Sunday, March 18, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Loudonville, NY
As we draw near to the end of Lent and prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday next week, we move into the most solemn time of the church year. It’s a time to really contemplate deeply on issues like life and death. It’s a time that can lead us to think about the many things we so often take for granted. – things like hot water, a place to live, food to eat, or clothes to wear. I wonder how often we really stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for these things that are so common for us, yet for many in our communities and our world these things would be a luxury. So many people are still hungry for the basic necessities we take for granted, unless we find ourselves in a situation without them. I wonder sometimes about what it would be like if I could no longer see or hear. I can’t imagine not hearing the beauty of music, or seeing the magnificence of creation, or the faces of those I love. It’s hard to think about those things, yet Lent is a perfect time to think about just such things.
We hear in our reading from the gospel of John today of a time when Jesus was contemplating on these deep matters of life and death. Many people had heard him preach and teach. They had witnessed miracles of healing, and they wanted to see him. People from all over wanted to see Jesus – to really get a close look at him, and experience for themselves what it was like to really get to know him. And so they sought him out. They looked for him. Philip and Andrew brought this to Jesus’ attention.
But, Jesus was more than a little preoccupied with matters of life and death. He knew that the course of his actions was quickly leading up to when he would be arrested, suffer, and die. He was focused on his mission from God. His focus was on seeing that mission through for the sake of the whole world. Jesus could see the big picture despite the distractions from people and events around him. That’s not easy to do unless you have a practice for doing that – like contemplation and prayer – which Jesus continually did.
What about us? What do we do when we want to see Jesus more clearly? Are we even hungry to see him more clearly or do we let the many distractions in life pull us away from really seeing him?
I’m reminded of a friend and classmate in seminary named Beth who was blind. She was a beautiful young woman whom her parents adopted as a baby from Korea. Beth was an inspiration to me and so many others because she could “see” better than most of us. Her “vision” was broader and wider in that she was more aware of the things around her. She walked from the dorm rooms across campus to the classes with her walking stick with what seemed like such grace. She walked up many flights of stairs to get to classes, not once tripping, while I think I may have on occasion tripped up a flight of stairs. And the reason I did was usually because I was in a hurry, was trying to carry too many books at once, or perhaps was just plain preoccupied. Yet, Beth was aware of the sounds, and the energy around her. And in our theological conversations she could express how she could “see” God far better at times than many other people with actual sight. This was because she wasn’t letting the distractions get in the way of seeing Jesus.
Churches and individual Christians for far too long have let distractions get in the way of seeing Jesus. It’s easy to get focused on things like membership numbers, style of music, and liturgical settings over worshipping God. While these things are worth considering, they can quickly become barriers to our relationship with God. Some congregations have argued so much over details like flower placement, the proper order for lighting candles, or even rug color to the extent that these things take priority over the real reason we gather each week – to worship God – and people in our society are aware of these things. The authenticity or hypocrisy of Christianity is easily seen by others, even if we may at times be blind to our own actions. There may be distractions in our worship spaces that grab our attention, but we need to stay focused on seeing God in our midst vs. focusing on details. It’s the reason we’ve started ringing a bell at the beginning of our service – to bring our focus away from conversations and distractions, and raise our awareness that God is in our midst. If we want to experience God, if we want to see Jesus, it’s important to be present and aware.
In our reading today, those who wanted to see Jesus didn’t have far to look. A voice came from heaven, yet many in the crowd thought it was thunder, or an angel. God was there among them, yet they couldn’t “see” Jesus because they may have been looking for something far different. They weren’t looking for a Messiah who was talking about suffering and death. It’s easy to miss Jesus in the crowd, if you have a certain expectation – if you’re looking for a hero rather than a suffering servant. When we look for the Jesus we want to see, it’s easy to ignore him right next to us.
When we or others want to see Jesus, we have to clear our minds and hearts of what we think he looks like or we will miss him too. Jesus is present in the eyes of those we may disagree with, on the faces of those who look dirty or frightening, in the voices of those crying out for help, as well as the in the joyful dancing of children. Jesus is present through the hands of those who show compassion and mercy, kindness and love. He is present in the voices of those who witness for justice and peace. If we want to see Jesus, look around, and really “see” the signs that are all around you in people, and places, sounds, and silence. As we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday and contemplate on the passion of Jesus – may we have the courage to see him in his suffering and death so that we may enjoy more fully the joy of the resurrection. Amen.