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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sir, we wish to see Jesus

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John 12:20-33
V Lent – March 29, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

I remember when one of my kids was very young. Some of you know only too well that it’s very hard to keep a young child occupied in church. Their short little attention spans are not designed for long liturgies – or especially long sermons.

One Sunday, just as the preacher was coming to the end of a particularly long sermon, our youngest started to get squirmy. I shushed her, but she put her hand on her hip, stomped her little foot and said, “When are we going to see Jesus?”

Indeed. Trinity Church in Copley Square in Boston has these words from John’s gospel carved into the hard wood of that magnificent pulpit: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Those words were spoken by some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover because they had heard that Jesus would be there. They came not to take part in a religious festival but rather, to observe it, as if it were some quaint religious oddity. They came not to worship but rather, to be formally introduced to Jesus, as if he were some foreign, visiting dignitary.

I’ve been working with the Confirmation Class on an instructed Eucharist, so that they will know what it is we do here on Sunday. I’ve told them that, as Episcopalians, we are a people of Word and Sacrament.

The role of the priest is to open up the Word of God so that people might see Jesus, in the same way that the bread is broken and the wine is poured out so that we might find in them the True Presence of our Risen Lord. The sermon is a sacramental moment that prepares us for the Sacrament of Eucharist.

They have also written their own Creed. 'The Credo Formamentum 2009’, as they have come to call it. You will be very proud of their work when you hear it during the special service we will have for them on their Confirmation day. Here’s a sneak peek – what they said about how they know Jesus:

"We believe Jesus is the human messenger of God; mortal yet divine. Jesus is a healer: A white light of hope. A friend when there is trouble. A helper when there is need. He gave himself for us, a gift for our safe keeping." And, they said: “God gives us the gift of eternal life in Jesus.”

I know. Pretty smart kids, right? I think they know a little something about Jesus. Of that I have no question.

So, here’s my question: Do you know Jesus? Yes, I know you do, but how would you describe Jesus? In your own words? Who is Jesus for you and why does he make a difference in your life of faith?

The Vestry is taking these questions very seriously. In fact, they have signed up to give a brief meditation on one of the three persons of the Trinity as a way to open our Vestry meetings. We’ve only had one so far, but it has been excellent. I have no doubt the others will be as well.

I encourage you, as Holy Week fast approaches, to focus your attention on the person of Jesus. I urge you, like the Vestry and members of the Confirmation Class, to consider or reconsider how and where and when you see Jesus in your lives of faith.

I am always surprised to find Jesus in the most unlikely places and most unusual people. I saw Jesus yesterday at the Spring Craft Fair (He said to say 'hello'). As I went from table to table and spoke with the vendors, I introduced myself as the pastor of the church. And, each and every vendor, without fail, said to me, “Oh, we are so happy to be doing this for the church.”

Imagine! They are not members of the church. And yet, they all came together to sell their wares and to give a little something to the church because one of their friends was being helped by this church. Whether they know it or not, they know a little something about the person of Jesus – at least, they know something about the nature of church, which we proclaim as ‘the Body of Christ.’

I saw Jesus just last week when I went to visit a 92 year old woman who still considers herself a member of this church, even though she’s probably not stepped foot in this sanctuary in the last 40 years or so.

I wish you could have seen the joy on her face and in her eyes when I introduced myself as being from St. Paul's. She may not have remembered the names of her children, but she remembered being a member of St. Paul's.

She was so thrilled to have someone from St. Paul’s come to visit her that she talked herself into exhaustion. Indeed, the nursing staff gathered around outside the door to her room, amazed that she had so much to say. She has what is known as ‘senile dementia’ so the move from the home she has made with her daughter for the past 10 years has been nothing if a little disorienting - to say nothing of depressing.

I saw Jesus in the joy in the eyes of her caretakers as they saw her animated and happy. I saw Jesus in their midst as they gathered in a circle outside her room, held hands and joined us in reciting The Lord’s Prayer together.

I heard Jesus whisper in the voice of one of the personal care attendants who assured me that she would say that prayer with her at the end of her shift. “It’s good for her mind,” she said, adding sheepishly, “and for both of our souls.”

I saw Jesus the week before on a locked psychiatric unit where one of our elders had been placed after having an adverse reaction to some of the medication she had been taking. One of the medical doctors came in during our visit. As her patient began to get anxious, she gently took the person’s face in her hands and spoke softly, tenderly.

“Focus on the familiar,” she kept saying. “Don’t worry about what you have no control over, or what you don't recognize. Focus on the familiar.” “Do you remember your prayers? Can you say the Lord’s Prayer? Let’s say it together, now, with your priest.”

And so we did. It was a holy, sacramental moment when I knew that Jesus himself was there, praying with us, behind the locked doors of that psychiatric unit where she didn’t belong.

“Jesus is a healer, a white light of hope, a friend where there is trouble, a helper when there is need.” That’s how our Confirmation kids described Jesus.

If some visitors who weren’t Christian came in today because they wanted to meet Jesus, who would they find? How would you describe Jesus to them?

I believe it was Annie Dillard who once said that if we really believed the prayers we said every Sunday, we’d leave the church with crash helmet on our heads.

I’m also remembering the bumper sticker my kids gave me years ago says, “Going to church will not make you a Christian any more than going to the garage will make you a car.” They gave me that bumper sticker as a way to try to weasel out of going to church. Perhaps they understood what Annie Dillard was trying to say.

“The days are surely coming,” the Lord said to Jeremiah.

Next Sunday is The Sunday of the Passion of our Lord, also known as Palm Sunday. We will be asked to walk the Way of Jesus all week. On Maundy Thursday, we will be asked to wash each other’s feet, as Jesus asked his disciples to wash his and each other’s feet as a sign of servant leadership.

On Good Friday, we will be asked to walk the Stations of the Cross, and put our feet in the path Jesus walked. The Great Vigil of Easter will walk us through the history of our salvation, from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Revelation.

And, on Easter Day, we will meet our Risen Lord with glory as Christ who was lifted high draws us all to himself for eternity.

What do these words and images say to you about your relationship with Jesus? How are the stories of his life and the words of his commandment written in your heart? How has that made a difference in your life?

Can you let the old familiar words about Jesus and his love die like a grain of wheat in the rich soil of your souls to be reborn into images and words that make sense to you today, right now, in your life?

Here’s the important question of faith: How would you tell others about who his is and where to find him? And, would they know that any of that is true by how you live your life? One of my favorite images of the church is that of one hungry beggar telling another hungry beggar how and from whom to get bread.

Here’s the thing: If you want to meet Jesus, you don’t need a formal introduction. All you have to do is walk with him, and let him walk with you. Put your body and your mind and your soul with him and open yourself to his presence.

And, believe. Amen.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Ah, now I know why you were bumming on FB last night. No good priest cares for a sermon where (s)he said "I" a lot. But sometimes "I" is who saw it!

Song in my Heart said...

I started posting a comment here in response to some of your questions but it got really long so I've posted it as an entry here instead.

Thank you for the questions.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Song - Your post is brilliant. I left my comments there. Thanks so much. You are the answer to a preacher's prayer.

Malinda said...

I think if we really took to heart the prayers we say so routinely every Sunday we would be as well warned to wear our crash helmets into the service, too!

Thank you sharing the words of your youth and others on the journey - I think I will read and re-read some of this sermon for a few days as I contemplate my own answers to your beautiful questions.

FranIAm said...

This post is great - really brilliant, your sermon says so many good things.

I loved reading about Credo again!

There is a meeting Jesus component going to pop up on my blog between now and tomorrow morning, from a guest poster.

We can truly see Jesus everywhere, if we but just look around. Including in the mirror. Ah, there is the hard part.

Malinda said...

Hi Fran - I always say that I see things best in the rear-view mirror - sigh.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The funny thing about it, as Kirke notes, is that I really was bumming about this sermon last night. I didn't like it. There are parts of it I still don't like. I suppose a great deal of it comes from the "I" stuff. I always have trouble when I feel called to preach from the "I". Well, it seems God had a way to use this for the good. Blessed be!

Paul Powers said...

Your sermon really doesn't come across as all that "I"-centered. When you say "I saw Jesus here" or "I saw Jesus there," it doesn't make the listeners look _at_ you. It makes them look in the same direction that you are looking: at Jesus, thus making him, not you, the center of attention.