Speaking the language

John 12:20-33

These days when the Greeks turn up, they’re probably asking for money, but it wasn’t so in Jesus’ time. The “Greeks” who asked for Jesus were, I expect, Greek Jews. I expect they were there for the Passover. They wanted to see Jesus. And they found Philip. Philip is a Greek name. So maybe he was also a Greek Jew – they shared the language well enough to ask to see Jesus. So Philip and Andrew go to Jesus and say, there are some Greeks want a backstage pass. And Jesus goes off about darkness and glory.

I wonder – is it the arrival of these people from a far off country that causes Jesus to say these words? Years before, wise men – Magi – came to greet him at his birth. Now, again, people from across the known world are looking for him. He has star appeal, does Jesus. He’s making his name across Jerusalem, Judah and Galilee. He is being glorified – called a great teacher.
Some say he’s the miracle worker. And if he can gather the Jews that want a rebellion from across the Roman Empire – he could throw out the Romans. He could, at least, raise the flags of defiance against an oppressive Empire. He could take earthly glory.

Or he could take on the glory that he is sent for. He could actually live for his Father’s glory. The shadow of the cross lays across the road before him. He will see darkness before he sees the light that he calls us to.

“…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.” In the autumn we plant our bulbs to enjoy at this time of year. I heard of someone who found an old forgotten bulb a few weeks ago, and they chucked it into a pile of rocks in the corner of their garden, and the other day they noticed a green shoot poking up through the rocks.
They watered it quick, hoping that in a few weeks they will find out what that bulb was. If you don’t plant a bulb you won’t get a flower. If you don’t plant a seed, you won’t get a harvest. Stuff happens in the darkness beneath the ground. Stuff happens when things die, says Jesus.

And he tells us, if we are his disciples, we have to follow him. If he goes down to the darkness, we are to be there with him. This does not necessarily have to mean death in Jesus’s name. Though, as our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria have faced over the last couple of years, it might. But if we follow Jesus – if we’re where he is – it can mean darkness at times.

There’s the darkness of rejection or opposition or ridicule – from our enemies, those who are against us for some reason, but also from our friends.
There’s also the dark times when we realise our own weakness and sin. It’s a side effect of following Jesus, who is light, that he throws light on our own darkness. Compared to him, we realise where we fall short. We know where we have let God down. Yet, we know that in the hope and confidence of God’s love, grace, and mercy over-riding everything.

“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.””

As Jesus reflects on his ordeal to come – he runs through the options available. He’s here now, in Jerusalem. He has come for a purpose. His last week is running out. But he could turn and run.
He could pray for his Father to send his angels. But, no. The Son’s job is to glorify his Father. He will stand and face the cross. And the Father responds that his name will be glorified. Even the eternal Son of God, when he walked this earth, did what he did – not for his own glory – but for the Father’s. His life is one of obedience. He lives out those two commandments – love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself.

The temptation for us, is to live to our own glory. We look for our own promotion, our own little glories. As a minister, there’s always the temptation to be the Pope in your own parish. If you’re the church treasurer or lead the Ladies’ Bright Hour, you can make your little corner of the Kingdom your own. You can glorify yourself there.

Or you might have to do what Jesus did – what some are called to – to suffer for the Kingdom. That’s what our Lord did. Or you can do what Philip did. Philip could speak to the Greeks. He could also speak to Jesus. He wasn’t doing anything for himself – he was helping some people, who wanted to see the Light of the World.

That’s what we are supposed to do – build a bridge, light the way, interpret – we have the job of leading people to Jesus. I don’t mean turning into one of those people standing in the street shouting religious things while everybody ignores them. They may be right, but to the people who pass by they might as well be speaking Greek.

And in case we are smug at this – at least the person in street is trying. In a rather strange way, they preach the Gospel – trying to raise Jesus up – trying to bring people to him. Glorifying his name. When we talk to people about the things that in principle should matter to us most – about the new life God gives, about the love Jesus shows, about the reality that the Holy Spirit – God in movement, is moving in our lives – do they hear about love and glory and life? Or do they hear about furniture rearrangement and committee meetings and finances? Or do they actually hear nothing?

We need to be in the same position as Philip. Close to Jesus, but speaking other people’s languages. That’s why there is a problem when people like me say they’d never read the Sun or Daily Mirror or the Express or the Daily Mail. Or people say they don’t use the internet or they’re not on Facebook or Twitter. Because that’s where people are. That’s how they speak. That’s how they make sense of their lives. That’s where we can engage with them.
I’m not saying that each of us should be learning street slang and gettin’ down wit’ te yout. You’d end up rekt. But to the people around you – the ones who you meet every day, eat or drink or talk with – your life should be the glory of Jesus, but in their language.

Philip was able to speak the language of the Greeks – but close to Jesus. That’s where we need to be. When Philip took the message to Jesus, and Jesus answered, some said it thundered. Others said an angel spoke to him. Jesus and – I presume – his disciples knew what God was saying. You can speak people’s language, you can show them Jesus. After that, it’s down to the Spirit, and to them, what they hear. You’ve done your job. You’ve seen God’s glory. And you’ve been able to speak their language.

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