What We Lose in Order to Live
My nephew Jake used to think that I was a celebrity. I once went to Alaska to visit a friend and Jake sat glued to every episode of “Last Catch” that he possibly could watch, convinced that I was now a main character on the show. I suppose everyone is a celebrity to somebody.
In days of yore, fame and celebrity was just as popular as it is today. Jesus is a celebrity in Jerusalem and that sets the scene for today’s Gospel. News of Lazarus, four days dead, called forth into life spread like wildfire. The crowds followed him from Bethany, the place of the death house now turned health house.
Among those who followed him and now crowded the temple mount vying to see him were some Greeks.
The scene is set adjacent to the holiest place in all the world to the disciples and fans of Jesus-the temple Courtyard, the court of the foreigners or gentiles the Hebrew word for nations. It is here that these Greeks approach Philip, “Sir” they said, “we want to see Jesus.” Philip is a Greek name, though a Jew he must have had connections with the Greek community, perhaps speaking Greek and with Greek relations. This was there in-road to meet Jesus. Creating what could be the Church’s first committee meeting Phillip talks to Andrew about it and then Andrew and Phillip go to talk to Jesus about the request.
John mentions these Greeks as a way to frame what happens next. Their inclusion in the Gospel is odd because we know nothing else about them. Did they meet Jesus, what happened next, what became of their request? Since we don’t know anything else, their inclusion in the story must have something to do with the disciples reaction to foreigners and those not allowed inside of the temple. This not only included foreigners, but women of course, anyone born with physical disabilities, or anyone sick for that matter. In other words, their inclusion in the account highlights the exclusion
of the no-accounts.
The presence of the Greeks underscores the fear that the religious leaders had following the news of Lazarus death and recent resurrection: “See,” they said, “the whole world has gone after him.” It was not meant as a compliment.
It is in this place of exclusion, of second class membership that Jesus begins what is known as the final discourse or teaching.
And the words are stunning. “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.”
There are two grammatical things going on here.
First the word “life” in Greek is Zoen. It is not the word that is used in this text. The word that is used sounds a lot like psyche. It also means life but not alive. The usage is more saying the lives we live. Psyche has more of an understanding of self, or ego in Freudian terms. Try this out, those who love their psyche loose it.
Secondly, it is incredibly important to point out that every verb and every participle of this verse is in the presence tense. There is a parallel pattern here, where loving leads to losing, while hating leads to having. It is not love or hate now, lose or keep later.  No future tense at all. So you see, the point is being made that Jesus is not talking about the reward of heaven but the reward of life with Jesus now. Jesus is not talking about the what we get when we die in the sweet by and by but a transformative way of life that sets aside one’s own agenda in order to follow God. Not about what will happen but about what can happen now.
In the context of all the world following after Jesus, Jesus knew that the old way of thinking the disciples had about their lives had to die. Their sure understanding of God, the one they had been taught since childhood, the one they knew by heart, the one they would never dare to question had to die. Their convictions about what role they would play in this Kingdom that Jesus kept talking about had to die. Their preconceived ideas of people who were different were going to have to die. Even their old ideas about religion, gender, social class, race, everything they knew about enemies, and foreigners, about material wealth and what it was they thought for sure they needed to survive-all of it had to die. All of it had to die in order for all that God wanted to create in them to be born.
After a very painful week complete and replete with death and sickness in my family, the last thing that I wanted to hear this morning was this talk of death. And yet, as weary as I am and as weary as we all are in these days of death it is more important than ever to talk about what are the things in you and in that must die. The things that must die in order that we may have life and have it in the presence tense of God’s presence.
What are the things in you and me that must die if we're really serious about following Jesus? This radical defiant one who challenged every part of what we know and who we are, what in us must die? Our Lord’s invitation to the crowd that day and the invitation to us is the same. Come, it calls to us, come and find out what it is in your life that is limiting your view of what God dreams for you. It is an invitation for this world take a good hard look and see what needs to die. Start, it says, where you are and turn to the Greeks standing next to you. See the outsiders amassed in the courtyard mess, Jesus might have said, look and die to your old prejudices that keep you from seeing them as also precious, loved and unique. Listen! this passage says, to their stories for they are your family. Look over at the temple in front of you, look at that symbol of religious institutions that have lost their way and are now in the business of excluding people who don't belong. Do these things and die to your former ideas about the limitations of God's love. Think for a minute about God and everything you know God to be and die to the compulsion to create God in your own image, of your own making instead of the other way around. Jesus knew that if the crowd was able to step out in faith to start dying even in these little ways then like a seed that is planted in the ground and dies the potential for new life multiplies beyond what we ever imagined. Little by little one death after another brings growth. When we put aside our allegiance to self-preservation whatever it may be idealistic, spiritual, physical, or even national, we make room for God's new creation in us.  When that final day does come for all of us, we will have lived and lived authentically.
We Jesus said, I came in order that you may have life now, and have it abundantly, this is what he was talking about.
As we move to Palm Sunday and the descendant darkness of the passion, the Gospel invites us to look at the uneasiness that these words must have brought to Phillip and Andrew and the others. Look at the uneasiness that these words bring to us and ask yourself “what is it that needs to die in me in order that I live?”
Someone shared a prayer with me from the 3rd step of AA. It reads:
Dear God, I offer myself to you-to build with me and do with me as you will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may do your will. Take away, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of your power, you love, your way of life. May I do your will always.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may do your will. That sounds like a suitable summary of this sermon and good advice, even for us celebrities.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.