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Sun, Mar 18, 2018

We wish to see Jesus

Duration:16 mins 23 secs

Our Second Reading for today comes from the Gospel according to John, chapter 12, verses 20-26. In some ways this story jumps ahead a week in John’s Gospel as it immediately follows Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we will celebrate next week on Palm Sunday. Several times in the course of his ministry Jesus has declared that his “time has not yet come.” However, the request by some Greeks in our text today seems to push the story over a tipping point. Jesus’ hour has arrived, so let us hear this Word of God.

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Pastor David Platt tells the story of sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader from that community. The two men were talking about how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. “We may have different views about small issues,” one of them said, “but when it comes down to the essential issues, each of our religions in the same.”

Platt listened for a while and then they asked him what he thought. He said, “It sounds as though you both picture God at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.”

They smiled as he spoke and happily replied, “Exactly! You understand.”

Then Platt leaned in and continued, “Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?”

They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.”

Platt said, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

My friends, that is what it is all about. That is what Confirmation is all about. It is introducing you, introducing our youth, to Jesus. Because we know about Jesus, right? As students grow they know about Jesus because their parents and we as a congregation have taken seriously the baptismal vow to raise this child in the faith. But to really see Jesus, to believe in him, to be introduced to him – that is what Confirmation is all about. In the broader sense, that is what preaching should be all about. It is why the request that frames our scripture text for today, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” is such a popular verse to place in a pulpit. It is not about us, it is not about the preacher, it is about introducing the congregation to Jesus.

It sounds like a simple request. Introduce them to Jesus. Help them see Jesus. But in today’s world, we must ask: “Which Jesus are they looking for and which Jesus will they see?”

One of the favorite classes that I get to teach each year with the students in Confirmation is the week we ask “Who is Jesus?” After lifting up a wide variety of scriptural verses which each uniquely describe or name Jesus, we look at various images of Jesus from art and culture. In one image we see Jesus depicted with blond hair, blue eyes, and a scruffy beard. In another, someone has created Jesus and his mother Mary out of flannel. Jesus has no hair at all and does not even have a neck! From an Asian artist we see Jesus depicted as Asian. An African sculptor crafts Jesus as black, crying out in immense pain from the cross. There are pictures of Jesus smiling and laughing with a child and of Jesus hovering immense over the skyline of New York City. There is even Jesus the bobble head on a dashboard giving us a thumbs-up.

After showing the youth all these pictures and more, I ask them which image of Jesus do they like best and which one most troubles them. They all pick different pictures that they like best, which I think reflects their own personalities. However, almost universally the one that most troubles them or seems most strange and unlike Jesus, is the picture of Jesus developed a few years ago by forensic anthropologists. Taking three well preserved, recently discovered skulls of first century Jewish men from Palestine, using the latest x-ray and 3D reconstruction technologies, and accounting for the limited biblical evidence, the forensic anthropologists created a life-like 3D model of Jesus’ head and face. The dark complexion, curly haired, Middle Eastern man that emerged from the laboratory might be our best guess as to what Jesus actually looked like, but it is also most unlike the images of Jesus we 21st century Americans tend to hold in minds and our hearts.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” But which Jesus do we really want to see? The Greeks in our scripture text probably want to see the Jesus who heals the man born blind and raises Lazarus from the dead. The one acclaimed by the crowds as he enters Jerusalem. Everyone at the time wanted to see the miracle worker/future king Jesus.

But is that the Jesus you want to see? Is that the Jesus I am looking for? Do we want the social revolutionary Jesus who stands up to the political powers of the day? Do we want the smiling and loving Jesus who will pat us on the back and tell us that everything is going to be ok? Do we want the Jesus who performs miracles or the Jesus who tells us to pick up our cross and follow him? Do we want the Jesus who feeds the hungry or the Jesus who sends the disciples out taking nothing with them to eat? Yes, which Jesus do we want to see?

Because I suspect that most of the time we see the Jesus that we are already looking for. In her book All Things New, author Lauren Miller writes:

We see what we want to see, what we expect to see, instead of what’s really there. I don’t think we do it on purpose, most of the time. We just get kind of stuck. We start thinking that the way things are is the way they’ll always be. But that’s not true. It can’t be true. Because the world is never still.

The world is never still. And yet still people are looking for Jesus. And the Jesus we find continually surprises us. When Jesus hears that there are some Greeks who want to see him, he does not look at his calendar in order to make an appointment at a convenient time. He does not drop everything and rush off to see them immediately. In fact, we do not know if Jesus ever sees these Greeks at all. Instead Jesus declares that the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Time and time again in the Gospel according to John, Jesus says that his time has not yet come; it is not time for his true nature and intention to be revealed in a miracle here or a saying there. But now the time for glory has arrived. It is time for Jesus to be crowned as king; not on a throne in a palace, but on a cross.

Yes, crowned as the king of all creation on a cross. All roads lead to him. Professor Edwin Van Driel from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary puts it this way:

There may not be many roads to the Father, but there are many roads to Jesus.

To put it in theological terms: In a highly unusual way, pluralism and particularity are not opposites here, but go hand in hand. There is no denial here that other cultures and other religions may have encountered God and may be shaped by divine grace. At the same time, there is the claim that in Jesus God has become present among us in a unique and decisive way, which irrevocably changes the relationship between God and all of humanity. [As Jesus says] “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

In the end, this shows the unique shape of Christian faith. It is not another set of teachings and truths that people have to embrace at the expense of competing claims. It is rather the confession about a person – a person who is the truth himself.

My friends, do we want to see the truth himself? Do we really want to see Jesus? Because seeing Jesus on the cross is so much more than just an activity of our eyes. For those who see in John’s Gospel believe. Those who see allow their own preconditions and assumptions about Jesus to fade away. Those who see recognize that death on a cross is glory and the only way to life. Those who see believe that in Jesus God so loved the world so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. Those who see know that where Jesus is, so must we be - dying to an old life and being raised to a new one. Those who see discover not just who Jesus is, but who we are as well.

That is what it is all about: being introduced to Jesus in a way that allows us to see both God and ourselves perhaps for the first time. So, my friends, do not settle for just the picture of Jesus you want to see. God came down so that we might see that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Can we see him? Do we want to see him?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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