Sunday, 22 March 2015

All Greek to Me

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “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. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
“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. Father, glorify 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.” (John 12)

The "Greeks" who asked for Jesus were, I expect, Greek Jews. I expect they were there for the Passover. They wanted to see Jesus. And they found Philip. Philip is a Greek name. It means "horse-lover". Though not in the Biblical sense. That was very banned. So maybe he was also a Greek Jew - they shared the language well enough to ask to see Jesus. So Philip and Andrew go to Jesus and say, there are some Greeks want a backstage pass. And Jesus goes off about darkness and glory.

I wonder - is it the arrival of these people from a far off country that causes Jesus to say these words? Once wise men - Magi - came to greet him at his birth. Now, again, people from across the known world are looking for him. He has star appeal, does Jesus. He's making his name across Jerusalem, Judah and Galilee. He is being glorified - called a great teacher. Some say he's the miracle worker. And if he can gather the Jews that want a rebellion from across the Roman Empire - he could throw out the Romans. He could, at least, raise the flags of defiance against an oppressive Empire. He could take earthly glory.

Or he could take on the glory that he is sent for. He could actually live for his Father's glory. The shadow of the cross lays across the road before him. He will see darkness before he sees the light that he calls us to.

"...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." In the autumn a few "volunteers" from the food bank had been planting bulbs down on a patch by the Great House window, and they'd piled up all the rocks next to the back door - I save them to throw at Morris Dancers on May Morning. But a few weeks ago, we were putting a trough with of rocks and sand for the Little Pebbles, to be their Lent desert display. So I picked up some of the rocks, and while I was doing it I noticed a bulb lying on the surface of the flower bed, where a bird had presumably dug it up and left it.

Not really thinking, I popped it into the sand in the trough, and I forget about it.

I was in the Little Pebbles' class room the other day, and I noticed a green shoot poking up through the rocks. I watered it quick - I'm now hoping that in a few weeks I will find out what that bulb was. Tulip, I'm guessing. If you don't plant a bulb you won't get a flower. If you don't plant a seed, you won't get a harvest. Stuff happens in the darkness beneath the ground. Stuff happens when things die, says Jesus.

And he tells us, if we are his disciples, we have to follow him. If he goes down to the darkness, we are to be there with him. This does not necessarily have to mean death in Jesus's name. Though, as our brothers and sisters in Iraq have faced over the last couple of years, it might. But if we follow Jesus - if we're where he is - it can mean darkness at times.

There's the darkness of rejection or opposition or ridicule - from our enemies, those who are against us for some reason, but also from our friends. There's also the dark times when we realise our own weakness and sin. It's a side effect of following Jesus, who is light, that he throws light on our own darkness. Compared to him, we realise where we fall short. We know where we have let God down. It's why, every week in the Moot House, we write all our sins on sheets of A4 and feed them through the sin-shredder as a symbol of our sinfulness being wiped away by God. Obviously, it doesn't work, even as an analogy. We've not destroyed our sins - merely spread them out in a form that is more difficult to manage. But we do it, nonetheless, because it's tradition. And where are we if we are without tradition? Milton Keynes, that's where.

"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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.""

As Jesus reflects on his ordeal to come - he runs through the options available. He's here now, in Jerusalem. He has come for a purpose. His last week is running out. But he could turn and run. He could pray for his Father to send his angels. But, no. The Son's job is to glorify his Father. He will stand and face the cross. And the Father responds that his name will be glorified. Even the eternal Son of God, when he walked this earth, did what he did - not for his own glory - but for the Father's. His life is one of obedience. He lives out those two commandments - love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself.

The temptation for us, is to live to our own glory. We look for our own promotion, our own little glories. As a priest, you can look to be the Pope in your own parish. If you're the church treasurer or lead the Ladies' Bright Hour, you can make your little corner of the Kingdom your own. You can glorify yourself there.

Or you might have to do what Jesus did - what some are called to - to suffer for the Kingdom. That's what our Lord did. Or you can do what Philip did. Philip could speak to the Greeks. He could also speak to Jesus. He wasn't doing anything for himself - he was helping some people, who wanted to see the Light of the World.

That's what we are supposed to do - build a bridge, light the way, interpret - we have the job of leading people to Jesus. I was in Bedford the other day and - as there often is in Bedford - there was a bloke preaching in the town centre. In principle, nothing wrong with that. We are sent into the world to preach the Gospel. But in practice he wasn't really preaching. He was shouting religious things while everybody ignored him. And in practice, when i stopped and listened - the problems he was describing, although a Christian would understand the terminology, were not problems that the people he was speaking to would understand. He used complex, evangelical terminology. He may be right that he was fallen into iniquity - lost in his sins and that, through washing in the blood he was redeemed. I rejoice for him. But to the people who passed him by he might as well have been speaking Greek.

And in case we are smug at this - at least he was trying. In a rather strange way, he was preaching the Gospel - trying to raise Jesus up - trying to bring people to him. Glorifying his name. When we talk to people about the things that in principle should matter to us most - about the new life God gives, about the love Jesus shows, about the reality that the Holy Spirit - God in movement, is moving in our lives - do they hear about love and glory and life? Or do they hear about furniture rearrangement and committee meetings and finances? Or do they actually hear nothing?

We need to be in the same position as Philip. Close to Jesus, but speaking other people's languages.  That's why there is a problem when the people of the Church say they'd never read the Sun or Daily Mirror, or rather smugly say that they don't use the Internet. They're not on Facebook or Twitter.  Because that's where people are. That's how they speak. That's how they make sense of their lives. That's where we can engage with them. I'm not saying that every 50-year-old Archdruid should be learning street slang and gettin' down wit' te yout. You'd end up rekt. But to the people around you - the ones who you meet every day, eat or drink or talk with - your life should be the glory of Jesus, but in their language.

Philip was able to speak the language of the Greeks - but close to Jesus. That's where we need to be. When Philip took the message to Jesus, and Jesus answered, some said it thundered. Others said an angel spoke to him. Jesus and - I presume - his disciples knew what God was saying. You can speak people's language, you can show them Jesus. After that, it's down to the Spirit, and to them, what they hear. You've done your job. You've seen God's glory. And you've been able to speak their language.


  1. Lovely. The sermon wasn't Greek to me.

  2. I agree that we need to be speaking the language of those people who are outside the church. Because, when I first came to church it might as well have been a foreign country. It took time and interpreters and a certain amount of my own gumption (lovely word) to begin to understand and to fit into that structure. But I did.

    Than I went to the discernment process and had to learn to understand an even deeper, darker church language to communicate with those assessors. Obviously I wasn't fluent because it stopped dead there and than at BAP.

    I use social media because it links me to people I might not otherwise get to meet INRL, but people who are like me and different from me. People who challenge me and who ask awkward questions, some of which I can answer, most of which I have to consider and pray about before rushing to answer.

    But we speak a common language, one of people who communicate, with or without grammar or fancy words, people who live at the coal face of life, people who strive to be and to do their best either for a Creator God or just for a Greater Good.

    That's being fully alive.


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