"Jesus Christ, Superstar!": Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

"Jesus Christ, Superstar!": Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Mar 18, 2018

Passage:John 12:20-33

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Lent

Keywords: discipleship, faithfulness, grace, lent, practices


We hear in John's Gospel about two Greeks that want to see Jesus at the Passover festival in Jerusalem, clearly because his fame has now spread. This sermon meditates on the question: how do we seek Jesus? Do we come as if we are looking for a famous celebrity to fulfill our needs? Or do we more fully enter into a relationship with God through Christ?


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the Gospel from John we hear today, we encounter Jesus and some of his disciples in Jerusalem. They have arrived for the Passover festival. But also looming in this story is what we know is coming soon: the betrayal and the cross.

We can imagine this Roman-occupied city of Jerusalem. It's a crossroads city. Along with Jesus and the disciples there in the early first century, people from many cultures come to trade and worship and pass through. But at this time of the festival of the Passover, Jerusalem is something truly amazing to behold. It's something special. Faithful Jews from all over Palestine have made their way to the city. But that's not all... Curious Gentiles—merchants, traders, administrators, intellectuals, and others—they have also flocked to Jerusalem as well to be a part of the festival atmosphere.

Jerusalem's dusty streets are packed with people and animals... and ...noise and ..smells and ...sights ...and sounds ...and chaos.

The Roman guard is there too...watching...alert...anxious...ready for action....

It's into this setting, we heard in today’s reading, that “two Greeks went up to worship at the festival.” These were people from elsewhere. But obviously, they had heard about Jesus. His fame had spread far and wide. They wanted to see him. So what do they do? They find Philip, from Bethsaida, a Greek-speaking town, and ask him if they can see Jesus. He gets Andrew and they go to Jesus on behalf of these Greeks. What happens next is unexpected. Jesus does not say, “Any friend of yours, Philip, is a friend of mine! Bring them here so we can meet and have a good time!”

Instead, Jesus launches into a rather shocking discourse about it being the time for the Son of Man to be glorified. He then gives a cryptic metaphor about seeds dying and bearing fruit. He talks about loving your life and losing it or hating your life in this world and keeping life eternally. And he goes on to even more astonishing conclusions.

I always have a good time trying to imagine what the conversation looked like when Philip went back to Greeks later that day. I figure it went something like this:

 Greeks: “Oh, hey Philip! So, what did Jesus say? Are we in? When do we get to come see him?"

Philip: “Well, it’s kind of complicated.”

Greeks: “I’m sure it's complicated. We’ve heard so many amazing things about Jesus. I mean we heard that with his words he can command the lame to walk. We even heard a story about him feeding five thousand people with just a few loaves and two fish.”

Philip: “Yeah, I was there for that one.”

Greeks: “You were? That's so cool! So when do we meet him?"

Philip: "Well, about that..."

Greeks: "What exactly did Jesus say when you talked to him about us?"

Philip: “Well… you’ve got to understand that Jesus doesn't talk like you and me. …so… well…what he said was…  The Son of Man is going to be glorified. He also said something about a grain of wheat falls, dies, then bears fruit... stuff like that.”

Greeks: “So, in other words, we aren't going to see him?"

Philip: “Yeah, now’s probably not the right time.”

The situation of these Greeks makes me think about something that happened when I was in high school.

I was on the football team. We were not the worst team in the district, nor were we the best. But the most exciting thing that happened related to football had nothing to do with our playing.

One day in school, rumors started to circulate that some famous professional football players were coming to our school. And particularly, we members of the football team were convinced that we were going to just hang out with them... become friends with them... get invited to be part of their inner circle... whatever!

So how did this rumor get started? It turns out that one of the girls in my senior class was the sister a Houston Oiler cheerleader--the "Derrick Dolls." This "Derrick Doll" was, in fact,  dating one of the Houston Oilers. So, she did invite her boyfriend and a couple of the other star Oilers to come to our high school for a pep rally.

The Pep Rally came, and sure enough, there they were! I don't remember all of the Oiler players there, but two of them standing there in our high school gym were Earl Campbell and Carl Roaches. I loved these guys! They were awesome. And, rumor had it, that as soon as the pep rally was over, they were going to hang out with us football guys and talk football! This was going to be the greatest day!

Each of the Oiler players spoke about working hard and playing hard and studying or something like that. All the while I listened, I kept thinking about how "I'm about to hang out with Earl the Pearl"!

When the pep rally ended, the football team headed to the locker room, as we figured the rest of the student body went back to classes. Of course, we thought, this was our time to just chill out with the Oilers.

But instead, they called us back into the gym where Earl Campbell and the rest were seated at a long table. We were to line up and file past them and hand them anything we wanted signed. This was not about hanging out. It was about autographs. They were signing for everyone in the school...the football team just got to go first.

As it turned out, I DID have my senior yearbook in my bag with me.

The up side is that I've got all these Houston Oilers' autographs in my senior yearbook... Earl Campbell wrote "Peace and Love... Earl Campbell."  

But it was not the intimate brush with fame I had thought it would be.

In some ways I think I felt a little bit like those Greeks might have felt when they wanted to hang out with Jesus.

Now I want to be clear. I'm NOT comparing Jesus to Earl Campbell.

What I AM saying is that we have to look at what we expect as we approach Jesus.

When Philip told Jesus about the Greeks, Jesus' response was that this is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified. And we hear that when Jesus said: “Father, glorify your name," a voice came from heaven, saying "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." Jesus also foretells of his being lifted from the earth. Most importantly, he says that when that happens, “I will draw all people to myself.” Jesus is talking about fulfilling God’s covenant of redeeming the whole of creation!

So that day when Philip and Andrew show up to tell Jesus—right in the middle of the Passover Festival—that some Greeks want to come get a look at him. They want to see the spectacle. They are interested in seeing the celebrity. They want to hang out with the famous person. They want the brush with fame. Jesus answers them, ultimately, by going to the cross.

This is the question for us today. As we continue on our Lenten journeys: how do we approach Jesus? Are we looking to Jesus simply as miracle worker? Are we seeing Jesus only in light of his mighty deeds of power? Do we call on the name of Jesus as if we are seeking an audience with a celebrity?

Or, do we understand that through our baptism...

through our spiritual practices...

through our love of neighbor...

through our participation in Holy Eucharist...

 through our gathering together as the faithful...

 ...we—like the seed—have died and have grown into the Body of Christ to bear much fruit. 

It's through these practices that we grow in the knowledge of the love of God. And, as the redeemed Body of Christ, we take that love into all the world.