Sunday, 25 March 2012

My short story - written to be today's sermon

Gospel   John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Today’s gospel reading is from St. John’s Gospel.  (see above).

I was slated to preach at St. Boniface today. I decided to write, and then read a story as a way of explicating the passage.

The setting is Philippi, Macedonia at the beginning of the second century (i.e. ten or twenty years after the Fourth Gospel was complied).

Chloe, Anastasia, and Rabbi Eliezer are fictional characters.

Ya-ya' is the modern Greek word for Grandma.

I trust that my story is faithful to the meaning/s of the biblical passage. It “works best” if read aloud.


Thirteen year old Chloe raced back in to the house.   She was proud of her home city, proud of its history, proud that it was a Roman colony, and proud that St. Paul had been there.

She raced back into the house calling out “ya-ya', ya-ya', ya-ya' did you see it?”

 Ya-ya' Anastasia looked up and smiled.  She was visiting from her home in Ephesus where she had seen everything: she had seen too much, and heard too much.

Chloe was her favourite grand-daughter. She admired her spirit, her mind, her strength. Anastasia always had time for Chloe.

“What was it” she asked “what did you see that made you so excited?’

“Oh ya-ya' – it was a parade: the legions, the banners, the soldiers, the horses, the centurions, the tribunes, the prefects.  It was a perfect parade”.  “Ya-ya' – it was so glorious”.

“Glorious?” ya-ya' whispered that word. “Was it glorious?” “Chloe my darling let me tell you a story”.  Chloe grinned.  She loved her grandma’s stories.

Ya-ya’ began:  “It all started a long time ago.  In Ephesus we went to the synagogue every Shabbat.  We had been speaking Greek for so long that we hardly remembered any Hebrew.   But Rabbi Eliezer would read from the scroll, and then he would begin to speak.  We girls and women had to sit behind a curtain. We were always very quiet when the Rabbi spoke.  He was so wise.  He used to tell us about the glory of the Holy One.  He said that it was sometimes like a bright shining light, and sometimes like a thick black cloud.  Rabbi Eliezer told us that the glory of the Holy One was his mercy, and his justice.  And the Rabbi would say that if we were to be holy people we must practice mercy and justice. He was a good teacher.

But on one Shabbat he was very confused.

He had been to Jerusalem for the feast. Everyone there had been talking about a teacher from Galilee called Joshua.  This Joshua (or Jesus as we Greeks call him) had actually raised a man from death.  Then Jesus had gotten on a donkey and ridden into Jerusalem.

That made the Romans mad, and it upset some of the religious leaders. They thought that he was acting like a new leader, like a Messiah.

Even though Rabbi Eliezer thought that this Jesus from Nazareth was a bit crazy, he wanted to meet  him, to ask him some hard questions So he talked to a man who was very close to Jesus.  The man’s name was Phillip. Our Rabbi talked to him, cos he thought that Phillip was a very Greek sounding name.  “Sir”, he said “we want to see Jesus”.

He thought that Jesus would take some time for him, an important Rabbi from Ephesus.

Instead, Jesus started to talk about grains of wheat, about losing life, and about serving his Father.  Then Jesus got very, very upset  -  he was groaning out loud “Father save me from this hour”.  Then he said “Father glorify your name”. Rabbi Eliezer knew all about glory, and for a moment he thought he’d heard a voice from heaven – the very voice of the Holy One saying “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it”.  That was all very odd.

What was odder was that within a week this teacher Jesus had been arrested and tortured, and then crucified by the Romans -  hung up high on a cross just outside of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Eliezer had no idea of what this meant, but he could never forget it.   It would be many years before he and we would understand.

Then, all out of the blue a man named John moved to Ephesus.

Chloe interrupted. “Ya-ya'”, she said, was that John the Apostle or that other one, John the Elder?”

“I’ll get to that soon” said Anastasia. “This man called John knew Jesus, and he knew a lot about Jesus. He would sit and talk and teach for hours.  The men around him would write everything down as fast as they could. It was hard for them to know when John was remembering the actual words of Jesus, and when he was teaching what they meant.  But they wrote it all down.

I know all about this, because Rabbi Eliezer was my grand-father, and he told it to my mother, and she told it to me.  She couldn’t remember if it was John the Apostle or John the Elder.  But she always told me that it did not matter. Nor did it matter if the words were Jesus’ own words, or John’s teaching.  What mattered was that they were true”.

So Rabbi Eliezer began to meet with some other followers of Jesus.  Some of them were Jewish and some were not.  They talked a lot about God’s glory, and Jesus crucifixion.  They came to believe that Jesus was the human face of the glorious God.  And they also knew that God’s glory was not a bit like the glory of the Roman Army, or the gladiators, or the athletes.  They knew that God’s glory was about giving not getting, about service not power.

They knew all this for John had taught them that when Jesus was lifted high on the cross, it was to show the glory to all people”.

Chloe thought for a long time.  The she asked her grandmother a question.  “What does it mean when Jesus said “now the ruler of this world will be driven out?”

“My darling Chloe” said Ya-ya'. “You were all excited about that great parade of the Roman soldiers. The ruler of this world is Caesar in Rome. But this Empire won’t last forever.  None of them ever do – no exceptions. This way of Jesus, the way of the cross, is the way in which God works to drive out all powerful, proud and cruel rulers.  It’s the way of justice and mercy for all people everywhere”.

“I think that I get it” said Chloe, excited all over again.  “Jesus said that he would be lifted up to draw all people to him right?    Yes, I get it.  The part of the cross which is planted in the earth is the glory of God’s judgement and justice, just like that thick black cloud.  And the bit of the cross which stretches out on either side is the glory of God’s mercy, just like that bright shining light”.

Grandmother smiled and hugged her precious Chloe.  She murmured “when I get back to Ephesus I will tell them all that there is a wonderful young woman in Philippi who gets it, a young woman named Chloe who will be the next teacher of the Glory of God in the cross of Jesus”.

1 comment:

  1. I wish we had heard you read it, Michael. What a good story. Now we know what our friends were talking about. Jack's sermon at the 11:15 service was excellent, too.