Wednesday, 18 March 2015

“From little things, big things grow”: a sermon (John 12:20-33)

"From little things, big things grow.”

John tells us of a group of Greeks who came to Jerusalem for Passover, and who wanted to see Jesus.  At, first, we may think it’s a bit odd that, being Greeks and not Jews, they were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 

Actually, we don’t know if these Greeks were Jewish or not.  There are three possibilities here.

Firstly, these “Greeks” could have been Jews whose families lived for so long in a Greek context that these people now spoke Greek as their first language and had some Greek cultural habits.  Religiously, however, they were still Jews.

Secondly, these “Greeks” may have been Greek gentiles who converted to the Jewish faith.  Even though the Jewish faith today makes it very hard for people to convert to Judaism, and most rabbis today usually tell any prospective converts to give their own faith more of a fair go before asking about conversion, the Jewish faith in those days was much more apt to encourage gentiles to convert.

Or finally, these “Greeks” may have been members of the group called “God-fearers” in the Book of Acts:  gentiles who were attracted by the faith and by the ethics of the Jews.  They worshipped in the local synagogues with the Jews and tried to live as Jewishly as possible, but never formally converted to Judaism, largely because the formal conversion involved a rather painful procedure for the blokes.  Many of Paul’s first gentile converts in any Greek city were from this group of “God-fearers”.   

We’re not really sure who these “Greeks” were, but there they were in Jerusalem for the Passover. 

And they wanted to meet Jesus.

They told one of Jesus’ disciples.  Being Greeks, it was interesting they first went up to one of the disciples with a Greek name, Philip.  (Perhaps they thought that someone with a Greek name would be sympathetic to them.)  They said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”. 

Philip consulted with Andrew (or, as he was called in Greek, Andreas).  Interestingly, here was another disciple with a Greek-sounding name brought into the scene.  Together they went to see Jesus with the request.

John’s gospel doesn’t tell us what happened when Jesus met the Greeks.  John doesn’t even tell us whether Jesus met the Greeks or not.  I assume that Jesus met the Greeks, but John doesn’t actually tell us.

John does tell us about Jesus’ reaction.  He spoke about how it was the time for him to draw all people to himself.  His message was making its first step from one little corner of the world to a much broader, global stage.

But just before he said that, Jesus used an image from farming to speak of his work.  A bit of grain looks pretty lifeless; but ... if it is planted in the ground and “dies”, it becomes a plant with much more grain on it.  It’s like the song by Paul Kelly, “From little things, big things grow.”

It is interesting that Jesus compared himself to the grain being planted and growing.  The piece of grain lost its own separate identity as a piece of grain to become the source of a new plant, bearing much more grain ... much more food ... many more grains that would be planted and be the source of even more grain ... and so it goes on.  “From little things, big things grow.”

Jesus used this idea to explain what was about to happen to him.  He would die.  He would be raised from death.  In his dying and in his being raised, he would be the source of renewed life for humanity, and for creation. “From little things, big things grow.”

In Australia and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter take place during autumn.  The springtime images we find in so many Easter hymns and Easter songs from Europe or North America don’t make sense here.  We can’t easily use images of spring flowers for the risen Christ when leaves are changing colours, and dropping from the trees.

Instead, we live in a place where Lent, Holy Week, and Easter are in autumn, during the time of harvest, at a time when the earth produces food.  Thus, we can speak of:

·         the crucified-and-risen Christ who nourishes his people in the sacrament of Holy Communion,

·         the crucified-and-risen Christ who becomes the source of life for all life.

We begin Holy Week next Sunday.   At this time, we give thanks to the Living God that the crucified-and-risen Christ continues to give himself as the first fruits of God’s harvest of humanity, God’s harvest for all life to enjoy.

“From little things, big things grow.”

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