A (Not So) Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pulpit
2009-03-26 by Paul Janssen
This blogger is soliciting stories, advice, etc. re: a situation that arose with this week's sermon.
As I developed thoughts about this week's text, I began leaning toward the necessity to pray for God to be God rather than for God to "save me." (I don't imagine Jesus was talking about being saved in the way we talk about being saved. He must have been thinking about rescue)
I don't usually exercise tight coordination with my music director. I figure that people come with a variety of needs, and if where they're aching isn't where I'm rubbing, they're going to walk out with no relief. So a bit of broad spectrum usually suits. Besides, my music director's insights are generally spot-on when it comes to choosing anthems. Only one other time, when I was preaching on "Faith without works is dead" did we have a real clinker -- he chose a solo entitled "Faith, Only Faith."
This week, as I prepare to say that there's a prayer we ought to pray prior to "rescue me," the music director picked an anthem that repeats "save us", over and over again. He has graciously (if not happily) agreed to change the anthem to a tried and true one that fits better.
Have you hit this situation before? Any stories to tell?
Our Guest Blogger and Glorification vs. Salvation
2009-03-25 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Paul for his extensive blog entries. He provides a helpful list of sermonic images and themes from the gospel, as well as stimulating, even a bit unsettling (in a good way), thoughts about one putting aside one's salvation for the sake of glorifying God. Such is the case with Jesus in John; he does not ask the Father to save him from this hour but for that which glorifies God.
I recall that simple but complex petition from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done."
On another note, I won't be giving a traditional sermon this Sunday. Instead, I will do a two-part monologue in wihch I will pretend to be Peter. I will recall my experiences with Jesus; then, on Passion Sunday, I will focus on Christ's suffering. My hope is that this monologue will help people to hear anew the Passion.
Nevertheless, I savor our guest blogger's thoughts and invite others to contribute, for I am
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Praying for Salvation or Glorification?
2009-03-25 by Paul Janssen
After a few days' rumination, I'm feeling tugged in the direction of what I called earlier the soul-conversation. Nearly everyone can identify with "Now is my soul troubled". Our quick response to the troubled soul is "Save me!" We're uncomfortable; we want to move away from that uncomfortable place. But now may not be the time to pray "save me." Maybe there's a prayer that takes priority.
So here's now the story goes. In John's version of the story, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. The crowd cries "Hosanna!" In English, "Save now!" (They had heard of Jesus raising Lazarus and wanted a little life-after-death action for themselves.)
Some Greeks come to Jesus. Word gets to him. Now, at long last, Jesus says "The hour has come." Remember, he'd said before that the hour had NOT come. Well, now it's come. The hour of glorification.
But glorification entails losing life; falling into the earth and dying.
Jesus speaks: "Now my soul is troubled." (Well, yeah, a teenager might say.) But here's the kicker: We'd pray "save me!" Jesus says, "And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name."
The prayer for God's glorification takes priority over Jesus' desire to be relieved from a troubled soul.
There's an old saw about examinations for ordination in the Reformed tradition. In the course of interrogation about predestination (in whatever form), the interrogator would ask "would you be eternally damned if it served the glory of God?" The "right" answer, of course, was "yes." Soli deo gloria. Only God is to be glorified.
Popular culture offers up the line from "Man of La Mancha." "To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause...." Is this what Jesus is after?
Is it what we're after? If God is to be glorified in my hour of trial ("In the Hour of Trial" is hard to find in contemporary hymnbooks), what does that mean for my desire for relief? Is a prayer for salvation a me- directed prayer?
Next week is the time to sing and shout "Hosanna." Later, the time comes to pray "save me." First, though, the prayer is -- "Glorify thy name."
Another way to put it: In times of turmoil, maybe the trusting prayer isn't so much "God, take care of me, because I know you can." Maybe it's "God, be God, because I know you're good."
Just some thoughts as the week progresses toward writing. Who knows where the wind will blow next?
Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2009-03-22 by David Howell
The Reverend Paul G. Janssen who has served as the Pastor and Teacher of Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge, New Jersey, since 1991. Aside from the 'meat and potatoes' of pastoral work, he has represented the RCA in several national and international ecumenical ventures. He has also written numerous hymns and anthems for congregational use, and served as Coordinator of Worship for the RCA from 2004-2007. See his first post below.
Four Motifs from the Gospel Reading for Lent V
2009-03-22 by Paul Janssen
Fourteen verses from any book in the Bible offer ample themes and texts for preaching. The lens of my limited imagination clarifies no less than 12 possible directions; I can hardly guess how many may be discerned by a more creative mind than mine. I will not comment much on any of these, but insofar as this site is intended to raise up possible images that preachers may find useful in their own situations, here is my own list.
1. The Gentiles’ statement “We wish to see Jesus.”
2. “The hour has come.”
3. The theme of glorification
4. The parable of the grain and bearing fruit
5. An expansive use fruit-bearing with the tree dream from Dan. 4:12 and the tree with healing leaves of Rev. 22:2
6. The parable of loving and hating one’s life
7. The matrix of serving and following
8. The passion of the troubled soul
9. The purpose of Jesus’ incarnation
10. The thundering voice of God
11. The casting out of the ruler of this world
12. Drawing all people to myself
In order to provide more useful insight into the passage, I will focus on four directions that may plant seeds into the minds of fellow homileticians.
First, regarding “the hour has come.”
Several times previously in the gospel of John, either Jesus demurs when provoked, saying “the hour has not yet come” (2: 4; 7: 6 and 8); or the gospel writer uses the expression as a device (7:30, 8:20). Apparently the notion of “the hour” is significant in the evangelist’s imagination. What, precisely, is the hour? The expression could be interpreted as narrowly as the (literal) hour of the death of Jesus, as broadly as all of the events surrounding his passion and resurrection (and ascension, by some interpreters), or anywhere in-between. In any case, it appears to refer to the climactic events of the last Passover Jesus spent in Jerusalem. And what, for John, is the sum and content of those events? The gospel of John speaks consistently that the hour is an hour of “glorification.” (Indeed, some commentators argue that v. 23 leads directly to vv. 27-28.) What, then, is the nature of glorification? Raymond Brown’s magisterial work on John finds two elements in the Hebrew scriptures’ portrayal of glory: “it is a visible manifestation of [God’s] majesty in acts of power. While God is invisible, from time to time He manifests Himself to men by a striking action, and this is His kabod or glory.” (Brown, Anchor Commentary #29, p. 503.) Thus Psalm 29 is probably the most dramatic picture of the glory of God descending on the people of God. Here in John 12, the drama is clearly headed toward Calvary and beyond. The ironies become enticing at this point. The crucifixion was an intentionally visible, public act of the Roman government, not God. The Father, as the story goes, becomes somewhat invisible (Jesus’ last words from the cross in John do not even speak to the Father.) On the other side, the resurrection of Jesus is God’s most striking act of God’s power in all of the Scriptures. Yet the resurrection itself is nowhere described. God does indeed glorify God’s own self in the three days, but not in the least in the way one would expect. God’s version of glory and our version of glory do not coincide.
Second, the parables of grain and life. As for the grain, at issue is not whether the grain rots in the storage bin or is planted. The issue is whether the grain remains alone or bears fruit. The grain may bear fruit, but only if it both falls into the earth and dies. The emphasis seems to be on the dying. For Jesus, there is no shortcut to eternal life (not, I would contend, life that goes on for an infinity of days, but life that is lived fully in the presence of God who is beyond time). Thus, while the grain imagery is not at all prominent in the synoptic gospels, the tone of finding life through dying is similar to the familiar sayings of saving and destroying one’s life. The parables (or sayings, if you like) of grain and life belong together. They are stark indeed, and uncompromising. If dying is the non-negotiable means of bearing fruit (unless!), so hating one’s life is the gateway for keeping that life. Luke and Matthew bear witness to Jesus’ use of such apparently harsh choices (Luke 14:26; Mt. 10:37). The sayings re-confirm the matrix of the readings from Lent 4: the way to restoration is by looking at the super-snake lifted up; the way to eternal life is through relationship with the one lifted up on the cross. One does not enhance one’s life by consuming one self-help book after another. The individual-focused therapeutic self-help model by its very nature feeds the heart turned in upon itself. Yet can a preacher imagine entitling a sermon “Your Best Death Now?”
Third, what I’ll call the soul-conversation between Jesus and the Father. (I make no attempt to alter the text, although I recognize that father language is problematic for many.) It comes on rather abruptly; so much so that it is hard to tell whether Jesus is speaking directly to his followers or whether he is simply thinking out loud. (The abruptness bolsters the sense that this entire passage is composed of several strands of earlier narratives.) This is not exactly the same as the Gethsemane moment, but the echoes are clear. At the very least, Jesus ponders the possibility of crying out that he be saved from the momentous “hour” that he senses coming. His soul is troubled, stirred up like troubled water. Perhaps we have here an echo of Psalm 42:5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” In any case, the evangelist reports a voice coming from heaven, a voice that sounds like either thunder or an angel. Which smells like “glory” – a public manifestation of a mighty act (see above). Curiously, this is the first time that John reports a voice of this type. The gospel reports no such occurrence during Jesus’ baptism, and it includes no narrative of Transfiguration. If first words are as important as last words, then one may take this story as a signal to the meaning of the entire gospel: “I have glorified it [my name], and I will glorify it again.] Not much that’s warm and fuzzy here; no ‘beloved son’ or ‘well pleased’ language. The saying is clearly about God’s glorification of God’s own name. It’s about God’s will being done.
This, then, leads to the last of four motifs: “the judgment of this world.” What is all of this drama of the hour and glorification meant to accomplish? What will be accomplished in the coming death, resurrection, and ascension is the casting out of the ruler of this world. One may rely on one’s own understanding regarding precisely what is being referred to here: Satan, the tempter, the force(s) of evil, the powers and principalities, death. However one construes that power that runs counter to the purposes of God, it is clear enough that what is going on in this drama is the removal of any authority of that power over not only those who look to Jesus and believe, but the removal of any authority at all from evil or the evil one. Many westerners will argue that the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ is found in the notion of substitutionary atonement. I have no interest in arguing against that construal of the three days; however, that is not what is being portrayed in John 12:31. What we encounter here is far closer to the Christus Victor model. Jesus proclaims that the showdown is coming; it is reaching high noon (is this “the hour”?), and the Power Who Is will at last discharge the powers that be from their temporary thrones. There will, in the end, be nothing that can separate the beloved from the love of God as manifested in the One who is victorious over the powers.
The season of Lent grows long, and one is tempted to rush headlong toward Easter. Clearly this passage makes way for such a premature “Alleluia.” Perhaps it is better to simply hint at what’s coming, to offer up, as Bruce Cockburn put it, “rumors of glory”; rumors of God’s glory, planted deep, dying, poking its head through the surface of the soil.
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