Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: John 12:20-24
Some Greeks Ö went to Philip and said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, "The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.

We want to see Jesus now!

If a label is to be given to the people of the early years of 21st century, I think a good one would be "The Impatient Generation". We are living in a time when everything has to happen now and if it doesnít happen when we think it ought to happen we become impatient, we complain, we stress, we get agro.

Iím one of the "Impatient Generation". Iím fixing something with glue. The instructions on the tube say that for maximum strength the glue should be left to dry for 24 hours. But I canít wait that long. I want it fixed now. I want to use it right now and so ignoring the instructions I start to use the mended object and of course it soon falls apart again. So I throw it away and buy a new one. I fall hook, line and sinker for the marketing strategies of the manufacturers Ė they know we are the impatient generation. They donít want us to fix things Ė just buy a new one. That saves all the stress and aggravation that our impatience creates in us.

We live in a society of impatient people. Just sit on the speed limit and soon you find car sitting right on your rear bumper or flashing its lights as if to say, "Iím fed up with your dawdling. Get out my way".
Or just stand in a long, slow-moving queue and you soon get a taste of impatient abusive, exasperated and angry people.

Every now and then you hear a story that reminds us that patience does pay off and brings with it rewards. There was a man in Wales who sought to win the affection of a certain lady who lived next door but she refused to have anything to do with him. With incredible patience and persistence he wrote letters and slipped them under her door for 42 years. After writing 2,184 love letters he asked for her hand in marriage. To his delight and surprise, she accepted and they finally became "Mr and Mrs".

How patient are you with God? That might seem a strange question but it really isnít all that weird. Have you prayed and wanted God to fix something right now? Thatís stupid question really because we all do that especially since we are people of the ĎImpatient Generationí.
You want healing,
you want a change in your circumstances,
you want a sign that will show you what direction you should take,
you want your spouse, your children to be more understanding and helpful,
but you donít just want these things, you want them now.

And when the answer doesnít come as quickly as you would like, itís not hard to become disheartened, disillusioned, even angry. It seems that God wants you keep on struggling with your problems, or seems to be so silent and distant.

Sometimes you hear things like this,
"I havenít been to church for 20 years and you wanna know why. When my wife was sick I needed God to keep his promise and answer my prayer. But he didnít".
"I used to go to church, but there was a falling out between a member of the church and myself. I prayed that God would help us both to get over it but nothing happened. I canít bring myself to go back again".
My son was riding his bike home from school and was hit by a drunk. I believed that stuff about God being a shepherd whose rod and staff protect us, but where was he when my boy died".

An instant, fix-it God is the kind of God we understand. He has the power and he uses it to make things right.
Itís easy to worship a God who
    gives miraculous cures,
    who provides a job when we suddenly find ourselves unemployed,
    who gives peace, serenity and direction after confusion and depression.
An experience of God in these circumstances just makes us want to sing and shout and praise him for his love for us.

But as we are singing loudly and excitedly about God's goodness, there are those listening to us who have no idea what weíre talking about. They canít relate to our excitement in any way.
Maybe they are in the middle of the pain that goes with the break up of their home when a spouse walks out.
Maybe they have been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
Maybe they have a sick child and they have prayed and prayed that God would provide a cure but it seems their prayers go no further than the ceiling.
May be they are simply feeling down, distant from God, spiritually low, misunderstood and unappreciated.
How much more difficult it is to trust in God and worship him when God doesnít provide the quick fix that we are looking for. That leads some people to throw up their hands in disgust and give up on God while others admit how hard life has been for them, and continue by saying, "Thereís one thing I am certain about Ė God has never deserted me. Heís been there right beside in the middle of everything. In fact, I couldnít keep on going without him".

Some Greeks, converts to Judaism, wanted to see Jesus! Perhaps they have heard of the many signs and wonders that Jesus had done. They want to witness something miraculous. They want to see what heís like. They have heard about his amazing teaching and they want to hear what he has to say. Who is this illustrious worker of miracles? Is he someone who radiates a certain aura, who is clearly different to everyone else, who stands out in the crowd?

Just before this event, crowds had come out waving their palm branches and praising Jesus as King, and the Bible tells us the reason why they came and shouted his praises. They had witnessed Jesus calling Lazarus to come out of the tomb Ė they had seen what they thought was impossible Ė a dead man was brought back to life.

Wouldnít you want to see this amazing man for yourself? Here was a man who provides a quick fix to anything. Healing lepers, restoring sight to the blind, giving strength to paralysed limbs, raising the dead Ė no wonder people came to see him and we know that on many occasions the sick were brought to Jesus for an instant solution to their problems.

And so these Greeks also come, and they, too, want to see Jesus. They hear him say, "The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory". At long last God will show himself. Enough of this Galilean flesh-and-blood, ordinary humanness. At last, Jesus will throw off his humanity and reveal his glory. At last, the hour when they will see God high and lifted up in glory. The glorious God has come to provide an instant fix to all our problems (one of those problems is the Romans).

Yes, Jesus did heal instantly, immediately gave people new purpose, right away calmed fears, forgave sins and brought people closer to God.
But Jesus also struggled.
He carried enormous burdens especially when he saw the disbelief, the hardness of human hearts, the blindness of even those who were closest to him. They couldnít understand what he was on about and refused to hear what Godís plan was for him.
He felt alone, deserted by friends and his Father.
He struggled in prayer over where the journey was taking him.
He had to walk a path that he wouldíve given anything to avoid if he had his own way.
Of course he needed to do all that Ė he did it for our salvation. But I think he also wanted to show us what itís like to walk with God. Itís not all about instant fixes.

There are high moments when God shows himself in dramatic ways that we are impressed and happy to talk about and proclaim God's goodness. But walking with God can also mean struggles, pain, uncertainty, confusion, bewilderment. There are times when we have to pray like Jesus, "Father, not what I want, but what you want! Ö Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!"

When Jesus talks about his glory that is about to be revealed he isnít talking about some earth-shattering, soul-shaking experience of his godliness. Glory for him meant dying brutally and painfully. It meant the cross with all of its cruelty and shame. Jesus says to the Greeks who came to see him that to really know God is not only to see him in those exalted moments but also to see him in the dark valleys.

To illustrate this he talks about a seed that goes into the ground and dies for a time. It is buried and nothing much happens. Thatís how the disciples felt on Good Friday and the day after. Jesus was dead. They were in the depths of grief and despair. They were confused and all hope had vanished. But just as the seed sprouts and brings a good harvest, likewise Jesus rose again promising that there will be a bountiful harvest of new life for all those who die in the Lord. From gloom came the realisation that God had not deserted his disciples but brought new hope and joy out of suffering and death. His love had not abandoned Jesus or them during that awful time of suffering and dying.

In our lives there are going to be those times when the awesomeness of God is clear and we will feel really close to him. He answers our prayers quickly and clearly. But there are also the tough times when God doesnít seem to be within cooee of what we are going through and what we are feeling. We feel like a seed that is dead and buried under a mound of dirt. We long for a quick fix, an instant solution. We of the ĎImpatient Generationí want God to do something now! But it doesnít happen.

And just because God doesnít jump to our demands that doesnít mean he has abandoned us. It is just in those times that God is putting extra time into his relationship with us.
He is drawing us closer to himself.
He is building up our trust in him and love for him.
He is strengthening us for service in ways that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible without first experiencing the dark valleys.

Where are you at the moment? There are those of you here this morning who are really excited about God because you have experienced his amazing love and power. But remember also that this same God is still with you in the days when you donít feel his presence so clearly.

There are some in our congregation who are struggling right now. Maybe you are wondering what is God's plan for you for the future. Keep in mind that heís leading you along a path that will help you be an even better follower for him. The seed of grain dies in the ground but this is followed by new growth, new life and abundance Ė thatís a promise.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd April, 2006

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