Hitting Life's Target

5th Sunday in Lent 21.03.21           Sermon Précis

John 12:20-33 -            (Focus: John 12:24,25 & 31-33)

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!’

Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (NT Greek: will draw the whole earth to myself).33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

I love a good and rousing quote from great and respected leaders. Churchill has many of his recorded for posterity. We like to hear from great people and tie our thinking and philosophies to theirs. There is a sense of security in that. Holding on to wisdom handed down to us by others. I’m particularly fond of President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, on April 23rd 1910, entitled Citizenship in a Republic’. (language updated for 2021 inclusivity).

It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong stumble, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; …..

Citizenship in a Republic is the title of a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt, at

the Sorbonne in Paris, on April 23, 1910.

Hitting Life's target

Teddy Roosevelt’s speech reflects something of Christianity. In particular it reflects struggle, cultural judgementalism and failure. Not God’s judgements but the fault-finding judgmentalism of timid observers. Sin? Yes but in the sense of ‘falling short’.

Romans 3:23 has often been quoted by overly zealous evangelists. ‘For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ This accompanied by an elevated voice and the appropriate finger wagging. The focus being on that Old English word, ‘sin’ with all the attached cultural moralism and judgementalism. What the Greek New testament actually says is, ‘for all have missed the mark and fallen short of the glory of God.’ Not so much a judgement anymore, as a statement of fact. If we miss the mark it’s because we have been aiming the trajectory of our thoughts, words and actions poorly; aiming our life poorly. So, we miss God’s glorious target for our lives and for everyday living.

So, what is this target, that we could be aiming at? Glad you asked.

It’s a life of joy found only in loving relationships. Not some culturally moralistic norm for society. It’s a joyful loving life with God, with the people around us and with our selves. We will have our successes, but we will continue to come up short again and again, in spite of all our valiant endeavours to leave self-centeredness behind and enrich the lives of others.

Genuine contribution to a better world comes with struggle, with a cost and with regular failure – but failure over the longer term, with the long view in mind becomes success if we follow Jesus, if we devote ourselves to him as his disciples. A disciple, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, doesn’t give up on difficult people. Rather a disciple of Jesus filled with his Spirit perseveres, by the power of God, in the arena of life. The passionate, persevering, overcoming love of Christ Jesus into the lives of as many people as possible is His target and therefore the target of all Spirit filled disciples.

Why am I so adamant about being filled with the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son? It’s because we can’t do it alone. We can do it, but only in partnership with our loving God, after all, it is God who is love.

This is what Jesus is teaching his disciples. His penultimate words before his ultimate act and his great success for our sake – his willing sacrifice upon that cross. The Great Exchange we call it: Our lives from His death.  His great eagled-eyed focus aim that replaces our immature, unpracticed, mostly blind aim. His unbounded love in replacement for our fear and ‘missing the mark’ idolatry.

A grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die if it is to multiply. And multiply again and again and again. Jesus multiplied himself through his disciple and is multiplying himself still today in you and me. Death, however, is required. His and ours – mine and yours.

Upon the cross Jesus dragged all of creation to himself. He has dragged his broken, resentful stubborn, beautiful crowning creative achievement to himself, humankind. He did this so that we may, by his power and strength, die to our selfish inward-looking desires, our self-serving idolatry and instead, rise again each day to a life of loving, productive, value adding service to God and to our neighbour as we do for ourselves. That’s the Great commandment isn’t it? To love? And to love is to serve – to value add to the lives of others and indeed to value add the life of Jesus to our own lives so that we are fit to love well.

When we are curved in on ourselves and paying attention to each and every idolatry we can imagine, purchase and play with, we are not outwardly focused on the things that really matter for the long term. Because of the inward gaze, we are not taking the time or making the effort to value add for family, friends, colleagues, nor are we participating in the meaning of life – loving God, loving neighbour as self and receiving the love and care of those who choose to love us.

We will listen to Churchill, Roosevelt, the great philosophers and others. Wouldn’t it be wise to also listen to the greatest leader the world has ever known? To listen to Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life so that we could live abundantly in his daily loving service to us and reap the sheer joy of loving and being loved.,

This is the meaning of life:

  • To daily rid ourselves of worldliness - dying to self and to ego, in other words
  • To live for Jesus as his disciples and
  • To lead others to him. To ‘spread the love man!’

Spread the Love, child of God! Live a fulfilling and fulfilled life.

For Monday

Q. What holds you back from looking outward and beyond yourself to others?

Q. What limits your love?

  • Take a look at what Martin Luther says, in his Small Catechism, about love and how we achieve the ability to love well. Think on it. Pray on it. (It’s available online)
  • Make a list of ways that you can, with the gifts you have – time, talents and possessions – value add to the lives of others. Be kind to yourself and just pick one or two from your list and start there.