Harrowing Of Hell
March 25, 2012

Hearing Thunder

Preacher: The Reverend Doyt Conn

I was in Haiti a while back, and I remember being awaken in the middle of the night by gunshots… many, many gunshots, as if a coup had broken out. I lay perfectly still in bed. Eventually they stopped. But my eyes didn’t close the rest of the night.The next morning I asked my hosts, “What happened?”“Oh,” they replied, “Brazil beat Argentina in the semi-finals of the World Cup. We love Brazilian soccer in Haiti!”

Everyone heard the shots, not everyone heard them the same way. That is the same in the Gospel we hear today. Everyone heard the thunder, not everyone heard it the same way.

Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover.Some Greeks approached Philip and asked to see Jesus. Philip passed on the request to which Jesus replied:“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”He then talks of grain and deathand rebirth and fruit and life in this world and the life to come.

Then we get a most amazing line. It appears out of nowhere;in an unguarded utterance Jesus says,“Now my soul is troubled.”

We can almost hear him working through something… an issue, an insecurity, maybe even a temptation.He then says, as if thinking aloud:“And what should I say— Father, save me from this hour?

No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour! Father, glorify your name!”

And a sound rips through the sky.Everyone heard it, not everyone heard it the same way.Some said it was thunder; others claimed angel’s were calling Jesus.

Two very different interpretations,like that night in Haiti.I heard gunshots and wanted to run;I wanted to hide.Others heard the very same thing and they wanted to run as well, but they wanted to run to the party where the shots were coming from. They heard invitation. I heard isolation.They heard celebration.I heard annihilation.

The question is when the thunder rips across the sky what do we hear?

What do we hear when the thunder shakes our insides like stemware in the cupboardsdo we run toward the sound,or do we hide under the covers?

There is a prescription scrawled through today’s Gospel. It reads like this:An external provocation takes place.It troubles the soul, igniting internal dialogue, leading to either greater union with God or greater isolation from God.

The provocation comes upon us from outside us.If it troubles our soul, the question is:do we run toward it, or hide from it?

Adam and Eve give us one example of how this formula plays out.The snake was the external provocation;his invitation troubles Eve’s souls;igniting dialogue with Adam;leading to a choice that propelled them away from God.

Jesus presented a different outcome. He was confronted by Greeks;his soul was troubled;he wrestled through ittoward greater union with God.

Let’s take a closer look at this embedded prescription. In today’s Gospel Jesus seems to have heard thunder before everyone else. For him it wasn’t a sound from the sky rather a visit from the Greeks.

They were his external provocation.The Greeks want to see Jesus.Like the Jews, they too, are fed up with the Romans.And while they are not interested in a Messiah,nor are they interested in having the Jews rule the world;they do recognize Jesus as an extraordinary leader.

So they approach him. They were willing to jump on board his bandwagon,but Jesus doesn’t answer the Greeks, or even see them, as far as we can tell.He simply responds, “My hour has come to be glorified.”The Greeks serve as the external provocation;

for their presence troubles his soul.

Things were going well for Jesus.He had just arrived in Jerusalem to a conquerers welcome,palm branches spread at this feet.We see Jesus at the pinnacle of worldly power.The Greeks allegiance to him symbolizes the spread of his influence around the world, and this troubles his soul.

We hear the internal struggle by his own words:

“And what should I say— Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour! Father, glorify your name”

The thunder of Greek provocation troubles Jesus’ soul.His soul is disquieted, loosened, opened, crack ajar.The impulse is to seal the crack.The invitation is to take a closer look… sometimes this is the harder thing to do.

Nikos Kazantzakis, through his character St. Francis,in his book God’s Pauper writes:“When you come to a fork in the road and don’t know which way to go, take the hardest path.”

Jesus says it this way:“Enter the narrow gate, the road is hard but leads to eternal life.” (Mt 7:14)

It is a matter of perception;are we seeing the provocation with the eyes of the soul, or the eyes of our mortality?The eye of the soul, you should know, wear glasseswith lens that only see into eternity.

A troubled soul is a clarion call to strap on these glasses, and take a hard look at where God is leading us over the long term.

Jesus took the long view. As Hans Urs von Balthasar writes:“All of Jesus temporal decisions were also always eternal decisions.”(Christology from Within by Mark McIntosh, pg. 123)

A shorter-term perspective might have left Jesus king of the world.He could have picked up swords and marched across the globe,and at this death his legacy would have been embalmed in every textbook ever written.

“Yet what would it profit him to gain the whole world, but forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36)to use his own words.So he chose the way of the cross… “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks” (1 Chr 1:23).For those who watched him walk the road to Calvary dragging his crossit looked, from a mortal perspective,to be a path of isolation and annihilation…But through eyes of the soulit was path of glory, a path of invitation and celebration toward eternal union with God.

To walk this path demands trust and vulnerability. It required laying ones whole life on the line. Union with God always does.But the blessed by-product of this singular focus on divine union is the manifestation of our fullest humanity.

That is the paradox of the Christian spiritual journey, the more we focus on God, the more we become fully ourselves.

The temptation is the distracted of the thunder, and what we hear.

Here is the trap…We can blame thunder for wrecking our plans;we can accuse it of provoking rain,and making mud in which we get stuck. Thunder can be our abiding excuse for why our life is the way it is at any given moment. “It isn’t our fault,” we claim, “it is the thunders fault.”We aren’t responsible, so we don’t have to change.

And you and I know we’re not really talking about thunder-we’re talking about those things in our life that reverberate in the background, that trouble our still pools,that shake our souls,that we run from, and hide from, in fear that if we confront themthey will tear us apartlike bullets from a gun.

And bullets do kill… the body. But Jesus reminds us“do not be afraid of those who kill the body, for they cannot kill the soul.” (Mt 10:28)

And with this assurance he picks up his cross and walks to Calvary. It is not easy, but it is the invitation he received. So he goes toward it.And says “what should I say— Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour! Father, glorify your name”

And the thunder rings out“I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” (Jn 12:28)

The process that brought Jesus to this place is available to you and me as well.We too have been glorified from our birth up to this very moment in time, and we will be glorified again, starting right now and extending for eternity.

Jesus gave us the process.He wrote the prescription.

If the provocation that comes upon you troubles your souls, strap on the glasses of eternity, look beyond the limits of mortality beyond isolation to see the invitation and take the path of greater union with God.

It all begins with the thunder… and what you hear?