Worship Service, March 21, 2021 “God Longs to Draw in All People”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik for worship on March 21, 2021 via YouTube
The message “God Longs to Draw in All People” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
God Longs to Draw In All People John 12:20-33
One of my most memorable experiences of working with a diverse group of people came in a way that I would not have expected. I was on a trip to Nepal during my time at seminary. We were staying with a retired Doctor who was working in Kathmandu and the surrounding villages organizing medical missions. Part of our time was to see the work he was doing, and part of our time was to participate in the work of some local churches. Specifically, we were to work with a couple of young guys who were students at the Lutheran Seminary to help teach Vacation Bible School.
What we didn’t know was that there would also be two young women with us who were Christian missionaries from India. We also didn’t know how many different backgrounds the kids would be coming from who would attend our two-week Bible school. There were local Nepalese children, but there were also children who were refugees from Tibet and children who had come from Northern India or had moved into the city from rural villages. Some spoke Nepali, some spoke Hindi and some Tibetan.
So here we were, four European American seminary students ranging from our mid-twenties to the mid-fifties in age, male and female, working with two young Nepali men, and two Indian young women, trying to put together games, snacks and Bible classes for about 50 boys and girls ranging in age from 5 – 13 with different language and ethnic backgrounds.
Somehow it all came together and we had a great two weeks. I have to admit, however, at first I had my doubts that we would be able to pull it off. The differences seemed initially too great to overcome. It felt overwhelming and complicated with all the diverse backgrounds we would be dealing with. But the participants were able to be patient with one another and come together around our common goal. We had been drawn together to learn and share the story of Jesus. It was exciting to see how the Spirit worked in spite of the differences between us and the Bible school was a success even though we hadn’t seen how it was going to happen at first.
Jesus has a way of drawing people together despite their differences . In the text today we see that some Greeks at a festival in Jerusalem want to see Jesus and have a chance to meet him. It is interesting to me that they are specifically named for their ethnicity and country of origin. John’s Gospel could have simply said that some people wanted to meet Jesus. But instead, it names them as Greeks. It seems to me that they are being named because John might be trying make a point by lifting up these two who are seeking Jesus. Maybe the writer is trying to demonstrate how people who were not Jewish were also being drawn to Jesus. It could be that John wants to emphasize in this part of his Gospel that Jesus is drawing in people who are not of his same ethnic background. Jesus is bringing in Gentiles, people who were considered outsiders to the Jewish folks at the time. People who were considered not a part of the chosen ones.
During his ministry, Jesus appears to make intentional efforts to draw in people from all kinds of different backgrounds that folks would not have expected would be brought together. We see this earlier in the book of John, when Jesus reaches out to a Samaritan woman at a well. Samaritans were considered to be of a mixed race and therefore not really Jewish. Because of this Jews did not associate with Samaritans and Samaritans did not associated with Jews. Women were also not supposed to talk to strange men in those days, and men, especially religious men, did not associate with women outside of their families. So as Jesus approaches the well to have a conversation with someone who is not of his same ethnicity or gender he is overcoming two differences that would normally prevent certain kinds of people from associating with each other.
Furthermore, the woman at the well has moral or social aspects of her personal situation which would put up a barrier between her and others. She had apparently been married multiple times and seems to be a bit of an outcast since she comes to the well in the heat of the day by herself, instead of coming when it is cooler when the rest of the village most likely would have come. Despite what the local folks may have seen as a stain on her character, however, Jesus approaches her. She asks how he will draw water from the well because he has no bucket. Jesus responds by telling her that he can draw living water from an eternal well. Through their interaction, Jesus draws the woman closer to God and she goes back to share the good news with her village.
Again, just before the reading from today’s Gospel, we see Jesus draw in someone others might want to push out. His friend Mary has come in to anoint Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment and the disciple Judas chastises her for wasting a pricey product. In the other Gospels the woman comes in while Jesus is eating with religious leaders. They think she is a sinner and cannot believe that Jesus would let her touch him and wash his feet. It is scandalous! In both instances Jesus draws in someone who has felt pushed out. He brings in someone who because of their social or gender status has been excluded and judged.
This intent to bring in different people that Jesus has demonstrated during his ministry is then made even more evident in today’s text as he prepares to make his way to the cross. He tells the crowd around him, which at that point may have included the Greeks who had wanted to see him, that his hour is coming near. He then says that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that only certain people will be drawn in, he says all people. He doesn’t give any qualifiers and name a certain gender, or race or ethnic group. He simply says all people.
It may be hard for us as humans to go along with this vision Jesus is expressing. Does he really mean all people? Surely there are some qualifications or prerequisites that people have to meet. Surely there are some who don’t deserve it. We can tend to have a hard time including everyone. We tend to judge others based on their differences while assuming that we ourselves are included. We tend to often fear difference or feel threatened by it.
I think this is why Jesus spoke the short parable of the seed in todays’ passage at the same time he is speaking of drawing in all people. He says that 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. One thing Jesus may be saying by using this imagery of the seed is that for people to follow this new way of being, they have to let some of their old perceptions die. If they want to flourish in their new life in Christ, they have to let go some of their former ways of thinking and behaving. Jesus knows about the sometimes exclusive and harmful acts of human nature and so he knows that folks are going to need to make a change if they are to bear the kind of fruit of love necessary for all people to be drawn into God.
This last week we saw again how when people don’t let go of exclusive and destructive thinking it can be very harmful to others. A young man struggling with what he says were temptations walked into several spas and massage parlors in Atlanta killing eight people, the majority who were Asian American. There has been some controversy over whether or not the killings constituted a hate crime or if they were racially motivated, but it has become more evident that there were at least undertones of racism, especially as more has been learned about the perpetrator, such as his social media postings which show him selling t-shirts with the words “china-virus” on them. Rep. Bee Nguyen, who is the first Vietnamese American to serve in the Georgia House of Representatives seemed to sum the complex factors at play in the tragedy when she said that the shootings appear to be at the intersection of gender-based violence, misogyny and xenophobia.
Many commentators have also seen the violent acts as a consequence of a yearlong surge in violence against Asian Americans. As the pandemic has caused people to feel afraid, angry, and threatened, some have lashed out at Asian Americans as they look for someone to blame.
The shooting in Atlanta has highlighted this growing trend and the suffering of the Asian descent community. It has raised a greater awareness of the issue and has the potential to raise up a greater sense of solidarity with those affected. A reporter for the Washington post wrote how people were being drawn to the scene of the violence. Some stopped to pray. Some came to protest. Some just came, pulled by a mix of curiosity, anger, anguish and disbelief. There were messages handwritten in marker on ripped pieces of cardboard —
“Rest In Peace, beautiful angels.”
The displays might have been modest, yet that did not diminish the hurt and confusion they were meant to convey. Many of the people who trickled through expressed a particular pain that the attacks had happened in Atlanta. The city envisions itself as a haven for diverse communities. One poster said, “Black and Asian solidarity.” Another said, “God bless diversity.”
Woojin Kang and Min Woo Nam, are graduate students of theology at Emory University in Atlanta. They held signs outside one of the spas for hours. “This is more than a crime scene,” Mr. Kang, said. “We need to stand on these grounds.” They hoped that the violence might cause others to understand what the Asian-American community has had to confront. “We all need to lament together,” Mr. Kang said, “to scream out together.”
This need to lament together, or scream out together against the destructive forces that seek to divide, harm, scapegoat and blame may be why Jesus tells the crowd in today’s text that he will draw all people to himself when he is lifted up, that is, when he is lifted up on the cross. On the cross Jesus faces all the destructive forces that come from the “Rulers of this world,” as he puts it. It is at the cross that God reveals that there needs to be death before there is a resurrection. There needs to be a death to fear, to anger, to division and oppression. We need to die to those things if we are to rise as the diverse yet, unified people that God is calling us to be. It is at the cross where people are also drawn in through their mutual lament at the suffering of humanity. It is at the cross where God seeks to draw all people into a new vision of community where all are considered valued and loved no matter what their differences.
-Pastor Erik Goehner