20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
I didn’t look where I was going and it cost me. I was in a parking lot a few weeks ago. I didn’t see any cars in the area, and so I got into my car thinking that there was nothing behind me to worry about as I backed out. I got in, turned the car on, put her in reverse, and tapped the gas. About less than one second later I experienced the kind of thing you don’t want to experience as you are backing up: a sudden thud. I had backed into a light pole. I didn’t look where I was going. I was not paying attention as well as I should have. And I can’t blame anyone but myself.
This kind of thing happens a lot in our country. America leads the way in distracted driving. So often, these days the culprit is the cellphone. Some estimates say around 70% of drivers admit to looking at their phone at one time or another while behind the wheel. Now, that’s just the distraction from the cellphone, and we know that there are other disruptions. They can come in the form of kids in the car, food, the radio, vehicle controls, an outside event like a vehicle pulled over, drowsiness, or simply just being lost in thoughts.
So many things can get in the way and cause a driver to lose focus on what they are driving for in the first place. Normally, there is a destination. Sure, teens might get in the car to “joy ride” after they get their license, parents might drive around to get a baby to sleep (I’m glad I’ve never had to do that), some might drive to clear their head, but for the most part there is a place, a destination, where a driver wants to arrive… and safely. Getting there means minimizing and avoiding the distractions.
Life is similar, isn’t it? There can be a lot of things to look at, pulling your attention away from the final destination Jesus provides. There are things you can look at that make you happy: your spouse, your children, your snow piles melting, a perfectly seasoned 12oz. medium rare steak, all the projects on your list with a little check mark next to them, and on and on and on. There are things you can look at that make you sad: a lot of things on your list that still need a check mark, that steak falling on the floor, an April blizzard, your kids screaming and fighting, and on and on and on. There are things you can look at that you don’t have yet: graduation, your dream job, or retirement, depending on where you are at in life, a clean checkup after surgery or treatment or avoiding the doctor’s office all together, money and financial stability, a relationship that takes the next level, a family, and on and on. If we wanted to, we could make a list for the next 3 hours for each one of us of all the different things that you like seeing, things that you don’t like seeing, things that you hope you will see soon or someday down the road, things you pray that you never have to see. The world lays all these distractions out there in front of us, luring us to look.
That’s what commercials are for. “You need this kind of detergent, this kind of insurance, this kind of school, this kind of beverage, this kind of realtor, this kind of bank, this kind of this, that, and everything.” And do you know what? Often times these commercials work. I do kind of want pizza after watching a commercial show me how delicious it is and how there is such an incredible deal going on right now. Am I the only one?
There is so much to look at, so much that you need in life. If you don’t watch much TV, this world can still find a way to make you look at so much stuff. There are adds and articles online, in your social media feeds, in your mailbox, in the newspaper, billboards all around town as you drive around. So much, so, so much. And that’s just the advertisements.
There are friends and family telling you what you need to be looking for. There are bosses and coworkers telling you what they like to look at. There are famous people telling you what they like to look at. There are news stories showing you good and bad options. We look for so many things to bring happiness, relief, contentment, success, fulfillment, comfort, peace. We have so many different things to look at.
Do you get the point? It’s all a bunch of distracted driving. And do you know where distracted driving gets you? My insurance wrote a claim check for over 3500 dollars to replace the bumper, the tail light, the rear quarter panel, and the tailgate. I will be taking my pickup in to get fixed. All in all, that’s not too bad, but the results of not looking where you are going are often worse than one car backing into a light pole. The latest numbers I could find for a year were from 2015, and they say that 391,000 people were injured from drivers distracted by their cellphone, not to mention the other distracting factors. That’s pretty serious.
Distractions in life cause a much worse outcome. Jesus says today, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it…” Jesus is saying that there are a ton of distractions from the final destination of heaven. Some of the things we might call good. A spouse and family are good things. Fulfilling work and financial stability are not things you need to be ashamed of. Charity work and helping those in need are things that we can do to help a work lost in darkness. There are so so many good things that we have. But so so so many of these good things can distract us from what is most important. Jesus says that if you love all these great things in life, if you put everything you have into making your life in this world, then you’re distracted. Your distractions are leading to a serious loss. We’re not talking about an increased deductible. We’re not talking about a hospitalization. Jesus is talking about being shut out of heaven. Are all these distractions, as great and as fulfilling and as important as they seem, worth it?
So, how can you get rid of the distractions? My insurance company, Geico, has these tips: Limit the cellphone use to emergencies; pull over if you are drowsy; limit the activity in the vehicle; don’t eat while driving; no multitasking behind the wheel. In other words, this so amazingly insightful list says not to allow the distractions. That means you are going to have to work at it. There is no other option for you, nothing that the car companies, insurance companies, or anyone else can give you to fight off the distractions. You are going to have to make the change yourself.
At first glance it might seem like Jesus might be saying something similar. “Anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Here Jesus is not saying you have to hate your wife and kids, your job and all other blessings. That would be contrary to so much that God says. It’s just that Jesus has to be first. And comparing Jesus to anything else, well, cannot compare. All of these good things and blessings have their proper place behind Jesus, where they cannot be distractions.
If we just had this verse, then it would be like the list from Geico on how to avoid distractions. It would be your constant work to avoid the distractions. You would have to make the choices to turn to away from all the worldly loves and distractions and to Jesus. And you would never be at peace. You’d always be working hard to avoid distractions, wondering if it was enough.
But this is not the only verse we have. Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Do you notice how Jesus does away with the distractions for us, and in a very unique way. He is lifted up from the earth.
Brothers and sisters, it is at the cross where Jesus was lifted high above all the distractions this world can hold out to you. He takes our attention, because none of those worldly loves can do what Jesus did at the cross. There, he took the torment of hell. There, he took the justice our sins deserve. There, he removed sin from us. There, he proclaimed the job of our redemption finished. There, he provided the salvation from a life of chasing after all these temporary fixes and frills.
This is so much better than God offering us some tips to avoid distractions or ideas about which ones are better than others. In that case, forgiveness and heaven would be up to us. Instead, God gives us something better to look at, something that this world cannot duplicate. He gives us his love on full display, love that was willing to sentence his Son as the one guilty of living a distracted life so that we would go free.
It’s this kind of love that was willing to draw all people in. Jesus made this sacrifice for all without regard for nationality, ethnic affiliation, social status, or gender. He wasn’t just a Jewish savior. There were Greeks at the festival, too. Jesus doesn’t differentiate where you are from. He doesn’t discriminate if you are struggling to find who you are. He was lifted up so that we can see who he is and what he has done for us. All the distractions fade when you see your Savior lifted up on the cross to take your place under the curse of sin, drawing you in to his forgiveness and peace.
Those Greeks had it right: “we would like to see Jesus.” Do you know where you can find him? He was lifted up on the cross, and then they took his lifeless body down and put it in a tomb. But you won’t find him there, will you? No, he conquered that place of loss. He rose and ascended back to his throne in heaven. That’s where we will see him face to face for eternity. Until then, you have the living and active Jesus among you in his Word. “There I am with you,” Jesus says to those who gather in his name. You will find him living and breathing into you in the Word. You find him in these passages of hope and joy and peace, giving more than anything you can find in this world. You will find him when his word is connected to water in Baptism. There he washes you, purifies you, and makes you his own child by faith. You will find him when his word is connected to bread and wine. There you see the body and blood he gave when he was lifted up. There he strengthens you with forgiveness and renewal. He nourishes the faith he planted. He fortifies the bonds you have with God and one another. In Word and Sacrament, Jesus does away with distractions, because he shows us how much he loves us. He shows us the final destination that he purchased for us. Yes, we would like to see Jesus, because he is our only way home. Amen.