Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sir, we would see Jesus


Some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  Philip goes to Jesus, and Jesus responds by launching into a lesson about seeds and fruit. I must say, this is one of those times when I feel that I can truly relate to Jesus.  I’d love to say this is the “highly distractible” Jesus, but it’s not. 

Jesus is not too distracted to respond.  Instead he receives the request like a call to action.  The fact that these God-fearing Greeks have come to call means that his time has come.  I still find it odd that he never seems to answer them, but that probably has more to do with the storyteller than the people in the story.

And in this teachable moment the author of John’s gospel proclaims the truth of the message of Jesus – it’s not about you.  It’s certainly not about me, either.  By “it” I mean the essential purpose of life and all of its complexity.  Life and all of its beauty and terror is not essentially about what we cherish but truly it is about what we are willing to let go of.

Life in these United States seems so often to be about what we can acquire.  Yet Jesus is calling for another form of security.  It reminds me in some way of a bumper sticker I once saw that simply said, “Your Stuff Owns You.”  Jesus is not simply as saying, “Where your treasure is your heart will also be.”  Instead, he is describing the way our actions have consequences that are both immediate and eternal.

This was written during a time in which there was wide scale debate amongst people of faith about the afterlife, God’s blessing in this life, and whether or not God was active and present.  Jesus is telling those who will listen that they must follow him if they want to get out alive.  Somehow, that message still seems to ring true.  Somehow, there is still wide scale debate amongst people of faith over the event of Jesus and what it means to us.

Somehow we are still thinking about and trying to figure out what the Jesus event revealed to us about God and what it requires of us.  You might think that we would have all of this figured out by now.  You might think that it is all as obvious as Easter Egg hunts and going to get Easter outfits so the family can look just so for the special day.  Not that these are bad things to do – we’ll be doing it here – but it does raise a question, “What aspects of our faith have become cultural, and what do we need to let go of in order to live?”

There are some obvious places of debate and tension in the larger denomination that we are a part of – particularly with the issue of same gender marriage.  I think it is worth saying that there is a variety of perspectives even in this congregation, and my hope is that we can take the opportunity to have conversations rather than simply taking positions.  I will admit that this is an issue that it is hard to allow equal footing for both sides, but I trust that we can work toward a more faithful response than simply beating one another up over it.  Diversity of opinion is actually one of our greatest strengths when it is coupled with faith and confession, and a desire to be ever more faithful to God.

That said, I have to confess that I missed out on a conversation the other day while on the way to a soccer game.  There was a group on the opposite corner from our building with signs that said, “Honk for traditional marriage!”  First, I found it interesting that there was only one tremulous honk while several cars waited for the light to change.  I thought about honking, because I do (obviously) support traditional marriage.  I am, however, thankful that there are faithful Christians who happen to be gay and who have desired the blessing of God through the church and are now able to do so.  I believe that the church is strong enough and God’s love is big enough for us to be in disagreement about social issues and still demonstrate the Kingdom of God that is both present and yet to come.

In fact, although many in the church believe that same gender marriage is an issue of social justice, there are also those who believe that the last 30 years of debate over homosexuality have kept us from wrestling with deeper issues of inequality in our nation. Of course, some will say that this is too political, and maybe it is.

Maybe we need to think about it all in simpler terms – as was suggested by David Lewis, Pastor of Sixth Ave Baptist Church in Troy New York.  He recently posted this thought online.  “I truly believe developing and maintaining a mission from the [mindset of the] gospels will make a big impact on our present culture.  How did Jesus do it and how did he instruct his disciples?  Centuries of church history have buried that simple missional pattern under piles of dogma and tradition...it is radical to cling to the cross and follow Jesus, but that is what we're called to [do]!”

And how did Jesus do it?  Paul said that he was a priest in the order of Melchizedek.  Melchi-who?  Melchizedek was a King.  He was also a Priest.  What’s odd is that he lived in a time when Kings claimed authority because they claimed divinity – or at least acted like they had authority over life and death.  Before there ever was a covenant with Abraham there was a belief in God.  It wasn’t limited to one people or description.  Melchizedek was a “righteous king” that’s what his name meant – and he brokered a deal between Abram and the King of Sodom after Abram led a raiding party to rescue his cousin Lot.

And they sat at a table and broke bread and drank wine, and Abram gave up treasures but kept the people he loved.  So it is with Jesus, who has the authority to make things right where we have gone wrong.  And the authority of Jesus does not come from his desire to be a God, but from his willingness to demonstrate the love of God.  And the love of God is what forms new words on our lips that we did not even think we could say.

The love of God through Christ Jesus is what writes the law of God on our hearts so that we no longer even have to say, “Know the Lord!” but instead we can demonstrate justice and righteousness and mercy.

That feels really good to say, and mostly it feels good because I believe it to be true.  But there is something more to it than that.  We say these words, and we forget that they require something of us.  We say justice, and we think about penalty.  We say righteousness, and we think about correctness.  We say mercy, and we think about getting away without getting the penalty for being incorrect.

But it’s not that simple.  Biblical justice certainly includes retribution, but it is truly more concerned with creating equality and ending the abuse of power.  Biblical righteousness is certainly about making things right, but it is more concerned with creating the conditions for right behavior to continue.  And mercy is what happens when the powerful and the powerless can find a way forward without blame and remorse.

At the end of the day, we are still left with the fact that there are Greeks and God-fearers still waiting at the door and asking to see Jesus.  Sometimes I think we can spend our energy keeping them away without even realizing that we have.

Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. found themselves in a tricky place like I am describing, because they are an urban church and their grounds were becoming overwhelmed by the local homeless population.  They discussed several solutions.  They knew that the current pattern could not continue.  With heavy hearts they picked a day by which all belongings had to be removed (there were piles) and hired a security guard to maintain the vigil.  But that’s not all they did.  They also established a group that met with those who had been camped out and began to find resources for them.  Their Pastor, Linda Kaufman, tells the story this way:

“Every Tuesday at 7 a.m., a small group of us met with our homeless neighbors for breakfast and discussion.  We talked about what it would take to find permanent housing and kept track of commitments.  Six weeks in, when it was time for everyone to be moved to someplace else, we decided that we would continue the community we had formed beyond the March 1 deadline.  At our meeting the first week of March, some miracles occurred:

Dominique came for the first time and told us he had a job if he could get a bike helmet.  (Bob, a parishioner, left the meeting, went to his nearby home and arrived back moments later with a bike helmet.)
Ivy told us she had had an interview for a job at Starbucks.
Stephen said he was going to interview later that morning for a restaurant job.
Several folks needed help with transportation, so after the meeting Kris, a very committed and active parishioner, put more money on their church-provided transit cards.

After six weeks of support, no one is living on the porches anymore.  It wasn’t easy, and we did have challenges.  I am convinced that those individuals who were sleeping on the church porches are better off now than they were in January, before we started.

There is a way to keep safe, clean grounds while helping our homeless neighbors — and it’s both easier and harder than installing sprinkler systems or putting up fences.  It requires the investment of time and resources to build relationships, listen and help.  The community we formed still gathers at 7 a.m. each Tuesday.

I recently saw Dominique, with his bike helmet.  He told me he got the job.  Later that day I heard that Ivy got a full-time gig.  Herbert and Sonia have a place to live.  The miracles keep rolling in.”

I don’t know exactly what God has in mind for us.  We may encourage a community of cyclists to form around prayer and scripture.  We might start a dinner worship group.  We might even start an intentional dialogue between people who hate each other.  What I know is that the question is unanswered.  Although I guess it’s not a question.  There are those who are waiting with hope, with loss, with a need for justice, righteousness, and mercy.  And they are saying, “We would really like to see Jesus!”


My hope and expectation is that – while we let go of the life we love in order to demonstrate the love that gives us life – we will see Jesus, too.  And when we do we will see that we have received eternity, here and now even as we will have it there and then.  And to God be the glory for that.  Amen!
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