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Worship Service Message

March 17, 2024
5th Sunday in Lent

Now Is the Judgment of This World

John 12:20-33

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

The Gospel of John is a powerful and challenging book. Much like today’s scriptural reading, it isn’t straightforward to grasp. Why is the Gospel of John considered dangerous? Because its verses can be wielded-sometimes misused—as weapons by conservative proselytizers. These verses can threaten non-Christians and even create discomfort within us Christians. For this reason, to mature as Christians, we must unlearn any falsehoods or misconceptions about Christian teaching and Christianity itself.


What resonates with you when you hear Jesus proclaim, “Now is the judgment of this world… When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” While there are so many beautiful verses and themes, I’ll share my personal reflection today without excessive commentary on the scripture. 


The core message of today’s Gospel lesson isn’t singular; there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Each of us may find a different lesson that speaks to our hearts. However, it’s essential to evaluate whether our interpretation leads us toward love or fosters fear and hatred.


Reflecting on today’s Gospel reading has helped me refocus on the purpose of my existence on earth. As my children grow, I feel the weight of financial responsibility for their unknown future. Despite being more financially secure than ever before, this pressure weighs heavily on me. In my single days or when I had no children, I never felt this burden.


As one child will go to college and the other will follow, two years after, my thoughts turn to their future. The weight of financial stability weighs heavily on me—more than ever before. As a Korean who highly values education, I question whether I am providing the best learning opportunities for my children. Should I consider moving to a town with a better education system? Honestly, these kinds of questions even lead me to contemplate a change in vocation. Now I can see why monks don’t marry and Jesus himself.


Yet, amidst these practical concerns, I sometimes lose sight of my purpose on earth. Over the past few weeks, I’ve grappled with various commitments, feeling somewhat adrift.


What do you do when you feel with such uncertainty? I turned to pray. Despite exhaustion, I was able to pray. For me, praying means to gently call upon God, seeking God’s presence. I constantly asked God, “What is the main purpose of my existence on earth?”


10 days ago, a divine insight unexpectedly came to me. I believe it was a gift from the Spirit of God. Let me share it with you.


I found it so interesting that the theme of ‘signs’ emerged during our Sharing the Pulpit Sunday last week. I had my story ready. But you know what happened or what didn’t happen. I didn’t have a chance to share because you did a great job in sharing.


The divine insight I received is tied to a sign—the number 4. Since I came to the US, this number has consistently appeared before me. And among its various combinations, triple 4 stands out as my personal sign. For instance, during a particularly distressing moment in my life, I encountered a car with the license plate number 444.


Anyway, the divine insight is about one of the possible meanings of my sign. I am sharing it with you because this is relevant to today’s scripture and my reflection.


In Korean, the number 4 is pronounced as “sa.” Thus, for 444, we can pronounce “sa sa sa.” The Spirit of God gave me three Korean words, each beginning with “sa(4).” The first word is “sarang,” which means “love.” The second word is “saram,” which means “people.” And the third word is “samyong,” which means “mission.”


I was so struck by these three words. I felt that my body was vibrating with each word, sarang, saram, samyong. As I am saying these words right now, I am feeling that vibration.


Sarang saram samyong… In English, love people mission. With these three words, you can come up with a few different statements. The one that I came up with or came to me is to “love people is (my) mission.” To love people is my mission. 


Since then, whenever I see the number 4, I am reminded of the mission of my existence, that is to love people. In moments of worry or exhaustion, I gently recite my God given mantra, “To love people is my mission,” sometimes accompanied by visualizing “444.” This simple practice has transformed my outlook on life, aligning I with the essence of today’s lesson.


In today’s scriptural reading, Jesus openly speaks of his divine mission, that is, to love those whom God had given to him to the death. The hour that has come for the human one is the hour in which his love would be fully known to the world. The hour “When [he] is lifted up from the earth, he will draw [or even drag] all people to himself” and to his love.  


In the Gospel of John, or as I call, in the Gospel of Love, Jesus died on the cross because of love and to radiate love to everyone who witnessed and everyone who would hear about him. So, the world is judged by the love he poured out on the cross and on his journey to the cross. The world is judged for its lack of love, not in the future, but now. 


Just as darkness is judged by light, so what is not love is judged by love. What is not love, such as hatred, ignorance, violence, deception, and greed is revealed inside out by the light of love. 


In the Gospel of John, the climax of the Gospel is less resurrection but more the cross. The time in which what is in everyone’s heart is when Jesus is lifted up from the earth because the entire world will see what love is and what love can do.


Jesus said “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Where is that? That is not a place you go after your death but love in the now for “Now is the judgment of this world.”


Jesus invites us Christians to where he is, to perfect love which casts out fear. I am fully aware that my love is not perfect yet because “there is no fear in perfect love” and perfect love rather leads to lay down one’s life. But I am on the journey to perfect love. 


I invite you to read today’s scripture a few times this week and to let it speak to you while staying open to the presence of God. As the next Sunday is the Palm and Passion Sunday, have sometime to reflect on the meaning of the cross or Jesus’ death on the cross. 

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