"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." John 12:20-23
The Bible has a rather interesting place in the history of books. It is one of the first bound books, and continues to be printed and distributed in many forms. I have lost track of how many copies and translations of the Bible I own. My guess is that every one here has at least one copy of the Bible at home, and it's probably what is known as the King James Version. I love the King James. There are parts of the Bible that I still prefer in the King James, simply for its eloquence.
Yet, despite it's prevalence, it is not the most accessible version for the modern reader—in fact, I would guess that if we still read from it on Sundays, I would probably need to preach twice a long, because I'd have to offer the lesson again in contemporary language before I could even speak of its meaning.
It may be that one of the reasons most people—even "every Sunday Christians"—don't read the Bible on their own is because they feel that the meaning is so rich that they can't just read it. I grew up reading the Bible on my own, usually once or twice a week—sometimes more—at bedtime. When I was a teenager, I found it particularly meaningful to read the Bible, because it had a way of soothing my adolescent anxieties. It was like a bath for the soul.
I truly don't mean this to sound sanctimonious, but it seemed to me that when I would read the Bible that by the time I put the book down, it felt as if God had cleaned up my soul, and returned me to a proper frame of mind.
People who come to church every week are used to hearing the Bible, but we're used to hearing it in the form of lections, or lessons. In seminary, we used the Greek word pericope, which literally means "cutting." The text is cut from the Bible to be used in a liturgy like Morning Prayer or the Holy Eucharist. And the lectionary writers have worked hard to make those cuttings the most helpful and instructive and interesting sections of the Bible.
But we lose a lot by doing that. Paul's letters were not written to be read by section. Attention spans being what they are now, we can't read an entire letter on Sunday or many of us would get up and leave. We need the cuttings so that the pulpit has time to explain what has just been read.
Yet we lose the flow of the stories, and we lose the context and the themes that recur. For instance, if you were reading Luke's gospel from beginning to end, you would notice a special emphasis on Jerusalem. The turning point in Luke's Gospel is when Jesus "sets his face" toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem is like it's own character—like a dark cloud on the horizon, looming large, threatening overshadow or overcome the ministry of Jesus.
If you read Mark's gospel from start to finish, you will notice the emphasis Mark places on what scholars have called "the messianic secret"—Jesus sternly orders the disciples and others not tell anyone that he is the Messiah. Jesus sternly orders people who have been healed, "Don't tell anyone about this."
Today we read from John's gospel and John places an emphasis on "the hour" that is coming. Those of you who joined me in December for the Advent study may recall Raymond Brown's structure of the gospel as "The Book of Signs" and "The Book of Glory." The Book of Signs (chapters 1-13) reads like a list of stories and teachings that revealed who Jesus was, even though many did not see it.
You read through John, and you see where some of them got it and some of them didn't, but the signs were there—Jesus is the One, Jesus is the One. There was the sign. Did you see it?
And the story is all going to culminate at "the hour." That's the climax. We hear about it in his very first sign—the changing of the water into wine. Mary tells Jesus that the wedding party has run out of wine, and you remember what he says? He says, "Woman, what is that to do with me? My hour has not yet come." (John 2:4)
When he visits with the Samaritan woman at the well. And she says to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our Samaritan ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place we should worship God."
And Jesus says to her, "Woman, believe me the hour…" The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…The hour is coming...when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…" (John 4:19ff)
A little later Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God…Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out…" (John 5:25ff)
What hour? The hour when the signs are no longer needed. The hour when he is glorified. And all of this begs the question, how will we know when the hour has come?
This is not an hour on the clock, or an hour of the day—we are not talking about minutes and seconds. We know that. You see the dark clouds when you're mowing the grass and feel a sudden gust of wind, and you know it's time to put the mower away and finish up before the rain.
The woman learns that she is with child and she begins to plan for the baby. Furniture is moved in. Diapers are made ready. Books are read. The hour is coming.
You think preparation is about being ready, but it's not. No one is ever really ready for the hour to come. You just know it has to come when this and this and this, and a couple things we don't even know about will rise, and gather, and associate.
And then, what we were once waiting for will arrive as if it has been here all along. Something in the anticipation brings it forward, making the actual arrival almost unremarkable.
We carry "the hour" around with us in all shapes and sizes. The hour at which we must make dinner, or go to bed. The hour we are called upon to speak, or pay the bill, or do the laundry. There are things in life that simply must be done, and an hour must come to do them.
The hour that is the hour is death. But John didn't really write it that way in his gospel. Death is what you think will be the hour, but with Jesus, things are never quite so simple. You see, for Jesus, the hour is the hour for him to be glorified—and being glorified is the culmination of the mission the Father has given him.
To John's understanding, Jesus has been sent into the world as the living Word—the Word of God made flesh. And as Jesus moved about preaching, healing, and reconciling, he was fulfilling this mission—revealing bit by bit who he was. "And to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12)—like himself.
If you were to read John's gospel from chapter one to chapter twelve—from which we are reading this morning—you will notice that the signs are all for the people of Galilee and Samaria, places where the people who would have heard Jesus would have been either Jewish, Samaritan, or what are called Gentiles—people who are not of Israelite background, but would have been surrounded by the culture of the Hebrew people.
You could liken Gentiles to being like the ordinary, non-Christian folks in the Shenandoah Valley. They might not consider themselves Christians, but they're not going to fuss if they go into a funeral home and see the cross, or what have you. They understand that the religion around them is the main one, and they don't feel one way or the other about it. It's just the religion around them. (I would love for every single one of them to feel the Spirit of the Living God and come to church, but that's another sermon for another day.)
The point is, that until now, in John's gospel, the people who have heard about Jesus, and been around him, have been mostly people in what we now call the Holy Lands. But in this lesson, when the Greeks come to Andrew and Philip…well, that is a major turning point. The Gospel does not really swivel on this moment, but there is a slight change in the direction of the wind, because the Greeks are not from there. And when they come to see Jesus, it indicates that the hour has come. The hour when he will be glorified. The hour when Jesus and everything he stands for and teaches and proclaims, will no longer be just for the people of Israel and Samaria and Galilee.
When the Greeks come, it means that the hour has arrived when Jesus can no longer be considered a minor travelling prophet and healer, but the Savior of the World. It has all been leading up to this in John's Gospel. The signs have been getting bigger and bigger. Culminating in the death and return to life of his friend Lazarus. That's real point on which the gospel turns.
And as you come through chapter twelve and Mary anoints Jesus feet—and it's understood that the anointing is for his burial—you know that it won't be long now. So when the Greeks come…that's it. It symbolizes the whole world "going after him." (John 12:19) The hour has come. (Pause.)
Next week we will rehearse the story of the Passion of Jesus—the account of his crucifixion and burial. I am so grateful that the Church decided, somewhere back in the fourth century, to hallow this time with a yearly rehearsal of the death of Jesus, because I'm not sure we could force ourselves to do it otherwise.
It is not easy to do it, even though we do it every year. There are many people who will avoid coming to church entirely until Easter, for many reasons. They don't like Lent. They don't like Holy Week. It is too sad and difficult—even with the resurrection around the corner—to come and pray. Or perhaps they don't see any reason to do this. If Jesus was raised from the dead, why talk about his death?
But I think Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would disagree. They each gave us an account of Jesus' passion, and they said, "Read this. Get yourselves together, and read this. Eat some bread and drink some wine, and read this. It is in the reading and sharing, praying and loving that you will be the Church. It is in gathering together and welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, you will be the Church.
You will be more than Jew, Greek, Samaritan, Gentile, Male, Female, Republican, Democrat, Independent. Read this. Think about it. Have a little bread and wine.
For behold, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
If this sermon was meaningful to you, please consider giving to the church where you feel most at home.
The churches of Beckford Parish, where this sermon was preached, are:
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 122 East Court Street, Woodstock, VA 22664, & St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 117, Mt. Jackson, VA 22842.
 Pronounced: puh-RIC-opee