This is, of course, a most important season. A season that catches our attention… a season we approach with anticipation…a season that makes us look with awe and with wonder.
I am speaking of course, about awards show season. Now, at the Buegler home, we don’t plan our lives around the Academy Awards, or the Emmy’s, or the Grammy’s, or the People’s Choice Awards, or the Golden Globes…but if we’re home, we will often watch them.
I’m really not really sure why we enjoy watching people receive awards for movies we probably have not seen, TV shows we haven’t watched and music we haven’t listened to. But we do.
I’m going to guess that it’s 80% because we’re actually interested in who wins. And 20% because we want to see the people. What are they wearing? How are they acting? What will they say? “How did she make his hair do that?” “What did he just say?” “Is she really wearing a dress made out of meat?” I think we watch for the same reason people watch NASCAR…to see the crashes.
We want to see. I’m guessing that the Buegler family is not totally alone in this.
There were a group of people that the Gospel of John simply calls a group of Greeks. This group of Greeks walked up to the disciple, Phillip and said “we would like to see Jesus.”
Obviously, they had heard of this Rabbi, who performed miracles and who broke the religious laws, the social norms, and who said controversial things. The scriptures did not say, we note, that these Greeks believed in Jesus, just that they wanted to see him. Perhaps they were curious. Maybe they were spiritual seekers. Or, maybe, they had heard of his outrageous claims and his actions that caused both joy and anger and had to see for themselves. Maybe they just came to see the crashes.
And Jesus does not disappoint.
The Greeks first approached the disciples Phillip and Andrew, and so these two go to tell Jesus. And Jesus doesn’t respond directly to the request. Instead, Jesus launches into this set of teachings that make up the remainder of our Gospel reading for today. And what he said was kind of wild, for the time and the audience. Jesus flips completely upside down, his listener’s understanding of God, and how God relates to the world.
Jesus first says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Now you have to understand that up until this point, at least four different times in this Gospel alone, Jesus has said that “no, the hour has not yet come for me to be glorified.” But now…now…now…it is time. “Well ok then,” the disciples must have thought to themselves. “Glory! That sounds pretty good!”
But Jesus wasn’t talking about the kind of glory that we normally think of when we hear that word. It’s not Olympic glory, or promotion glory, or Valedictorian glory or Academy Award glory. No, Jesus is talking about something completely different: cross glory, suffering glory, obedience glory.
It is not glory as the world would define it. It’s not glory that we’d equate with “winning.” It is a different kind of glory; it is a glory that comes through suffering. Jesus is saying that he must suffer…and through suffering will come the glory of the resurrection. Jesus takes the expectations of these Greek visitors, and his disciples, (and us, to be honest,) and flips them on their head.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to say: “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” What does that mean? “Hate their life, Jesus? Really?”
But Jesus is using the word “hate” in a way different from how we think of it. We think of “hate” as in “extreme dislike,” or “detest.” The word hate in Jesus teachings translates maybe more closely to the word “reject.” This verse might be better translated as “those who reject their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Before he turns his face towards Jerusalem and the death on the cross that he knows is inevitable, Jesus calls on the disciples, and now the Greeks who surround him, to reject the values that focus on materialism and power. These things, he reminds us, are not permanent. They will eventually pass away. He is teaching that there is more to this life than what the world promises. Jesus is promising, eternal rewards. Jesus is again turning conventional wisdom upside down. And he’s asking us to do the same.
You may have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. During World War II, Corrie lived in the German-occupied Netherlands. Corrie and her family, because of their Christian faith, began welcoming and protecting Jewish refugees from German soldiers. But in February of 1944, someone reported the family to the Nazis and Corrie and her family were all arrested and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
At the end of the war, Corrie was the only member of her family to have survived. She wrote books about her horrific experiences, including her famous book, “The Hiding Place.” After she was published, she was invited to speak about her experiences to different audiences. She would speak frequently about how God forgives.
In 1947, she was invited to speak to a crowd in Munich, Germany. She was finishing her talk when she spotted a man in the audience. He was balding, wearing an overcoat and carrying a brown hat. She immediately recognized him as one of the cruelest of the prison guards at Ravensbruck.
She said that when she looked at him, her mind’s eye would jump back and forth between him as he was that night, and him wearing the blue uniform, and the visored cap with its skull and crossbones. And she could see a group of frightened prisoners, including her sister being marched by this man, to their deaths.
And he was right here, seated in front of her.
After her talk, the man stood, but instead of leaving, he approached her. She was terrified in that moment. Emotion after emotion washed over her. He said to her “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there.” She realized that he didn’t remember her. Of course, why would he? She was one of tens of thousands.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there. But I would like to hear it from your lips as well, Fraulein, will you please forgive me?” And he reached out his hand.
Corrie wrote that “I stood there. I whose sins had again and again been forgiven. And I could not forgive. My sister…my family…had died in that place. It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, his hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it. I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition, that we forgive those who have injured us.
‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I said. ‘With all my heart.’”
She finishes by writing: “I had never known love as intensely as I did in that moment. And I realized that it wasn’t my love.”
In that moment, Jesus flipped everything upside down for Corrie Ten Boom. In that moment, as she forgave this man who was looking for some kind of reconciliation, some kind of healing of his spirit, Corrie was able to set aside her anger, and her bitterness, and her grief…and she was healed. It was the last thing she had expected. This…this is how God works.
In our Gospel text today, Jesus makes one thing perfectly clear: the transforming power of God’s love and grace is real. And when Jesus is describing what he does through that love, he is not talking about just a tweaking. He is not talking about minor change that will make us more comfortable. Far from it.
Jesus is talking about change that changes everything. Jesus is talking about flipping our lives upside down.
Jesus invites us to reconsider those things we have come to value, those things that we think bring us glory, and what we have come to accept as “just the way the world works.”
Because Jesus, our Savior, took on death. He was carried into the tomb and three days later walked back out of it. Jesus drew life from death…he took something shameful, a death on a cross, and flipped it…turned it into something beautiful, an empty tomb. Jesus surprises us by being able to redeem even the deepest pain, assuring us that while God never desires that we suffer, God can work through our suffering for good. Jesus gives us a new perspective on life, death and resurrection. And that can surprise us, shock us…even turn our lives upside down.
Let’s go back to that first question that the Greeks asked of Phillip and Andrew. It’s a great question: “Can we see Jesus?”
Because in so many ways, I think that is our question too. And the answer is “yes.” But realize that the Jesus we see might not be the one we expect.
Yes, we want to see Jesus. Let us open our eyes to him. And let us open our hearts to the change Jesus seeks to make within us.
Thanks be to God!