Sermon transcript for March 22, 2015
Now is the Time: We Shall All Be Changed
John 12:20-33, CEB
March 22, 2015 – Belmont United Methodist Church
Pam Hawkins, preaching
Family debates were predictable whenever we gathered at my grandparents’ Alabama home. Usually they began to brew at the dinner table, and then we’d carry the friendly chaos with our dessert plates into the sprawling living room where aunts, uncles, and grandparents claimed chairs and sofas, while cousins of every age spread out on the floor.
Topics spanned religion and world events, best fishing holes and worst politicians, and we could count on a few voices to routinely carry the conversation into the afternoon or night. Yet every once in awhile, one of us who was typically a listener, would chime in – and I can still hear my grandfather say, “Well, another country’s heard from,” which everyone understood to really mean make room for a new voice in the family.
Chaos is also brewing in our reading today, because crowds of noisy people with competing purposes have come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Here, in a public space vibrating with predictable Passover buzz, our Gospel writer, John, asks us to make room for a new voice – another “country” so to speak – for “some Greeks” who simply ask “to see Jesus” (v. 21).
Now it’s important for us to know that just a few verses ago, Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem, and are immediately surrounded by a diverse and needy mass of people. John writes that some need to be part of Jesus’ Welcome Committee, palm branches in hand – hoping against hope that Jesus is the king who’ll turn life upside down in their favor. Curiosity seekers need to be wowed, need another miraculous sign, like Lazarus being raised from the dead. Jesus’ disciples (at least eleven of them) need to be reassured that they’re headed in the right direction, because lately Jesus has been talking about things going wrong. And Judas, well he just needs Jesus to irritate him one more time, just enough to push him over the line of no-return, while the power wielders – and there are always power wielders in the crowd – the Pharisees, political leaders, and government officials need Jesus to be destroyed because he keeps causing them to lose their grip on crowd control.
“Look!” the power-wielders say to each other, “The whole world is following him!” (v. 19). Which is our cue to mix into the Passover crowds where we come upon those “Greeks” I mentioned before, the ones now standing in front of Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, and we overhear them saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). But the Greeks want more than a visual sighting of the man from a distance; they want to meet with the Human One. In fact, according to Biblical scholars, what their words really mean is “we want to become his disciples.” The Greeks of our scripture want to become disciples of Jesus, and how does Philip respond? He goes to a fellow Jesus-follower, Andrew, and tells about their request. Then, after talking it over, Philip and Andrew decide to go find Jesus, where they tell him what these Greeks are asking for.
Now I confess that this is where our passage gets a little disappointing for me, because I expect Jesus to instruct Andrew and Philip either “let the Greeks come to me,” as he does for the little children, or “take me to them,” like the time Jesus follows Jairus home to heal the synagogue leader’s dying daughter.
But what comes out of Jesus mouth doesn’t come close to my expectations, which is often the case when I listen to Jesus. And what he does, or actually doesn’t do, is an even greater let down for me. In this text Jesus never meets with the Greeks at all, but instead leaves them to wait in the dust of Jerusalem.
Now we don’t know everything about these waiting intruders, but historians write that they were likely Gentile proselytes – converts to Judaism - who came to Jerusalem for the Passover feast along with all the others. What John does make quite clear by his choice of words is that they are not Greek-speaking Jews, but rather are representatives of the Gentile community of Jesus’ day. So this delegation in our text represents a new group, an “outside” collection of people who hear about Jesus and come to join him as disciples. Yet when these Gentiles show up, members of Jesus’ inner circle, Philip and Andrew to be specific, treat them more as a curiosity, just another report of the “movement” to give to Jesus. Notice that no room is made for the Gentile voices to be heard. No path is cleared for them to see Jesus; no safe space offered to them. And it appears in our reading that at first the only response they get to their request is silence - even from Jesus who seems to fall prey to an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of quiet about them.
Then somewhere in that distance between the inside crowds and the dusty edge, Jesus breaks the quiet, and breaks any delusion we might have had that silence would ever be his response to anyone seeking to follow him. “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified,” Jesus says, when Andrew and Philip return to the inner circle of disciples after leaving the Gentiles behind (v. 23). “The time has come,” he tells the crowd gathered around him, to choose life or death, love or hate, past or future because “Now is the time for judgment of this world” (v. 31), (Jesus’ words, not mine). Not yesterday, according to John’s Gospel, not tomorrow, but now – now is the time for everything to be changed because some Gentiles, some “others,” some “outsiders,” have asked to join his disciples, yet still his closest followers, the ones who have been with him the longest, do not yet understand his mission.
You know, as long as there have been disciples of Jesus, there have been some followers on the inside and other followers on the outside asking to be let in. In the early church, Gentiles, like those in our reading, were kept on the edge, waiting for full acceptance while church leaders debated the pros and cons, the how’s and how not’s of membership. For centuries, women were denied access to full discipleship, while scripture and tradition were used to teach that we are created as inferior beings, ill equipped for and destructive to church leadership. History painfully reveals that for far too-long-a-time people of color in the body of Christ were enslaved, rejected, and even destroyed, often in the name of Christian discipleship. Yet Jesus has never stopped saying to every generation of the church: The time has come for judgment of this world. Now is the time to become my disciples.
As one who seeks to follow Jesus in this time and in this place with you at Belmont United Methodist Church, I have witnessed, first-hand, your exemplary discipleship on many fronts. But in recent times, in recent weeks, my life has been changed by your discipleship of welcome, inclusion, love, and justice on behalf of part of our family that has far too often been denied full inclusion in Christ’s church. I am speaking of God’s beloved children who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.
Now I know with you that we do not all think alike about sexual orientation and its implications for the church. But I do believe, as did our spiritual founder John Wesley, that we can all love each other alike, because love is from God who created us all. Yet some unloving words are being used in Jesus’ name and on our behalf to again create insiders and outsiders within the body of Christ. In this time for our denomination, I have come to believe – actually, I have come to know by serving with you in this congregation – that this language is doing harm to people we love. There are words in our official denominational books that tell some here that as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender persons they are “incompatible” with the teachings of Jesus. And if you hear this language aimed at you long enough, it becomes too often a path to begin to wonder if you are also incompatible with the love of God.
Brothers and sisters, there are words in our current United Methodist language, that I do now believe are causing harm, permitting injustice, and fuelling hate against some people to whom we are joined as family through our baptism. I have come to believe this because of the personal experiences and stories many of our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents have shared with me in this congregation. And through my ministry here and deepening life with God through prayer, holy conversation, and reading of scripture, I am convinced that these words do not speak for Jesus. Yet, as long as this language remains in our Social Principles and Book of Discipline, people in the world will believe that the words do speak for all of us. This will be true unless we join together in love to change the words.
I have come to a place in my faith where I believe that much of our denomination’s language about homosexuality breaks God’s heart. And I have come to believe that any word-barriers we craft or use to divide us into insiders and outsiders within the body of Christ are contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and that this same Jesus, the Word made flesh, was sent by God into this world so that by Christ’s Love we can learn to be drawn together, not kept apart.
Love that once changed our prejudicial language about women in the church. Love that once removed our discriminatory words about people of color. Love that continues to speak the truth to us, to all of us, whether or not we think alike - Jews and Gentiles; men and women; all ages, nations, and races; all sexual orientations and gender identities; believers and doubters; poor and rich; Bishops and laity; hopers and dreamers. Love that has the power and purpose to bring us together as God’s beloved people.
“For this is the reason that I have come to this time,” Jesus cries out to us from the Gospel of John to this Passover feast; to this place; to this Cross; to the humiliation, diminishment, and suffering he will soon bear on our behalf through the streets of Jerusalem and beyond. And for this reason Jesus has come to this time so that everyone who seeks him will find him where they are, and that no one, ever again, will have to wait for the Love of God to come to them. You see, now is the time, from this day forward to the Cross and Resurrection, when we shall all be changed (1 Cor. 15:51, RSV).
1 See “The Nurturing Community,” The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.
Music Ministry Mission Statement
The music ministry of Belmont United Methodist Church strives to glorify God through music in all gatherings and presentations.
The music programs at Belmont offer opportunity for:
- Spiritual Growth
- Participation in ministry
- Stewardship of gifts and talents
All choirs are voluntary, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate, regardless of experience. All participants strive for excellence, dignity, reverence and integrity in all musical endeavors.
383-0832 ext. 29, or click on these links:
Upcoming music events
February 15 - Nashville Children’s Choir concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary
March 1 - Reginald Smith Jr and Deron Johnson in concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary
April 13 - Lipscomb University choir/orchestra concert, 7:30 p.m. in the sanctuary
April 26 - Sanctuary Choir concert, 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary
Belmont UMC's Pipe Organ Specs