Leanne Van Dyk
February 5, 2021
Columbia Seminary Lenten devotional
The Trajectory of Salvation
“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 must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
This small exchange between Andrew, Philip, Jesus, and some unnamed Greeks is wedged into John chapter 12 between two much bigger events. At the beginning of the chapter is the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and at the end of the chapter is the report of the heavy discouragement of Jesus on sensing his impending death. In such a crowded chapter of momentous events, this enigmatic conversation often gets overlooked.
But two phrases in this middle section of the chapter are worthy of our careful attention. Two phrases, in fact, capture the trajectory of salvation.
The first phrase is the request of those unnamed Greeks from Bethsaida who approached Philip with a request. It’s possible that these Greeks knew Philip, whose hometown was Bethsaida. In any case, they asked Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Such a simple request. But it captures the longing of these would-be believers for something true, something real, something holy. It captures the desire of the human heart for meaning and hope. During this season of Lent, Christian disciples have the same longing, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Lent hones and whets our desire to see Jesus, although we must brace ourselves to see Jesus scorned and beaten and crucified as well as risen and victorious. The hymn text, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” captures the grief and mourning that accompanies our desire to see Jesus. But when the eyes of faith imagine the stunning triumph of Easter morning witnessed by the women disciples, the grief and mourning turns to wild hope and expectation. This first phrase, then, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” expresses a yearning common to our humanity, a yearning for wholeness and healing, a yearning for salvation.
The second phrase in this middle section of John 12 that captures the trajectory of salvation comes from Jesus himself. After he unpacks the analogy of a seed falling into the ground, seemingly dried up and dead but then bursting into flower and fruit, Jesus then makes clear what this analogy means for discipleship. He says, “Where I am. . . there will my servant be also.” His pathway is also our pathway. His led through suffering to death and, then, in God’s glorious reversal, to life. Our pathway, likewise, leads to suffering, to sacrifice, to the dark places of the world’s pain and grief. And, likewise, our path, in God’s glorious reversal, leads to life.
So, here is the rule: if you want to know where you should be, notice where Jesus is – and then, go there. If you are wondering about your call, where you should serve, what you should do, notice where Jesus is – and then, go there. This is the rule of discipleship. But let there be no mistake: where Jesus is will be places of sorrow. Jesus hangs out with the riff-raff of society – the sick, the homeless, the sex workers, the despised, the addicted, the panhandlers, the refugees, the undocumented, the imprisoned. So, that is where we, as Jesus followers, should go. Because that is where Jesus is. Let’s put it even more boldly – there is no place where Jesus won’t go. This means that we too are called, in the name of Jesus, to the most challenging places of human suffering and pain. “Where I am, there will my servant be also.”
On the front page of our newspapers or pinging the news feeds on our phones is a daily litany of pain and injustice. This last year of pandemic dangers have only exacerbated the injustices we already know. Poor people get poorer. Underserved communities struggle even more. Medically fragile people reach for care that somehow isn’t for them. Governments are strained. Dangerous factions grow. It is not hard to see the places of despair in our world.
The season of Lent invites us – compels us – to follow Jesus where he goes. “Where I am, there will my servant be also.” Jesus states this as a simple matter of fact. Today, we hear it as a call to discipleship. These two moments in the middle of John 12 are points on one trajectory of faith that starts with a deep hunger and then continues with “a long faithfulness in the same direction.” The challenge for our communities of faith is to connect the longing to see Jesus with the call to follow Jesus.
This familiar phrase is the title of a book by pastoral writer Eugene Peterson, who died in 2018.
A Pastoral Prayer for Lent
God of mercy and of grace,
you have spoken in a loud voice and in a voice still and small.
Listen now in these days of reflection,
not to the deserving of our voices shouted,
but to the yearning of our hearts as they whisper.
God of wisdom and of grace,
by the Spirit of Christ
your Word echoes in the unity of this scattered people.
As we examine our place in the order of being,
listen not to the logic of our cases argued
but to the hope of our belief that your are listening.
Bathed in that hope we pray for the church, O God:
In our prayers for the church
we long for the days,
more now than a year gone by,
when we could be together,
laugh, pray, and sing together,
smile, hug, and weep together,
as well as butt our heads together.
Give us grace to reclaim the good of that memory
and wisdom to meet the challenges of this day.
The world is more complex now
as is the act of living in and as the church.
As a congregation of your scattered people
keep us dreaming.
We want to be
a united voice of truth,
a beacon of justice,
a balm of healing,
a sanctuary of justice,
a people of nurture
where children are seen as signs of your kingdom,
where noble ideas are fostered in the days of youth,
where faithfulness is encouraged among grownups,
where the wisdom of long years is cherished, and
where truth is demanded in high places.
Come, Holy Spirit of Christ,
move among us that in these days
when it is so easy not to be the church
that we might be your brave and faithful people
united in love though separate in space.
Not for the church alone, O God,
but in this day of self examination
we pray for our nation and world as well:
We hear on all sides
voices filled with anger born of fear
and voices of fear born of anger
as sides are chosen in blind rage.
We are grateful, then, for leaders
who long in quiet strength to do your will.
Fill them with grace and right conviction
to foster patience, understanding, healing,
and, above all, truth.
We recognize around the world in pictures we see nightly
people whose lives are shattered by war, famine, and disease,
by natural disaster, corruption, and shameless greed.
Show us ways in which we,
every one of us,
can be signs and means of your healing
even as we speak with the voice of prophets
demanding that our leaders
see and do the healing thing.
And now hear again the prayers we so often speak
for those who grieve
and those who comfort them;
for those who are anxious
and those who steady them;
for those who are lonely
and those who befriend them;
for those who are tired
and those who share their load;
for those who are confused
and those who point the way;
for those who are addicted
and those who love them;
for those who are guilty
and those who forgive them;
and, yes, oh yes a thousand times yes,
in these days of unspeakable disease, we pray
for those who are desperately ill
and those who attend them;
for those who are dying alone
and the nurses who hold their hands;
for those who are quarantined
and those who phone them;
for those who are out of work
and those who feed them;
for those who are not in school
and those who teach them;
for those who tirelessly seek prevention and cure
and for all of us who are grateful to them.
As always we close our prayer humbly asking
that you give us grace as those who are called
to be answers to these our earnest prayers.
We pray in the name of the one who,
prays for us…
especially for us…
especially for everyone. Amen.
. Adapted from Prayers for the Lord’s Day: Hope for the Exiles, James S. Lowry, Geneva Press, Louisville, Kentucky, p. 34f.