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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Lets Do This

Oasis – Palm Sunday, Week 6 of 6 in a Lenten sermon series on the way God provides more than enough even in the deserts of life, preached Apr 2, 2023 at the 9:30am Worship service


For Lent, our sermon series has been called, “Oasis.” Each week, we’ve highlighted one biblical character, looking for how God generously provides more than enough in the deserts of life.

  1. Jesus, in the desert, faced three voices and God tended to him and led him out.

  2. Moses led the people out of slavery into the desert. They complained, but God kept providing manna, water, and quail every day.

  3. Hagar was abused and banished to the desert, and God cared for her and her child and made a great nation of God from them.

  4. Elijah fled to the desert and found himself fed and cared for by a starving widow.

  5. Abigail ran to David in the wilderness to stop his vengeance, end a war before it began, and save a family.

  6. Today, the story is about more than one person. Jesus, his disciples, and a crowd of people, Jews and Greeks all merge at the city gates, where the desert meets civilization.

Let’s pray and listen for the word of the Lord…

Scripture John 12:12-30

12 The next day a great crowd had come to the festival (and) heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but (later) when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

17 (Meanwhile) the crowd that had been with him, when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify (to what Jesus had been doing).[c] 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world is following him!”

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew, then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but when it dies it bears much fruit. 25 Anyone who loves their life loses it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor…

27 “And now, my soul is troubled. And what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. (So I say,) 28 Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”

This too is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)

Sermon Follow the Crowd

The Greeks were coming to worship. Greeks were the outsiders, the foreigners. They looked and talked differently. They were aware and self-conscious of how insiders saw them, so they didn’t just walk up. They first observed from a distance and then made an educated guess.

They came to Philip, who was a Greek, like them. He was from Bethsaida. They could tell. They hoped maybe Philip would understand and help them. Maybe Philip had navigated the oddities of being an outsider who makes it in, a Greek student of a Jewish Rabbi, and would coach them. Lately, the way Jesus was disrupting the insider circles, the pushback on Jesus and all his followers was growing. Still, they wanted in. So they came to Philip and asked… "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."

Philip turns to Andrew, also a Greek. The two of them strategize how to do this, how to include more outsiders in the following without causing more stress in the system. Philip and Andrew want to include them. They know the Messiah is bigger than all of the worrying and fuss and turf battles. Something huge is happening. But Philip and Andrew also know Jesus brings an uncomfortable collision of cultures and expectations, and people get hurt or angry.

Jesus’ strange little parables dare traditionalists to set down old ways. But they hate to do that. It almost feels like to them that if they let go of the way they’ve always done it, their traditions now, then everything they’ve done before was a waste.

On top of that, Jesus keeps giving so much attention and time to the unworthy, unclean, the sinners, the outsiders, instead of the holy, the regulars, the members, the insiders, it making the insiders feel like there’s no benefit for begin good and faithful all these years.

Andrew and Philip feel the fear of causing more tension, and know Jesus. If Philip and Andrew bring more Greeks, not only will temple insiders be upset, some of Jesus’ disciples might get peeved. Some people resist Jesus by wanting him to go away. Others resist Jesus by trying to keep Jesus as our secret, our private privilege. But Jesus is all about sharing with latecomers, sinners, and outsiders.

Philip and Andrew go to Jesus, and Jesus replies, "The hour has come.” There are Jews there, and Greeks, disciples, and a crowd of strangers. There are religious traditionalists, non-religious, and religious-curious. Is that what he means by the hour has come, insiders and outsider, believers and skeptics, curious and resistant are all there together?

To explain what he means, Jesus gives three examples.

First, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But when it falls and dies, it produces many seeds. Jesus is so smart. He’s bringing up a tough topic, so he starts with a universal example that everyone will get, regardless of their background. And it’s impersonal. He’s talking about an object. Since there are no people involved, it won’t stir up the emotions. A seed must fall in order to produce. I bet he has them all with him at this point. Jew, Greeks, slaves, free, rich, poor, all nodding their heads, saying, “Yep that is the way grain works. So what?”

Then, the second example. The one who really loves life will lose the life they have, and the one who hates life keeps their little life of this world for eternity. Jesus is getting closer. We’re not talking about grain anymore. Now, we’re talking about people. The analogy that worked for everyone a moment ago suddenly seems twisted, confusing. “Okay, sure, seed must fall in order to produce. But people have to lose their life to have full, true life, set down our wants ways and wishes in order to truly live? Life isn’t a seed, Jesus.”

I don’t think the Greeks, gentiles, outsiders, outcasts challenge Jesus on this. They’ve already left their life, their hometowns, their jobs, maybe some of their family, and come to Jerusalem to see and follow Jesus. They are already on the path of setting down their life, and venturing into new relationships and experiences for a chance to see and know the fullness of life in Jesus.

Those that become uncomfortable with Jesus’ teaching are those who followed the rules, had dedicated their life to following the rules. They can’t imagine setting down their ways. That’s not the problem. The problem to insiders is those people, the outsiders, the unclean, the sinners, the foreigners, they need to assimilate, and become like us. If they have had a hard life, that’s not our fault. Fine, they can come here, but they come to become like us. Why should we have to change? They need to change to be like us!

Then Jesus stretches the lesson even farther. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am going, my servant also will go along right beside me. Now, its not just about setting down habits and traditions, its also about picking up something new, alternative, the example and teachings of Jesus, who eats with tax collectors and sinners.

To the Greeks, women, outsiders, sinners, desperate… this message is great! But to insiders, those who have worshipped for years, and followed the law and traditions, this sounds like heresy. To have life is to let the way we’ve been doing life fall to the ground like a seed, and in setting down my life we find real life, and then we are to pick up new ways, uncomfortable ways, the teachings and example of Jesus. That when we find true life? Yes, that’s the message. The Greeks and women and sinners are happy to hear this good news. The insiders, the traditionalists, the religious, the “faithful” struggle to hear, believe, accept this Good news.

Following Jesus, there are no boundaries of rich and poor. Everyone shares and everyone has enough. Laying down our lives, and picking up his life, there is no slave and free, no racism, and all the after effects of racisms before us, we would be gladly repairing today. If our life was gone, and our new full life is Jesus was all we had left, no one would want power over anyone else. No one would need a weapon to kill or defend. No one would have millions or billions while others have no where to sleep tonight. Everyone would be a servant to one another’s needs. Nobody would be IN while others are out. Everybody, everybody would be one.

Does that sound like Great NEWS, or does it sound hard and impossible?’ I think that’s why Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled too. But what should I say, ‘God please don’t let things go that way. Save me from that hardship?’ No, that’s not what I’m going to say. I’m gonna say, Let’s do this, and may you God alone be glorified.”

I imagine a church that hears this awkward hard scary news, and then says, Let’s do this!

To God be all glory and honor, now and forever, amen? Amen.


Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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