The Fifth Sunday in Lent (B), March 25, 2012

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.”



PSALM 51:1-13


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 of Paul 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


When I was growing up in Cincinnati – which my kids will tell you was a really long time ago – “going shopping” usually meant a trip downtown.  There you could find dozens and dozens of specialty stores of all kinds along with the big three department stores: Shillito’s, McAlpin’s and Pogue’s.  These were the places where you bought most of the things that you needed.  Downtown was the place that nearly everyone in the greater-Cincinnati area came to shop.


Those days are long gone in Cincinnati, in Dayton, and in the great majority of other cities around the country.   Retail sales moved first to small, strip centers like Airway Shopping Center right up the street from here, then to large, enclosed spaces like the Dayton Mall and the Mall at Fairfield Commons.  Now, 50 years after real downtowns were abandoned, we are building privately owned, imitation downtowns like the Greene.  But in retail, the biggest change of all may well be the move from physical stores to online shopping, which has grown tremendously over the past decade.  Recent estimates predicate that annual online shopping in the U.S. will grow to about $270 billion by the year 2015.


Yet even online shopping is far from stable.  In fact, it is changing rapidly.  Its ongoing development is now focused in particular on the move from a “push” approach to a “pull” approach. 


“Push” approaches include making all of a company’s products readily available to digital shoppers via a company’s web site, and maybe even offering shoppers a variety of coupons and special offers.  They promote all a company’s offerings to all people. 


“Pull” approaches, on the other hand, are much more focused, much more targeted, and, as a result, much more effective.  Using increasingly sophisticated software and vast data warehouses, digital retailers can track and maintain all sorts of information about you: your age, where you live, what kinds of interests you have, whether you have children, and all the purchases that you have made in the past.  Then, using that data, they can target you with the products that may best interest you and that you are most likely to buy.  They no longer have to create in people a desire to buy what they have to sell; they already know which of their products each customer is likely to buy, along with a good idea of their personal preferences in style, size and color.  Their intent is to provide you with what you already want.


It can be hard using a “push” approach: selling your product to people who might or might not be interested in anything that you have.  It is far easier using a “pull approach”: one in which you are able to identify people who are already looking for what you have to offer.


Last Sunday at St. Margaret’s, I spoke with you about the necessity of holding Jesus up to the world by our words and especially by our example.  Often churches try to do that by using the “push” method: publicizing their message and their programs via ads in newspapers and other media, holding great events in which as many people as possible come to know about them and what they have to offer.  Those methods can sometimes be effective, and they can enable churches to reach a wide audience.


But today’s gospel reading reminds us that there are times in our lives – times that come much more often than we tend to recognize – when a door is open for us to use a “pull” approach: sharing the message of the gospel with people who are already open to hearing it, at least for a brief time, sharing the Good News with people who are already searching for God in their lives.  We need to be attuned to those times and ready to respond to those opportunities.


All through the gospel according to John, Jesus has been telling his followers “My time has not yet come.”  At last, in the passage we heard today, all of that changes.  Some “Greeks” – these may have been Greek-speaking converts to Judaism – some Greeks come to Philip and inform him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Philip did not need any sophisticated computer software or vast data warehouse – which, of course, is fortunate for somebody living 2000 years ago!  Here were a group of people who not only were open to the presence of God experienced in the person of Jesus, but who were actively looking for that presence.  They already wanted to see Jesus.


Philip knew exactly what to do.  He knew that time was of the essence.  So, he went immediately to tell Andrew who, in turn, went with him to tell Jesus.  And Jesus at last announced: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Here was the opportunity, the opening for which he had been waiting, the opening for which God had been waiting.  Here was a group of people who were looking for God, longing to know God through this prophet from Galilee.  No one had to push them into it.  They knew who and what they needed.  All that the disciples had to do was to be ready to respond to that need.


As people charged with proclaiming the gospel to the world in our time, we obviously cannot sit back and wait for people to show up at our door and announce “We wish to see Jesus.”  I am afraid that we will be waiting a long time.  But we do encounter people in the course of our lives who have special moments when they are particularly open to the presence of God; and, like Philip and Andrew, we need to be attuned to those moments and ready to act in those moments.


Some people experience times like that when they have had to deal with a serious injury or a major illness or the death of a loved one.  Others do so when their first child is born or when he or she gets old enough for some sort of Sunday School.  Still others find themselves especially open to God when they sense themselves moving from one phase of life to another: from being a student to becoming a young adult, responsible for his or her self; from being a young adult to entering middle age; from being a middle-age care-giver to being an elderly care-needer.


There are many different times and sets of circumstances in life in which people are naturally open to God in their lives and when they may well be open to our invitation to come with us and experience what we have found in the Christian faith and life.  But, like Philip and Andrew, we have to be aware of those times and circumstances, and we have to be ready to act before the opportunity is lost. 


In his old age, Mark Twain lamented, “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”  Unfortunately, we have too often shared his experience.


Sharing the gospel, sharing our faith, is not always a matter of helping people become aware of their need for God and for a faith community in their lives.  Sometimes, they are already aware of that need.  It is then that we need to be perceptive enough to recognize that God has opened a door for us.   And we need to be ready to take advantage of that open door: to share with them the Good News and to invite them to join us in experiencing the life of our faith community.   In many and varied ways, people are still telling us: “We want to see Jesus.”  All we need to do is to be ready to help them do just that.