“We Wish to See Jesus”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 18, 2018

John 12:20-33

 

“We wish to see Jesus,” they said.

We don’t know their names.

We don’t know how many of them there were.

We don’t know much of anything about them.

Where they came from, what they looked like, how old or young they were…  Their wealth or poverty, understanding or ignorance, guilt or innocence…  Every human detail of their lives has been lost to history—every human detail, that is, save one:  their desire, their longing, their urgent need to encounter the One we know as Christ.

We don’t know much of anything about these nameless, faceless Greeks.  But I think I know why they came.

I think they had heard of Jesus, heard stories of his words and actions, and found in those tales something that drew them as if by undeniable magnetism to seek him out, to find him, to see him, to know him—and to be found, to be seen, to be known by him in return.

Perhaps they had heard the story we read in worship two weeks ago, the story of Jesus arriving at the temple in Jerusalem and overturning the tables of the moneychangers and animal sellers in protest against a corrupt system that supported the Roman Empire and disadvantaged those with fewer resources.  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to be the little guy, trapped in a system that always gives you the short end of the stick, that treats you as if you are worthless, that guarantees that what you have is never enough for what you need.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He will be on our side.”

Or perhaps they had heard the story we read in worship last week, the story of Nicodemus the Pharisee, who came to see Jesus by night and learned that second chances are possible, that new beginnings can happen, that even he could have a fresh start by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to long to start over with a blank slate, to let go of the sufferings and regrets of the past and begin anew.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He can help us try again.”

Perhaps they had heard the story of Lazarus—how his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message to Jesus that their beloved brother was gravely ill, and how Jesus did not arrive until it seemed too late, for Lazarus had died and had been in the tomb for four days.  But Jesus went to the tomb and cried, “Lazarus, come out!”  And out he came, still wrapped in his death shroud, but alive again.  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to lose a sibling, a child, a parent, a spouse, a friend, knew the empty ache of grief and the fathomless depths of sorrow.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He will weep with us and restore our hope.”

Perhaps they had heard the story of the Samaritan woman, the one Jesus met by a well on a hot, thirsty day, the one who was an outsider for so many reasons:  because of her ethnicity, because she was divorced, because she was a woman—and nevertheless, Jesus saw her, acknowledged her, spoke to her, offered her the gift of living water that would never run dry.  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to be shunned, oppressed, marginalized, judged, rejected because of who you are.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He will truly see us.”

Perhaps they had heard the story of the man who was crippled, who had been trying to gain access to the healing pools near the gates of Jerusalem, but no one would help him step into the water; they would push him out of their way as they went by instead.  For 38 years he had suffered without access to the treatment he needed, until Jesus saw him, and had mercy on him, and he took up his mat and began to walk.  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to suffer, to be afflicted, to feel invisible, to go without the treatment that was available to better-resourced others.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He will help us find healing.”

Perhaps they had heard the story of that sunny afternoon on the lakeshore in Galilee, when a large crowd gathered, five thousand strong, and the only food on hand was a few barley loaves and some fish, and yet somehow, everyone was fed, with leftovers to spare.  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to be deeply, ravenously, belly-achingly, mind-addlingly hungry, and not to know where your next meal will come from.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He will feed us.”

Perhaps they had heard the story of the woman caught in adultery, how a mob had gathered, and they were ready with rocks in hand—but Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”  And it was like the air going out of a balloon.  Deflated, they trickled away, one by one, until only she was left, and Jesus sent her on her way, saying, “Go, and sin no more.”  Perhaps they knew what it felt like to be condemned, whether rightly or not, and to stand in fear of your life, only to be forgiven.  “We wish to see Jesus,” they said.  “He will set us free.”

 

We don’t know their names.  We don’t know how many of them there were.  We don’t know much of anything about them except that they had heard of Jesus, of his message, his mercy, his ministry, his miracles—and they had come, desiring to see him.

They spoke to Philip, who was one of the disciples, and Philip spoke to Andrew, another disciple, and then Philip and Andrew together went and spoke to Jesus.  And Jesus responded with a long discourse about his death, resurrection, and ascension, about what it would mean for him to be glorified, about grains of wheat falling into the earth and dying so that they can bear much fruit.  The text is not entirely clear about to whom Jesus was speaking as he waxed poetic about all these things.  It could be that Philip and Andrew told Jesus he was needed, even took him by the hand and led him back to address the crowd—but it could also be that the disciples stayed where Jesus had been when they found him, that they got caught up in the moment, in listening to their teacher, and those poor Greeks were left behind, waiting in vain for Philip to come back and respond to their yearning request.  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

 

And here’s the thing.  Those Greeks who wished to see Jesus?  They’re right here, right in this room.  They’re right here, in our communities.  They’re right here, in our state, our nation, our world.  This earth is full of people longing for the kind of message, and mercy, and ministry, and miracles Jesus offered.  This family of faith, this town, this county, this country, this continent, this planet is full of people who have been told that they are not worthy, not valued, not enough.  People who need a second chance.  People who are grieving a devastating loss.  People who feel invisible.  People who are ill and afflicted and have no access to treatment and care.  People who are hungry.  People who are condemned and need to be forgiven.  This family of faith, this town, this county, this country, this planet is full of people who need to see it with their own eyes, to hear it with their own ears.

And if the church is the Body of Christ, then who better to show and tell the good news than you, than us?

So how will you show and tell one another that love is real?  How will you show and tell this community that forgiveness is possible?  How will you show and tell this nation that mercy is powerful?  How will you show and tell this world that justice is coming?  How will you show and tell the whole human family that grace is everywhere?

Because it is, my friends.  What those Greeks had heard about Jesus was true.  And even if they were left hanging in the moment, it was not for long.  When Jesus was glorified, when he was lifted up—when he was buried in the earth, planted like a seed that would bloom riotously and bear much fruit—God demonstrated irrefutably the lengths to which God will go to be reconciled with humanity.  God’s self-giving love for us is so strong that God will undergo betrayal, rejection, and the worst death the powers that be could imagine—and then God will transform even that into newness of life for all people and all creation.

Love is real.  Forgiveness is possible.  Mercy is powerful.  Justice is coming.  Grace is everywhere.  Newness of life is alive and at work.

So find someone who wishes to see Jesus, and show them his face in your own.

 


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