Fifth Sunday in Lent 2006

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on April 2, 2006. 
Based on John 12:20-33 (V Lent, Year B). 

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It’s a humble request. Not a demand; but an authentic desire, a profound yearning of the heart. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” We know little about these seekers. They were Greek citizens who had come to Jerusalem as pilgrims for the Passover feast. They had evidently heard about this Jesus but wanted to see and experience him for themselves. And so these Greek Gentiles, these non-Jews, make their request to Philip. And this wasn’t a bad place to start. Philip was one of the 12; a member of Jesus’ inner circle; someone who had connections with this famous teacher from Nazareth. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” But this was also an unusual request, even an outrageous request. One that no self-respecting rabbi would have even considered. Because Jews didn’t associate with Gentiles.

Certainly not unknown Gentiles from a foreign land. But of course Jesus isn’t your average rabbi. And his reputation for breaking down false barriers between people must have preceded him. His reputation for flouting the rigid religious conventions of the day must have been widely known. And it must have given these Greeks the courage to approach Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  

And it’s really what we all want. It’s the reason we’re here this morning. It’s why we come back week after week after week. We want to see Jesus. And so we gather to see Jesus through the hearing of Scripture and the sharing of Communion. We gather to see Jesus through the relationships we have with one another. The Church has gathered for 2,000 years to see Jesus. And this ongoing desire to see Jesus is a continuation of Jesus’ own invitation to the first disciples. Earlier in John’s gospel, the day after his baptism by John in the Jordan, two of John’s disciples approach Jesus and ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And Jesus responds, “Come and see.” They go and look and so begins their discipleship. 

So we, like these Greeks who came to Jerusalem, are responding to Jesus’ initial invitation to “Come and see.” It’s an invitation that knows no limitations; all it requires is a response – a tentative step, an inquiring heart. All we have to do is proclaim that we “wish to see Jesus” and the kingdom of God is opened before our very eyes.

Of course, as faithful Christians the wish has already been granted. We have already seen Jesus. We have seen the light of Christ that pervades our lives. We have already seen Jesus, even as we wish to see Jesus again and again and again. It’s not a onetime glimpse. It’s an ongoing panorama. A vista that never ceases to amaze. But it begins with Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” and it continues with our response that “we wish to see Jesus.”

But this whole issue also transcends our individual and communal faith lives. Think about those who visit this church for the first time. When people walk through the front door (or at least after they’ve pulled into the parking lot and gotten confused about where exactly they’re supposed to go), they have come here because they want to see Jesus. We welcome them not because we want the pews to be fuller, not because we want them to fill out pledge cards, but because we want to help them see Jesus. We want to share with them the view from the mountaintop of relationship with the living God. 

So, people come here to see Jesus. And offering them a glimpse of the divine is a great responsibility. But we do it through our liturgy, through our teaching, through our preaching, and through the ways we welcome strangers in our midst. We may not always feel as if we are the lens of the divine and yet we are. Despite its imperfections, this is the Church’s role in the world. And so it is our role on this particular corner of this particular community. People who visit here want to see Jesus in you and me.

So like Andrew and Philip, we need to drop everything whenever anyone comes into our midst seeking Jesus and help them see Jesus. And I’m sure Philip and Andrew had better things to do. At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus had just made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was at the height of his popularity. Everybody wanted a piece of him. So the last thing Jesus and his disciples needed was a request for a visit from a couple of strangers. And yet, they dropped everything because they were faced with the simple request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” And we can learn from this. We can stop our coffee hour conversations when we see a visitor and welcome them. We can stop the chitchat before the service to introduce ourselves or offer a word of welcome.

Christian hospitality isn’t about superficial smiles. It’s about helping people to see Jesus.  And so when Jesus does meet these strangers who wish to see him, he doesn’t just offer up pleasantries. Because when Philip and Andrew tell Jesus some people would like to see him, he offers them a passion prediction in return. He tells them that the hour has come for him to be glorified by God. In other words, his time on earth is drawing to a close; the crucifixion is imminent. But he’s also sharing some basics about the faith. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The life of faith is not easy. There will be suffering and pain and grief. Seeing Jesus doesn’t change this. We experience painful situations in our individual ways but we do not experience them in isolation. The promise of this faith, the assurance of seeing Jesus, is that Jesus is present with us through it all. Through times of trial, through adversity, through hardship. 

Lent is, among other things, an inward-looking season of self-reflection. But as we approach the transition into Holy Week, it’s helpful to look up, away from ourselves to see Jesus at work in our lives. Reflect upon the ways in which others see Jesus through you. Think about the ways Jesus is made visible through you. And go into Palm Sunday and Holy Week with your eyes wide open. Ready to see Jesus. 

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006

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