This Voice Has Come for Your Sake, Not for Mine, Lent 5 – March 18, 2018

Episcopal Sermon Lent

[RCL]: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Some foreigners, outsiders, show up for the festival. They say, “We wish to see Jesus.” Philip runs to Andrew and presumably says something along the lines of, “Hey, there are all these foreigners who want to see Jesus! What should we do?”

Andrew obviously has no answers. Who wants foreigners around at a time like this?! So, they run off to Jesus to tell him the foreigners are at the gates looking for him. Jesus says, in effect, if you want to see me, really, really see me, then stick around. You’ll have to deal with my death at the hands of Rome to really, really see me. Are they ready for that? Are you ready for that? To which we might add, are we ready for that?

Then obviously there was some noise. Some thought it was thunder, so it must have been loud. Some thought it looked as if Jesus was talking to someone, but there was no one there. Must be angels, some surmise. It was that voice from heaven. The same voice he heard at his baptism that said, “You are my beloved. I am well pleased with you.” The same voice from the cloud on the mountaintop with Peter, James, John, and Jesus that said, “This is my beloved, listen to him.” Are we listening yet?

Now when Jesus says, “Father, glorify thy name,” the voice returns and says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Or was it thunder? Is he talking to angels? Has he simply lost it and started talking to himself? Should we even think of letting the foreigners see him like this?

While everyone is trying to figure out what is happening, Jesus announces, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.” Which I would take to mean: for our sake, not his.

This voice that keeps coming around is for us, not for Jesus, which makes perfect sense. He knows the voice. The voice knows him. He has always heard the voice. He comes to get us to listen to the voice.

Surely, we must wonder why we do not hear the voice like Jesus does more often? Or at all! Would it surprise us to learn that to this very day, 90% of the peoples of the world regularly hear such voices? That modern Westerners are the minority, the anomaly, as those people who do not regularly access this kind of communication with God and spirits? The question is quite naturally, why not us? And most people say we are too busy to be listening, or think we are too sophisticated to hear voices, or think you have to be crazy or mentally ill to hear such voices. Someone has suggested that maybe it is because we are too grown up. Someone else has pointed out that most other cultures do not make such a big thing out of growing up. And isn’t it Jesus, after all, who says we are to come to the kingdom like children?

And couldn’t it be that we don’t want to hear anything about having to watch him die, watch him be executed, the victim of state-sanctioned capital punishment? Dress it up as being like a grain of wheat, call it what you may, but that is what it is: state-sanctioned public execution. In all the debate on capital punishment, how often are we asked to reflect upon what it might mean that the One who calls us into a relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the victim of state-sanctioned capital punishment?

All we know is that he says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”

This voice that says, “You are my beloved. I am well pleased with you. I have glorified my name and I will glorify it again.” We are left feeling that for God’s name to be glorified, we need to be listening to God’s voice and learn how to become part of the glorifying process.

Holy Week and all it portends may be dark and scary. But it is not nearly as frightening as the prospect that for others to see Jesus, we might need to be part of the glorifying process. In Sunday School, we rarely hear anything about this voice and its being for us. Seminaries typically do not offer a lot of training on how to listen for this voice Jesus says is for us.

The creeds do not appear to discuss it. The catechism does not seem to discuss it. Yet, there it is. “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” Seems as if we’d best get listening to hear what this voice says; nothing less than the future of the whole world is at stake, he goes on to say.

The problem is that those of us who, like the foreigners, want to see Jesus are the very people to whom others come expecting to see Jesus. In us. In what we say and what we do. In his book By Grace Transformed, the late Gordon Cosby of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., discusses just how it is that others “hear the voice” and come to see Jesus. Gordon puts it this way:

“Every single one of us is significant to somebody else. The people to whom we are significant will catch this thing from us if they know that we are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, absolutely devoted and loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ. But the trouble is that in those moments we think of as off moments, others decide whether or not we are truly committed. The times a person says, ‘I must talk to you,’ or when we are weeding the garden. Or, working in an office. Grading a road. Nailing on a molding or painting a room. Cooking a meal. Speaking to a child. These are the times and places where the other person decides who we really are. There can be no ‘off moments’ for Christians if our faith and its vitality are to be contagious.”

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. The beginning of Holy Week, the most important week in the Christian year. We must all make time to come and serve him, follow him, be with him wherever he may be. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter are all times we need to come and be with him. “Follow me,” he says.

And we need to listen for the Voice. The Voice that is for our sake, not for his. The Voice speaks to us so that we might know how beloved we are. So that we might know how well pleased God is with us. Once we hear this voice and believe it, others will see Jesus, in all that we say and all that we do. Amen.

Written by the Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek. Ordained in the Diocese of Chicago in 1983, I served as a parish priest in the dioceses of Chicago, Connecticut and Maryland. After nearly 18 years as rector of St. Peter’s in Ellicott City, MD, I spent six years as Chaplain and teacher at St. Timothy’s School for Girls, an Episcopal and international boarding and day-school in Stevenson, MD. In the mid-1980’s I was trained to work as a Stewardship Consultant through the Office of Stewardship at the Episcopal Church Center. I also helped to lead retreats for the Ministry of Money, a ministry of the Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC. Recently retired from full-time parish ministry, I do Interim and Supply work throughout the Diocese of Maryland. I also continue a lifetime as a drummer in various rock and jazz bands, currently playing with On The Bus, a Grateful Dead tribute band centered in the greater DC Metro region. I also use guitar and write music to supplement worship and the preaching event. Some of these songs can be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/user/SoundsDivine1. My sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com, and I have been writing for Sermons that Work for as long as I can remember! Feel free to contact me at kkub@aol.com.

Download the sermon for Lent 5 (B).

A second chance, a clean heart, 5 Lent (B) – 2015

March 22, 2015

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

In today’s psalm we prayed, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

In Milwaukee, St. Luke’s Hospital is renowned for its cardiac care. Next door, there is a church that has a large lighted cross that can be seen by patients. Over the years, the church has received many letters from patients, saying they receive hope when they see the cross, especially lighted at night. The cross seems to have special meaning to many of the patients in the cardiac care unit, whose windows look out toward the lighted cross. Some of the people staying in that unit await heart transplants, and while they wait, day after day, sometimes month after month, they take comfort in the cross. The cross means for them new life, just like the chance for a new heart means a new chance at life, a second chance.

In today’s psalm, the writer tells of his desire for a second chance, a clean heart, a renewed spirit. Tradition ascribes this psalm to King David and says he composed it after he is confronted by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery and then using his power to have a man killed to cover the king’s own wrongdoing. The writer of the psalm feels the weight of his sins keenly. He feels his sin as a disconnection from God. The image he uses to express his longing for reconnection, for restoration of right relationship with God, is his heart’s need for cleansing. Sin has soiled his heart, and so he cries out, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

What would we do with a clean heart, a renewed heart, a second chance?

In our Old Testament lesson, God says through the prophet Jeremiah that God will write God’s law on the people’s hearts and forgive their sins. In a passage from the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 11:19, God promises an even more radical surgery: “I will give them a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within them. I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

What would we do with a clean heart, a new heart, a second chance?

In Anne Tyler’s novel “Saint Maybe,” a character named Ian bears a terrible burden of guilt. He has too carelessly spoken words to his brother, expressing his unfounded idea that his brother’s wife is cheating on him. Ian’s careless speech, born of anger against his brother and sister-in-law, leads to their deaths, the leaving behind of their three children, and an aching pain in Ian that he bears part of the responsibility for how things turned out. He longs to be set free from his burden, to experience true forgiveness. Ian finds his way to a church where the minister tells him that he needs to take care of the three orphaned children. In taking on the raising of the children, Ian realizes that any forgiveness worth having needs to be linked to a change of life. The problem for Ian is that he sees forgiveness as something he must earn. He leads an upright life, but he cuts himself off from others, becomes distant from people, including himself. He wonders why, with all the good works he’s been doing, all the “atoning and atoning,” it still feels like God hasn’t forgiven him. He’s been busy trying to earn his forgiveness, and it’s not working. He lives in such a way as to avoid making mistakes. One of the children teases him, calling him, “King Careful. Mr. Look-Both-Ways. Saint Maybe.”

Ian feels he has a second chance, but he also feels he has to be very cautious. Since he thinks forgiveness depends upon himself, his own ability to make things right, he can only live in a closed and cut-off way, a way that prevents him from experiencing the fullness of life, from taking risks for the sake of love. He has become a man, in a very narrow sense, of upright behavior. He has even taken a job as a cabinet maker, taking refuge in inanimate objects so he doesn’t have to deal with people, not risking hurting or being hurt.

What we hear in our gospel lesson is that, in Jesus, we know someone who not only knows our sins, but who does something about them. When we meet him in today’s lesson, Jesus is on his way to the cross. And he gives this promise: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Sin is what separates us from God, others, ourselves and our world. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he will set in motion the reconciliation of all people, the forgiveness of all people, the drawing of all people to himself. It is a picture of reconciliation or of the healing of broken relationships, with God, with others, with our own selves. It’s not about giving us a chance to earn our forgiveness. Since our hearts need cleansing, God is going to do it. And through Jesus Christ, we can have a clean heart that can love again. For a second chance, and a third, and a fourth.

So the question is not, “What would you do with a second chance?” but rather, “What will you do with a chance to start over again, and another, and another?”

In giving us new life, Jesus also gives us a way to respond, a pattern of life: his own. And it is not about living in a cautious and closed-off way. Jesus’ way of life is a life of taking risks, of reaching out to others, of serving the poor, of working for justice, of being reconciled with others, of being like grains of wheat that multiply if they are willing to give up the certainty of being seeds for the adventure of growth and new life and the spreading of blessings.

What will you do with your clean heart, your chance to start over again?

Eventually, in “Saint Maybe,” Ian starts to discover God’s grace in the ordinary details of his life. He begins to be opened to the possibility of risk, of relationship, of healing. He discovers that the three children are not a burden – they are what give his life “color, energy, and well, life.” He falls in love and marries a woman, and together they plan for the arrival of their new baby. He uses his carpentry skills to build a cradle of fine wood for the baby. And in this effort, done in response to love, Ian discovers something new, and he takes a risk. In all his woodworking until now:

“he had worked with straight lines. He had deliberately stayed away from bow-backed chairs and benches that require eye judgment, personal opinion. Now he was surprised at how these two shallow U shapes satisfied his palm. . . . He took special pride in the cradle’s nearly seamless joints which would expand and contract in harmony and continue to stay tight through a hundred steamy summers and parched winters.”

Ian realizes through being forgiven and forgiving, through being given a clean heart and a second chance, and a third and a fourth, the importance of vulnerability, the importance of taking risks, the importance of relationship, his own ability to participate in love and new life and hope.

The response to being forgiven, to being given a clean heart, a new heart, and more chances than we can count, is not bed rest and caution, but a new exercise program, a program patterned after the life of Christ, walking in his way, following where he leads, being willing to spend it all, like he did for us, to take a risk, to give up the certainty of being a seed for the adventure of new life, new growth, new possibilities.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is the associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis, Md.

The Hour Has Come for the Son of Man to Be Glorified, 5 Lent (B) – 2012

March 25, 2012

(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33)

In today’s gospel reading we gain a glimpse of Jesus reacting with two of his disciples. Philip and Andrew came to tell him that some Greeks had arrived asking to see him. As he so often did, Jesus answered indirectly. He didn’t say, “Send them away” or “Sure let them come in.” Instead, he took the moment to teach – to lay out a reality that his followers needed to understand. It was as if Jesus were saying, “Oh, they want to see me, do they? Okay, I will let them see what I am all about. I will let them know what God is doing.”

His reply to Phillip and Andrew indicated his readiness for what would be his final days and the climatic encounter between the ways of the world and the way of God. He said that it was time for him to reveal what all humankind would see about him and his role in the divine drama. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

This must have elated and excited his disciples and the Greeks, if they heard him, because they surely thought that by being “glorified” Jesus meant he would make all things well. Having recently experienced Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, perhaps they thought he would work even greater wonders and bring an end to their difficulties in life. Or, maybe, they were thinking about one of the traditional expectations of how the Messiah would restore Israel – by a glorious military victory. Maybe they thought he meant it was time for him to prevail over all the world’s kingdoms, whose leaders would cower before his conquering feet.

Any such euphoria, however, would have been short-lived. It was a different kind of wonder that would be revealed, a different kind of conquest that Jesus had in mind – the conquest of the cross. Jesus immediately began to lay out the hard truth of what lay ahead. In a similar way, as we worship one week away from Palm Sunday, our gospel reading lets us see what lies ahead for us in making the Holy Week journey.

Jesus used a parable to explain how not only Greeks but everyone would see him. “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.” A seed, by itself, is only a small piece of matter. If eaten, it provides a little bit of nourishment. If left in the blazing sun, it can dry up and lose its value. If sealed in a jar, it can remain viable for centuries. But even then, it is only potentially powerful. But if it is buried and dies beyond its present condition, it can release all that is contained within – the very nature and substance of a whole stalk of ripened wheat.

His own death and resurrection would be the vehicle through which not only his disciples and curious Greeks, but all humankind, could see Jesus – truly see what he was all about. It was by dying that the power of God contained in Jesus would be fully released. By “glorified,” Jesus meant crucified. Jesus was saying that only by his death could true life come. Just as a grain of wheat, remaining unfruitful in the protective security of a barn, can only release its power by being buried and dying to what it has been.

Making sure there would be no mistaking the stark reality of what he meant, Jesus added this amplification to the parable: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” So, what was true for Jesus, he said, was also true for his followers. Those who would truly see him would know that only by their deaths to the values of the world could they gain true life. The Christian reality is that only in dying to self can the power of God be embraced and released. Jesus laid out this model not just for the disciples to see but also to emulate. He said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

Often in the course of human experiences – those of past centuries as well as current times – this truth has proved itself out. When concerned and committed people are prepared to die for their cause, much can be achieved. It was by the deaths of the courageous faithful that Christianity first grew. This is summed up in a well-known phrase by Tertullian, a Christian writer in the first century: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Often, people become of real use to God by burying their own goals and desires. Think about the saints. Think about your personal heroes. Aren’t they the ones who put aside personal safety and security for the sake of others? Haven’t they abandoned selfish gain and the advancement of personal need to meet the needs of others? Whenever the world gains spiritual health, it often owes such a condition to those who spend their strength and give themselves away to God and to others.

In today’s gospel, Jesus lets us see an initial view of him as the prototype – the perfect example – of the kind of risk-filled living that love of God requires. The world teaches that we will live longer and prosper more if we watch out for ourselves, if we are careful and avoid risk, if we remain in our homes safe and secure. Jesus teaches that by so doing, we may life longer or in greater comfort, but we will not live as well. He helps us see that real living – genuine, meaningful living – involves much more.

Only by spending our lives, he says, can we keep our true lives. Jesus calls us into a “give-it-away” faith. He calls us into a realm not of our ordinary world, but into one that stands in sharp contrast – the world of God. Jesus calls us beyond the common, selfish goals of false security. He calls us to see him – to see his vision – a new view of life, a life of meaning and of glory.

Unlike his fellow Jews, Jesus viewed glory not as the acquisition of power or the ability to control their own destiny after centuries of foreign rule, but he looked at glory as the ability to serve others for a greater purpose. In the encounter in today’s gospel, he taught that only dying to self can bring forth the kind of redeemed life God has in store for us; only by spending life can we retain it. Only in this context can we do what the Greeks hoped to do – see Jesus for what he is for the world. Only in the context of dying to self and living in God can we see the essential Jesus. Only in this way can we see him for what he really is – the living image of God.

As we move rapidly toward Holy Week, we would do well to come as the Greeks before the Lord – asking to see Jesus – to discover what he is all about. As we witness the ultimate example that he provides, we can follow him into a life of true meaning and become transformed by what we see.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

We, too, need to see Jesus, 5 Lent (B) – 2009

March 29, 2009

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Phillips Brooks, author of “O little town of Bethlehem,” and briefly Bishop of Massachusetts, was also responsible for one of the masterpieces of American nineteenth-century church architecture: Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square. Brooks played a very direct role in Trinity’s design. However, there is one feature of Brooks’ design that is visible only to those who preach in Trinity church. Brooks had these words carved on the inside of Trinity’s pulpit: “Sir, we would see Jesus.”

They are, of course, the words that “some Greeks” spoke to Philip when both they and Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. The Greeks were more than likely non-Jews who were fascinated by Judaism’s antiquity and its profound ethical teaching. They were known as “God-fearers,” and they were numerous in the first century. Many of these “God-fearers” would have converted to Judaism had it not been for the requirement of circumcision. Along with Jesus and his disciples, the “God-fearers” were on their way to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. But Jesus was also on his way to suffer, die on the cross, and be raised again.

When Philip reported to Jesus that the Greeks had asked to see him, Jesus exclaimed, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” This is a major turning point in John’s gospel. Scholars tell us that John is divided into the “book of signs” and the “book of glory.” In the “book of signs” (the first part of John) Jesus performs seven miracles that John refers to as signs. They begin when Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana and culminate with Jesus’ greatest miracle: raising Lazarus from the dead. Throughout the “book of signs” Jesus makes enigmatic references to his “hour” or “time” and says that it has not yet come. When his mother tells him that the revelers at the wedding feast have run out of wine, he says, “My hour has not yet come.” In John 7:8, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths because his “time has not yet fully come.”

But when the Greeks asked to see Jesus, he knew that the hour had come for him to be glorified. As Jesus amplifies his enigmatic comment about the hour of his glorification having come, we realize that Jesus’ idea of glory and our idea of glory are radically different. For Jesus, to be glorified was to embrace the cross, the epitome of suffering:

“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. … 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. … And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Because non-Jews such as the Greeks were seeking to meet Jesus, he knew that his mission was no longer restricted to Israel but had become universal. It was time for him to be lifted up – that is, crucified – so that all people could be drawn to him.

For us glory is about having more: more money, more prestige, more power. For Jesus, glory was about giving more, and he demonstrates this throughout John’s gospel, but nowhere more vividly than in the final chapters. Jesus gives himself to his friends by washing their feet. Then he gives himself to the world by dying on the cross.

It is the completion of the great arc of self-emptying that began with the opening verses of John. The cosmic Word by which God spoke creation into being descends from on high and is clothed with flesh, “and we beheld his glory.” The Word Incarnate heals the sick, feeds the multitude, raises the dead, and finally completes his task by dying on the cross, and only then resumes the glory that is rightfully his.

“Sir, we would see Jesus.” Phillips Brooks knew that everyone who steps into a pulpit and presumes to preach the gospel needs to think about those words, because the great temptation of preaching is to give our hearers something other than Jesus. “We would see Jesus,” our listeners plead, and we give them our learning, comments on the day’s news, a witty joke or two, but too often there is little of Jesus in our preaching.

But it is not only preachers who do this. All around us are people who want to see Jesus. Do they see him in us? Do they see the Servant-Lord who washed the feet of his friends? Do they see the prophet who cleansed the Temple? Do they see the healer who made the blind to see? If we are to let people see Jesus in us, then we must go ourselves and sit at his feet, let him heal us, feed upon his body broken for us, and above all stand at the cross and wonder as the Word that spoke out of the void lapses into silence and death.

A few years ago, a rabbi at a large Reform synagogue published an editorial in the local newspaper on Christmas Day. He said, “I like Christmas, and I like Christians. My only problem with both is that they need more Jesus.”

Precisely. Sometimes those who are outside the circle of the church can see and name our problems far better than we can. We all need a lot more Jesus. It’s not only a problem for preachers; it’s a problem for every one of us who are called by the name of Christian.

“Sir, we would see Jesus,” the Greeks said to Philip. We, too, need to see Jesus, so that when others want to see Jesus, they can see him in us. As the old spiritual puts it:

In the morning when I rise,
Give me Jesus.
When I am alone,
Give me Jesus.
When I come to die,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all the world,
But give me Jesus.

— The Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, Ph.D., has led congregations in Alabama, California, and Pennsylvania. He has preached at Harvard, Oxford, and the Chautauqua Institution, and more than fifty of his sermons have been published. He is a member of the history faculty at the University of Alabama and is rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

We must follow him, 5 Lent (B) – 2006

April 2, 2006

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-13; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Today we continue to draw closer to the week of the Passion of Jesus. Our scripture lessons focus on the passion he experiences as he moves toward the trial before Pontius Pilate, the cross, and the Resurrection.

We talk a great deal about compassion. Jesus was the most compassionate person God ever put on the face of this earth. Jesus set the example of the grace of God in ministry through his compassionate love for all peoples. Compassion is the sorrow one feels for the suffering of another.

But what is passion? The first thing Webster’s dictionary says about passion is “the suffering and death of Christ.” It is a passive condition, as opposed to action. It is an emotion of the mind. Sometimes we become so passionate about a situation in our lives that it brings us to a level of intensity that can run the gamut from ardent love to great anger. Passion can be good or bad!

There seems to be a great paradox in Jesus’ response to the Gentiles who came and asked to see Jesus. After Andrew and Phillip went to Jesus and told him these folks from Galilee wanted to see him, Jesus responded, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Who ever serves me, the Father will honor.” We are never told that Jesus personally talked with those who were seeking him.

Jesus was reflecting on the passion he would face in the immediate future. Jesus’ plea in the Garden of Gethsemane was, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me.” We need to be reminded that on three previous occasions in John’s gospel there is reference to Jesus’ hour. At Cana, Jesus said to his Mother, “My hour has not yet come.” Later in Jerusalem, “They tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.” Finally, in the temple, “No one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.” Here, Jesus cries out, “My soul is troubled, Father, save me from this hour.” He answers himself with a resounding, “No! It is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

The turning point for Jesus was the raising of Lazurus. This was why the Greeks were coming to see Jesus. Yet the raising of Lazurus hardened the Pharisees. This is the moment when the words from Isaiah shout out to the world, “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.”

Jesus knows what lies ahead. It is his passion. He must do what his Father has called him to do: He is to be slain, but at the hour of the cross he will be lifted up, he will be exalted, he will be glorified, he will give himself for the life of the world. It will be the moment when all of God’s children will be gathered together to receive salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s beloved Son.

Jesus’ obedience to the Father is the glorification of God. God’s response through the angel, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” is judgement on the world, for Christ’s death means the overthrow of Satan. This passion of Jesus – to be obedient, to serve, to do the will of his Father – was the driving force in his life. Jesus knew that before victory must come defeat. He knew that glory brought with it isolation and shame. He knew that before the throne there would be the cup. He knew that before the light of Easter morn, there must be the darkness of a desolate Friday noon. He knew that before his ascension into heaven there must be a descent into hell.

Remember, on Palm Sunday when the people shout “Hosanna,” he will already be in agony, knowing what lies ahead. Remember, on the side of the Mount of Olives, Jesus wept, no doubt from his agony. All of these emotions are wrapped up in the passion he carried for each of us. He died to lift those burdens.

So what are we to do? We must follow him. Sacrifice explains Jesus’ life. God will honor the person who imitates Christ by having the passion to serve others, just as he has the passion to meet your needs and mine. We must experience the service ministry to which each of us is called. My ministry may differ from yours. That’s as it should be. We each have been gifted with special ministries. It would be sad if all of us were the same. God made each of us unique for many reasons. Among those reasons is the ability to meet the needs of relationships, of healing, and understanding. We must develop a passion to use our gifts as an extension of Jesus’ ministry.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus first asks to be delivered from the necessity of dying, but immediately submits his will to God. Jesus’ sacrifice is deepened by the readiness with which he submitted to it. Jesus’ final answer in his crisis of the spirit is when he prays that his Father glorify his name. Jesus wholeheartedly accepts his Father’s will: no if, ands, or buts! The reality is that there is no other way but the way of the cross!

The final paradox is when Jesus tells the crowd – in a very positive way – that when he is lifted up from the earth, he will draw all to himself. The death of Christ is part of the glorious realization of God’s plan. It is part of the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross drawing all humans to himself. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ universal salvation for the sins of the world.

The Gentiles wanted only to see this man Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus has drawn people from all parts of the world to see and believe in him.

There is the story of the little boy who wanted so much to be like his grandfather that he knelt down at the side of his bed before going to sleep and prayed, “God make me like Poppa so I can be kind to everybody.”

In childlike faith, we need the passion of Jesus that will guide us to experience God’s love in Christ more fully, to be drawn to Christ, and to serve and follow him through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we will know the passion of Jesus’ love.

— Harry Denman is a lay communicant of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He has been an active Episcopalian for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Emma, live in an independent retirement community.