Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2024

Jesus said,  “Now is the judgment of this world.  Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached to you about the cleansing of the Temple.  That Sunday, our lesson from the Old Testament was about the giving of the Ten Commandments.  I chose to focus on the first commandment:  “I am the LORD thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me.”

 “God is calling us (I said) to cleanse the Temple of our hearts, so that the Spirit of love might find a home there.  God is calling us to drive out the false gods that demand our obedience–to make a place that belongs to God alone.”  In particular, this means driving out “every obstacle to loving other people–just like Jesus does, so that God might come among us and reign.”

That sermon was about driving out false gods.  This one is about what to put in their place.  It is about the one God of all reality, who alone is worthy of our worship and our obedience.  Our God is the liberator God of the Exodus, who brings enslaved people into freedom.  Our God is Jesus Christ, who shares God’s love with us sinners–who suffered and died and rose again, to break the power of death.

We sum this up in the proper preface for the Eucharist during Holy Week.  In it, we confess that, “for our sins [Jesus] was lifted high upon the cross, that he might draw the whole world to himself; and, by his suffering and death, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in him (eternal salvation for all who put their trust in him).”

Today’s Gospel is a turning point in the story of Jesus.  The twelfth chapter of John is a transition between the two major parts of that Gospel.  Following Raymond Brown’s commentary, the first is often called the Book of Signs.  In the first eleven chapters, up to and including the raising of Lazarus, Jesus reveals himself by miraculous signs and lengthy sermons.  The second part is called the Book of Glory.  As we enter Holy Week and the Great Fifty Days of Easter, we are moving from mysterious signs to the full reality of God’s great love for us.  We are approaching the stark, naked, and sobering reality of the Cross.

For some time now, we’ve been hearing about the hour of Jesus.  From the wedding at Cana onward, Jesus has been saying that his hour has “not yet come.”  But now his hour is here.  Now is the hour, when he will be lifted up to draw all people to himself.  And so, some Greeks come to Philip.  “Sir (they say), we wish to see Jesus.”  

These strangers and foreigners are a sign of God’s mission to all people, everywhere.  That’s why Jesus starts to talk about the grain of wheat that must fall to the earth and die.  He is that grain.  And we, his followers–people from every language, tribe, race, and nation–we are the fruit. 

By his dying and his rising again, Jesus creates God’s new humanity.  By his great love for us sinners, he tears down the walls that divide us.  He brings us together in a single human family.

The death of Jesus on the Cross sums up his whole  life lived for other people.  He is the one who draws all people and all nations to himself.  He is the “source of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in him.”

And, though it may seem strange to say it (here in the Bible belt, where so many of our neighbors claim to love and follow Jesus) here at Trinity we are right in the middle of a mission field.  The people all around us (and all of us who are already here) need to turn more completely to JESUS.  We need a deeper conversion to his ways. When we lift him up, as we certainly will next week, it is not just for other people, but for ourselves.  We need to turn our lives over to him.

For there are many, many people in this community who need Jesus but haven’t found him yet.  And there are many, many people who love Jesus but have given up on his Church.  We need to turn more fully to Jesus, who gave his life for us all.

So many of us today, both inside and outside the churches, are disconnected, disoriented, disillusioned, and afraid.  So many of us, both inside and outside the churches, continue to give our hearts to the fractious and warring powers that pander to our fears.  Whenever possible, the enemy of our human nature tries to turn us away from the God of love.  

No wonder we long for connection with other people–but don’t know where to find it.  No wonder we’ve come to fear the very neighbors God gives us to love.  Today, we long for love and acceptance.  We long for meaning, purpose, and spiritual growth.  We need God’s grace and forgiveness.  We need a word of hope, a fresh start, and a new and better way to live.

We need something.  We need someone.  In a word, we need Jesus.  And it is our job (all of us, all the baptized, for all our many flaws) to show Jesus to the world.  God is calling us to share Jesus with other people, just as freely as we received him.  (Just as freely as he gave his life for the whole world.)  As the old saying goes, evangelism is one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.  

Dearly beloved, the living God has called and commanded us to fish for people in his Name.  To love our neighbors, including our enemies, for his sake.  To serve all people, especially the “least of these.”  For that is how we show Jesus in all his glory—in his boundless love for the world.