Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalms 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33 BIGFORK UNITED METHODIST CHURCH March 21, 2021 – 5th Sunday in Lent
How will Jesus say goodbye to his disciples, the friends who have followed him from lakeshore to mountaintop…and soon…to the cross?
This is no casual goodbye that has been given to us this morning. He is about to go to a place where they cannot follow…now…but they will follow later.
He will tell them that in the next chapter of John’s gospel…the account of his ministry that was written by the disciple he loved.
He does not journey to a physical place. He is going on to glory…an eternal place…and we do not understand in our mortal lives what that is, let alone where that is.
So how does he take his leave without shattering their hopes…disappointing their expectations…leaving them in despair? How will the ministry of God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Spirit our sustainer continue after the rupture that is about to come.
That is the question that is presented to us as members of his church this morning. Toward the end of his life, Mike Mansfield quoted Lao Tzu frequently.
Mansfield was seen as the leader who led by empowering everyone to do the work. He became Majority Whip under Lyndon Johnson…when Johnson was Majority Leader…because no one else could work with Johnson.
He was domineering, unrelenting, and unforgiving. This man of few words from Montana, though, only asked his colleagues to do what was right, and he left it to them to decide what that was.
That empowered every Senator to do what their conscience compelled them to do…and lo and behold, they did it. Amazing thing, for humans to act that way.
He was, perhaps, the most unique and effective political leader of his day because…he only asked Senators to do the right thing.
That’s all Jesus has ever done, too. He often gives them some context to choose wisely, but it is their choice. And when it became time for him to leave, he did his best to empower those around him.
He knows his hour has come when Greeks who have traveled to the Passover tell Philip they want to see Jesus. Philip tells Andrew and Andrew and Philip go to Jesus.
These are the first two disciples Jesus called, who go to him and tell him that even Gentiles from afar have heard of his teaching and want only to be in his presence. They bring Jesus the sign that now is the time he must be given to the world.
They are bookends on Jesus’ ministry, and these are the people Jesus is going to have to say goodbye to, even though they will not understand what he is saying. What must happen next will be too much for them…unless he gives them some words.
But this is not a trouble-free, happy go lucky time they have had. There has been a lot of texture to it. Some days were incredibly good… some incredibly hard…but they have all been incredibly real.
They should all be extremely grateful for the time they have had together… and they must be, for they have stayed with him through thick and thin.
How does he express his love to them? How does he anoint them for the task that lies ahead of them? How does he remind them of the goal of eternal life they all share? How does he persuade them that that goal is the most important thing even as they go through an overwhelming grief?
Like I said before, Senator Mansfield liked to quote Lao Tzu, “That leader is best, who, when the work is done, the people say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”
Jesus must be sorry he must go on, but know he has to. So he takes their hand and places it in the hand of the One who is always with us. That is where he is going and that is who they must walk with now…just as they have walked with him.
This is not a transaction he has had with them. He has opened the community up for the possibility of relationship…discipleship….stewardship and fellowship.
This is his church he is talking to and it must become a living thing. He has shown them how to do this, and he has brought bread and wine to them and told them he was giving them a meal of his body and his blood to sustain them and anoint them.
That brings us to Melchizedek, a mysterious and powerful figure that appears out of nowhere early in our story.
In Genesis 14, Abraham’s nephew Lot is carried off by an invading army. Abraham pursues them, scatters them, restores peace to the valley and rescues his nephew.
The king of Salem, one of the villages that had been occupied comes out and offers him bread and wine, blessing his with this prayer:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
This king is Melchizedek, and he is the first person to bless Abraham, except for God. He is the first earthling to see and nurture the seeds of greatness in the patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The king of Sodom comes out and asks Abraham to take all the property he has recovered, just give me back the people. Abraham protests that he has sworn to God he would take nothing for his efforts. He did it solely to rescue Lot.
Melchizedek blesses Abraham with a relationship with God. The king of Sodom, whose name we never hear, sees nothing more than a transaction… no relationship…in all that has happened or anything Abraham is done.
A priest in the order of Melchizedek, as Hebrews phrases it today, is one who does not just try to keep the ledger books even. They also come, with bread and wine…body and blood…to celebrate the fact that we belong to God…like Abraham certainly did…and to invite us to step farther into that relationship…as Abraham and Sarah did.
God was with Abraham as he rescued his nephew, and Melchizedek appeared as that event draws to a close. Peace has been restored. Where the Lord is, there his servant will also be…in the order of Melchizedek.
Psalm 110 is the next passage to mention Melchizedek and there the psalmist, believed to be David himself, gives us the insight we read in our passage from Hebrews.
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
This is the same psalm that begins with words Jesus will one day quote to reveal his sonship with God. The Letter to the Hebrews invites us into such a relationship by recalling what was done at the beginning with Abraham was also done at the end with Jesus’ disciples…the people we aspire to be.
These passages from Genesis and Psalms are tied together in this powerful moment in John when it is clear that the religious authorities of the day do not know who the Messiah is…not even when he is standing right there in front of them…a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.
Neither do his disciples at this moment. Understanding will come on the morning of the third day…a few days from now. But now that is all mystery.
That is how life is. We live it forward, not knowing all that will change from one moment to the next…only knowing that morning will come after the night and darkness is overcome by the light…and that it only takes a little light that can’t be blown out to win out.
It is our faith, our trust in the goodness and mercy of God, that draws us forward into the mystery…into the hope that God sent into the world and sends into the world today.
It is faith today that sustains us. We have all been put on edge by the layered crises we are working our way through. But think of all the challenges Jesus and his friends went through.
The world changes a lot in many years. Sometimes it changes a lot overnight. But Jesus remains the same, calling us into a relationship with our Creator… like a priest in the order of Melchizedek…calling us into the mystery of life and death…and life forevermore.
Pastors come and go. Churches are built and rebuilt. Civilizations rise and fall. But the truth is still the truth and the Word is still the Word…no matter what we say or do.
Easter is…once again…two weeks from today. God calls us into that truth with the Word…the logos. God shows us the way…while the spirit is strong, the flesh is weak…but God tells us we can do all that has been revealed to us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That’s why we find time to gather… even if it is only virtually…every week, why we read the Word…every week, why we try to apply it to our lives today every week…and look for a sign of God’s love…for us…for our family… for all the people in the world.
And when we find the friends that give us the strength to stand against the desire to take the easy way…that lead us in the true way…we know we have found a home that we will always have …whether we remain in this place or move to another.
Jesus knew when Greeks came looking for him to receive his wisdom…and that was all he had…all anyone can ever have…that his hour had come, too. It wasn’t just his people who needed him. It was the whole world.
It isn’t just the members of our church that need our church, either. We are a catalyst for the good and a salve for the pain that we all have to help each other through as we find our way from day to day through all our days.
We do what we do to help our neighbors be safe so that we can be safe, too. Our neighbors return the favor and we find ourselves in a world that helps everyone live another day, think another thought and save others just as Jesus’s gift of life has saved us and so many.
He is the Promised One, the Messiah, the Master, and let us pray as he does today that wherever he is, we, as his servants will also be…doing as he would have us do.
May we be where Jesus needs us to be, doing whatever he needs us to do.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.