"Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida, Galilee, and said to him, 'Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus."
--John 12: 20-23
An artist's depiction of the Greeks coming to see Jesus.
“We wish to see Jesus,” they said. They were a group of Greeks. Maybe they were converts to Judaism. Maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were just in Jerusalem because they wanted to observe the great festival of the Passover. Maybe, because the Greeks have always been regarded as seekers of truth, they were just plain curious about this carpenter-turned-rabbi whose fame was spreading throughout their corner of the world. We may never know the reason for their request, but we can sure understand it, can’t we?
Who among us does not wish to see Jesus? The very fact that we come together to worship each week speaks to that. We come to our respective houses of worship because we want to see Jesus, we want to have an encounter with the living God in Christ. We could stay home or take a weekend trip to the beach, but we show up, and I suspect it's because, like those curious Greeks, we too wish to see Jesus.
As I told my congregation on Sunday, our church is certainly a place where you will see Jesus, that’s for sure. We see him each time we gather in his name and sing songs of praise and pray together for the Church, which is his body, and for the world, which he loves. We see him in our Sacraments, those outward and visible signs of his inner and spiritual grace. Most notably, we see him at the holy table, where he is broken before our very eyes, where he is known to us in the same way he was known to those twelve apostles in that upper room and those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, in a sacred meal that is shared together, where our divisions cease, and we are made one body in the one bread. Beyond our prayers, praises, and Sacraments, however, we see him in each other. When we go out of our way to welcome the stranger, we see him. When we sit with someone who is alone, we see him. When we take extra long with our passing of the peace, asking, “How’s your family doing?” or letting someone know we’re happy that they’re here, we see him. As I told them, our church is truly a place where anyone who wishes to, can and will see Jesus.
Out there is a world filled with people who wish to see Jesus. Unlike those Greeks, however, they’re not always eager to say so because many have been wounded by Jesus’ very body, by the Church. They’ve been told that because of something they have done in the past, they can never be forgiven—as a young woman visiting Good Shepherd shared with me a few weeks ago. They’ve been turned away at the doors of houses of worship because of the way they dress, the way they wear their hair, who they came in holding hands with, or because they look like trouble, whatever that means. They’ve been welcomed at the door, but they've gone the whole day without anyone speaking to them and making them feel like it matters that they’re there. These are deeps wounds, and they get inflicted in churches everywhere, even Episcopal ones. Folks want to see Jesus. They want to know him, love him, and worship him, but often the church gets in the way.
One of my favorite phrases I’ve picked up in ministry—and one that I’ve mentioned to you before, but it bears repeating—is that you may be the only Jesus that anyone ever meets. I like that one a bit better than “you may be the only Bible anyone ever reads.” Because the Bible is a collection of books, but Jesus is a living Word, alive just like you and me. When you wear your cross—or your collar—you reflect Jesus to the world around you. If you are compassionate to those in some kind of need, then folks will experience a compassionate Jesus, but if you pass judgement or simply ignore them, then they will experience a Jesus who is uncaring and judgmental. We, of course, know that this is not who Jesus is. We know that Jesus is full of mercy and love and Good News for the oppressed. The question for us to ponder, then, is: how can we show that Jesus not just to every person who walks through those red doors, but to every person we encounter out in the world? That is our responsibility as Christians living in this world today. It is an awesome responsibility. My great-grandfather used to say that 'awesome' was the most overused and misused word in the English language, but here I think it applies perfectly because our responsibility is truly an awesome one, meaning it is neither small nor simple.
Living into this responsibility is not easy, let me tell you. When I was in seminary in New York City we would so often see homeless people sleeping outside our gate. Do you know how often we invited them in to come inside those gates? None, despite some minor student-led conversations. Meanwhile, at another seminary up the road, a student reached out to bring homeless folks in to worship and to build relationships with them, but the administration put a stop to it. This is not Christian behavior! Some may call it demonic behavior; after all, the one who casts out the demons calls all of us not to live in fear. My seminary was so afraid that they never even had the conversation, while the administration of the other seminary was filled with fear for how their community might look if "those people" were allowed to come in. They turned away the very folks who wished to see Jesus. Our gathered Sunday assemblies are the very places where we learn this lesson, where we are shown in our liturgical actions how to show Jesus to each other and to the world.