A story of how a lost dog drew a bunch of people together, and how Jesus does too.
Sermon on John 12:20-33 / by the Rev. Tracey Kelly / preached to the congregation of St. James Episcopal Church, Hendersonville, NC / March 21, 2021
Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘ Father, save me from this hour’?
In today’s gospel reading, John the Evangelist twice reminds us that the hour has come for Jesus to be glorified. The time of Jesus’ death is drawing near and his soul is troubled. From the very beginning of Jesus’ story (as it is told by John), Jesus is quickly moving towards a target: his “hour.” Three times we are told about the hour having “not yet come.”
At the wedding at Cana, he tells him mother that “my hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) At the temple in Jerusalem, the crowd tried to arrest him, “but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.” (7:30) Later, while teaching in the treasury of the Temple, he escaped arrest again “because his hour had not yet come.” (8:20)
Now, at the point of today’s gospel reading, Lazarus has been brought back from the dead and, because of this, great crowds of people believe in Jesus. And because of that, the council has been called together and a decision made: Jesus must be put to death.
Jesus has entered into Jerusalem, triumphantly, openly and publicly. He has exposed himself to his enemies. He is in danger. And here, in Chapter 12, the tenor of the gospel changes dramatically. The hour is no longer coming; it has arrived. Jesus tells his disciples: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
For many years, I have used the 2003 film, The Gospel of John, to teach both children and adults. It’s a wonderful film narrated by Christopher Plummer and stars Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus. My 5th grade students were fascinated by the scene laid out in today’s gospel reading.
The Greeks arrive. We do not know for sure whether these Greeks were Greek-speaking Jews or Gentiles from Greece. But in the movie, they are dressed very differently from the Jews in Jerusalem. They come from a different culture, possibly different religious beliefs and political views. It makes sense that the Greeks were portrayed as outsiders. Because immediately before this scene, the Pharisees exclaim to one another, “You see, we are not succeeding at all! Look, the whole world is following him!” (12:19)
Something about the Greeks’ arrival and their request to see Jesus triggers his knowledge that the hour has come.
Then a curious thing happens. Jesus seems to falter. He is filled with a sense of dread. His soul is troubled, and he prays to his Father. The facial expression of actor playing Jesus conveys fear. His voice catches in his throat. His body weakens and he reaches out a hand to steady himself. I guess my students found it fascinating that Jesus, of all people, could be so human. “The hour” has created a very vulnerable moment in Jesus’ humanity.
A week ago, on Thursday, I was sitting on my deck, when I noticed a white dog with a brown race and ears trotting down my driveway. I ran to grab a leash and a bag of treats, but by the time I got outside she was gone.
I started searching social networks for a report of a lost dog. And I found her, on the Nextdoor network. She was Lucy, a pit bull mix. She had escaped from her foster home in Etowah the previous night. She was spotted walking down the middle of Route 64, Brevard road (and if you live in this area you know how fast people drive on that road!) and then she disappeared. I texted the young woman who had posted the flyer.
Mariah came over to my house the next day. Together we set a live trap in the woods near my driveway. Now if you were to see Mariah and I standing next each other, you might assume that we are very different. She’s a lot younger than me, and a lot cooler. I found her to be an intelligent and kind young woman. I liked her immediately. We began texting each other several times a day with updates. She came over often to bait the trap and check our trail cams. I reposted her flyer on both my neighborhood’s FB group and Google group, and pretty soon there was a cadre of neighbors looking for Lucy. People began texting me and leaving me voicemails with Lucy sightings.
Lucy was spotted all over our mountain. But she was skittish and untrusting. She appeared on driveways and darted back into the woods. Lucy was in very real danger. She was spotted multiple times wandering along Cummings Road, and she wandered down Route 64 and crossed over the highway to the sod fields of Horse Shoe Bend. Her owner in Hendersonville had died earlier that week and she had been surrendered to a rescue organization. She was scared, lost, hungry, cold and missing her human. And all these people wanted to help, but she was so afraid of us.
But she drew us together. I connected with more neighbors last week, than I had during the previous nine months since I moved to North Carolina. Team Lucy expanded. Jan from a rescue organization in Asheville came down to help track her. Sarah brought a dog Lucy knew to walk in our woods. And whenever Mariah reported a sighting, my neighbors came out with leashes and treats and we gathered together to peer into the woods.
We became a team. I’m sure there were many differences among us – differences in age and socioeconomic circumstances. I’m sure we were a religiously diverse bunch – Baptists, evangelicals, agnostics, and at least one Episcopalian. But no one prefaced a conversation about Lucy by asking who the other voted for in the last election. It didn’t matter. We united together to save Lucy. Lucy the Lost Dog drew us together.
Like my 5th grade students, I am intrigued by Jesus’ moment of faltering and doubt at the arrival of “his hour.” Yet there is comfort in his reaction. For all signs and miracles in the gospels that point to the divinity of Jesus, it is his humanity that draws us together.
This is our God, who loved the world so much, he gave his only son. Our God, who loved the world so much, he entered into the human experience in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who died and lived as one of us.
What does it mean to us to say that God, as Jesus, felt the full range of human emotions: joy, anger, disappointment, love, happiness, pain, and fear?
What does it mean to us that Greeks show up and the movement overflows into the whole world, even to people who are different?
By last Wednesday evening, Lucy had been gone for a week. No one had seen her for almost 24 hours. I feared that her hour had come. The last sighting of her was Tuesday night, once again along Route 64.
In any case, a bad storm system was coming into our region. So, in dropping temperatures and a steady downpour, I went out into the woods and found a hollow in the ground, partially sheltered by laurel branches. I set a bowl of dog food in the hollow. I thought that if she were seeking shelter, maybe she would find this spot, and maybe it would keep her warm enough.
I need not have worried. Mariah texted me the good news on Thursday morning.
Wednesday night, Lucy learned to trust again. It turns out that on that cold and rainy night, Lucy followed a couple driving slowly to their rental cabin. And then she followed them right inside.
That’s right. While I was worried that Lucy was cold and wet, shivering out there somewhere in the woods, it turns out she was in an Airbnb five miles south, and she spent the night all snuggly in bed with the two humans she decided to trust!
Jan called to thank me and my neighbors. And she said to me something that stuck: “If only people cared about each other as much they cared about Lucy, then we would all be fine.”
I have to agree. And I think I’d like to extend that thought to say, “If only humans cared about each other as much as God cares about us, we would all be fine.”
In a week when I observed Lucy the Lost Dog bringing a diverse bunch of strangers together for a good and wholesome cause, I couldn’t help but notice in today’s text how Jesus draws us together. Jesus says: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” All people. Not just the ones with whom we agree, or the ones we like, or the ones who are like us. All of us.
So maybe I will also edit the Great Commandment today. You know the Great Commandment of Jesus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
For today, how about we say this instead: love your neighbor as a lost dog.
Addendum: Those two humans that Lucy picked out have decided to adopt her. Lucy will be making the trip to her new home in Ohio in a few weeks.
© 2021 Tracey Kelly. All rights reserved
Photo credits: Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash, Still from The Gospel of John, 2003. “Nappin Lucy”, by Sarah Kane, used with permission.