Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
Long ago, someone told me that somewhere in our diocese there is an old wooden pulpit with some graffiti carved in it, facing up so that only the preacher can see it. According to legend, it says “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” In other words, stick to the matter at hand. Don’t go on about your summer vacation or your grandchildren or the upcoming election or church politics. It’s about Jesus.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks, the gospel tells us. Who were these Greeks? Greeks were foreigners, people outside the Jewish religion. They might have made it a practice to go to the Passover festival in the same way that lots of us regularly attend the Greek Festival in Portland every October: great music, great food, a chance to tour that gorgeous church…..But these Greeks going up to worship in the temple had heard something about Jesus. They heard that he had a message for social and cultural outsiders as well as insiders. So they track down Phillip, whom they know is part of Jesus’ inner circle.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus. This scene has me wondering: what if some foreigners came to our doors, perhaps for Easter, or maybe this morning, and said to the ushers, or to the person next to them at the coffee pot: “excuse me, please, we wish to see Jesus.” What would you say? What would you show them? How would you help first time visitors to see Jesus? Would you catalog our ministries that proclaim good news? The list isn’t as long as it could be, but it’s a good list. Would you say to them: “Stick around for the Eucharist. Then you’ll really see Jesus!” This is what most of us believe about worship—that every Sunday we get to proclaim the miracle of resurrection.
What would you say if someone asked you to show them Jesus?
I’ve also been wondering what did the Greeks hoped to hear from Jesus, once they saw him. Perhaps they wanted to hear Jesus say yes, you’re welcome here. Even if you come from a very different religious tradition, or none at all, I get who you are. My message is for all people, not just the faithful establishment. You’re welcome here. Welcome home. That’s certainly what I would want to hear.
And what does Jesus actually say? Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoa. I’m not sure this is what the Greeks expected after traveling a long distance to seek out this controversial Hebrew teacher.
Here Jesus predicts his death—‘tis the season—and also says something about his purpose and our purpose. He came to bear much fruit, and to show us how to do the same. He doesn’t say: I am a grain of wheat….he speaks in the abstract; he speaks for all of us about God’s purpose and our purpose. Bear much fruit.
He makes a connection between bearing much fruit and death, which probably isn’t any more welcome news to us than it would have been to the people listening to him at that Passover festival centuries ago. Aren’t there other fruit-bearing images Jesus could have used that don’t involve the death of the one who bears the fruit? Has he never heard of renewable resources?
But something has to die in order for us to bear the kind of fruit Jesus preaches, the fruit of the reign of God, where all are healed, housed, and fed, where the world is transformed into a place where all are welcomed home. When Jesus says those who love their life will lose it, he is talking about so loving our own agendas that such love keeps us from nurturing the fruit of the reign of God.
Someone once said to me: It’s important to get your loves in order.
In other words, it’s okay to love your car, a great meal, football, your husband or wife….the point is to love God more, to love God’s kingdom and God’s call to us to proclaim the kingdom, more.
When Jesus talks about hating our lives in this world in order to keep our lives in eternal life, he’s not asking for a bunch of disciples who are miserable because they hate their lives so much. He is asking us to get our loves in order.
Remember the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah? Jacob loves Rachel more than anything, but he is given her older sister Leah as his bride. He has to work seven more years for Rachel. Scripture tells us: Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah. Well, Jacob and Leah had seven children together and he cared for her for many decades in what was considered, in those days, a healthy, happy marriage. But he loved Rachel so much that anything other than Rachel felt like hate. This is the kind of love Jesus wants us to have for God. This is the kind of love with which Jesus wants us to work for God’s reign.
Strangers visiting our church asking to see Jesus might find him in each one of you who is willing to hold loosely the things of this world, to die to your driven self in order to build the Kingdom of God. This is eternal life, life lived to the fullest.
Before I close I want to go back, back 600 years before Jesus’ promise of a grain of wheat bearing much fruit when it dies, to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah blesses us with his promise of a new covenant to be written on our hearts. Someone once asked a certain Rabbi: “why did Jeremiah talk about God writing the words on our hearts? Why not in our hearts?” The rabbi’s answer is that when our hearts break, the word of God can fall in. Two weeks from now we will be celebrating God’s promise of renewal and new life through the resurrection. It is in hearts broken open that the word of God takes root.
These last weeks of Lent call us to cling to God, rather than to what is safe and familiar, so that we can experience new joys. During these last weeks of Lent I pray that you may hear the promises of God in ways that allow those promises to blossom in your hearts, that, as our collect says: among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. Amen.