Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“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.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 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.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I have been reading the autobiography of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recently. It is filled with his most powerful speeches and actions but also shares the intimacy and emotions of the movement. He talks about all the people who have made this movement happen, not just himself, and often says that if he wasn’t there someone else would’ve stepped up. He praises the people of Chicago and LA as well as Birmingham and Montgomery as he travels the states encouraging and supporting all the local movements of nonviolent resistance to gain housing, jobs, integration, and more funding for schools and healthcare. However from the earliest moments of his public work he had been inundated with death threats and assasination attempts.
He said “As far as the repeated attacks on me and my family, I must say that here again God gives one the strength to adjust to such acts of violence. None of these attacks came as a total surprise to me, because I counted the cost early in the struggle.”
King did not want to die. He was not actively seeking his death, but he knew that by pursuing justice for all and by challenging the white dominated systems that the response would be violence. He experienced it first hand, both legally and extralegally, through numerous bombings and beatings and jailings.
When Jesus was approached by these curious Greeks, he was contemplating his own ministry and the threats from the powers of violence. He knew that disciples who followed him would be put in harm’s way, not because they were seeking after it, but because working for life and love is a dangerous proposition.
By flipping the tables in the temple and casting out the money changers, Jesus upset the status quo, a status quo that lifted up the rich and oppressed the poor. By eating with sex workers and tax collectors, Jesus upset the status quo, a status quo that looked down on certain people and kept them away from so called polite company. By feeding the hungry, Jesus upset the status quo, in that moment he challenged his disciples to be feeding the masses which would take away from the economy of those in power. Jesus enacted love. And this love could not be tamed. It would continue to cross the social boundaries over the years and it would continue to upset the economic situations of the oppressors and it would continue to go into jails and announce freedom. And this love embodied on earth was too much for us to handle and was murdered.
We all came to church today and in the past because we have been curious like those Greek fellows. We are curious because this Jesus person does not fit into any of the boxes our world’s wisdom offers. Just when we think we have the lines drawn for who is in and who is out, we see Jesus crossing that line and loving the despised.
We are curious so we come and we sing and pray and we study. And Jesus meets us here and asks us to follow. This following is not guaranteed to be safe. It does not mean that we will be loved by the oppressive systems or that we will make a lot of money. It is a risky business to follow Jesus.
But Jesus also offers promise in following him. He says that following him will lead to new life when it seems there was only death. It will lead to freedom for the oppressed when it seems like the systems of war and capitalism are crushing us. Jesus promises us that violence and oppression and death, even though they may seem to be winning, will not have the final word.
This last summer I had the privilege to join in the first ever black lead protest in Kelso, WA in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The mere insistence that black lives should be treated equally brought out the hatred. We were confronted with dozens of people brandishing guns and yelling at us. And while the police were over shaking these peoples hands and taking selfies, we chanted for an end to the violent systems of racism in America. Working for equality for all has long been a dangerous endeavor as experienced by Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr and one that I witnessed in Kelso last summer.
But these movements are not controlled by death or violence, they do not end with a murder or assasination or threat. Instead they plant seeds in our world that sprout up in justice and love and community. Jesus’ death brought about resurrection and hope for all oppressed people to have a God on their side. Martin Luther King’s assassination led our country to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1968. And our small gathering in Kelso last year planted the seeds that led to forcing ICE out of our county juvenile detention center this Spring.
Following Jesus will lead us to life but is also risky. MLK said it best in a sermon just two months before he was killed. He said sometimes he thinks about his death and wonders what people would say about him. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.” ( “The Drum Major Instinct,” sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, February 4, 1968, in A Knock at Midnight, pp. 184-186.)
Friends, let us follow our Lord of love and life planting seeds of justice and love wherever that path might lead us!