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To Please God
by Pastor PJ

Once upon a time, it is told, during the course of Classical Examinations, every candidate was asked: "Would you be willing to be damned to hell for all eternity for the sake of the glory of God?"

I guess I can understand the point the interlocutor was trying to make, but for the life of me, I can hardly think of any question that could give rise to a greater sense of pride on the answerer's part. Of course, the right answer was "Yes." Well, then, how much more full of oneself could a person get than to willingly accept unending condemnation for God's sake? And, considering that the bulk of the respondents were youngish white men, what did they know of hell anyway?

For the sake of the glory of God. We serve in our various ministries for the sake of the glory of God. Whether your current form of service feels like hell for all eternity, I leave up to you. But that we serve, not our own interests, nor even the short-term pastoral interests of our people, that we are called and serve for the praise of God's glory, I think we can all agree.

Serving God's glory includes the incorporation of the cross. "'For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.' . . . 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.'"

To this hour, said Jesus. To the hour of suffering, the hour of the cross. The Father glorifies his name in the hour of the cross. The glory of God. . . for us the phrase refers not simply to the preexisting Word, or the post-resurrection Lord. The glory of God includes the hour of the cross.

Our service for God's glory includes the hour of the cross. Are we not "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus?" Are we not "always being given up to death for Jesus' sake?"

This is dangerous territory. It is tempting ground; for we could just as easily take up the apostle Paul's mantle for the sake of pride as we would for the praise of God's glory. "See what great sacrifices I have made. . . " Well, I've never actually heard anyone say that, but I've seen it acted out rather often, haven't you? In the mirror, for example.

The good news that the glory of God includes the hour of the cross has really nothing to do with the sense that you would suffer such an hour for God, but that God has gone there for you.

After all, no one records Jesus saying "Glorify me;" at least, he never said such a thing to the disciples, or to us. The Synoptic gospels agree that our first agenda is not to glorify Jesus, but to turn around; turn around, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Turn from the illusion that a particular set of mandates in your personal conscience, or even ecclesiastical conscience, contains all the wisdom that the church needs. Turn from the illusion that a single hermeneutical approach can fully interpret Scriptures and history. Turn from the illusion that you are willing to be lifted up to draw women and men to yourself.

Turn around and face the cross. Turn around and see there the Word become flesh and dwelling among you. And within you. Turn around and see there the glory as of the only Son from the Father.

Who will get glory?
John 12:20-33
Jim Hill from B.C.

If you listed all the awards that are handed out every year, the list would probably stretch from here to California. The Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Tony Awards, the Juno Awards, the Gemini Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, and countless others. There are Magazine of the Year Awards, Best News Program awards, Man of the Year Awards, and Show Dog Awards. Almost every sport has its awards, and almost every team has its most valuable player awards. In literature, there's the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, and of course, the Nobel Prize. There's the National Book Award, the Edgar Award, the Silver Dagger Award, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Stoker Award, and the countless others. Chambers of Commerce have their awards, businesses have their awards, schools have their awards, even kindergartens and nurseries have awards. There's probably a sermon of the year award, or a pastor of the year award, although I've never heard of it (and probably never will!).

Some of these awards are for merit and accomplishment, but most of them are for publicity and fame and glory. Recognition is fine. In fact, everything in this world is fine. St. Paul said "all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful." It seems to me that most of the award-giving and the ceremonies surrounding them, are primarily for the sake of the glory-seekers and the hero-worshipers, for the sake of those who want to be adored, and for their adulators.

Jesus wants none of that! When the Hellenists wanted to see him, this sage whose fame had spread throughout Palestine, Jesus didn't even bother to talk to them. They were like groupies after a rock star, going through the "buffers" that all famous people need. They talked to Philip and Philip talked to Andrew and they both went and talked to Jesus, as if they were arranging an audience with the pope!

Jesus reply, in essence, is: "You interested in glory, and being close to a hero, a famous person who HAS glory? Yes, indeed. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.' But it will be through total self-sacrifice and death. You want to join me in that?"

This was Jesus' off-putting reply. 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."

Strong words! But Jesus is fighting his own temptation to glorify himself. He doesn't need autograph-seekers and a Greek fan club to make it even harder for him. These fans are merely reminding him of all that he has to GIVE UP, as he heads towards crucifixion and death in Jerusalem. And so, after rebuffing them, he says, "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 then he prays, "Father, glorify your name." Not mine; 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.'"

Who will get glory? The Father, the Creator God, the King of the Universe, who alone deserves all worship and praise and glory. The voice from heaven said, "I have glorified [my name], and I will glorify it again." Jesus said, "This voice was for YOUR sake, so you know where glory belongs. I will be the means FOR GOD to get glory, who is judging the world and driving out the ruler of this world." "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.'"

In saying, "when I am lifted up," Jesus is referring to both his crucifixion AND his resurrection. So he's saying, "Glory will be where glory belongs, when I'm back together with the Father, and we are again ONE. In fact, I will draw all people to myself, which means that they will also be one, with each other and with us, even as I and the Father are one." This is a recurring theme throughout the book of John.

So after this hard part is over, Jesus says, in classic understatement, there'll be no need for glory-seeking, because we'll ALL have ALL the glory, that we all WANT and NEED."

The desire for glory is simply a desire to be loved. And through Christ, we ALREADY HAVE all the love that we will ever need.

Jesus knew that he had ALL the Father's love, even though he was self- separated; and so he was free, to lay aside all glory, all recognition, all credit and all praise. He was free to be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; to be stricken, smitten and afflicted, and go like a sheep to its shearers, silent and submissive and totally willing. As St. Paul said, "He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave... humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death."

What a perfect example for us! What a hero for us to emulate! We can lose everything, even our life and breath. We can give ourselves away almost as we hated life (to use Jesus' metaphor), because we have it for eternal life. It's guaranteed by love and forgiveness of God. It's as sure as grain of wheat, that goes into the ground and dies. God will make it sprout, and bear much fruit.

Fumbling in the Dark
John 12:20-36
John Nadasi,

In every age men and women have stood at the foot of the cross attempting to understand the meaning of what happened there, and why anyone would ever volunteer for such a horrible death.

One leading New Testament scholar recently wrote an article saying that there are at least fourteen different theological perspectives of the cross presented in scripture.

It would seem that the cross is so vast in its meaning And extraordinary in its calling, that one perspective cannot simply capture its meaning.

However, there is at least one consistency. Whoever you are, and whatever your beliefs, the cross is impossible to ignore.

In this weeks lectionary text, We find Jesus explaining to the disciples the cross that awaits him And why he must go.

He, afterall, had his own way of doing things. Jesus put the truth very strongly at times, And in this week’s readings, he stated that those who love their lives will lose them, but those who hate their lives in this world will save them, and keep them unto eternal life.

He gets your attention, doesn’t he? This certainly is a belief that we do not see very often in our modern world. How many people do you know that live this out? I would imagine this perspective was as different in Jesus’ time As it would be in our own.

Why is it that Jesus’ perspective is so different than ours? We all see the world so differently. When walking in the forest the lumberjack sees trees that are ripe for harvesting, the carpenter sees the different kinds of wood for different kinds of furniture and buildings,

the hunter sees the places in which animals might hide when the season is open, and the farmer sees fertile land that could benefit from clearing.

We all have our own unique perspective in which we see the world. And Jesus, Jesus had a unique perspective on the world that none of us Could ever hope to have. Jesus was the Son of God.

And in his perspective, Jesus saw and lived out the Kingdom of God in everything he said and did. And, he followed this vision to the cross that awaited him. He not only followed it out of a sense of destiny, But he followed it out of love and a conviction that He was doing God’s will.

Hmm. How many of us would follow him there? Would you? How many of us would follow Jesus all the way to the cross?

Jesus came among us to rescue and reclaim lost souls, to set us free from the power of sin and death by returning us to God's love, God's law, God's power.

And Jesus did this, at great cost to himself. As he said to a man who thought to follow him "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head".

Jesus renounced everything for the sake of bringing life to those around him: his family - his home, - and finally, his very life he lay down so that others might live, so that others might know the face of God.

Who here would follow him? Who would be willing to leave everything that they have and give Their own life that others would know God?

How is it that Jesus retreated from the comfort Of power, wealth, and prestige to instead become a servant?

I was reading an article recently on the emptiness of wealth. Did this come from a religious magazine, pastor’s sermon, or homiletics book? No. Actually, it is an investor’s report written by a stockbroker, Dr. Paul Farrell, from CBS MarketWatch to be exact.

“In a recent column we asked: "Why Are Investors So Cranky?" Emails poured in.

The bottom line was unanimous. America's so-called new wealth equation is not working. The wealth equation claims that economic prosperity, an increase in the number of American millionaires, from 8 million in 2000 to 50 million in 2020, will actually increase our level of happiness and ethical behavior.

But reality is that the bull market is not making investors happier Getting rich makes Americans more fearful and anxious. Prosperity is not increasing our ethical behavior In short, more wealth is just making us crankier

He continues with… In fact, it turns out that, paradoxically, there may actually be an inverse relationship between money and happiness.

The wealthier, the richer, the more money you got, the crankier you get.

He goes on to make the following observations…

"Everywhere, by all means imaginable, people are striving to improve their lives. Yet strangely, my impression is that those living in materially developed countries, for all their industry, are in some ways less satisfied, are less happy, and to some extent suffer more than those in the least developed countries.

"Indeed, if we compare the rich with the poor, it often seems that those with nothing are, in fact, the least anxious, although they are plagued with physical pains and suffering. "The rich "are so caught up in the idea of acquiring still more that they make no room for anything else in their lives [so] they actually lose the dream of happiness."

Brilliant! Folks, this is an extraordinarily well written, articulate, and thought out article By a man who has most likely never missed a meal in his life.

But, it does offer to us something this morning. It does offer us a confirmation to what Jesus taught, And it offers us a new perspective on what is important and what is not.

No, I personally do not believe there is anything good about poverty, Nor do I believe it is right to glorify not being able to meet your family’s needs.

However, there is a message in this article that proves to me, Beyond any doubt, that the wealth, power, and prestige we want will never Bring us the happiness that we desire in life.

Oh, it might solve some of your problems, But then, it is guaranteed to create new sufferings of its own.

Suffering is inevitable. It is the price of being human.

Carl Jung, a God fearing psychologist, offered another insight to this human tendency.

As the world around us gets more prosperous, reducing real suffering, paradoxically, we naturally seek ways to replace real suffering with psychological suffering.

But in this evolutionary process, we become more acutely aware and conscious of our suffering, and the suffering of others.

In English, we strive to hold onto what makes us human both suffering and happiness.

And, as we do so, we become more aware of both as our world becomes more prosperous. In other words, The more excess we have, the softer we become. The softer we become, the more sensitive we become to pain.

Talk about putting your money where your faith is. How does one walk away from money and power? It is so alluring and promising of a better life.

It makes me question the commercial that the Wall Street Journal is running on television right now.

In it, there are two brothers who are separated at birth. One brother goes to a family that subscribes to the Wall Street Journal, The other brother goes to a family that subscribes to fishing magazines.

As the commercial goes on, The brother that was in the family with fishing magazines is doomed to a Blue collar and mediocre life.

And the brother that was in the family that subscribed to the journal Became filthy, stinking rich.

Well, that’s all well and good, But I found myself asking, Which of these two men have a more fulfilling existence?

The one who sits at a computer screen day after day Stressing over predicting the unpredictable stock market,

Or is it the brother who rises in the morning to go to the lake, Watch the sun come up, See the ducks come off the water And listen to the geese as they rise for their early morning flight? And feel the gentle breeze as the day begins to warm?

Who is more content with their life? The man driving the used pickup truck to go fishing before work, Or the brother sweating the next inevitable crash, Too addicted to the market to give it up?

These fantasies of prosperity and wealth do present some valid questions for us.

So, what does the Gospel reading this morning offer to us? What can we take from it this morning to enrich our lives And make them more meaningful and fulfilled?

Perhaps, more than anything, A new perspective.

Like the lumberjack, carpenter, hunter, and farmer, We have a limited perspective on the forest in which we live.

How about this morning, We look at the world through Christ’s eyes, And his journey to the cross.

Jesus said Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single seed.

But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life in this world will lose it, but the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This is part of the law of God - given in the new covenant; the law that God has written upon our hearts, which is fruitful in us and can bring meaning to our lives if we allow ourselves to hear it and to heed it.

No, it is not the way the world thinks. It certainly is not the message of prosperity or instant success we See advertised day after day on television.

However, it is the way that God has wired each and every one of us. It is the “law” of God “written upon our hearts.” Folks, its just the way we are wired.

And, Jesus knew this inner law of God, this law that states that the more we seek for ourselves, the more attached we become to the life we have, the more we seek to avoid pain and suffering, the more we ignore the needs of others and seek instead to meet our own, the more wretched we become and the closer to death we are. The tighter you try and hang on to your life and control Every possibility within it, The more you will spin out of control.

And, I think that most of us would agree with that. We at least get it at some conscious level.

If I asked today how many people here believe what I am saying is true I bet most of us would raise our hands.

However, living it out is another story. We recognize what is good for us and what is not, But we as individuals and as a nation have trouble living out our beliefs.

We know what is right, But we are sometimes slow to act upon it, Because we begin to question ourselves and how deep our convictions Really lie when they bring about our own discomfort or pain.

And then, we feel guilty, or perhaps even convicted by the Holy Spirit that our life is not in accord with God’s will for us.

So what are we to do? Seek pain for ourselves?

Well, it has been tried before, It even has a name, its called asceticism, But I do not think that is the answer either.

Let’s turn back to the text. there is something else here that brings me great comfort when I think about this. When I think about the many ways I fumble in the darkness and struggle through my everyday life, and I wonder why my life does not always Represent the ideals that I hold for myself,

I find comfort that Jesus struggled with this too. Even Jesus second guessed himself from time to time.

What am I talking about? Let’s look at verse 27. “Now my soul is troubled. What should I say, Father save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

Yet, that is what he asks for in the Lukan account. Chapter 22, verse 42, “Father if you are willing, take this cup away from me.”

Jesus, was no fool. Jesus did not want the pain of the cross he did not want death, he prayed to God that the cup would pass him by.

So, what makes him different? If Jesus questioned himself also, how is he to lead us? Well, he stayed focussed on the part that really mattered, And above all else, he trusted. He trusted that God’s purpose for him, As dismal as it seemed at the moment, Was truly for the best.

If you continue with verse 42, Jesus prays, “yet not my will be done, but yours.”

People of God, we are going to struggle for purpose, We are going to doubt ourselves, We are going to continue to fumbling in the darkness, But in this stumbling and fumbling, If we seek God and are willing to journey to the cross, We can find fulfillment in our lives.

In many ways we are like the people in the story. We have come here wishing to see Jesus. We have heard about Jesus and want to be his servants As we have come to learn that this is in our best interest.

So we have come to learn about him so we can serve him and tell others about him. But as his servants we are supposed to go where he goes.

Although it is easy to follow Jesus when he is raising people from the dead, it is a lot harder to follow him when he is headed for the cross. There is nothing happy here. This is not a good time. Yet, it was where God directed him to go, And where his life’s purpose was fulfilled.

People of God, if we wish to follow Jesus there are crosses in our future as well If we seek to be disciples of Jesus then there will be some dark times ahead just as there were dark times for Jesus’ first disciples.

If we want the eternal life that comes only through Jesus we can not cling to this life as if it is all that exists. That is as hard or even harder to accept now as it was back then.

But Jesus offers us hope in times of darkness. The light is with us now. Christ is here.

If we will trust in the light we will become sons and daughters of the light. Then, when the darkness comes, we will not be left fumbling in the dark.

Folks, If this sounds all too abstract and ethereal to make any sense to you, Then listen to these words…

I am sure you have all heard the expression, “Let go, let God.”

In fact, you have probably heard it enough that is somewhat of a cliché. But, people of God, take this seriously this morning. You can find fulfillment if you are truly willing to let go and trust.

If you desire meaning and purpose for your life, Seek God’s face first. Be prepared to find that God’s desire for your life Will be different and in the end, far better than your own.

Folks, this is just the way we are wired. It is the way that God has designed and engineered us to run. God has “written his law upon our hearts.” Serving God and others is the only way to truly find fulfillment and purpose.

Thomas Merton wrote the following prayer. I have printed it for you in the bulletin.

I will read it for you, And then, we will read it together. Think about these words, Let them sink in.

See that they are the words that God has written upon your heart.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire for all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. -Amen