Lent 5B sermon by Brandon Haynes
1972. That was the year that my grandparents set of New World Encyclopedias where written. They sat on a solid wood shelf specifically made for them. I’m sure some of you remember what they looked like and may have even owned a set yourself. I grew up with those books and would spend countless hours reading through them on whatever subject popped into my head. I was an odd child, I know some of you have a hard time believing that and some of you might not. It’s ok. Often, I didn’t fully understand what I was reading, but never the less I would pour over the pages. It was a week night in 1998, I was barely in second grade. We had gone over to my grandparents’ house for dinner and we were getting ready to leave. But I had left one of the encyclopedia volumes on the kitchen table. My grandpa was at his desk with his magnifying light on, bidding us goodbye and right before walking out he said, “Hey you better put that book up.” These words were not too uncommon to my ear as I often left things out, being distracted by something else. A typical kid. That was the last words that I heard from him as later that week he died. Today we find a similar story in our readings.
So, let us rewind a couple thousand years. Here we have Jesus with his disciples. They have just come into Jerusalem for the final time. They were on a high of sorts with the triumphal entry just over with, palm branches, hosannas, literally a welcoming fit for royalty. And now they are at the evening feast just days before the Passover. During the festivities, some Greeks come up to Phillip and ask to see Jesus, Phillip not sure what to do goes and gets Andrew and says hey, these guys want to talk to Jesus. After both agreed that the request should be honored, they go to Jesus and tell him of the men of who have come to speak with him. And here we have Jesus’ final discourse to the world, a final announcement to the masses that his death is impending, that in death life will come.
Jesus then gives us a glimpse of what is going on inside of him. He tells those who are around him that he is troubled. I imagine that at this point he is emotionally worn out, drained. He then rejects the notion that the Father should save him. He knew what he was walking into. And then we have Jesus praying out loud asking the Father to glorify his name. Then seemingly out of nowhere we have this loud voice, described as thunderous, confirming Jesus’ request. I’m sure flashbacks to Christ’s transfiguration and his baptism flooded through the minds of those who were there including him, but for some they dismissed it as thunder or just a loud noise because after all, there was a party happening in the background. Deaf to what the father has spoken. Even so, Jesus knew. He knew the voice that just pierced the night, he was familiar with it and tells those who were around that this voice was not for me but for you.
That voice was not meant to calm Jesus or to give direction to him, but for us. That voice was a last chance, a last call to those around and to the world, Jew and Greek alike to take note of the cry to turn from sin. That soon Jesus would be crucified. That love would meet self-interest and fear. You see the voice that called out that night wasn’t meant for the one who requested it but for those who needed it.
Does this voice still call to us today? I believe so. When I hear this voice it often is in the form of silence, a slow drawing and revelation. It often comes from times of self-examination and prayer. For me it tells me that on our trek to find God, we must first die. Dying to ourselves and our self-interests. Dying to pride that keeps us from seeing beauty in each other. Dying to the prejudices and bigotry that we harbor in the hidden places of our inner selves. Dying to the idea that our past sins define us. However, it also reassures me that when the shadow of death finally passes over, and it does, resurrection happens. Resurrection of ourselves in the image that God created us in. A resurrection of hope and of love. That even though death might come it will be overshadowed by life.
What I left out of my story at the beginning was that I didn’t listen to my grandfather that night and the volume stayed on the table. I didn’t listen to the call to responsibility that he gave and I still, to this day, regret not putting that volume up.
In the weeks ahead, we will reaffirm the covenant that God made with us as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah and echoed in the crucifixion of Christ, that we will be his people and he our God. As we go into the final two weeks of lent, what is God saying to you? What areas of your hidden self need to be made visible? What is keeping you back from your own resurrection? Because, when it is all said and done, life awaits.