Picture it! Albuquerque. 2015. St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. It’s a beautiful early spring morning. You’ve arrived on time for service – even a little bit early. You’re in the narthex. Perhaps you’ve volunteered to hand out bulletins. Maybe you’ve just hung up your jacket and are getting ready to enter the Nave or you just said hello to a friend you’ve not seen in a couple of weeks. You are ready to worship.
And then you are approached by some people you don’t know. It might be a young couple – or maybe a family with young children. It could be a multi-generational family. You smile at them.
They say to you “We wish to see Jesus.”
What do you do? What do you say?
I’ll bet that most all of us would respond exactly like Philip did in today’s gospel and say “Uh….um…hold on just a second. Let me find someone who can help you.”
If someone requested of you “we wish to see Jesus” how on earth would you respond? What would you say? And frankly, what does the question mean?
Let’s take a look at today’s gospel in context. These events take place very soon after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday has just taken place. The Greeks in the story are probably not Jewish, but have come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. They probably approach Philip because he is from Bethsaida, an area in Galilee where there are many Greek citizens AND Philip was a common Greek name of the time.
These strangers have obviously heard about Jesus’ miraculous deeds and want to SEE him.
This is a good place to actually consider the request at hand. “We wish so SEE Jesus.” When we read the story the first time we probably assume the Greeks want to “catch a glimpse of Jesus” or “meet Jesus.” But the word SEE can also mean “to understand.”
Oh, I see. I get it. I understand.
So maybe the visitors in this story are asking a deeper question. Perhaps they are asking Philip and Andrew for a chance to understand Jesus. And if we approach the request from this angle, Jesus’ answer – which might seem awfully obtuse at first – starts to make some of sense.
Jesus’ answer explains to see him…to understand him…you must understand three things. Jesus’ answer can be divided into three sections.
1. Understand how Jesus is glorified.
2. Understand what it means to follow Jesus
3. Understand the purpose of his death
So…how is Jesus to be glorified?
Jesus explains that the time has come for him to be glorified – to be honored – to be magnified. He compares his life to a single grain of wheat. That single grain – that seed – isn’t all that wonderful. But when the seed is planted and flourishes, much grain is produced.
Although Jesus has performed miracles and given much for his followers to think about, he now makes it clear that only by his death will he be able to accomplish his task on earth.
And what does it means to follow Jesus?
This may be the most difficult part of today’s gospel for us - as 21st century Americans - to grasp. Jesus says that if you love your life you’re going to lose it. If you hate your life, you get to keep it forever. Say what? If I hate my life, why would I want to keep it forever?
But I think what we are supposed to take away from this statement is that we are not to get wrapped up in our day to day activities. We should not concentrate on achieving fame or power or awards or trophies or possessions. We should not be overly proud of our accomplishments. It is good and healthy to enjoy life – but don’t get caught up in it.
While “hate” is an extremely strong word, Jesus is telling us to put aside earthly comforts and ideas and concentrate on the end goal. We will receive eternal life by living a worthy life here on earth. Be sure to notice that Jesus reminds us that by serving him – by serving Jesus – you will receive honor from God.
And finally…what is the purpose of his death?
Jesus admits he is troubled by the events he knows will take place but assures his followers it is for the glory of God. And then God speaks and backs up what Jesus has said. Jesus’ death will complete the plan of reconciliation between God and humanity.
And I suppose I could end this sermon right here. We’ve looked at the gospel and made an attempt to figure out what Jesus was saying. Heck, we even dug a little bit deeper into the meaning of “wishing to see Jesus.” Isn’t that enough for one morning?
Unfortunately, I don’t think so. I am always stuck on the idea of figuring out how the gospel speaks to us today. I began this sermon with a hypothetical anecdote about us encountering someone in the narthex asking to see Jesus. I’m not sure I’d remember the three points I just explained about “understanding” Jesus. And anyway, I’m not sure that would be a satisfactory answer to those people’s request anyway.
So. What do you tell someone who wishes to see Jesus?
And frankly, isn’t that why we ourselves come here each week – or how ever often it is we come to St. Michael’s? At the end of the day, don’t we ALL wish to see Jesus – to understand what his life and ministry have to say to us today?
We wish to see Jesus. Or in the more vernacular and more urgent – we WANT to see Jesus.
Many of you know I spent 15 months working at St. Chad’s Church up in the northeast heights. There is a family there with two adorable identical twin girls. At the time I left, they were somewhere between 2 and 3 years old. When they would come forward for communion, one of the girls would stretch out her arm and move her fingers in and out. She knew the bread was coming and boy did she want some of it.
Isn’t that how we should all approach the altar during the Eucharist? Isn’t that how we should all be rushing into this beautiful space each time we come – full of anticipation and wonderful expectation about what we can learn, what we can receive, what we can SEE!
Back to that first story…to the strangers who have asked to see Jesus. I suggest the best answer we could give would be this: “Come into church and sit by me today. After church we can talk over a cup of coffee.”
And to all of us who want to see Jesus, too. I’d suggest you look at the person on your right. Then look at the person on your left. Look at the person in front of you. Look at the person behind you. You are seeing Jesus.
I am amazed at how often my train of thought on a sermon takes me back to Matthew 25. Jesus tells his followers that by helping others, you have helped him. It makes it simple to see Jesus when everyone you encounter IS Jesus.
Our culture is obsessed with how things look. We are told it doesn’t matter how you feel, it’s how you look…and you look mahvelous.
But as Christians, we know that isn’t true. It isn’t enough just to see Jesus. We need…..we want….we demand….to SEE Jesus. And if we don’t desire that, then we probably aren’t doing this whole Christian thing right.
On Ash Wednesday, I along with several clergy members and another parishioner stood on the street corner at 4th and Montano to impose ashes to anyone who desired them. We stood on that corner for 10 hours that day and imposed ashes to 161 people. We blessed two dogs and we answered several questions about what we were doing.
And we saw Jesus. The most amazing moment of the day occurred when a 20-something young man approached us. I inquired if he would like ashes. He said he would and informed us he was recovering from drug addiction and would like prayers that he could stay clean. We imposed ashes on his forehead…and then we held hands and prayed together for his continued sobriety.
I’m not sure how the young man experienced that time we shared. It is my sincere hope and prayer that he is doing well. But I know that for Rev. Kristin, Rosanne and for me….
WE SAW JESUS.
And that is the entire point of what I’m attempting to say today. If by “seeing” Jesus we are “understanding” Jesus, then it doesn’t matter which side of the looking glass you are on. It doesn’t matter if you are giving or receiving. If you are teaching or you are learning. You see Jesus everywhere.
Do you wish to see Jesus?
Open your eyes.
Open your mind.
Open your heart.
You will see Jesus.