Seeing Jesus

 

A sermon, based on John 12.20-33, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 18, 2018

We would see Jesus, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Some Greeks, probably Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora, dwelling in lands outside of Palestine, come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Hearing word of a wonder-working rabbi, they tell Philip, identified as one of his disciples, they want to see Jesus. Philip tells Andrew. They tell Jesus, who launches into a dramatic soliloquy about his death. This seminal moment, affirming that Jesus’ ministry has spread beyond Israel to the world, confirms that the time has come to fulfill his destiny.

We aren’t told whether the Greeks saw Jesus. Yet I think that it is more…most important that we do.

Suppose some folk, knowing we are Christians, came to us, saying, “We want to see Jesus.” What would we do?

Would we, as Philip sought Andrew, seek out fellow Christians, saying, “They want to see Jesus. What do we do now?”

Or call someone like me, a priest, a professionally religious person, saying, “Can we send them to you?”

Or invite them to join us in Bible study or pray with them?

Or share with them our life’s stories, including our personal testimony of who Jesus is and what he means to us?

Or remain silent, not knowing what to say?

Or apologize, “We’re sorry. We can’t help you. We’ve never seen Jesus”?

True. We haven’t seen Jesus, at least, not as he is portrayed in the Bible. We weren’t at the Bethlehem manger at his birth. Or at the Jerusalem temple watching as the precocious twelve-year old Jesus astounded the teachers of the Law with his questions and answers.(1) Or at the River Jordan at his baptism or waiting at the edge of the wilderness when he emerged following his forty-day-and-night fast and temptation by the devil. We didn’t see him point to us, saying, “Follow me”, as he launched his public ministry. Or see him firsthand teaching, preaching, healing. Or stand at the foot of the cross of his self-sacrificial dying. No. We haven’t seen Jesus.

However, when I became a regular, daily Bible reader, now, nearly fifty years ago, I recall reflecting on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Jesus equates feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners with serving him.(2) It was clear to me then and now that I could see Jesus in the faces of my sisters and brothers in need.

When I became a serious student of theology and began to interpret the gospels as narratives of Jesus’ life of love and justice in a world, then and now, filled with hatred and inequity, it was clear. I could see Jesus in others, especially those who stand up and speak up for the sake of those in need.

Yet it is not only in the faces of the needy and those who serve them that I see Jesus. For Jesus is the paradigm of genuine divinity and authentic humanity. Jesus is both God and us. Jesus is the way God is and the way we are created to be. Therefore, all humanity reflects his image. If we want to see Jesus, then look into any face, every face, our faces.

When we look, if we have trouble seeing Jesus, then I offer this recommendation. Let us hear Jesus: “Unless a grain falls to the earth and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it bears fruit. Those who love life lose it. Those who hate life keep it…”

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And then, following his lead, let us experience death!

I’m not talking about that final moment when we draw our last breath, which will come. I’m talking about the ever-present moment of now and the dying that can happen only when we choose. The self-denying, cross-bearing dying of not loving so much, too much our life as we know it, design it, form it, shape it that we refuse to risk it.

And here in Lent, this season of self-examination and repentance (truly, a model for our everyday existence), I share some ways of dying-to-self that I have learned over the years to practice in that ever-present moment of now:

Compelling, forcing myself to think a new, often uncomfortable thought beyond the boundaries of my settled and assured worldview, which, even at its broadest points, because I do not and cannot think all things, is always narrow…

Viewing an issue from another, even opposite perspective, striving to understand, to accept how it is possible that someone, anyone could see it that way…

Confronting my prejudices, my ingrown negative presuppositions about others based on gender, race, class, and culture, and then, convicted anew of my sin of bigotry, seeing and accepting others as individuals…

Revisiting an old, broken relationship with a word of confession or forgiveness, seeking reconciliation.

The possibilities of not loving our lives too much, yea, of dying to ourselves are as endless as our imaginations working within the specific contexts of our histories and memories and daily circumstances. And if…when we engage in self-denying, cross-bearing, life-losing dying-to-self, there we will see Jesus!

 

Footnotes:
(1) Luke 2.41-47
(2) Matthew 25.35-36, 40

Illustration: We would see Jesus, James Tissot (1836-1902). Note: Tissot depicts the city of Jerusalem with pilgrims from throughout the world coming to commemorate the Passover. Jesus, robed in white, with his disciples gathered around him, looks on as the Greeks, standing at the base of the stairs, speak to Philip. Andrew, pointing at Jesus, stands behind Philip.

 

4 thoughts on “Seeing Jesus

  1. Dear Paul,

    I don’t know a lot about baseball, but I do know that most major league teams have their opening days sometime in April. I have bad news for the teams this year. No matter when they have planned their opening days this season, the first home run has already been hit. Your sermon. Yes.

    If I had been at Epiphany this morning, I’m afraid I would have embarrassed myself by standing up and applauding at sermon’s end or perhaps before. This:

    “ And then, following his lead, let us experience death!

    I’m not talking about that final moment when we draw our last breath, which will come. I’m talking about the ever-present moment of now and the dying that can happen only when we choose. The self-denying, cross-bearing dying of not loving so much, too much our life as we know it, design it, form it, shape it that we refuse to risk it.”

    I’m going to live with that thought this week and for a long time to come, Paul. In every “ever-present moment of now,” I’m going to try to remember to let go a little of the death-grip I have on my beloved life to say to myself, “Karen, it will become a lot more precious to you and to the world if you become willing to risk it on….” whatever the moment brings me to love beyond my own hold on life. And then I’m going to try to do that thing, smile at that friend, husband, daughter through my frustration or anger, take that chance to speak love rather keep silence, write that hard apology, look that homeless person in the eye and touch her, offer my help beyond what I’m normally comfortable doing, etc, etc, etc.

    Thank you, Paul. I needed your words, your love, and your wisdom today, and so did the world.

    Much love,

    Karen

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    1. And you, my beloved sister, in writing – “smile at that friend, husband, daughter through my frustration or anger, take that chance to speak love rather keep silence, write that hard apology, look that homeless person in the eye and touch her, offer my help beyond what I’m normally comfortable doing, etc, etc, etc.” – have captured precisely what I meant when I spoke of the endless opportunities found within the contexts of our histories and memories within the framework of our daily circumstances. Yes! Thank you for hearing me and enveloping and embellishing what I desperately sought to express. You gladden this preacher’s heart.

      Love you,
      Paul

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  2. So this sermon made me cry. Like Karen, I needed this to reconfirm that I’m on the right path. When Tim died, I swore I wasn’t going to die right here on earth. I pledged to live as if there was no tomorrow and to engage (or reengage) with people and activities and nature and God in ways I had never done before. For more than 16 months now, I’ve lived full speed ahead, but allowing myself to cry and grieve as I went. Last week for example, I met some amazing people in Ohio. People VASTLY different from me!! YET, we hugged and cried and talked and enjoyed our time and I felt Jesus was there with us!!!! I was so exhausted when I got home I pledged to stay in yesterday. But that didn’t work out. I had to go to the post office to try to track down a lost box of books, and kept my composure as I’m sure Jesus would have wanted me to when we couldn’t locate where in OH my books are. But it was what happened after that caused me to ponder WHY and your sermon helped me. Yesterday at 1pm was Alisa Andrew’s memorial service which I hadn’t planned on attending though for years I was very close to him. Then 30 minutes before the service started I darted out of my house, not even appropriated dressed and sprinted to the church. It was as if Jesus was compelling me to go! I saw folks I hadn’t seen in ages (except on Facebook) and I knew when I rushed in and made eye contact with the family, I knew why I was there. They smiled and nodded as if it really mattered that I was there. Alisa’s grandmother mouthed the words “thank you” as the organ started to play. I was relieved that I had come as opposed to staying home and focusing on myself. It was a hard service for me and everyone…. just so young… But while I was in the church listening to the words and songs an energy came over me, and I didn’t feel exhausted any more. I felt like I had been given what I needed in order to be able to help someone else. It was a moment I felt I was un-dying…
    Thank you for this.
    Love you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Loretta, as Jesus saith, there is no greater love than that of one laying down one’s life for one’s friends. For you to have been present at the funeral of Andrew/Alisa was a grand gift of laying down your life in the depths of your fatigue; a gift truly welcomed by her family. Bless you for following the Soirit’s leading in that moment of decision leading you to dash out of your door.

      As I contemplate it afresh, given your reflection, it is impossible to know the solace we humans incarnate in our presence at moments of grief. Nevertheless, that solace, though beyond qualitative and quantitative measure, is received and cherished by those who mourn.

      Again, bless you. Love you.

      Like

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