Unexpected


Note:  Sometimes I have filled in as guest speaker at my church.  On Friday, I was asked to fill in at the last minute.  The service had already been established and a reflection was offered for me to read.  But this unexpected request got me thinking and the result is below:

 Scripture: John 12:20-33 

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” 

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up[a] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

 Reflection:   Standing here this morning is unexpected. I wasn’t supposed to be here today.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  I was supposed to be here.  It is after all a Sunday morning.  I schedule the layreaders and I scheduled myself for today. So I was supposed to be here.  But I wasn’t supposed to be HERE, giving this sermon.  Yet here I am.  Life and Christianity often has a way of throwing unexpected things our way.

It may seem strange to see me standing here on the last Sunday before Holy Week.  Yes, next Sunday is Palm Sunday! Do you remember last Palm Sunday?  There was no waving of palms; there was no choir singing Hosanna.  There was no Maundy Thursday supper service; there was no quiet noontime Good Friday service. It was strange last year not to be able to worship in person during Holy week. 

Looking back it seems like everything that we have come to expect has changed.  For example, how we express our love for one another has changed.  Because we love each other we DON’T hug; maybe we bump elbows. We certainly wouldn’t shake a friend’s hand.  Because we care for one another we wear masks; which often hide our expressions. We recognize our responsibility to care for ourselves and our neighbors by sitting apart from each other; by holding meetings virtually and by NOT singing.   It seems like everything we have learned is now backwards.  What we need to do now in order to care for one another; how we act to show God’s love, is a contradiction to everything we have done before.  What we once expected is no more.  The norm is no longer normal.

This should not come as a surprise.  Much of what Jesus taught and did was contrary to what had gone before.  What the world expected in a Messiah was certainly not what we got.  He is the King of Kings, yet he did not come to us in princely robes; he was born in a humble manager because there was no room for his family at the inn. Though we do not know much about his childhood, we know that grew up not in a palace, but as the son of a carpenter. That when his family went to the temple for Passover when he was twelve, he ran off.  Perhaps that is not unusual for a youth, but where they found him is.  “After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2: 43-47)

 As a man, his ministry was not one of condemnation but of compassion.  His friends were not nobles or religious leaders, but “regular” folk and those who might be considered unsavory characters.  He did things that were not “proper” and skirt outside tradition and Jewish law.   As it says in Mark 2: 13-17:  “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus does not do what is considered the “norm” of the times.  His words and actions are unexpected.

We all know the parable of the good Samaritan, but what if we didn’t?  A Jewish man is attacked and left for dead on the side of the road.  A priest comes by.  Wouldn’t we expect the priest to help him?  But he doesn’t.  A judge comes by.  He too ignores the wounded man.  Instead it is a Samaritan, someone who would be considered the lowest of classes, who shows compassion.  It is the one person who we might expect NOT to help that IS the one who does.  In his story, Jesus specifically has this unexpected person be the one who really SAW the man and acted with care and compassion.

Jesus’ ministry is filled with what seems to be contradictory to established law.  A ministry that brings us to today’s scripture lesson. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  It seems a contradiction.   How can death produce abundance?  Yet it does.  A seed is just a seed until it is planted.  It is nothing.  But when it is planted and nurtured it can produce many flowers or many pieces of fruit.   Out of one tiny seed, so much can bloom.

Jesus was that seed.  He chose death; for without the pain of death there can be no resurrection.

We are seeds also.  And we also have the choice that Jesus offers us.  We can opt for a life where we are nothing but a seed.  Where we do not plant ourselves in the soil that is the world.  That we do not allow ourselves to be nurtured by the word of God; nor do we nurture others. Or we can plant ourselves in the soil that is the teachings of Jesus and allow ourselves to be nurtured by the word of God.  We can take the guidance and discipline that have been given to us and follow them.  Just as Jesus came in the form of a servant, we can serve and in serving others we can spread the word and the joy that comes  to us from Christ. We know that: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” In doing so we blossom and grow.  In doing so we become more than just a seed and we are promised the life beyond the earthly realm.

The choice is ours.  To follow in Christ’s footsteps and walk with him down the path of service,   or not. To remain a single seed or allow ourselves to grow.  Which will you choose?


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