The story I just read from the Gospel of John this morning is one, which I’ve long wrestled. Quite frankly, I find this reading from John to be difficult to understand because Jesus responds to the information brought to him by his two disciples, Andrew and Philip with what, at first glance, might be perceived as an irrelevant comment. We’re told some Greeks have come to the festival to worship. They approach Philip whose Greek name and lineage leads them to assume he might understand their language and would be able to relay their message. The Greeks say to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip is apparently uncomfortable with their request so he doesn’t deliver it immediately. Instead, he approaches Andrew and together they go to Jesus bearing the Greeks request for an audience. Now comes the difficult part. Our text tells us Jesus responded, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and then goes into a long dissertation about grains of wheat, death, and eternal life. We have to wonder: how does this long speech by Jesus relate to the relative simple desire on the part of the Greeks to meet Jesus? Now, my sympathies are with Philip and Andrew. This odd response must have seemed pointless. It didn’t appear to address the immediate need at all. You have to wonder: what was Jesus talking about?
Many years ago, long before I thought of becoming an ordained minister, I was asked to prepare what, for me, would be a first sermon. I would stand for the first time in a pulpit having prepared a sermon written by me and intended to be delivered to my home congregation on Sunday. It seemed a bit cheeky and, as the day approached, I felt my anxiety increase and suffered from a very nervous stomach. I wondered why I had agreed to preach in the first place. I also wondered if I really had anything worth saying, a question I’ve ask every week since then, as I stand in this awesome place and deliver a sermon to a congregation who just might be asking the same question.
In my favor, I didn’t come into without due preparation. I had researched and soul searched the text I had chosen. I had written and rewritten the sermon and had mounds of used paper to point to as evidence of those rewrites. I had stood in front of the mirror and practiced the final draft until I was so sick of the words I never wanted to hear them again. I spoke into a tape recorder trying to slow down my delivery, and then giggled my way through the playback. I had even practiced in front of a willing friend to ensure that Sunday would not be the first time I spoke in front of an audience.
But frankly, I was still nervous, and now, here I was standing in the same place I would stand on Sunday, looking out at the empty pews, trying to picture them full of the familiar faces they would hold on Sunday morning. I could almost hear the church noises; the whispers of little children, the shuffling feet, the polite quiet coughs, well, pretty much what I hear on any given Sunday standing in the pulpit. I remembered when as a little girl I had asked my mom and dad, “Is it over yet?” and now I wanted to repeat that sentence to myself with a slight twist on the sentiment as I heard my inner thoughts say “Please God, when will it be over?”
But then I remembered the advice of my patient, willing friend who had so graciously listened to my sermon. She said, “When you stand in the pulpit, step back a bit, and look for the words written on the plaque.” So I did and on the small plaque set into the pulpit shelf I read; “We would see Jesus.” Yes! Those were the words I needed in this moment of anxiety. “We always need to see Jesus!” And we can, just by opening our hearts and allowing the love of God to pour into our willing spirits; we can see and we can know Jesus.
It is true our scripture doesn’t answer the question, “Was the request made by the Greeks to see Jesus honored?” But the long and involved monologue about seeds and death and life and light would indicate those who wanted to see Jesus would. The door was swinging wider and many beyond the Jewish faith would find a new belief and hope in Christ. So much so, Paul would later proclaim with authority, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He would also affirm what Christ wanted his disciples to understand. We are all children of God made worthy by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our transgressions. Yes, seeds must be buried in the soil to grow but seeds also need water, sun and life giving nourishment to produce a healthy, wholesome crop.
If we look again at the text, it becomes obvious that in some way the Greeks’ desire to see Jesus was, for Jesus, a sign, a signal that his public ministry on earth was finished. Jesus had done all that a life in human form could do and now his hour had come. Like a grain of wheat, he must be willing to die and be buried, in order to bring forth a multitude of living, empowered followers who willingly give our lives to serve God and to spread God’s message of love and justice among all people.
Like the Greeks who came to the festival and urgently, almost demandingly sought audience with Jesus we come to this building each week to celebrate our fellowship with each other and with God. We come seeking audience wanting to see Jesus in this place. As I stood in my very first pulpit so many years ago contemplating the words on the small plaque embedded on the small shelf, I was filled with the sense that God was with me. More than any other time in my life, I needed the assurance I wasn’t standing alone. I wanted and needed to see Jesus, the empowered and glorified Christ whom God lifted up and honored. Through the power and presence of Christ, through the death and resurrection, foreshadowed in our gospel message, I knew I was not standing alone. God was with me, the same God that stood with Christ that spoke a message of promised glory and honor; the same God who through Christ promised life eternal to me and to you, to all who willingly serve God and others. We do see Jesus. Everywhere we go and in whoever we meet … potentially we can see Jesus. Jesus, for me, was in the familiar faces that would sit and listen to my first sermon so long ago and in the faces I see before me this morning, your faces as I again preach. As we spend our lives, we gain them. As we lose our lives for one another, we gain life in Christ. Where do you see Jesus? Amen.