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The Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

We Wish to See Jesus

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33

Jesus is in Jerusalem. There are all kinds of people around him in this Cosmopolitan city. They no doubt hear stories about him. They witness his remarkable deeds. One day some Greeks come to Philip. His name is Greek, after all. “Sir, we would like to see Jesus,” they say to him. Philip doesn’t know quite how to handle it. It is not the simple request that it might seem to us. It is a turning point, a watershed. The Greeks are a far greater danger to the Jewish community than the Romans. They consider the Jewish way of life to be very strange. Their culture in itself is a threat to Jewish belief and lifestyle. Yet here they are, wanting to find out more about Jesus.

Jesus' response to them is a strange one. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,” he tells them, “it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Then he goes on to tell them of all the hardships that they will face as Christians. Serving him is not going to be an easy route through life. He knows the road that lies ahead, a road of pain and suffering. If they plan to be disciples of Jesus they must be prepared to suffer and even die for their faith.

Most of us, even those of us who purport to have faith, who attend church regularly, don’t wish to see Jesus. We are too busy making ends meet, raising our families, and trying to make sense of the terrible things that are going on in our world to even give it a thought. We get out to church; we may even attend regularly, but somehow it doesn’t make a difference in our lives. Hearing that it may involve pain and suffering, that real faith will come at great cost, would have us running as quickly as possible in the other direction.

We do recognize the problems that the Christian faith faces in our cultural climate. We mourn the decline in the Christian faith. Yet we spend far more time grappling with how to close churches than with how to fill them. The so-called 'Generation X' is largely unchurched and sees little need to change that. When they do actually reach out and try to find their way into our churches, they are met with barriers that we have erected. We speak what might as well be a foreign language. There’s the BAS and the BCP and the ACW and PWRDF and the ACC and ELCIC. We have strange customs; we make the sign of the cross or wear crosses as jewellery around our necks, we dress up in strange-looking clothing, and we sometimes use incense. Our music seldom sounds anything like what we might hear on the radio. We may even appear to be unfriendly or uncaring. No wonder many see the Church as irrelevant. Even when it comes to the field of ethics, which should certainly be our domain, many no longer look to the Church as leaders in making moral decisions. Most people wouldn’t think of asking to see Jesus.

Yet we need to see Jesus more than ever before. The mark of our day is alienation. People feel alone, isolated. The family is no longer the strong social unit it once was. Lines of communication so easily break down. Research into family life came up with the statistic that the average couple probably spends between nine and twelve minutes a day in meaningful conversation. There was a cartoon recently in the paper. The whole Johnson family was sitting raptly watching television. At the end of the program they turned it off reflecting how wonderful it was to spend some real family time. Don’t we joke about whom in the family operates the remote control on the TV? We probably consider that it is about who has power in a relationship, but I suspect it is really an indicator of how little we communicate with one another. Far more time is spent in passive activities like watching television than in intimate conversation with one another. If we don’t find time to talk to one another, we certainly don’t find time to talk to God.

We have lost our sense of community. Our anonymous society locks itself behind closed doors. Unless you have children or a dog, you probably don’t even know your neighbours. It is easy to say that you love your neighbour if you never have to deal with them. Yet to be human is to seek the strength and support that comes from being part of a community. Companionship is a human need.

The mark of our day may be alienation, but the mark of the Christian Church is community. We gather Sunday by Sunday to break bread together. It is at the heart of what we do. There is a miracle that happens whenever we share our bread or ourselves with others. Bread symbolizes the life of the many who work together to produce it. We are sustained and nurtured by bread. It symbolizes our life, Christ’s body. We are all fed by the same holy bread. We all become that which we eat, the Body of Christ. In the breaking of the bread we see Jesus.

Jeremiah was a prophet during the time leading up to the Babylonian exile. It was a crucial time in the history of the people of Israel. He tried to warn them of impending disaster. They obviously did not want to hear any bad news. They threw him into prison for saying that the Babylonians would defeat them in battle. Even in prison he did not lose hope. He remembered the covenant that God had made with his people; he looked forward to a better time, a time of spiritual renewal. A time when the covenant would be written, not on stone tablets, but in the hearts of the people. A time when they would be a real community of faith. When God would "be their God, and they would be God's people."

What a community of faith that would be! Imagine that every member of our congregation is in a deep relationship with God. Can you even imagine what that would mean to our church? We would be a community that trusted in God. We would live out our faith in our everyday lives. We would come together week by week and be fed and nurtured by the Word of God; then we would go out as the Church back to our homes, into the workplace, into our communities, into the world. We would be a community reaching out in faith to a needy world. We would be instruments of transformation. We would see Jesus.

Are there times when Jesus cannot be seen because of the way we present him? Are there times when we are not really looking? Do we want Jesus to fit our preconceived notions of who God is? Our lifestyle? Are we so set in our rigid patterns of worship that we become unintelligible to the uninitiated? Are we so tied to a book or a way of doing things or our own needs that we fail to let someone in to see Christ? Are we so afraid of being the wheat that we live death instead of life? Everything we do as a church is done so that we will see Jesus , in our own lives and in the lives of others. It comes as a longing inside our minds and hearts. It comes as a hunger that simply won’t go away. It comes as we journey to the foot of the cross, for we must be willing to see Jesus as the one who died and rose again, the one who accepts and who empowers.

There must be no foreigners when it comes to following Christ. There must be no 'them' and 'us'. We must be a welcoming community of faith. When someone comes seeking, we must simply do what we do in our own homes, open the door and invite them in. If we need to, we must expand the table, add a leaf, lay some more places, find some more chairs, become truly inclusive. But more than that, we must become the kind of community that reaches out beyond itself. We must be sharers of this wonderful faith.

We must seek Christ in others, and let Christ be seen in us. Let us be renewed in the Spirit this Lent.

Open our eyes Lord,
we want to see Jesus.
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