• Rev. Drew Stockstill

Drawn Together

John 12:20-33

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Many years ago, when I was in college, I often went on retreats to the small mountain town of Montreat, North Carolina, outside of Asheville. Montreat is home to a Presbyterian conference center, and many a retired pastor and missionary. It was also home to the retired, world renowned Baptist evangelist, Billy Graham. Billy Graham had been a spiritual advisor to every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He held religious revivals all over the world drawing crowds of tens of thousands, and inspired the conversion of millions of Christians. He was at that time living a quiet life in Montreat with his wife, out of the public eye.

Billy Graham and his wife Ruth. Billy Graham Evang. Assn.

On a walk one morning, some friends and I decided we’d like to pay Billy Graham a visit. No matter the fact that he was one of the most famous people in the world. We figured, if we could find his house, knock on the door and introduce ourselves, surely, he’d have us in for a glass of tea and some conversation. We managed to locate his driveway. It was long, windy and at least a quarter of a mile from the road to the house. We thought it odd no one had stopped us yet. I knocked on the door. I was not expecting Billy Graham to answer. And he did not. It was not Billy Graham’s house, incidentally. It was Philip’s house. Philip worked for Billy Graham who, it turned out, lived a good way further down that long drive way. I said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Billy Graham.” Philip politely explained that would not be happening. So, we talked with Philip about Billy Graham, which was nice.

John tells us in the fourth gospel that one day some Greeks were looking for Jesus while he was in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. They did not find Jesus, but they did find Philip. He was a follower of Jesus, a disciple. They asked him, ever so politely, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” In the timeline of John’s gospel, this happens after Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. So that means that this is the last week of Jesus’ life. He had already been speaking about his death and now that they were in the holy city, swollen in size with the crowds which had gathered for the festival, it makes sense that Jesus was not as easy to access as he had been at other points. His life was at risk. Philip seemed to have been acting as a bouncer. So, when some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, they could not just go to his house, knock on the door, and have Jesus invite them in for tea. Instead they met Philip.

Philip, for his part, found the fact that some Greeks wanted to see Jesus to be a bit odd. So, he didn’t take them to see Jesus, and instead he consulted with another disciple, Andrew. Andrew must have also thought this to be fishy, so they decided they should go straight to the boss. Philip and Andrew went to tell Jesus, some Greeks wanted to see him.

The Greeks were in town for the festival, which means they practiced some form of Judaism, but they were not ethnically Jewish, they were Greeks. They represented the Gentiles, those outside the ancestry of Abraham and Sarah. They were outsiders. In hearing these two people wanted to see Jesus the disciples did not say, “How wonderful, you wish to see Jesus. Please, follow me, right this way, the teacher will be thrilled to meet you.” Instead they acted as gate keepers. “Please wait here, while I see if this is authorized.” Caution and fear are the disciples first instinct, not joyful hospitality.

Caution and fear are very in right now, especially around racial and ethnic differences. Folks are wary of each other. When someone unexpected shows up sometimes they are welcomed with open arms, but often they are met with caution and concern. “Are you supposed to be here? I’ve never seen you in the neighborhood before. Can I see your ID?” There are so many ways we can other our fellow humans. The vast diversity of humankind is often cause for concern, or obsession, or discrimination, rather than celebration, appreciation, joyful hospitality.

Some Greeks showed up hoping, wishing, to see Jesus, the son of God, the savior of ALL creation. And yet, Jesus’ closest followers needed to consult, needed to check and see, wondered if this is OK. Perhaps, Philip and Andrew thought how out of place some Greeks would be in their mission if Jesus invited them to stay. They worship so differently, they eat and talk differently, and can they really be trusted? Wouldn’t they be more comfortable with those more like them? What if they start trying to change the way we do things? What if they bring their music into our worship? What if our prayers and way of doing things don’t make sense to them? What if Jesus expects us to change our tradition to make room for theirs. It’s great they want to see Jesus, but heck, this is a slippery slope.

That’s the way folks often think about their neighborhoods when a new family moves in. It’s the way churches often discuss multiculturalism in the congregation: welcoming as long as you don’t expect us to change our ways, as long as you conform. This way of thinking shapes the way countries form their immigration and refugee policies. The doors are rarely open with joyful hospitality, but with layers of security, gate keepers, private consultation. Perhaps Philip and Andrew hoped if they kept them waiting at the border of Jesus’ presence long enough the Greeks would just give up and go home.

The presence of some Greeks at the gate of the Kingdom of God triggered concern among the followers of Jesus. But when Jesus heard some Greeks were there to see him, it triggered something very different. “Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” The news of the Greeks at the gate triggered Jesus to be glorified. Jesus’ answer to Philip and Andrew’s cautious news is: “The Greeks are here! Great! That’s who I’ve been waiting for! Now we can get this party started! The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified!” Where the disciples felt concern, Jesus saw glory.

Back in the second chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus was at a wedding with his disciples and his mom. The wine ran out and his mom asked him to do something about it. Jesus responded then, saying, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” But 10 chapters later, now that the Greeks are here, the hour has come. Just before the Greeks arrived, Jesus had been out among a growing crowd. The Pharisees who witnessed all these people coming to meet Jesus said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” But that was not yet true, for it was when the Greeks showed up, representing the vast diversity of creation, that truly the world had gone after him. See, in order for Jesus to be truly glorified, in order for Jesus to move ahead in his mission, it had to be clear that this was a mission not just to those like himself, not just to those like his disciples, not just for Israel, but his was a mission of love for ALL people.

Jesus meets our fear and concern of the vast differences that exist among us, with a clear announcement that it is precisely the inclusion of those differences that advances his mission.

And what is that mission? Well, he is headed to the cross, he is headed to his death. Jesus tells his disciples, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” It is for the sake of all people that Jesus exists, for the salvation of ALL people that he faced death.

Photo by Ellen Stockstill.

Scattered around our house on the window sills and side tables and counter tops are containers and pots and old plastic tubs once filled with salad greens, now filled with soil. Ellen Stockstill has started seeds for the spring garden. Pressed into these containers of soil are many different types of seeds. Right now, if I fished around in the soil and dug out the seeds they would look like seeds: small, dry, hard shells. But soon green shoots will emerge from that seed, and it will start to change. Roots will push out of the seed into the soil and before long, that seed will be gone. It will have given all its substance toward the production of the plant. What was once recognizable as a seed will have died in order that flowers, and corn, and beans fill our garden in the months to come.

Jesus tells the disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He is speaking about himself. For soon he will die. But in dying Jesus gives his life so that a beautiful new life can grow. Beloved, we are that growth. The church of Jesus Christ emerges out of the earth, with a life given to us by Jesus, the seed. For the Greeks to come to see Jesus means that now a church that is not bound to one people, or one time, or one culture, or one way of being, is ready to sprout.

Apse Mosaic - Basilica of Cosmas and Damien, 537, Rome,

Philip and Andrew came with concern, “Jesus, some Greeks are here to see you.” And their news signals a transformation that is coming. Things will change, they must change, they must grow, they must spread, they must become inclusive, to become the flourishing garden of Creation God always wanted us to be.

Philip and Andrew were perhaps worried that everything they cherished was about to change, nothing would be the same again, but Jesus put his hands on Philip’s shoulder, and on ours as we look toward an unknowable future, and Jesus says, “Child, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people, and all things, to myself.” He said this to indicated the kind of death he was to die, and to acknowledge that, yes, these things too will pass, and change, and die, but what new life will spring forth, and is sprouting even now, is good and very good. So, let us welcome the kingdom of God, and ALL people, not with caution, and suspicion, but with joyful hospitality.

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