Scripture: John 12:20-33 NRSV
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 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. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “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. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Some weeks ago, there was outrage all over the internet about reports that a teenage boy in Hanford had been pushed out of his motorized wheelchair by another kid, and then a bunch of kids ran away from the scene. He was hurt pretty significantly. His father posted lots of pictures of his injuries to Facebook and thousands of people were ready to go find those kids and administer “frontier justice.” But the boy said he hit a rock and fell out of the chair. The police say that if there was a person or persons involved, they want to apprehend him/them, but there simply is no evidence of that, and no credible witnesses. His father said he might have posted too quickly because of a rumor he heard. ….. Did it happen? Or was it gossip?
And who among us can forget the infamous shooting at a Selma High Football game in September, 2016? - which actually didn’t happen at the football game, but on a nearby street, had nothing to do with the high school at all, and in which no one was injured. Within minutes of the gunshots, my Facebook feed blew up with posts insisting that it happened in the stadium, that there were injuries . . . there was even one post saying “Someone was killed! The Coroner’s Van is there now!” and which many people believed, but which was totally untrue. I spoke with someone who was in a position to know what had actually happened, and tried to stem the tide of gossip, but we all know that sensationalism is always more interesting than facts. *sigh*
And let’s face it . . . most of us find gossip kind of irresistible. That’s why gossip magazines are so popular. We want to know what’s going on with everyone we care about, and in the place where we live or work. And certainly there is nothing wrong with sharing news with each other. It becomes gossip when it is mean spirited, or when it may not be entirely accurate. For instance, recently Mac and Natalie shared with the whole congregation the joyous news that Gloria is expecting twins! So when those of us who were present say, “Did you hear? Gloria is expecting twins!” that is news. However, if someone notices that some young woman of their acquaintance has put on a little weight, and guesses maybe she might be pregnant, and then shares that guess with someone else, who tells someone else as if it is a fact - that is gossip. It’s an unsubstantiated story, not necessarily true, and depending upon that young woman’s circumstances, could be terribly damaging. It is important, when we talk about others, that we know whether what we are saying is true. And even if it is true, is it necessary to tell everyone? Among the many famous fake Buddha quotes is this, ““If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” Although this quote does not actually appear in writings attributed to the Buddha, it certainly sounds like something he might have said - or that Jesus might have said, for that matter. If one is to truly love others, one will not repeat stories that might be hurtful, even if true. (And please note, I am not speaking of testimony in court or other occasions when even hurtful truth must be told.)
And please, if you don’t know, don’t guess. Don’t share your opinion on what might have happened. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. “I don’t know.” is actually a good answer, if it happens to be true. I know how hard it is to stick to your guns when someone pesters you saying, “But what do you think happened?” But please don’t go there.
Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable - just ask any police officer. I imagine ear-witness accounts might be just as bad.
Verse 3 of the hymn we will be singing in a few minutes is “Open my mouth that I might bear gladly the warm truth everywhere”. NOT gossip. Not guesses. Not what we think might be true. But Truth. The crowd who were surrounding Jesus all heard exactly the same thing - the voice of God speaking in response to Jesus. But they all heard it differently. Some heard thunder, some heard an angel speaking. None of them really understood what it truly was they were hearing. Because, really, who would expect God to speak out loud like that?
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And so it had. Next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with palms and psalms. And then will come that hour Jesus speaks of here, when he says “My soul is troubled.” He knows what’s ahead. He also knows he has to go forward to the end, or his work won’t be completed. Indeed, Jesus speaks about as plainly as he ever does when he says, “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.“ He is that seed, which indeed bore much fruit. This is a farming community. We are surrounded by vineyards and orchards and fields of crops. We should all be pretty clear about how things grow. The seeds we plant are dead things, but they have the potential for new life inside them. So it is with Jesus’ words and actions. If they are simply words and stories written in a book, they are dead things. Interesting, but dead. But once they are truly heard, and enter into the fertile soil of our hearts, they can take on new life, changing us and, through us, changing others. If Jesus had just been another of the many self-proclaimed Messiahs who gathered followers and then died at the hands of the Romans, we wouldn’t know his name any more than we know most of theirs. Their words have blown away on the wind, like chaff from the threshing floor. But his still live. His words continue to spread and to change hearts and lives. Unlike the words of all those other would-be Messiahs, Jesus’ Word is Truth. Not always easy to understand. Not always easy to accept. But Truth nevertheless.
So when he says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” he is speaking of the difference between those who are enamored of the ways of the world and those whose love is for spiritual things. He doesn’t mean that you must go be a hermit someplace and give up bathing and such. But he does mean that those whose primary focus is on stuff, on gaining wealth, on being popular or powerful for their own gratification, will have a really hard time being faithful. We know this to be true. In 1870, in a letter to an Anglican bishop, British historian Sir John Dalberg-Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.” We can easily think of some exceptions which serve to prove the rule, hence his statement that great men are almost always bad men. For example, I think we can all agree that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Reverend Billy Graham were great men who were not bad men, although each had his faults. Their faults do not make them bad men, merely humans on a journey. Their love of Christ and of humanity came well before their love of the trappings of power. But in general, Sir John’s words bear out what Jesus said. If you would be his follower, you must not love the world and its ways. You must love God, and God’s Word, and your sisters and brothers, and put them first in your life.
The difficult Truths that Jesus speaks - like his prediction of his own death - even the voice of God speaking to him, tend to go unheard, or ignored, or passed off as incomprehensible. “It’s thunder,” say people in the crowd. “No, it’s the voice of an angel,” say others. None were able to hear the Truth, that it was God speaking. Even his followers weren’t able to accept the Truth, that soon he would be gone, that he would die a dreadful, painful, shameful death before he could be resurrected, before the glory of God would be made clear in his resurrection. Even we, who believe that he is the Son of God and that he was resurrected, have trouble with the death part. We really would rather not deal with that, thank you very much. We want to pretend that didn’t happen. But without his death, there can be no resurrection. Without his death and resurrection, Jesus would simply have been another of those many would-be Messiahs, forgotten by most everyone.
My sisters and brothers, let our words and deeds always reflect our faith in Jesus. Let us be the sort of eye and ear-witnesses whose words of what we have seen and heard can always be believed, planting the seeds that bring new life in Christ to those who hear the Word we share. Let us stand and sing together, a prayer that God may open our eyes and ears, so that we may always speak his Truth.