Follow Me

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent – John 12:20-33

Jesus says…

“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.”

First, there is the falling. Then the dying. Then the fruitfulness. All of which can be very confusing. Falling is so counter-cultural. Dying seems so final. And, fruitfulness seems very inconsistent with those first two actions.

We understand that when Jesus said this, He was speaking of His impending death and resurrection, but He was also referring to life as a Christian. For Jesus, His death and resurrection resulted in “bearing much fruit” in how, upon His rising from the dead would bring all people unto Himself. His resurrection and ascension would mean He could now be with all people throughout time and space and that He would be ever Present with us all until the end of time.

But this path of falling, death and fruitfulness is not limited to just Jesus’ life because He goes on to say…

“Whoever serves Me must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also.”

What a beautiful space to be in, that close proximity to Christ; to stand in His shadow but that shadow is not always easy.

To say we are followers of Jesus can sound so very poetic and lovely as long as life is sunny and sweet; however, things get messy when in our following we find ourselves in the shadow of a cross. To follow Jesus is one thing, to suffer the cross can prove to be quite another. And where do we find ourselves when the poetry turns to tragedy: “Will you follow Me” Christ says, “even still?”

Our world often runs on the rails of logic. We make decisions about different aspects of our lives in many ways based on some kind of line of reasoning. Whether our reasoning is rooted in science, mathematics, or the laws of love, we often find our security of how to live in this world by using a certain framework of logic. Yet, often what Jesus calls us to do pushes us beyond human reasoning and this is where our faith begins.

“Will you follow Me still?” Christ asks of us. “In the face of fear and uncertainty, will you risk the next step? In the face of deep sorrow and grief, will you hold true to your faith in Me that I am a God who loves you beyond measure and understanding, and I still have your best interest at heart.

“In the face of your sins and frailties” Jesus asks,” your weaknesses and propensities, will you believe in My unending grace and mercy? That I can make all things new…even you!” These are Jesus’ words to all of us and He calls us to venture beyond ourselves and into a closer relationship with Him.

To serve Christ and to follow Him, to be in close proximity to Him, as close as His own shadow will – more often than we would prefer – mean we will encounter the cross. That there will be times when we experience a kind of dying to self in order make way for Christ in our lives – for Christ’s love to be made manifest in us and through us – for Christ to bear more fruit through us in a world so desperately in need. We must have faith in the following…

“Will you follow Me?” Jesus asks, “Beyond all understanding?”

In the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, a writer by the name of Philip Keller wrote a series of devotional books inspired by his experience caring for sheep on his farm in East Africa. He quickly realized how much of the deeper meaning of Scripture has been lost over the years as sheepherding is no longer a popular profession.

In his book, A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd, he writes, “The relationship which develops between a shepherd and a sheep under his care is to an extreme degree dependent upon the use of the shepherd’s voice. Sheep quickly become accustomed to their owner’s particular voice…its unique tone… its peculiar sounds and inflections. If a stranger should come, they would not recognize nor respond to that person’s voice… even if that person used the exact same words and phrases as the sheep’s rightful owner. It is a case of becoming conditioned to the familiar nuances and personal accent of their shepherd’s call.”

Scripture gives voice to our Shepherd. And in Scripture, we hear Him say, “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for My sheep. I do so willingly. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” (John 10:11, 28)

“For Christ, our salvation story could not have been any other way. The essential nature of Christ demands it because He is love, selfless love, this is how it had to be. This love of God is the most potent force that exists in the universe.” Keller writes, “It is the primal energy that powers all the entire cosmos.”

The unending, ever-present, selfless love of God – that is the sound we hear in the deepest part of our being. His is the voice that ignites a response in us to venture beyond ourselves and into His promises. His is the voice that we recognize in our deepest longings and desires and when we follow and, in the following, we find peace because we are more complete – we become more of who God created us to be.

We hear His voice and we follow trusting always our lives into His good care. Just as sheep are simple creatures with limited understanding and especially so in comparison to the human shepherd responsible for them. So too is our understanding of life in this world in comparison to God’s knowing.

Although we may not understand why the cross is part of the salvation equation, we walk on in faith anyway and not by sight.

As we come into the last week of Lent and into Holy Week, may we take this time to stop once again and reflect on who we are as Christians and where we are in proximity to Jesus Christ. Are we as close to Him as His own shadow? Can we hear the sound of His breath even? Are we allowing His healing hand to restore us to new life in Him?

May we find ourselves on Easter Sunday morning, transformed by the love of God that has brought to and through whatever crosses we bear and into new and fruitful life in Him.

Amen.

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    St. Philip's Episcopal Church

    6457 Quantico Road
    Quantico, MD 21856

    Mailing Address
    PO Box 92
    Quantico, MD 21856

    St. Philip's is a proud member of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton