Fifth Sunday in Lent
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12: 20 – 33
Now is my soul troubled – Facing death – Never Give Up
This week we are considering Jesus death – next week Palm Sunday we remember Jesus entry to Jerusalem, Holy Week leading to Jesus death and Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
This week has seen the death of a really well known comedian described as “the last great music hall entertainer” whose stand-up comedy style was fast with the rapid delivery of one-liner jokes, – his props included a tickling stick and catch phrases like how tickled I am, by jove, and ooh missus.
His obituary says that despite getting a scholarship to grammar school, he left at 14 and got himself a little cart with which he went around the outskirts of Liverpool, selling pots and pans.
As he grew older he asserted that “If you can sell pots and pans to housewives on their washing day, you can sell anything, even jokes.”
Doddy served a long apprenticeship as an amateur performer before making his first professional appearance as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter, in Nottingham in 1954. “At least they didn’t boo me off,” he said.
Ken Dodd left hospital a few weeks ago, went home and married his partner of 40 years and in a very short time his physical self was gone. Some bright spark on social media asked if Doddy had the last laugh on HMRC…
At the other end of the academic scale there was a well-known scientist who has been the inspiration to everyone from Homer Simpson to Barak Obama and the Beatles. Since the age of 21 Stephen Hawking had lived under the shadow of motor neurone disease.
Stephen’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’ sold over 11 million copies and was on the Sunday times best seller list for 4 years. Hawking said that not every-one who read it would understand everything but at least (he hoped) they got the idea that we live in a universe governed by rational laws that we can discover and understand. Hawking became deeply associated with M theory – which postulates 11 dimensions of space-time. M (multidimensional membranes). I read a statistic that most people read only about 7% of the book. But that is for another conversation… Stephen said, “Although we are puny and insignificant on the scale of the Cosmos this makes us in a sense lords of Creation”
I read that while he was writing a brief history in 1985 Stephen developed pneumonia and needed an emergency tracheostomy, this saved his life but destroyed his voice. A computer engineer in California heard about his plight and was able to send him a programme. Once he had built up a sentence or two he could send it to a synthesiser to be spoken. In this way he was able to write and speak.
Hawking was described as a worthy successor to Sir Isaac Newton…
A man who was given a life limiting diagnosis, but he could not survive alone… and do you know what the diagnosis did not limit his life at all. His life consisted of a succession of scientific breakthroughs, and he was always positive – he praised the NHS, he urged everyone not to give up – to remember to look up at the stars and not at your feet – and asserted that however difficult life may seem there is always something that you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up – this from a man twisted and silenced (not) by a cruel disease.
Stephen had a brilliant mind and he had a sharp wit a great sense of, irony and mischief – much like Jesus – although he was not a Christian he embodied many of the characteristics of Christ…
I wondered why he was not Sir Stephen Hawking, I learned that he was offered a knighthood in the late 1990’s but he refused on principle over the governments science funding.
On the radio yesterday on Question time, one of the questions was who do you think was most influential Ken Dodd or Stephen Hawking. Hello to an impossible question….
Stephen Hawking said of Death – when all my options were taken away at 21 anything else was a bonus…
My mother who is 97 later this month is unwell and suffering the ravages of old age, she clings to live and rages against the dying light… This week I have spent a lot of time with her as she is battling with weakness and fatigue following an infection. She is not able to live on her own but needs carers and family to help and support her…
Our readings this morning are inspirational – Jeremiah tells of how God will make a new covenant with the people – not one that is hierarchical or sectoral but one that is personal and direct an individual relationship – “no longer shall they teach one another every person from the least to the greatest will have the words of the lord written on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. Not only will God forgive their iniquity/their distance, but God will remember their sin no more.
John tells the story of some Greeks – some non-Jews – Gentiles who asked to see Jesus. This may infer that Jesus will no longer be just for Israel alone, others are entering into the story. Jesus was always very clear that he had come to the children of Israel but there are many times when his teaching was prompted by those of other nations:
Jesus never ducked a challenge, and the challenge in our readings today is probably one of the biggest, we are reminded of him facing a threat to his very life, life limiting realisation/ reminder why was it that the Greeks wanting to see Jesus led to this statement –The hour has come…the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… were the Greek people a catalyst for the beginning of Christ’s passion?
Now is the time for the Son of Man to be Glorified (not the Son of God) – Glorification is a theological term used to describe the final removal of sin from the lives of Christians (in the dictionary this is said to happen at the end of time). Dictionaries generally define glorification as a state of high honour. In biblical studies, glorification is one of three parts of a process that includes justification (being made right with God), sanctification (the ongoing process of being made holy), and glorification (the final removal of sin).
Jesus was not old like Stephen Hawking (79), and Ken Dodd (90) or my mother (97) – Jesus the teacher, healer, master storyteller with the big imagination, was a young man – 30 years old – today we would say he had not reached his prime – (who here is over 30?) but for Jesus this was a prime time in his life. Now he begins to articulate, to speak about what is to happen in the very near future because he knows he is going to die, not when he is 79 or 90 but soon – Jesus challenges himself as much, even more than he challenges everyone else – he did not shirk from difficult questions or situations, and he is not about to shirk from what he knows is to come…
To the Greek people Jesus says…”Very truly unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a single grain – but if it dies it bears much fruit”. This is a statement of fact, and a prophetic statement that Jesus must die if he is to keep the divine life forever – and the same is true of his followers…for
Those who love their life lose it – and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life – I wonder if this is better read in a different way – years ago my mother used to listen to songs from a country singer called Jim Reeves – a song of his that has stuck in my memory is “this world is not my home I’m just passin’ through – my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue – the angels beckon me from heavens open door and I can’t feel at home in this world any more”.
Jesus says, “Whomever serves me must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be also, and whoever serves me the father will honour.
Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day – at the end of his life Patrick who was by then a Bishop wrote ….I am the sinner Patrick. I am the most unsophisticated of people, the least of Christians, and for many people I am the most contemptible…
I was taken into captivity in Ireland – at that time I was ignorant of the true God – along with many thousand others.
This was our punishment for departing from God, abandoning his commandments, and ignoring our priests who kept on warning us about our salvation…
St Patrick, Confessio, translated from Latin
The statements in our gospel reading could seem unconnected, and even a bit strange but Jesus is using analogy to make clear the reality of his death – he then goes on to talk about, his own feelings and to reflect on his dying …
Now my soul is troubled… it is not often that Jesus speaks of his own feelings – we know from the writings about his time in the garden of Gethsemane that he was troubled – Jesus was truly human and however strong his spirit, not immune from pain and/or suffering.
He asks, “Should I say father save me from this hour?” and answers his own question, “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour”
Jesus shifts the focus to God as he prays – “Father glorify your name” – and God speaks as at Jesus baptism – Jesus is showing his obedience and his passion and God honours that – “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again” – Jesus notes that Gods words are for those who are listening rather than for himself – Jesus ministry and his future death are both recognised. And – Now is the judgement of this world has come – and now the ruler of this world will be driven out – the pure love of God will drive out all fears – how can we interprete this good news today for the children and families of Syria, Yemen, India, all those girls who suffer FGM – how do they experience this good news? If the ruler of the world has been driven out then the suffering imposed on these children and their families is wrought of human action/reaction and we are called to work for change to bring about justice and mercy we cannot/ must not stand by and allow these injustices to happen, but what are we to do…
I dare to assert that we have to challenge these injustices in whatever way we can and if this leads to pain and suffering for us then so be it… that is the role model Jesus shows us, isn’t it? In this way God’s name is glorified … God may well say to each of us it has already been glorified and will be glorified again… as we follow the way, and the courage of Jesus Christ
Jesus says, when I am lifted-up I will draw all people to myself – this was to indicate the kind of death he was to experience, and Jesus words draw us back to the prophesy of Jeremiah…because it is through Jesus death and resurrection that God will and does initiate a new relationship with everyone, God invites everyone and everything into relationship.
Thomas Aquinas says – creation is most of all a matter of relation – the relation of all things to God as their source as much now and in the future as at some temporal beginning.
Stephen Hawking described himself as having no place for God, but he understood theology. He reminds us not to think of God as dwelling at the edge of the universe pushing off creation, if you could imagine a row of domino’s standing on edge, God does not go flicking the first domino and stand back to view the cosmos from there…”God is not a thing among things, and not a cause among causes… God is all and is in all, and God is at work in all moments”.
“Although we can seem puny and insignificant in the Cosmos” from the greatest to the least Jesus resurrection offers everyone and everything a new relationship with God where we can humbly claim to be Lords of Creation. AMEN