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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Sir, We Wish To See Jesus - 03/18/2018

This text of course points very plainly to the story we will inhabit next week on Palm Sunday with it's “hosannas!” followed quickly by shouts of “Crucify him!”

But it is the beginning of the reading we have today that I want to focus on.

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.” (John 12: 20-22)

For some time now, these few verses from John catch my attention, and not always for what seemed on the surface like positive or even productive reasons.

At first, it was just what Greeks said that would rise up out of this story and grab me: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” The first time I ever heard someone talk about that line it was a story about a preacher in a country church somewhere who had strayed from focusing his message on the Good News. I don't know what exactly happened to his preaching (I'm not even very confident this is a true story), but I always imagined that he probably started preaching all law and no salvation … that his sermons consistently pointed out the terrible sinfulness the people in that room could never hope to resist, but failed to point also to the forgiveness and saving grace of the Lord's Table or the baptismal waters. And so one day, the all-law and no-gospel preacher walked up to the pulpit to give yet another sermon on why everyone assembled were horrible, awful sinners only to find that someone had taped a little message to the pulpit. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

It's a useful story to me, I will admit. It's a good check, especially for us Lutherans who really stake our Christian identities on how we live in that tension between law and gospel. I do think about this when I'm preaching …  But if this verse is left there, in the realm of that little urban legend among preachers, it's also dismissive of this story, which I guarantee you was not written down by John as a corrective for preachers.

And then you have the next part of the story, which tended to irritate me, I confess. If I could, I think I would jump into this story and ask Philip “why?” Because I often felt impatient that he just didn't take these people directly to Jesus when they asked. Why did he go find Andrew first? And then why did those two need to discuss it in committee and then take it to Jesus?

The actions of Philip and Andrew reminded me of frustrating times I had working as a marketing director in a national company … there was a lot of red tape to deal with, political jockeying to navigate. It reminded me of a meeting of management I was called to one time that turned out to be an hour long meeting called to set another meeting. It was a frustrating waste of time. All I could think about were all the things I really had to do that lay undone on my desk.

That's kind of like the reaction I often had to this account. Dude … Philip, just introduce them to Jesus … for the love of Pete. It irritated me.

So I tried to find something else in this text that I could grab hold of to build a sermon … but it just wasn't going anywhere. And sometimes, I realized as I was wrestling down by the river with this text night after night this week, this is what the Word of God can do to us. It pulls us in kicking and resisting and complaining until we just shut up and pay attention. When I woke up this morning (Saturday morning) and still didn't have a sermon in mind, I figured it was time for me to shut up and pay attention … and maybe make up with poor Philip and truly pull this remarkable request of the Greeks into it's context.

*** Part Two, I'm sorry for being so judgy, Philip***

So one thing we might notice about this text is that the language takes us back to when Jesus called his first disciples in John.

Let me sum up for you how that played out … John the Baptist is hanging out with a couple of his disciples and Jesus walks by. “That's him!” John the Baptist says. “The Lamb of God!” So those two disciples start to follow Jesus. They want to see where he is staying. “Come and see,” Jesus says to them.

One of those two was Andrew who brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. Jesus called him by changing his name.

The next day Jesus finds Philip of Bethsaida in Galilee … follow me, Jesus says to him. And then Philip finds Nathanael … “Nate, you're never going to believe it, we found the one Moses and the prophets told us to expect … and get this, he's from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter.” Nathanael doubted anything good could come out of Nazareth … “Come and see!” Philip said.

And that is John's way of showing us how discipleship and evangelism works with Jesus. It worked that way then and it still does today.

Ah-ha, I thought when I got to this connection in this story and the chains of preaching correctives and corporate meetings I had associated with this text began to fall away. This isn't about Philip vetting people before they meet Jesus or about his ability to be direct. This is about the way people come to Jesus in straight and direct lines – and any other kind of line and often quite indirectly.

This is the same thing that is going on in the gospel reading we have today – it's the progression of John's teaching on what it means to be a disciple and evangelist in the Way of Jesus.

It's like a great domino effect that unfolds in the wake of every step Jesus takes. Here in this story today it has continued to ripple out from those first days of calling diciples in Galilee until it makes its winding way around to Jerusalem in the form of two Gentiles called to follow Jesus and his teachings.

It continues rippling in this moment in ways we, today's disciples and evangelists of the Jesus' Way, can and cannot see.

You might think of the way the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection comes to someone who is seeking a way in this life that is not dictated by their sin and brokenness, just like John the Baptist and his disciples were. And it starts this domino effect as that person recognizes there are answers to be found in Jesus. So they start to follow. They want to learn more and Jesus says, “Come and see.”

Or maybe Jesus' footsteps through our own lives are so profound and so uncontainable that we cannot help but tell our siblings and loved ones, and maybe even those we would call enemy, about it. We cannot help but encourage them to check it out for themselves, like when Andrew told Peter and brought him to Jesus.

In some cases that domino effect can be triggered by Jesus changing you so drastically that others can see it for themselves. Or they feel drawn to some Truth they sense you carry in this life. You don't even have to say a word. You are like the renamed Peter who hasn't been able to utter a word for 2,000 years but still draws people in and guides them in his model discipleship and evangelism, his commitment to the faith community of Jesus-followers he shepherded.

Or there are stories like Philip's – who Jesus straight up sought out and called out – that are still the stuff of best-seller, non-fiction books about experiences of conversion today –  stories about impossible situations Jesus breaks into to bring divine healing and transformation. Awe-inspiring stories of people who have had near-death experiences that change the way they see day-to-day life forever; or people faced with life and death situations. I have my own stories where the only explanation I can come to is divine intervention. Stories so incredible, people don't want to believe it … “Come and see,” they respond.

Or maybe you or someone you love as been an outsider like those Greeks drawn to Jesus – to study with him and worship this steadfast loving God he speaks of. Maybe like them you too found welcome among Jesus-following people and your witness to others who also feel like outsiders begins a domino effect – this one winding through the many, many people out there who need desperately to hear “All are welcome! Come and see!”

We tell these stories of how Jesus breaks into us and our lives in powerful ways, and gentle ways too. Stories that point us to something beyond ourselves. Those stories set off domino effects in ways we can see and probably many more ways we cannot see. Just think of the times you've heard someone talk about the activity of God in their lives or someplace else, and then you tell someone in your family, who tells a friend, who tells someone else, and so and on and so forth.

It's like a bunch of crazy little domino-paved roads that reveal little logic or design at first glance, and yet, I think we find they all lead to the same place.

“Sir,” … Mom, Dad … sister, nephew, pastor, aunt, neighbor, sinner/saint, co-worker, ally, teacher, senator, doctor, grandmother, son, … “we want to see Jesus.”

God bless all the crazy domino-paved roads that go out from all of us as we leave here today forgiven and fed. May they point people to the Way of Jesus and invite them to “Come and see” for themselves.


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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