“Doing the Work:  Committing Ourselves to Follow”

John 12:20-33

Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 21, 2021

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.


In our text for today, when two Greeks, two Gentiles, show up to see Jesus, they represent ton cosmos,

the world, beyond the inner circle of the Jewish disciples, beyond the people of Israel.

Their desire to see Jesus sparks a sermon from the mouth of Jesus regarding the fulfillment

of his purpose on earth. In this sermon, Jesus addresses why he had to die.

He implies that since the world was now drawn to him, his hour has come to glorify the Father.

Hear how Jesus explains these things to his disciples…

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip,

who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them,

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat

falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“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. Father, glorify your name.”

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

The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.

Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake,

not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


I recently began a new workout program.

On the second day of the class, the instructor wrote in large letters on a whiteboard:

What is your why?  What is your why?

What is your motivation for being out here in the dark and cold at 6:00am in the morning for a workout?

What will keep you coming out here day after day and week after week and month after month?

These workout instructors have learned the importance of their students knowing what is their why.

Identifying and claiming your “why” keeps you going, keeps you motivated,

even when the weather changes, even when the calendar becomes full,

even when life throws you unexpected curves.


The question of the “why” reminded me of thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhardt.

Eckhardt and his followers were known for seeking intimate communion with God in prayer.

Meister Eckhardt encouraged his followers to live without a “why”, or at least without a personal “why”.

Part of what Eckhardt and his followers were talking about was something that may be called

the “gravitational model” of prayer, related to the flow of gravity.  Their logic was thus:

When water flows downhill, it will flow into a basin, but it will only fill the basin if the basin is empty.

If the basin is full, the water will flow over the basin and continue elsewhere.

Meister Eckhardt claims that such is our life with God.

If our lives are so full of our self-will or the will of our family or our tribe or our nation,

if our lives are so full of the will of our company or the will of some other person

who holds influence over us in some way, then we cannot be filled with the will of God.


Meister Eckhardt encourages that we seek a complete emptying of self, a releasing of the self-will,

so that God may be filled within us.

If we do such a thing, if we seek to empty ourselves of selfish desires and the desire for self-fulfillment

and even self-characteristics, then, paradoxically, the self will return to us, Eckhardt claims.

But the self that returns is no longer the selfish self.

The self that returns becomes the spontaneous good self, the self in the way and manner of Jesus Christ,

the self in the way of the One who lived in accordance with God’s will,

the self in the way of the One who lived in right relationship with God and other persons.


This new self is the self that does the good, the self that seeks the interest of the other,

the self that acts in humility and service to humankind,

because one’s selfish will is gone and one’s self has been filled with the very will of God.

(Sara Miller, “Lost in God”, Christian Century, March 22, 2003)


Meister Eckhardt calls this living without a “why”.

It means living daily without asking “What’s in it for me?” or “Why would I do this for me?”

It means asking instead “What is in this for God?”

“What does God want to do in and through my life?”

“In what way does this serve the needs of the world?”


Jesus went to the cross not asking “what is in this for me?”

Jesus went to the cross to fulfill the very will of God.

Do you remember the prayer that Jesus prayed fervently in the garden before his arrest and crucifixion?

Not my will, O God, but thy will be done.


In the gospel of John, just following Jesus’ sermon that we have just read,

we find Jesus and his followers in the Upper Room.

There, on the night before he died, he offers the Church forever a model of discipleship.

During supper, Jesus…got up from the table,

took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet

and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him…

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them,

‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right,

for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,

you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 13)


In our text for today, Jesus tells his disciples:

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.


To be found washing others’ feet, figuratively or literally, is to be where Jesus is also.

To determine where Jesus is today, we can notice where Jesus was in the gospel of John.

In the gospel of John, Jesus was at a wedding in Cana with family and friends

and he was in the temple courtyard, driving out the moneychangers and those selling cattle and doves.

He was meeting at nighttime with Nicodemus, a leader of the Sandhedrin,

and he talking with a Samaritan woman at noon at Jacob’s well.

He was in a small town healing the son of a Roman military officer

and he was in the big city attending to the blind and the lame at the pool of healing.

He was feeding thousands of hungry people on the mountain in the wilderness

and he was relieving the fears of his closest disciples as he approached their storm-tossed boat.

He was teaching in the Temple, astonishing everyone, including the most powerful of lawyers,

and he was forgiving a woman caught in adultery, telling the men who accused her

to be the first to throw a stone at her, if they were themselves without sin.

He was giving sight to a man who had been born blind,

and he was comforting crowds of lost souls, promising that he would be their good shepherd.

He was sitting at dinner with good friends, and he was sitting on a donkey as he entered the capital city,

lauded by the crowds with branches of palm trees.


Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

Where I am, there will my Church be also.

If the Church desires to follow Jesus, the Church cannot stay behind closed doors or inside high fences.

The Church cannot remain hidden in quiet suburban neighborhoods.

The Church is not meant merely to survive as a closed group of a like-minded families and their offspring.

The Church was meant to serve and to thrive everywhere Jesus that was…everywhere that Jesus is….


God sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, not to avoid the world, not to criticize the world.

God sent Jesus into the world that the world might be saved through him,

and later, be saved through his body, the Church.


Who is the Church? We are the Church. You and me.

And we are called to empty ourselves so that we may open ourselves to God’s will,

so that we may be ready to serve, wherever we find that Jesus has gone before us,

wherever he bids us follow him.


No doubt, following Jesus gets hard sometimes.

There are times we would rather not follow.

There are times we would rather choose our own path.

Following Jesus can lead to strained relationships,

especially with those who do not understand our “why.”

Following Jesus can become exhausting.

One of the most telling narratives during the Holy Week texts

is the story of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsamene.

Jesus tells them to “Stay awake and pray with me…”, but they could not keep their eyes open.

He comes again and bids them stay and awake and pray with him.

But they were completely exhausted; they could not stay awake.

Following Jesus can become exhausting.


Following Jesus can become dangerous.

Ultimately, Jesus found himself at the cross, or more clearly, Jesus found himself upon the cross.

And those who follow Jesus will ultimately find themselves bearing some form of cross as well.


In Vernon Gramling’s blog this week, he writes: “Jesus is not talking about hating life.

He wants us to have life but he wants us to reject the life that leads to dead ends…

Jesus says that a life whose main goal is to protect self and to preserve what we know

is short sighted and ultimately empty…

Gaining the life that ultimately matters means giving up the life we know…

But we cannot learn that unless we give up our protective covering

and see how God can use what is within us.”

What protective coverings have we built into our lives?

What may be keeping us from following God’s will?

As Jesus said:  “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,

it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Vernon blog March 17, 2021)


When the two Greeks showed up to see Jesus,

the time had come for the seed of Jesus to bear much fruit.

The time had come for Jesus to fulfill his “why”,

to die on the cross so that the world may live.


Friends, the Church today is called to be reminded of its purpose –

to give its life for the sake of the world.

The more we learn to give up our own “why” and live God’s “why” as best we can,

the greater the fruit we may bear in the world,

the greater the glory we may offer our Lord and Savior.



Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia