A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (31:31-34)
“The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,” says the Lord. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” says the Lord; “for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
(refrain sung by soloist and repeated by all)
“Create a clean heart,
a clean heart in me, O God”.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.
6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
13 Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
A Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (5:5-10)
Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last Sunday, we had a wonderful celebration here: one that included both the members of St. Mark’s and our sisters and brothers from St. Margaret’s. It continued beyond our sharing in the Holy Eucharist right through our shared lunch together. Several members of each church commented that this was one of the best celebrations that we have had in the seven years that we have worshipping and sharing fellowship together. Many thanks to those of you who did so much work in making this occasion possible. And many thanks to those of you who went out of your way at lunch, not sitting where you always sit with the same people with whom you always sit, but making the effort truly to welcome our guests and enjoy fellowship with them.
Churches all too often come to act as though they were isolated, stand-alone entities; but we are not. We are all members together of a far greater church, and it is important to remind ourselves of that, not only in our words, but in what we do. But, in Fr. Ben’s words to us, there was one expression of that unity that caught me a little by surprise. He referred to our two churches as “two mission stations” in the one church of Southern Ohio.
Now it wasn’t that I hadn’t heard that image before. I certainly had, but it had been a long time. About 15 or so years ago, the late Bishop Herbert Thompson often invoked that image, talking about our diocese as one church with 80-some mission stations. It was part of what he referred to as a diocesan BHAG (“Big Hairy Audacious Goal”) of having 100,000 Episcopalians in southern Ohio within about five years. Obviously, that never happened. That thrust turned out to be just another in a whole series of grand initiatives and “in”-expressions, and catch-phrases, and gimmicks that the church has employed over the years. They have come, and they have gone; and, in all honesty, most of them have had no discernable effect at all on the life and mission of the church. That is a lesson that we seem to learn as each grand initiative fades from the scene; but we quickly forget and are all too ready to jump at the next “big thing.”
So what do we do? What does work? What does seem to contribute to the growth and life of the church? Where should we be focusing our attention? I suggest that we seriously consider the approach that Jesus takes in today’s gospel reading.
Five times in the first part of the gospel according to John, we have been told that Jesus’ “hour” had not yet come. That “hour” would be the time of his glorification and of the Father’s glorification in him; it is his ultimate goal in life, the very purpose of his life. But in today’s passage, everything changes. The critical point in the entire gospel has finally been reached. “The hour has come,” he solemnly announces.
But what exactly brought it about? It’s not that Jesus or his disciples have launched some great new program or mission or initiative. What begins this pivotal transformation is the response of Philip and then Andrew and then Jesus himself to a momentary, fleeting opportunity, one that they easily could have missed. It was a brief opening that could allow them to bring others into a contact with and a life in God. Some “Greeks” – John probably means some Gentiles, some non-Jews, who up to this time had not been included among Jesus’ followers – some Greeks came to Philip and told him simply, “We wish to see Jesus.”
Philip could have been too busy to pay attention to them. He could have had other things to do at the time. He could have been wrapped up in a conversation with people whom he had already known for a long time and simply ignored these newcomers. But he was not. Instead, he took advantage of the moment to drop everything and take them to Andrew: one of Jesus’ first disciples. And Andrew, likewise responding to the opening, went immediately to inform Jesus.
The fact that these people were Greeks made Philip and then Andrew logical choices. Among Jesus’ closest followers, they were two who had Greek names, so there was at least some tie-in with those who were searching. It wasn’t much, but that small link was enough for Philip and Andrew to act on it. As minor or even trivial as that connection might seem, they had at least something in common with these inquirers, and they were willing to seize the moment, to make use of it, and to take the opportunity to bring them to Jesus.
That seems to be the exact way that many people today come into the life and ministry of the church, including the church here at St. Mark’s. Either friends of theirs or someone whom they have met through shared experiences have invited them to come with them to St. Mark’s and to see if this is a community of which they might want to be a part. Or people, who have found us via our web site or our sign or in another way, have been welcomed by parishioners who have made welcoming visitors a high priority. Like Philip and Andrew and Jesus, they have been in-tune with the opportunity of the moment – or, we might say, with the opening that God gave them — and they have taken advantage of it to welcome new people and help them to experience God’s presence and work in their lives.
Occasions like these might seem like pure matters of chance; and maybe they are. But maybe something more is going on here. Maybe God is at work here, opening up brief windows, opening up opportunities for us, if we are willing to pay attention to them. Maybe, if we take the time to think and pray about them, we might come to the realization that these seemingly chance encounters are the opportunities for ministry, for sharing the Good News that God gives us. Maybe, instead of seeing these contacts as mere chance encounters, we might just find ourselves echoing the words of Jesus in his and Philip’s and Andrew’s seemingly chance encounter with this group of Greeks: “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Maybe – and I think that it is much more than just a “maybe” – maybe there are people in all of our lives who “want to see Jesus”: people who are looking for the life, the hope, and the meaning that we have found here.
Jesus didn’t wait for some grand initiative to come along. Instead, he paid attention to the seemingly ordinary opportunities that God opened up for him; and he acted on them. Do we?