Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon: Seeing Jesus

         Today’s gospel reading is the start of the very long speech Jesus gives in the Gospel of John before his crucifixion--one that doesn’t stop until he’s before Pontius Pilate at the judge’s seat. The whole thing is a long interpretation of Christ’s death on the cross.

         It begins with these Greeks—righteous gentiles worshipping outside the temple—drawn to this new teacher Jesus. They try to do things in an orderly way, talk to Philip, who talks to Andrew, who talks to Jesus. Philip, who earlier had brought people to Jesus by saying “follow me.” Andrew, who earlier brought people to Jesus by saying, in such a welcoming manner that I hope the lot of you emulate when you tell people about Jesus, “Come and see.”
         But now, things seem different. I believe it is because the cross, the crucifixion, the coming solemn days of Good Friday, are already imposing themselves upon the story and upon the souls of the disciples. The shadow of the cross holds sway with its urgency—I believe its urgency changes the aim of the story—no longer are Andrew and Phillip doing the job of gathering in, an outward focus of Jesus’ ministry, but instead they are moving forward with him, forward to the conflict of Palm Sunday, to the last command and betrayal, to the Passion of Christ and his eventual victory… they are going forward with him, so these Greeks are too late to See Jesus… both I suppose too late and too early… too late to see the first half of his journey and too early to see his resurrection and ascension.
They might feel a little like the Apostle Paul, who writes that he himself is one “untimely born” because he did not meet Jesus before the resurrection. Or, even, they might feel a little like us—with our own yearnings for religious certainty, right?
At the end of the day all of us only have 2nd hand accounts and a distant connection to Christ—we keep these powerful promises in jars of clay—we are kept close to Christ only by the Spirit.

Yet Paul, and us, and these Greeks will, in time, see an image of strange glory—the cross of Christ
—Jesus enthroned as Lord of All
—inaugurated through execution
—we will see a strange glory on Good Friday.
We will see Jesus, through the cross.
The eyes of the Baptized are opened by his death,
the Christian unknowingly wears eyeglasses in the shape of the cross…
tinted with cross…
cross-tinted glasses.
We see God, most clearly, through the lens of the cross—that was one of Luther’s greatest insights into the Christian life
—that everything looks different because the Messiah died on the cross
—because our Lord has gone through death…
how does the person across from you in the pew look different knowing you both have a share in Christ’s death?
How do people in power, how do religious leaders (myself included) look knowing that when God showed up the powerful and the religious took the first shots at him?
How do those mourning, sick, weakened, despairing, despised, look—when your heart holds within it a crucified Lord?
Does it make you think of a single seed, buried, died, rising as fruitful sheaves of wheat?
Does it make you think, maybe, of caterpillars—becoming butterflies.
Mustard seeds, so small, blooming as a giant tree where all find rest?
Death itself giving way to new life…

Does it change you? Do these new eyes also produce a new step—steps more in line with the footsteps of our master and friend? Does it not make everything new, and also strange? Life itself becoming strange, because we now live it in Christ…
doesn’t it sometimes feel like the life of a butterfly in a caterpillar world?
Abundant fruit in a world that insists upon sparse seeds,
doesn’t it feel like… for lack of a better way of saying it… the life of life to a world of death?
Or to dial it back a bit, are we not citizens of a heavenly home, are we not colonists of heaven here on earth?
Yes, this is what the strange path of discipleship, following Jesus, can feels like… a rejection, hating, of a lesser type of life, a shriveled version of the world, in order to be embraced by the greater world and life found in Christ Jesus… and often embracing a deeper life looks a lot like death to those on the other side…
think of how former friends treat you when you are in recovery from addiction
—or thinking a little less extremely, I can only imagine what young Christ Halverson would think of me today—wait, you don’t stay up until 2am every night reading—you actually buy that old adage, “every hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 after.”
Or even more dire, “wait, you live in Jersey, and like it?!?”
Right, life looks different on the other side, new life can look like death—a cocoon can look like a tomb to a caterpillar.
Faithfulness to the full life found in Christ involves cross,
not because we seek it, but because living faithfully in a world where death believes that it reigns, leads to conflict. Treading the path of Jesus in Caesar’s world—leads to cross.

How does this way of life sound to you? This new way of walking, following Jesus. This new way of seeing the world, through lenses tinted with Christ’s crucifixion… I’d imagine it sounds different depending on how you are listening.
To those attached to the world of Caesar and Death, a status quo world that ignores or oppresses the hurting, hated, sick and dying—when we listen with those types of ears—the way of the cross is nothing but
a sounding gong,
a clash of cracked symbols,
a clap of thunder devoid of meaning…
But to those in tune with the beat of Jesus’ feet, those times when we’re in tune with that
—it sounds like the tongues of angels,
a heavenly chorus,
the very voice of Father to Son, Son to Father, all spoke through the Spirit
—the grand unity of the divine, the concert of the Trinity played out upon our ears.
These words affirming the place of the faithful, the path upon which they trod—letting them know the life they embrace even in the face of ridicule, punishment, even death, is a greater life than the life built on death which is on offer
—the false life that takes Jesus’ life, but in so doing is judged as in league with death.
Christ’s execution, being lifted up upon the cross—lifts him up for all to see, the words, “This is the King” over the cross—lifted up there,
-Lifted up too at the resurrection! Salvation promise, new life and life beyond death—ours too.
-Lifted up a third time as he ascends to the right hand of God, given power to push forward his disciples in every age: meeting us when we meet each other, as the Word meets you right now in scripture and sermon, in the blessed meal, he promises to show up, in our loving acts for all those in need when we leave this building to go out and be the Church
—his heavenly reign writ oh so large… so large that these Greeks, they eventually do see Jesus—for all are drawn to Christ as he is lifted up

—all, These Greeks, that untimely born apostle and persecutor of the church, Paul, you and I, caught up on our own uncertainties and yearnings—all of us, drawn to Jesus Christ. A