During our journey through Lent we have asked a variety of questions concerning who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. In our reading this morning from John’s Gospel we are once again faced with the question of what it means to serve Jesus. We are standing in the shadow of Good Friday and the question looms before us, how do we at St. Andrew’s Cobourg serve Jesus? How do we represent his church?
Be Where Jesus Is – Audio Sermon
In our Gospel reading from John Jesus says, “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.”
Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am.
Just where is it that Jesus is going?
Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am.
Following Jesus takes on a whole range of new meaning when we start really thinking about it. Jesus was going to the cross; he knew it when he said these words. So before we get too excited about following Jesus during this Lent season let’s take a moment for some sober reflection.
Was Jesus really asking his followers, is Jesus really asking us to follow him onto the cross?
The earlier members of the Christian church certainly thought as much and many of them did. But is Jesus really calling all of us to martyrdom? Is that the only way that God will honour us? By following Christ all the way onto the cross?
John Calvin writes “That death may not be exceedingly bitter and disagreeable to us, Christ invites us by his example to submit to it cheerfully … he leads the way to us to suffer death. The bitterness of death is therefore mitigated, and is in some measure rendered agreeable, when we have in common with the Son of God the condition of submitting to it.”
Submitting to death in the knowledge that we share with Jesus that same submission. When we stop to think about this statement it is comforting, but let’s be honest thoughts of death trouble us.
Friends, just what is going on here? The cross as we see it today is very different from how it was viewed during the time of Jesus. In those days it was a tool for torture and death. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…” The symbol of the cross was not one that was held in high regard or with esteem. Even to the earlier Christians, who were being crucified it was not a symbol of hope. Rather it was a symbol of the pain and of the death that they might endure for being a believer in Jesus Christ.
It is only later in history that the cross came to be viewed as a symbol of hope; the hope that we have in the resurrection. To us in the reformed tradition, we have the empty cross. Symbolizing that Christ overcame death and rose again. That Jesus Christ is the risen Lord.
However, this knowledge does not cause our unease with the passage to be put aside. Christ is calling us to join him in death, to follow him and be like him.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Let’s put it in context.
Though we certainly understand that this life here on Earth is temporary or transitory, as we understand that we through our faith in Christ we will be welcomed into heaven, but it does not mean we are in a rush! If we were, what would be the point of the great commission, of the great commandment love your God and love your neighbour as yourself? If Jesus just expected all his followers, all those who heard the message to jump on the cross with him his sacrifice would have meant little and his teachings even less.
Jesus knew that he was going to die, that he had to die to fulfill God’s plan for all people. So when Jesus asks us to follow him, to be like him what is he really asking of us?
Not that we die a literal death. But as Christ sacrificed we too are being asked to sacrifice. That we serve others; that we love others even when we don’t want to. If you are willing to give up and I mean give up a lot and to remain faithful to the call that Jesus places in each of our lives to love one another. Not just for our own sakes, not for the sake of the world, but for Christ who shows us the better way.
I believe that this is what Jesus is telling us when he says, “Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be where I am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me.” Not that we join him on the cross, but that we serve him.
If we look closely at the first clause of that statement we realize that it is perfectly balanced. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me. Naturally, to serve Christ, we must follow him. How else are we to serve him?
Then Jesus continues saying that my servant will be where I am? Yes, Christ is on a journey to the cross. But where was he in society? He was a servant to the people, a teacher and a healer to the people. This is where Jesus is calling us to be. The subtle undercurrent in the passage is the cross. The recognition that not everyone is going to think so highly of what we as Christians are doing. Jesus was counter-cultural.
For a long time the Bible was a defining document on how the society we live in reflected on itself, understood its governance and where it looked for moral guidance. No longer! Once again the Bible and being a follower of Christ is to be counter-cultural. I’ll reckon you didn’t think you were going to find yourself as part of a revolutionary movement when you woke this morning. But what Christ calls us to, is so contrary to anything that society holds as valuable, it is contrary to everything that society today views as acceptable or normal.
The band U2 have a song entitled ‘Wake Up Dead Man’ which I think is helpful for us this morning. The opening lines go like this:
Jesus, Jesus help me
I’m alone in this world
And a messed up world it is too
Tell me, tell me the story
The one about eternity
and the way it’s all gonna be
Wake up, wake up dead man
If I have ever heard a prayer, that’s it.
How many of us believe that this world we live in is heading in the wrong direction and fast.
How many of us long for eternity and promise made manifest in Christ?
The final words of that verse, ‘wake up wake up dead man.’ I don’t believe that they are a plea for Christ to come back into the world. It’s not Christ that is being asked to wake up. I believe that when Bono wrote these words he was talking about himself, he was talking about you and me, he was referring to the world.
Those words are a prayer, a plea, and a cry for help! Wake up and take a look at the world. Shake off your sinful nature, shake off your selfish nature and do something about the state of things. The world is a mess and we need to wake up! We need to do something about it and it needs to be more than a token gesture. It needs to be more than money on a plate. It needs to be tangible, it needs to affect people’s lives, and it needs to be transformative.
Friends, nothing short of the power of Christ, the power He commands is going to make that difference in the world. Christ shook up the world when he walked it all those years ago. He called his disciples then and he calls his disciples now. He calls us to go to the places that he went.
To go and heal the sick, to feed the hungry, in this neighbourhood and in the greater world, to care for our planet, to love all people, at all times.
Friends Christ came to die on the cross, that sacrifice was necessary to bring us back into relationship with God. That if we accepted his sacrifice we would enjoy the eternity of heaven. But before he died for us, Jesus let us know what his expectations of us are.
We are the seeds that have resulted from Jesus’ death. We carry on Christ’s mission in the world until the time he comes again in all majesty and power. That’s what he calls us to do.
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.
Jesus was a servant.
Jesus took action.
Jesus calls us to serve him, so that we can follow him, so that we can be like him.
Servants who takes action. Amen.
Text: John 12: 20-33