Half a Message

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Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I like the story of an unusual account of how the news of the Battle of Waterloo reached England. The report from the battle ground back in those days was first carried by sailing ship to the southern coast and then by signal flags to London. And when the report was received at Winchester, the flags on the cathedral began to spell out the message, "Wellington defeated." And then before the message could be completed, a heavy fog rolled in and with that heavy fog the gloom of a nation filled the hearts of the people.
But then, when the mist began to lift, it became evident that the signals of the Winchester Cathedral had really spelled out this triumphant message. "Wellington defeated the enemy!" Too often we allow the future to be colored by what we understand at the moment and it keeps us from moving forward.
You can just imagine the scene in our Gospel today as these Greeks, these outsiders from the faith… these individuals who are perhaps sight-seeing in Jerusalem during the festival.. these Greeks come up to Phillip and tell him that they are interested in meeting this Jesus that they have heard about. Word on the streets of Jerusalem has been getting around about this Jesus fellow—some calling him a Messiah others conspiring towards his death… and these Greeks want to for whatever reason get a measure of the man themselves. Perhaps they want to alert him to some of the conspiracies… perhaps they want to study his teachings… perhaps they are looking for healing for some disease or need a bite to eat… perhaps they hope to get his autograph—scripture doesn’t tell us why they wish to see him, only that they do.
Phillip doesn’t seem to be concerned about why either—he doesn’t ask any questions of them about who what when where or why they want to see Christ. He just carries the message, and likely the Greeks with him, over to Andrew. And Andrew also does not screen the call but instead goes with Phillip directly over to Jesus and alerts him that this gaggle of Greeks would like to greet him.
The disciples are not sure what Jesus will do with these Greeks. They are outsiders from the faith after all, but both Andrew and Phillip already know that such a minor detail had not stopped Jesus before. But I don’t think the disciples were fully prepared for what came next… for once again Jesus predicts his death… except this time it’s different. No longer is the hour coming… no longer is the time nearing… instead we hear Jesus speak the words, “The hour has come.” The moment is here… Christ’s story is taking a dramatic shift toward the cross.
I imagine that the disciples in our reading today found themselves in a fog of despair as they heard Christ’s words. He had accumulated quite a gathering of folks… and this message did not bode well for the future in a number of ways. In the next verse beyond our passage today we hear the crowd’s response to Jesus’ words:
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
They had hoped that if this Jesus was indeed Messiah that he would challenge and be victorious against those who had conquered Israel. They had hoped that if this Jesus was indeed the Messiah that he would be their king on earth not for just a little while longer but for all time. And so they stop listening… they stop trying to read the signals in the sky but instead close their hearts and minds against this man who claimed to be the Son of Man.
The fog had rolled in over their hearts and minds… their expectations of who Jesus might be had been broken and so they could listen no longer. But I can’t say that I blame them.
Too often, I think, we experience broken expectations in life. Things are not always as we thought they might be. I remember a married couple in seminary… she was a planner through and through. She always had to have a 5 year and a 10 year plan strategically written out as to what their life was going to be like. She planned when they would have kids… when they would have pets… when they would buy a house… every facet of their life was planned out well before it could occur. And then, her husband felt a call to become a pastor. Suddenly, those 5 year and 10 year plans were being re-written again… and again… and again. She wanted so much to be in control of their future, and yet found that her long-term plans kept getting changed.
Or perhaps the broken expectations are more than disruptions to our 5 year plans. Perhaps the broken expectations come in the form of broken relationships. Of friendships, kinships, and marriages that are not what we would hope they would be. Wounds can be cut deep into our hearts over breakings in relationship.
Or perhaps the broken expectations come in the form of test results at the doctor’s office. When we hear painful words that remind us of our mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. Just in the last week or two I have heard of many such painful test results that are inflicting pain within the families of our church.
Whatever the broken expectation might be, and I list only the tip of the iceberg, the truth remains that every person shall experience such brokenness. And people handle this painful truth in varying ways. Some try to ignore it, hoping that they will be able to forget the pain and move on in life. Some people blame themselves, beating themselves up for days, weeks, months, years, or for some even an entire life-time. Others cry out to God for help, asking that they might receive comfort from God. Some cry out to God in anger for allowing the world to be broken—for allowing suffering and death to loom over our lives rather than just fixing the world and making it a perfect place where no one has to suffer. Others see their world fall apart and declare that God must not exist at all—for why would a God who is supposed to be so full of love allow such pain and suffering to exist?
Broken expectations can completely change our understanding of life as well as our understanding of God. When we experience the frustration, the loss, the grief…. our hearts and minds are affected. And, indeed, our lenses through which we perceive life become fogged.
But… when we see the loss and pain and grief and despair and whatever else might go into the broken expectation—we, just like the disciples, are only reading half of the message.
Jesus was not the messiah they expected—instead of being the grain of wheat that they could hold in their hand and always know exactly what it was supposed to do and what it was supposed to be, Jesus fell to the earth and died. And if we stopped reading the message right there as Jesus goes to the cross then he would have been just another martyr. But with Christ, the message continues to be written beyond the words of death. He points tothat grain of what and says, “For when the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.” Suddenly, amid the suffering, death, and broken expectations… there is NEW life and NEW hope.
Beyond all reason there is suddenly cause to rejoice again. The message of the cross for us today is two-fold:
The first is that expectations will be broken. Life will not always be easy… and perhaps it will never be easy. We will have challenges at home, at work, with our families… and yes, even at church. The things that we care most about will often vex us the most as well. And at times, we will feel like there is reason to throw in the towel, turn away, and give up because the fog of the present has made the journey forward too difficult.
But the second message of the cross for us today is that there is more to the message than defeat. At times shrouded in the fog, hidden away from our senses, is the very real, truly powerful promise of God that Christ walks with us and before us. Christ has suffered and died for you that you may have new life! Christ went to the cross so that as you face broken expectation that you may know that there is yet Good News to be heard.
There is a time-honored story about an old farmer who was persuaded by his nephew to visit the big city. The young man proudly took the farmer on a tour of the large metropolis.
At one point as they walked down the street the old man suddenly stopped and asked, “Did you hear that?”
The young man looked at the milling pedestrians and the traffic and replied, “Hear what?”
“A cricket,” the old man said as he walked toward a little tuft of grass growing out of a crack next to a tall building. Sure enough, there tucked in the crack was a cricket.
The young man was amazed. “How could you pick up the sound of a cricket in all this noise?” he asked.
The old farmer didn’t say a word and just reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple of coins and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately a number of people began to reach for their pockets or look down at the sidewalk.
The old man observed, “We hear what our ears are trained to hear.”
Listen and look for the rest of the message. Christ is the light in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome him. Nor will the darkness overcome you, because of God’s promise. God is for you and God will see you through.
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