March 22nd, 2015 “To See Jesus” Rev. Heather Jepsen
This is the final Sunday of Lent before we head into the power and drama of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but this week we have a chance to hear from him one more time, before he enters his final moments.
In our reading for today, there are others looking to hear from Jesus as well. Outsiders, Gentiles, who are Greeks, have heard about Jesus and his teaching and so they come seeking information. First they approach Philip, since he has a Greek name and is from a Greek town. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they say. Philip in turn tells his brother Andrew and together the two approach Jesus to inform him that Gentiles are seeking him. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead so it is no wonder that folks are eager to meet him.
This is another strange reading from the gospel of John, where the action takes a back seat to the theological message the writer of the gospel seeks to convey. Rather than bringing the Gentiles to Jesus, or Jesus going to address them directly, Jesus interprets the message, that Gentiles are seeking him, as a sign from God. Jesus has finally come to “his hour” which has been alluded to throughout the whole gospel, and so he launches into a theological speech on the meaning of his death. The text doesn’t make clear if the Greeks ever met Jesus or not, in fact it seems to imply that they don’t as soon after this Jesus hides from the crowds until his crucifixion.
The theological speech that Jesus gives is compelling and it serves to frame his death in the gospel of John. In one of the most powerful images in the whole of the gospels, Jesus tells the parable of the grain of wheat, clearly describing how he must die in order to live. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus goes on to say once again that those who love him must be willing to lose their lives in order to follow him.
In this moment of knowing his demise is near, Jesus declares that his soul is troubled. He considers asking God to save him from this path, but decides against it saying “Father, glorify your name.” A voice comes from the heavens, the only time this happens in the gospel of John, and declares that yes, God will be glorified. The crowds standing about hear the noise but cannot discern the message. To close the scene, Jesus declares that the time of judgment is near. Soon he will be lifted up, and he will draw all people to himself.
This is a wonderful passage for us as modern believers on the cusp of yet another Holy Week. Like the Gentiles in today’s reading, we come to church asking to see Jesus. In the lesson he gives today, Jesus makes it plain what it is we must do if we are to see him. The message is not easy, but it is clear. What we must do to see Jesus is to be willing to die, in order to live. He must be willing to give up our self-centered mode of existence, for the other-centered gospel that Jesus is preaching. If we are to be part of Jesus’ community, if we are to see Jesus, then we must die.
Though it was not the path that I would of chosen, I had the opportunity to die to my self-centered way of living this week. As you know, this was Spring Break for the kids here in Warrensburg. Like many parents I had lots of fun plans for my family. My own parents, Tom and Patty Ruehle, were coming to town and we had big plans for a week of fun. Haircuts, shoe shopping, movies, and butterflies were all on the roster. Plus I had my regular work to get done like writing this sermon. I had lot of plans that centered around myself and what I wanted to do.
And then the kids got sick, really sick. No haircut, no shoes, no work. We were fighting fevers, forcing fluids, and spending time in the ER. In order to live, and in order for my children to live, I needed to die. I needed to throw away everything that I had planned on, everything I wanted to do, and invest all I had in keeping my kids going.
Admittedly this is a lot easier to do for our kids than it is to do for our faith. But this is what Jesus asks of us. This is the lesson that Jesus teaches. We must be willing to give up and throw away our plans for our lives, our desires for our families, our goals for our budgets, and live a life of faith instead. And we need to do it here, in the church community, if we really want to see Jesus.
The only place that we can see Jesus is in community, because the only place that we can see Jesus is in each other. We cannot see Jesus in ourselves, and if we want to be part of the community we must be willing to die. Unlike the grain of wheat, we have a choice. We can choose to remain alone, a single grain of wheat. Or we can give up what we are, we can die and be buried, and in doing so we can grow to produce fruit and we become a part of the community. The seed that does not die remains stagnant and alone. By contrast, the seed that is willing to die; grows, multiples, and becomes part of the field, the community of faith.
Jesus declares that when he is lifted up from the earth he will draw all people to himself. As I mentioned last week, the idea of being lifted up has two connotations in John’s gospel. Jesus will be physically lifted up on the cross in his death, and he will also be exalted in that moment, spiritually lifted up as the Son of God. In his moment of suffering, Jesus will draw all people to himself. To see Jesus is to look upon him in his moment of suffering, and to join him in his willingness to lose his life for the sake of the gospel.
Jesus declares that his hour has come, the hour when he must commit to this ultimate path of self-denial and I would argue that as followers of Jesus, this hour comes for all of us as well. We must ask ourselves if we really want to see Jesus, or if we only want to see a God of our own making, a God who serves our own self interest.
If we really want to see Jesus, if we really want to be his followers, than that will dictate how we approach our daily lives. When we are interacting with others, are we looking to serve our own needs? Or are we willing to give up our own needs to serve others? Do we do what we do, to get something or to give something? Do we come to church, the community of seeds, and the field of faith to get something for ourselves or to serve each other? I would argue that we cannot be the church if we come here for selfish interests. We can only be the church if we come here to serve each other, as well as those outside of these doors. That is the only way we will ever see Jesus.
This message of dying to self was counter cultural in Jesus’ time and continues to shock us today. So much of our world demands that we put ourselves in the center of things. I need to get a better job, I need to make more money, and I need a new car. I can’t fly coach to Malawi; I need the church to buy me a 65 million dollar private jet. Though it may make the nightly news, I don’t think anyone would argue that pastors are immune to this way of thinking. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year we are bombarded with a message of self. What is in it for me?
By contrast Jesus tells us that we must give all that up. In loving ourselves, we destroy ourselves. In replacing love for self with a love for others, we gain our lives, we grow. And not only that, we are able to finally see Jesus. It is the ultimate Lenten message. We must die in order to live. If we want to see Jesus, we must look at him lifted upon the cross, and we must allow our own self interested way of life to join him in death there.
And so today as the arrival of Holy Week draws ever near, we must ask ourselves just why we are here today. Are we here to get something for ourselves? Or are we here to see Jesus? If we are here to see Jesus than they only way we will ever do it is to die. To die to our desires, die to our wants, die even to our needs, as we replace a cold heart of self interest with a living heart of generosity and service. May God be with us as we continue this Lenten journey. May God be with us as we are drawn with the crowds to see Jesus, in his true nature, broken and bloodied on a cross of love. Amen.