John 12:20-33; Jeremiah 31: 31-34
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord.” Surely, we need this affirmation from Jeremiah again and again. Jeremiah is known as “the Weeping Prophet.” He is NOT famous for bringing words of comfort and hope. Rather, he constantly criticizes both the religious and political establishment which exploited the powerless, the uprooted of the exiled community. But, here in chapter 31, he delivers a comforting message: “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them (13)” and a message of Hope: “The days are surely coming (31).”
Let me begin with a story. Several years ago, one evening we began our family devotion. After singing a couple of hymns, Rachel briefly explained about Lenten Season to Jonathan and Elizabeth because it was probably the 1st Sunday of Lent. Now, it was Jonathan’s turn to pray. He began with his routine prayer that we taught him in Korean when he was a preschooler. Because both Jonathan and Elizabeth were praying the exact same prayer that we taught every time when it’s their turn, we encouraged them to offer their own prayers. So, after his routine prayer, he continued: “God, we are now in Lenten Season… umm… umm…” He kept saying “umm…” for a while and finally he said with a very small voice, “Mom, I’m stuck!” It was Elizabeth who whispered to him: “I hope we have a good time,” to which Jonathan responded, “but that doesn’t make any sense…. We are in Lenten season!” I had to try very hard not to laugh, in this supposedly solemn moment.
When Elizabeth asked something in prayer, she used to use “I hope” sentence. For example, I hope we have a good school day tomorrow. I hope mom gets better. And so on. “I hope” is her praying words. The following evening was Elizabeth’s turn to pray. As usual, she began with her routine prayer just like Jonathan. She prays for our family, grandmas and grandpas in LA and she prays for everyone in the world. Sometimes, she used to pray for every stuffed-animal in the whole world.
After her routine prayer, she also tried to continue to pray with her own words. The following was part of her prayer that evening: “Tomorrow is dad’s birthday. He will be 50 years old. He is not happy because he is getting old. I HOPE he is having a good time tomorrow.” Again, I had to try very hard not to laugh. (By the way, recently, three people asked me how old I am. Well, I CAN’T BELIVE how old I am. I am not going to tell you).
Anyway, the next day that was my birthday, a DCOM meeting (district committee on ordained ministry) was scheduled. It is a huge responsibility and usually it is an all-day meeting. Guess what? When I arrived at the meeting place, I found out that the meeting was canceled. Hallelujah! The chairperson said, “I am sorry.” I said, “Don’t be sorry, because I am happy to hear it.” I could spend a couple of hours at the Belleyear ski resort that afternoon. Icing on the cake was: it was free! If it’s your birthday, it’s free at Belleyear. Elizabeth’s “I hope” prayer was answered.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus now is facing the cross. In the face of what is waiting for him, Jesus is filled with hope. How could Jesus have hope? He was not facing his birthday; he was facing the cross. And how could he think about glorifying God when he knew he was going to die on the cross? How could Jesus have Hope in this situation?
Jesus always attracted many people. Why were people so attracted to Jesus? Was it the miracles he performed? Perhaps. There are always some who want to see a magic show. But on a deeper level, I think, what Jesus must have embodied for folks was a sense of hope, the same kind of hope that the ancient uprooted Hebrews felt when they heard the words of Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD…. and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hope.
How could Jesus have Hope facing his own death? It all depended on what he heard. Notice that, in our gospel lesson, some heard thunder, while others heard angel speaking to Jesus. But Jesus heard the Voice… of God. What do we hear? What do you hear… in the world around you? “Rolling Thunder or the Voice of God?”
The movie Signs, starring Mel Gibson, in my opinion, is a very interesting movie. I watched it again last week, because there’s one scene I want to talk about. The movie begins with the mysterious appearance of large crop circles in the cornfields around Graham Hess’ home. Graham is an ex-priest who lost his faith after his wife died in a tragic accident. As a result, six months earlier, he left the priesthood. The crop circles, it turns out, were made by aliens in preparation for an invasion. After spotting an alien outside their own house, Graham tells the family to turn on the TV. Fourteen alien spacecraft are hovering over Mexico City. Graham’s younger brother asks a question: “Do you think this could be the end of the world?”
Graham’s answer tells a lot about his faith: “People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign – evidence – that there is someone up there watching them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck, a happy turn of chance. I’m sure that people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is fifty-fifty, could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own, and that fills them with fear…. Yeah… There are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking for a miracle, and deep down they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. So what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way: is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
I think this scene can illustrate HOW Jesus could still seek to glorify God and have hope in the face of the Cross. In the midst of everything going on around him and the eminence of the cross, Jesus saw signs of hope. Why? (Because) Jesus knew God is in charge. Jesus knew that no matter what the world, the ruler of the world or the Roman soldiers did to him, God is in charge.
Jesus knew that no matter how horrible his death or how forsaken he felt at that moment, if he simply held on to his faith, and was obedient to God, even unto death, God would be glorified. The enemy of this world would be crushed and defeated. And the Cross would become OUR Sign of hope. Jesus knew that the cross would become the symbol which tells the world which group of people we belong to and what we hear: “Rolling Thunder or the Voice of God?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, what does the world see when they see us? Do they see SIGNS OF HOPE? Elizabeth would say, “I hope so.” In this passage, Jesus says: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” And he did. And every time we lift Jesus up through our Christian actions and deeds, others are drawn to him. When we take time to listen to God through prayer and worship, when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide our actions, then Christ is lifted up, not on the cross, but lifted up in the sense of being glorified. Every time we are obedient to the law written on our hearts, Christ’s way is exalted and lifted up and glorified.
Do we see SIGNS OF HOPE and are able to help others hear the “Voice of God?” I HOPE so.
In a moment, we will sing a song, “Glorify Thy Name.” While we are singing this song, I hope (that) what once was simply “Rolling Thunder” in our ears, will become the “Voice of God.” It is the same song we have sung many times, but somehow through our voice and through God’s Grace, we will be glorifying God and we will be standing in the very presence of God.
I simply invite you to sing. Let the Spirit of God open your hearts so you can sing more than “Rolling Thunder.” Sing with your heart and soul, remembering the cross, remembering what Christ has done for you. Open yourself completely and let the Holy Spirit unstop your ears so you can hear the “Voice of God,” too.
And let the “Voice of God” drive out any fear in your life. Let the “Voice of God” fill you, fill our family, our nation, and our broken world with the same hope that filled Jesus. Amen!