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The Cat is out of the Bag (immolatus vicerit)

March 20, 2015

(Sermon for Advent 5)the-cat-out-the-bag

Texts:        John 12:20-33               Jeremiah 31:31-34

If you haven’t noticed… there is an enormous difference between John’s Gospel and the other three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The first three introduce us to Jesus blow by blow, as it happens, as if we too were disciples on the road with him learning with them what it is all about. John on the other hand begins long after the conclusion is known, after the resurrection, and never hides this from his readers. The reason why Jesus is good news for the world… is right there front and centre in the whole story. And so John’s gospel doesn’t begin with the birth of Jesus but before and behind the creation of the world ‘In the beginning was the Word” with God. Before and behind the creation of all things is God who speaks … and God’s Word became the flesh of a human life… and so on.


And in today’s scripture… as Jesus life gets close to its culmination, to its moment of ‘glory’, as John’s Jesus likes to call it … we are introduced to some Greeks. John, of course, is written at a time when the Christian gospel is moving well beyond the Jewish community and into the wider world. And so these Greeks (who could well be symbolic representatives, perhaps of this wider world) say to Philip “We want to see Jesus”. We never really find out if they get to see Jesus and there is this curious, cumbersome process where Philip goes to Andrew and then Andrew and Philip go to Jesus…. and then Jesus just begins to talk… its not clear whether the Greeks ever see Jesus.


It may just be poor story telling … but it’s as if John wants to remind us that this gospel is going out to those who will always be one step removed from the physical Jesus… like the Greeks, the readers of his gospel will rely on the witness of others. Each of us know of the life and story of Jesus because we got it from others.


I wonder whose witness inspired you with the life of Jesus?


When Jesus dies on the cross in John’s Gospel his last words are ‘It is finished’. The verb ‘telein’ means to bring to completion. What do you think Jesus was saying was completed in his death… What did he think he was achieving with his death.


I think the answer to that question is very clear at the end of todays text. Jesus says:


“Now is the judgment of this world,

now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And I when I am lifted up will draw all people to myself.”


Now is the judgment of this world! Last week we read in John 3 a definition of judgment (anyone remember?) “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world”. Remember Jesus did not come to condemn the world… (according to John 3). The judgment is not active destruction… but insofar as he is rejected he becomes the light that exposes the world for what it is. As he takes on himself the world’s judgment (the judge of the world takes on the world’s judgment) and is lifted up on a cross he reveals the dominion of death for what it is. Declared innocent by his Father at his resurrection, he exposes the lie that rules the world and so proceeds to drive out the ‘ruler of the world’.


“The cat (you might say) is out of the bag”. On Thursday morning here at the church we were welcomed by a sheep which had escaped from from its yard somewhere up the road in our suburb (those who read this sermon on my blog will know that NZ is largely inhabited by sheep with a few humans in between, so they will not be too surprised ;-)). The problem for us was, how to get the sheep back to its yard, wherever that was.


Once the cat is out of the bag its almost impossible to get it back into the bag. To change the metaphor slightly, once you’ve seen the planet earth from outer space its impossible to imagine a flat earth.


What you see, when you see God raised up on a cross… is a world arrayed around, a world controlled by powers of violence and self-deception. You see a world that organises its peace around its scapegoats. The forces that rule this world… the prince of this world, to use the old language … is exposed as an exercise in justified violence, often mysterious and religiously justified violence, it is a world in which, according to Caiaphas, ‘it is necessary for one man to die for the people’. In the ancient world, they called it a sacrifice to the gods. We just know it as a process of finding someone to blame.


And most powerfully of all when we see God raised up on a cross, we don’t see a one-finger-salute to the self-deceiving powers of this world… it’s not a gesture of resentment that we see… its a gesture of forgiveness.


Jesus now makes it clear that the judgment point for the world – a man lifted up and hanging on a cross – will also become the attraction centre of a new world.


Historically we can never be certain that a saying like this goes back to the historical Jesus or not. But even if it really comes from John’s theological reflections up to about 90ad, it is incredible foresight! After over 2000 years of world history this saying has been so profoundly vindicated by the sweeping effect of this event on the history of the world. The voice of the world’s victims has been heard… the divine and moral authority of the world’s victims has subverted the consciousness of the world in so many ways – the God who sides with them has let the cat out of the bag. It’s not as if the power that rules the world has been annihilated and no longer functions, but the cat is out of the bag.


And by ‘cat’ here I mean Holy Spirit… Paraclete (in greek) which means counsellor or defense lawyer…


When the ruler of the world is judged, when the truth about the world is exposed on the cross. Jesus promises a defence lawyer who will ensure that what is accomplished in cross and resurrection is slowly but surely accomplished in the community of those drawn to the crucified God.


Remember John 16


“Unless I go (says Jesus)

the Advocate (defence lawyer) will not come to you

but if I do go

I will send him to you

And when he comes

he will show the world how wrong it was

about sin,

about who was in the right

and about judgment”


The cat is out of the bag… even if each day, we still find ways of averting our eyes from our victims… Perhaps like the Greeks who wanted “to see Jesus” we too fail to see Jesus in the face of the poor and of our society’s victims… all that may be true but there is still good news. The cat is out of the bag… a covenant is being written on our hearts, the hearts of humanity are being re-programmed.








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