Yeah, but…


Following on the heels of John 3:16, we have another popular verse this week.  Last week, it was, arguably, the most oft-cited verse, this week, the most popular pulpit inscription.  Like John 3:16, John 12:21b is often ripped out of context and jammed into whatever usage the preacher might need, but I guess that’s a bit of how it works in the larger story anyway.

From the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry, we have skipped ahead to the last.  Whether this is the second or third Passover that Jesus has spent with his disciples is open for debate, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  The end is nigh, and Jesus knows it.  As the crowds begin to swell in Jerusalem for the festival, Jews and Proselytes from all over the known world are there to celebrate the Feast in hopeful expectation of what God might do this year; how God might save the Jewish people from their bondage-in-place at the hands of Rome.  The must have been a buzz in the city as people from all over shared stories of one particularly brazen Rabbi who was performing miracles and teaching with a conviction with which they had not known.

Word spread far and wide, until even Greek converts began to seek out Jesus.  A group of them approached one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  What follows is one of the most puzzling non sequitur responses that Jesus gives, and he was pro-level at the random reply.  Here, he doesn’t even begin to engage the request that Philip and Andrew make on behalf of the Greeks, but rather goes down a rabbit hole that the time has been fulfilled.  It is dangerous to mix Gospels, especially the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and John, but if the timelines are close, then this is likely the day Jesus turned the Temple a second time.  Things are tense, to be sure, and so, we can forgive Jesus’ somewhat odd response.  Except, that there are still some Greeks who are out there hoping to see Jesus.

I imagine Andrew and Philip standing there, listening to Jesus, thinking, “Yeah, but…”  They had heard him talk like this before, but it hadn’t stopped him from proclaiming his message of repentance and salvation.  This time, though, it seems different.  This time, Jesus seems to be of a one-track mind.  The Greeks will see him, but not in the way they had hoped.  Instead, they will soon see him glorified, lifted high into the air on his cross, with arms outstretched, as the savior of the world.  This is more than a pulpit inscription, but rather, the Greeks name what will be the desire of all nations one day.  That we might see Jesus in his glory, welcoming us into his arms of love and the reach of his saving embrace.

the cross

If I had the time this week, I think I would have preached the 1st Corinthians lesson for Sunday.  We’ve got a good crew of Lutherans who worship with us on Sunday mornings and I feel like a good sermon on Luther’s Theology of the Cross would be perfect for Lent 3, Year B.

I say “if I had time,” because that sort of sermon doesn’t happen very quickly.  It starts out as an exegesis paper, then it develops into a systematic theology and then, somewhere about 5am on Sunday, a sermon is born.  I just don’t have that in me this week.

But I do want to spend sometime today thinking about that opening line, chapter 1, verse 18.

“The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

What strikes me is the tense of the two verbs.

  • Are perishing – verb participle present middle or passive dative masculine plural
  • are being saved – verb participle present passive dative masculine plural

Both are ongoing.  One, those who are perishing, are doing it of their own volition.  The other, those who are being saved, are being helped by some outside force.  It would be easy to just draw a line of those who are in and those who are out, but Paul doesn’t allow us to do that here.  Instead, the situation is very fluid.  Some who were being saved might now be perishing.  Some who were perishing, are in this moment being saved.  And some, maybe most, possible all find both within themselves at any given moment (think Mark 9:24, the man whose son the disciples have failed to save, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”)

The cross very much is foolishness, or to borrow from last week, the cross is shameful.

But the cross is also the power of God, or to borrow from John, the Temple will be rebuilt.

Thanks be to God, I don’t have to figure it all out; faith like a child is all that is required.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.