Sunday, March 22, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
“We wish to see Jesus.” That’s what the Greeks/Gentiles said to Philip. The Greeks were in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration and they wanted to do more than just catch a glimpse of Jesus. They wanted to have a real encounter with Jesus, spend some time with Him, and find out who he really was. The gospel says that Philip told Andrew and together they went to Jesus. But Jesus’ response was not the straight answer that everyone was expecting to hear. They were expecting to hear, “Sure, bring them here. I’ll talk with them. I’ll answer their questions.” Once there these Gentiles would discover Jesus’ true identity.
But Jesus didn’t say that. He wasn’t being rude or ignoring them, but he was focused on other priorities. While the Greeks were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, Jesus was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. They were going to have a good time and Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus had death on his mind and his answer in parables confused them and his answer confuses many today. It’s disturbing because we don’t want to hear anything about death and dying even if Jesus is referring to seeds. But Jesus isn’t just talking about seeds dying in the ground in order to produce fruit. He’s talking about the importance of his own death in order that the power of death would be destroyed for all. He’s talking about losing his own life in order that through our relationship with Jesus we would always have life eternal. He’s talking about the fact that through the cross all people will truly see who Jesus is. At that point, without the benefit of hindsight and faith that we have today, the disciples and those who came to see Jesus were totally lost and albeit shaking their heads.
They didn’t want to hear about death and we don’t want to hear about death either. Just this morning I announced another death of a member of our congregation. This congregation has experienced too many deaths, too many heartbreaks. Jesus’ talk about death and the cross is far too real for most of us. We know what death feels like. We know how deep loss can cut into our hearts. We too, like the Greeks, want to see Jesus, but we don’t want to see him hanging on a cross. We don’t want to be reminded of any more death. We want to see the shiny cross. The gold or silver one. No one wants to see the cross with the dead body of Jesus hanging on it, so we turn away. That’s not the Jesus we want to see, but that is the Jesus we need to see. That Jesus reveals his true identity.
Yet, like the Greeks and the disciples it’s hard to make that connection. How can something so horrible glorify Jesus? Isn’t it just a reminder of the sinfulness of humanity, of our sin, our guilt, our shame? Yes, it is all of those things, but if we look deeper we see who Jesus really is. Someone willing to die so that death will not have the final say over us.
I wonder if we’re too far removed to make the connection. The disciples and the Greeks lived with Jesus in the flesh, yet for many people today Jesus has become a figure in history, someone who lived a long time ago, and has become a part of the past. Today when we think of Jesus hanging on the cross it doesn’t seem to have the same impact as it would have if it were the person sitting next to us. They are here in the flesh, and Jesus it would seem is not. And so like the Greeks in our gospel today we wish to see Jesus.
Isn’t that what we all really want? Don’t we too want a real encounter with Jesus? It’s more than just a desire to catch a glimpse of Jesus. We want him here among us today. We want to see Him, hear Him, feel Him in the flesh – for real.
It reminds me of a story I heard not long ago about parents who put their child to bed and, of course, a few minutes later, the child calls out. “I’m afraid, mommy/daddy please come in here.” “Don’t worry, we’re right out here.” the parents answer. “No, I’m really afraid, you have to come in here now!” the child continued. “Don’t worry, we’re right here,” The parents continued to try and reassure the child, but the child was relentless. Finally, the exasperated parents said, “Don’t worry, God is right there with you.” After a long pause, the child says, “But I want someone with skin on!”
We want someone with skin on too! And someone with healthy glowing skin! We don’t want to be reminded of a dead Jesus. We want to think of the risen Jesus and more importantly we want that risen Jesus to be right here and now in the flesh. We want a God with skin on!
Yet to many, many people, and I wonder if at times even us – if Jesus is still in the past. He is a historic person we read about from a time long, long ago. Jesus is in the Scriptures, but he’s not here in the flesh. That’s what the seekers or people who don’t belong to any church are looking for. And maybe that’s what we’re looking for too. Deep down we want our faith to be more than just something written on our hearts. We want to see a God with skin on!
God knows that! God knows that’s what we want more than anything else in the world. That’s why God became flesh. The Word – God, the great Creator of all things – became human in the form of Jesus Christ. God became flesh to not only understand what we are going through, but to go through it with us, to die like we will die and……here’s the important part, to rise again. Jesus did truly live and die. He did suffer more than we ever will and we need to look at the cross and see him hanging there for us, because only when we feel that deep pain to we feel the great joy of Easter. That’s why we have Lenten mid-week services, and Holy Week services. We draw every day in Lent closer and closer to the cross and the closer we get the more scared we get and like the child we cry out because we want the God with the skin on to be right here with us. After the pain of the cross the resurrection indeed comes, but we can’t bypass the cross and go right to the risen Jesus or we miss that whole experience. It’s no longer real for us. That pain has to cut us deeply so we suffer with Jesus during Holy Week and then and only then can we experience the joy of the resurrection.
It’s not easy. It’s not easy to acknowledge hurt and pain, but as a very wise person told me years ago, “you have to feel it to heal it.” Some of us have wounds so deep that we just try and bury them, but it’s okay to really feel the sorrow and even cry. Jesus says in John that his soul was troubled. Jesus wept. It’s okay for us to feel that pain too because then we understand how much God loved each and every one of us.
And when Easter morning comes and dries up our tears we are transformed. Our sorrow is turned to joy and we understand what Jesus was talking about when he said the seed must die to bear fruit. The seed of Jesus’ death bore the fruit of the resurrection and the fruit of eternal life for all who believe. We need to look at Jesus on the cross and with the eyes of faith see through the darkness into the light of the resurrection.
We all want to see Jesus. And we want to see Jesus in the flesh. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is not just a story we tell. It is the faith we profess. Jesus is present in the flesh for us today. As Lutherans we truly profess that Jesus is present in, with, and under the elements of the bread and wine in Holy Communion. These are not just symbols. It’s important that we understand that. This Holy Sacrament that we receive each week is the means of grace through which Christ mysteriously but truly is present in this gift of grace. When we hold the bread in our hand we are holding the very body of Christ. It can’t get any more real than that.
And when we hold the hands of those near to us – those we love, those we reach out to and those who reach out to us – we are holding the very hands of Christ. For if Jesus is present in the bread and the wine and we take that into ourselves, then Jesus has now entered into our body. Think about that. That is why it’s called Communion – we are one with God and each other.
So when we wish to see Jesus, we need to look no further than into the eyes of each other. And when we go out into our community, we can show people Christ. That is our mission statement – making Christ known in ourselves, our community and the world. Imagine how different our lives would be if we truly lived out what we profess we believe. If we truly lived knowing that Jesus is not dead, but is truly alive – in the flesh – in each of us what would we do different than we are doing today? We’d love each other. We’d reach out and listen. We’d do works of service to build up the church to make it a mission post of spreading God’s love out to all people. We wouldn’t be afraid all the time. We wouldn’t worry all the time. We wouldn’t wonder how things are going to get done, we’d be empowered to be part of the team that gets them done. Our church would be a place where people could experience Jesus with skin on because we’d truly live like we believe Jesus is alive. And Jesus is! Jesus is alive. We either believe this or we don’t. And if we believe it then our lives are lived differently.
We wish to see Jesus. That’s what we all want. We can. Look around. See Jesus in each other. Be Jesus to each other. Live like Jesus for each other. Amen!