial commerce, and imperial politics employs the “myth of redemptive violence” to advance the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.  The crucifixion and death of Jesus was about much more than personal salvation from sin.  It was about how the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death opposes divine love and life.  

 

So when we talk about following Jesus we are talking about following God’s example of how to take on the System.  We are talking about confronting the System that is wedded to the idea that power must be used to dominate others, even to the point of death.  We are talking about following Jesus in facing fierce forces dedicated to controlling others even through violent methods.  We are talking about believing that the power that led Jesus to Calvary is right, and that the power of the System that crucified Jesus and operates to threaten people everywhere is wrong.  

 

That was a sobering reality for Jesus.  So we read his words at John 12:27-28.  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.  Jesus understood he was in the world as God’s agent to take on the System and all forms and forces of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death.  He could glorify God only by confronting the System, and doing so in a way that exposed its fierceness and its flaws, both moral and ethical.  

 

So Jesus prayed that God would be glorified as he took on the System.  Father, glorify your name (John 12:28).  The response received was a voice that assured Jesus that God had been and would be glorified.  

 

We glorify God by following Jesus in living agents of divine love, justice, truth, and peace.  Jesus faced the System at Calvary.  Jesus refused to live according to the myth of redemptive violence.  Calvary shows what the System will do to hide or distort, and empty tomb shows that the System has been beaten.  

 

The way of Jesus remains a sobering reality for us.  Let us ponder it.  Let us be nurtured by it.  Let us learn from it.  And let the life, ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus inspire us to join him in the showdown with the System of domination, exclusion, greed, privilege, violence, and death that God exposed and overcame through Jesus.  

 

This is what it means to follow Jesus.  Amen. 

 

@Wendell Griffen 2018