Show Us Jesus
by Louise Westfall
… but how do you know God exists? What makes you so certain? And why do you think God is not merely a human construct to regulate human behavior and give us a measure of comfort and hope in the face of mortality? I have a friend who has engaged me in conversations like this for over twenty years, since he was in high school. He’s brilliant and curious and skeptical, and I love talking with him. He once told me he is silent when his church recites the Apostles’ Creed, because he doesn’t want to affirm anything about which he has substantial doubts. He’s an avid reader and peppers our conversation with philosophy and metaphysics and evolutionary biology and Zen Buddhism, and honestly I haven’t won an argument with him (at least on the merits) in all these years. Fortunately he’s also a kind person.
I come out in the same place every time. What I know of God — the Holy Other, the Divine Creator and Ruler of the universe, in so many ways unknowable and incomprehensible — comes from what I know of Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and ministry are testified to in Scripture. A human being endowed with uncanny Spirit, extraordinary compassion and healing power, who spoke of a realm not of this world, yet near to all, and who revealed the heart of God to be love. Show me Jesus, and I can tell you a little more about God.
The gospel text this morning hinges on a request to see Jesus. Some Greeks were in Jerusalem where Jesus and his disciples had gathered to celebrate Passover. We don’t know what sparked their interest. Had they heard him teach and were hungry for his insights? Had they witnessed his testy exchanges with the religious leaders, and wondered about his different perspective? Had they seen him touch others with healing and longed for that gift as well? Greeks of the ancient world were the philosophers, the seekers after truth, who wandered throughout the world for the purpose of learning and discovery. Were they filled with anticipation by the prospect of meeting him? Or maybe it was simple curiosity about this latest phenom. A reading from the good news according to John, in the twelfth chapter at the 20th verse. Listen for God’s word to seekers … and to those who aren’t sure what it is they’re looking for, and many of us who are somewhere in between. [JOHN 12:20-26]
The phrase has been inscribed on four of the five pulpits of congregations I’ve served, including this one: Sir, we wish to see Jesus. It’s always affixed to the back of the pulpit, so only the preacher can read it; a reminder of the sacred purpose to which we are called, to proclaim the good news of God’s love demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s daunting, and I have never gotten over the awe of stepping into this space, taking in your beloved faces … and opening my mouth, to fulfill the unspoken request: Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Yes, it’s right out of the Bible. But yes, I sort of wish churches would have focused on the verse’s important part, and omitted the “sir” — as if no one else but men could be called by God to do this hard and wondrous thing.
Why am I making a point to tell you this? Well, those first Greeks who came to see Jesus were not prepared for what they saw and heard. And in a way, the Church is not either when it hews to the ways we’ve always done it, or when we assume we know how best to show Jesus to one another and the world.
Whatever the expectations of the Greeks, they had to be blown away when Jesus immediately announced that the time for his glorification had come … and it meant his death. He offers a reassuring image from nature — that of a seed planted underground bursting
through the soil and producing abundant life. But this was not what anyone associated with glorious leadership! And Jesus states unambiguously that his followers should do the same. Die to a self-focused life; stop trying to preserve your individual place as the center of the universe, and give yourself away in service. Let go of the power you cling to so desperately, and follow where Jesus leads.
We don’t know how the Greeks reacted to that! But we know how it plays here and now. Oh, we wish to see Jesus … as the conquering hero, the CEO, the Boss, a charismatic, popular guru everyone wants to hang out with. Instead we get this broken, vulnerable man drawing his last breath from a cross. And calling us to come along.
My God, what does this mean??!! Well, for starters it points to One who refused to watch from a distance, an impersonal force, perhaps providing the Intelligent Design for the universe, but then letting nature run its course. No. The God Jesus shows us is One intimately involved in created marvels, evolutionary dynamics, and the wild wanderings of people. The God Jesus shows us is there in suffering and brokenness, in the jagged tears of fractured relationships and the holy tears of grief’s cries. The God Jesus shows us is not unlike a dad who shows up uninvited at a party that has gotten out of hand, where his teenager happens to be. The God Jesus shows us is wind and fire and soft refreshing rain; light that shatters the darkness and silence that opens up a whole new world. The God Jesus showed us has a voice like Chuck Stevenson or James Earl Jones … and like Amy Schumer or Oprah Winfrey … and like a whining child and an angry student and a tired parent. The God Jesus showed us looked death straight in the eye and accepted the cross, descending then and now to the places we mortals inhabit: be it a cemetery, a prison, a substance use disorder, a terminal diagnosis, the halls of Congress, the stock exchange, high school, times when mental health is shaky, in a marriage that is on the rocks, when we are paralyzed with fear. The God Jesus shows us flinched but did not fail; falls into the ground … and trusts that life will rise.
This morning the word of God will resound through the quiet voices of three Central young people who walked out of their school classrooms on Wednesday. For so long, our nation has anguished over deaths through gun violence, and yet we seem incapable of changing that reality. Columbine … Sandy Hook … Parkland … a poignant memorial currently on the Mall in Washington DC consists of 7000 pairs of shoes, representing the number of young people who lost their lives to gun violence since 2012. Seven thousand. But lately the national impasse has been disturbed by some urgent new voices that refuse to be dismissed. Student leaders testified before the Florida State House; they have launched a social media campaign; and initiated the 17- minute school walk-out. While no one pretends this largely symbolic action by itself will move the power brokers, it points unmistakably to a fresh wind blowing through our land. I’m grateful to our youth assistant, Emma Moore, for reaching out to our young people to ask them why they walked. [REMI DANIEL, BEZU AIMERO, and ELLEN CLARK share their witness]
We wish to see Jesus. Today he looks a lot like Remi, Bezu, and Ellen.
And once more, I put my trust in the God revealed through them; the God who is still speaking, still loving, still germinating the seeds of new life.