This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fifth Sunday in Lent. It was also the day I baptized a baby we’ll call “Matthew” for the purposes of this blog. The gospel reading was John 12:20-33.
Good morning, Matthew. I’m glad you’re here today! Today is a very special day for you: today you are baptized. Today I will pour water on your head, and the Holy Spirit will come to you and give you a new name: “God’s beloved child.” You will become part of the church today, and God will promise to always be with you. Today you are baptized with Jesus.
Now, you are probably wondering, “Just who is this Jesus guy?” You’ve heard us talk about him all morning. And you’re probably wondering, “Who is he? Where is he?” I bet right now, if you could talk, you would say the same thing those Greeks said to Philip in the gospel reading. I bet you would say to me, “Sir, I wish to see Jesus.”
Well, Matthew, that’s very polite, and I’ll see what I can do. It’s not as simple as just showing you a picture of Jesus. It’s so much more than that. So I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I believe that today’s gospel reading tells us exactly where we can find Jesus, if we dig into it. In today’s gospel, Jesus said:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Okay, Matthew. I have to unpack that a bit for you. “The Son of Man” is a phrase Jesus often uses when referring to himself. So Jesus is saying, “It’s about time that my glory is shown.” Jesus knew that it was getting close to the time when he would die, and then be raised from the dead in three days. Jesus is saying this: if you want to see me, well then, you have to see me when I’m glorified, that is, when I’m on the cross. We see Jesus for who he really is when he’s on the cross.
And Jesus said:
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains but a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Do you get that, Matthew? A grain of wheat is a seed, and so when you have one, you can choose to hold onto it, to cling to it, and you’ll have that one grain. But if you choose to let go of it, and plant it in the ground, then it will germinate and grow, and you’ll have hundreds and thousands of grains of wheat! And Jesus continued:
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
When Jesus says, “hate,” it doesn’t mean what we think it means. It actually means the same thing as the grain of wheat thing. It means that if you cling to your life, cling to things the way they are, you’ll find that your life is rather small. But if you let go, if you let go of needing to have control over your life, if you let go of thinking you’re in charge, if you let go and allow God to take the lead in your life – then you find that your life germinates and grows and becomes so much more than you ever thought it could be. That’s why your parents have brought you here today, actually, Matthew. They are letting go of thinking that you belong only to them. They are putting their faith in God; they are trusting in God that God will give you so much more.
And Jesus said:
Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.
Now this is the hard part. Following Jesus means going where he’s going, and Jesus is going to the cross. To suffering and death. Being baptized, Matthew, is not the promise of an easy life. All of our lives contain struggles and suffering, and living a baptized life doesn’t change that. But that’s not the whole story. Because Jesus said:
Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
This is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus died, but through his death, he destroyed the power of death. He was raised from the dead three days later. And that means that you too, Matthew, will be raised up. Death will never have power over you. And it also means that you will have a meaningful, abundant, and eternal life even now.
Jesus changed the cross from a source of death and suffering into a source of life and hope. And because you will be baptized in his name, all suffering you encounter is also full of life and hope. Jesus will take you with him, into a lifetime of meaning, and into everlasting joy. You are baptized, Matthew. That means you have nothing to fear; not now, not ever.
And Jesus said:
When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.
“When I am lifted up” means, “when I am put on the cross.” Jesus says that when he is on the cross, he will draw everyone to him, like a big magnet. And that’s precisely what happens in baptism, Matthew. Today you are answering the call of that magnet – today you join all of us who are still being drawn to Christ, the crucified Christ. Today you become part of the church, and we welcome you. And one day you will join us in proclaiming Christ’s words to one another, and to the world.
But you don’t understand all this, do you, Matthew? No worries. That’s just fine. You don’t need to understand this to be baptized. The rest of us here don’t truly understand it either. Not even pastors. We’re here figuring it out together, slowly, bit by bit throughout our lives. That’s what baptism is: being together drawn to the cross of Christ, and slowly figuring out what that means.
So in answer to your polite request, Matthew, of wanting to see Jesus, I’ll tell you this:
Come and be baptized, and with your new community here, you will see Christ on the cross, glorified.
Come and be baptized, and stay with us, dwell with us, and together we will see him. Welcome to a lifetime of seeking and serving Christ together.