Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent: 22 March 2015
"We want to see Jesus"
The Rev. Carrie Smith
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” the Greeks said to Philip. When pilgrims come to Jerusalem today, they expect to see Jesus, too. Christians come from all over the world to hike the Jesus Trail, to walk the Way of the Cross, to touch the star on the floor marking the spot of Jesus’ birth, and to get as close as possible to the place where Jesus was lifted up on the cross, in order to draw all people to himself.
|Pilgrims in line to enter the tomb|
Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
Photo by Carrie Smith
But as many visitors to Jerusalem discover, it can often be difficult to see Jesus, even in the Holy Land. We want to see Jesus, but instead we see crowds, and tour guides, and selfie-sticks. We want to see Jesus, but instead we see scaffolding and entrance fees and postcards for sale. We want to see Jesus, but instead we see the same old stuff which dominates our vision in every other place: The schedule. Our bank balance. Emails to be answered. And, even more distressing—our same doubts, our same fears, our same hunger for something more. At the end of the tour, at the end of the trip, or at the end of the workday here in this holy city, we may wonder if we are the only ones who did not see Jesus.
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up on the cross, will draw all people to myself.” This is Good News, the same Good News of John chapter 3, verse 16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Lifted up on the cross, Jesus draws all people, all of creation, indeed the entire kosmos to himself. But if this is true, why is it often so difficult to see Jesus, even in places like Jerusalem, where one might expect to have epiphanies on every corner?
(By the way, if you are having epiphanies on every corner, there’s a name for this condition, and a special floor at the hospital for fellow sufferers of “Jerusalem Syndrome.” You might want to talk to me after church!)
We want to see Jesus! Unfortunately, there’s plenty else in our line of sight. The tour itinerary, the to-do list, the laundry, the groceries, the stack of bills, the 5 year plan, the books you meant to read, the project you keep meaning to finish, the doctor’s report, the daily briefing, and the world news, to name a few. It’s easy to miss Jesus when so much else has our attention.
But these are merely distractions. These are temporary screens obstructing our vision, easily moved aside by a vacation, a self-help book, a Lenten discipline, or a pilgrimage to the Holy Land…for example.
At least, that’s what we want to believe. We want to see Jesus! So we faithfully go to the right places, and pray the right prayers, and sing the right songs, and do the right things, and hope beyond hope that we will therefore see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day.
|Villagers from the unrecognized Palestinian village of Dahamash|
Praying in front of the high court
before a judgment on the demolition of their homes
Jerusalem, 15 March 2015
Photo by Carrie Smith
And Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, 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 lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” In great love, Jesus is drawing all people to himself—you and me, our neighbors and our enemies, every nation and the rulers of every nation. The world is being drawn to Jesus, but our vision is clouded by our support, acceptance, and endorsement of a system which stands in direct opposition to the cross. Our love of life as it is gets in the way of seeing Jesus, revealing to us life as it could be.
We’re so busy being a grain of wheat, doing what we think wheat is supposed to do, we can’t imagine what could happen if we were buried with him, broken open and raised to new life. Still, there he is, lifted up, and loving us to the end. Conquering death. Reconciling us to God. Drawing us to a life of mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, and sacrificial love for the sake of others.
But the message of the cross is more than Good News for us personally. The message of the cross is more than a helpful life hack, designed to give you, individually, a better relationship with Jesus, better focus and efficiency, or a more fruitful future.
“And I, when I am lifted up on the cross, will draw all people to myself” said Jesus. All people. All of creation. The cosmos, in its entirety.
And this means the cross is both Good News for us and judgment for the world. The cross judges a world that values firepower and power over others. The cross judges a world that values walls and borders and empire. The cross judges a world that values excess and greed and self-interest.
Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” And again, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” The hour has come for the Son to be glorified on the cross, and we are invited to follow him there. Therefore, what needs to die is our acceptance of the world as it is. What needs to die is our endorsement of the dirty, rotten system which says that revenge, greed, and domination are the way to “win” not just an election, but life. What needs to be buried with Jesus is our instinct to destroy the enemy, defend our “way of life”, and end the game holding the most chips.
The cross of Christ invites us to let it go. Let it fall to the earth. Let it be buried in the tomb. Roll the stone over the entrance and be done with it. Hallas! “Very truly, I tell you, 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.”
|Olive trees, Mt. of Olives|
Photo by Carrie Smith
The hour has come. On this last Sunday of Lent, we turn to the cross, and there we see Jesus. Lifted up on the cross, we see Jesus drawing the world to a new way of life, a life which values people over property, human rights over the right to defend, and the flourishing of humanity over the privilege of a few.
Lifted up on the cross, we see Jesus transforming this broken world into the tree of life, with leaves for the healing of the nations.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”, they said. And Jesus said, “The hour has surely come.” Amen.