5th Sunday in Lent
March 25, 2012
John 12: 20-33, and Jeremiah 31:31-34
“As the deer longs for the water, so my soul longs after you. You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you.” These words we’ve been singing for weeks now come from Psalm 42. Not only is it a beautiful tune, it’s a beautiful image. That sense of longing for God….that feeling that God alone is the source of the deep life we crave. Why else are we here week after week after week?
In our reading this morning, we have some Greeks who want to see Jesus. Isn’t that why we all come? But you can hear that Jesus has something else on his mind than theological questioning and conversation. The hour has come, he says, for his glorification.
John, our Gospel writer this morning, sees Jesus’ death and his resurrection as his glorification. It is the time when he will have fulfilled his mission. It will be the time when God’s name and purpose are made clear. Jesus makes it clear that he does not relish the death that’s coming – “my soul is troubled,” he says. But he also is certain that this will be his finest hour, and bring glory to the God who has sent him for this purpose. John does not see Jesus as a victim, as a ransom, or as some sort of exchange for our lives. John sees Jesus as powerful, able and willing to go forward with commitment for the beginning of a new era and a new life for all.
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself,” he states. His work is to draw all people by the magnet of his cross. What is about to happen is not what the world expected or still expects of its savior. It is an act of God, God’s greatest gift. Through the cross, the ultimate sign of the world’s rejection, Jesus is embracing the world, making the cross the sign of God’s great love for the world.
As I have asked people why they come to church, especially people who have not been for a long time, they tell me that they wanted to add this to their lives. Sometimes they say that they felt as if something was missing, sometimes they say they’d been meaning to come for a long time. What we hear this morning is that God has always been at work seeking us, drawing us. C.S. Lewis testifies that as far back as he could remember, he had a desire for God, a desire that nothing in his successful, interesting life seemed to fill. In his book, Surprised by Joy, he says that he came to realize that all the while he was searching for God, that God was pursuing him. His desire for God was a reflection of God’s desire for him.
St Augustine, says in his famous Confessions, that there is an empty place in each of us – a God-sized hole, that only God can fill. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Augustine’s book begins with I. “I searched, I read, I wanted”…. it ends with You. “You came, you touched me, you spoke.” I’ve come to listen to the words of many contemporary worship songs in this light. So many of them are about I. I want to know you, I want to be near you, I want to love you. So few of them are about You, about what God has done, and how God is at work in us and in the world.
I think this longing of God to be with us is what the prophet Jeremiah is talking about. He says that God will no longer come through the words of the prophets, or the written law, but will be with each one of us, personally. That God’s will for us will be written on our hearts. And what we will know is about our forgiveness, our restoration through God’s love.
This is all God’s idea, you know. Where’s the glory in the cross. It is the glory of a God who is determined to have us, who will stop at nothing, even a gory death to draw us to himself. God came to a rag-tag bunch of nomads, to create a people. God lead them and walked with them, even though they broke and abused every promise, and turned against the divine covenant at every turn. In his being lifted up, Jesus moves ever closer to us, into the very heart of our human violence, our cruelty and our hatred. So remember this, as we stand on the very threshold of the story of Calvary: God so desires us and our love, that God will do anything to get us, even death on a cross. And that cross is the magnet that draws us out of our self-absorption into God’s great love and peace. William Willimon says that your life can best be explained as some long story of God’s unquenchable desire for you. Every step you take, even the ones that you thought you were taking away from God, are, in the great providential mystery of God’s love, made into steps toward your Creator.
And so you have been drawn into God’s great love. You have been given new life and new purpose as God’s people. And all because God dreamed of you as God’s own from the beginning of time. And God gave everything to have you. How will you respond to God’s deep desire for you? How will you live that new life that is guaranteed in the glory God won for you in Jesus death and resurrection?
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.