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.
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
I may have mentioned at one time or another that John is not my favorite Gospel. Any writing that begins with words like: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’[i] is going to be a challenge for linear thinkers. So, when I decided to use the John passage from the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday’s sermon, I thought to myself: “it will be a challenge.” Little did I know. It would be possible to preach on this passage for a good six weeks and not be redundant. So, where I thought I would go with this sermon when I started, and where I actually went are two distinctly different directions. I thought I would speak to the theology of the cross-which is alluded to at the end of this passage. Instead, my heart was captivated by the beginning of this reading
The reading this morning begins a new chapter in Jesus’ life. It is, as it were, the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end. The beginning of the beginning was that God’s kingdom broke into this world in the form of a tiny child. The beginning was that this child grew up to be the embodiment of God’s kingdom on earth. That’s what the incarnation means, you know. In Jesus Christ we have a walking, talking, in-the-flesh representation of what God desires for us. In obedience to God, Jesus lived that desire every day of his life. Jesus proclaimed the good news that the reign of God is already now taking shape.
The Kingdom of God broke into real-time in the life of Jesus Christ. And people were curious. All kinds of people were curious – even the Greeks. And so, as we approach the end of the beginning, the gospel tells us that the good news Jesus proclaimed was not good news for the Jews only. No. The good news Jesus proclaimed was good news for everyone, Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.[ii] We all have a place in this good-news story.
The Gospel tells us: “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip (probably because he had a Greek name) who was from Bethsaida in Galilee (a multiethnic region of Israel – a region known to have many Greek settlers) and these Greeks said to Philip, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”
We wish to see Jesus. How true that is; but how rare those sightings are. I wonder, though, are those sightings rare because Jesus is nowhere to be seen? Or, are those sightings rare because we do not have eyes of faith to see him, and we do not understand what it means that we in the church of Jesus Christ are called to be an incarnational people. We are called to enact God’s reign in obedience to Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus in the way he lived and loved and interacted with the world and the people in it. We are called to demonstrate that the kingdom of God is a present reality. We are called to become the embodiment of God’s blessing in the world.
It is a tall order. But, we are up to it – in the power of the Holy Spirit we are up to being the embodiment of God’s blessing in the world.
On a grander scale we might say the work done in and through Miriam’s Kitchen – a mission of Western Presbyterian Church – embodies God’s blessing in the world. What started out as a simple breakfast feeding program now provides two meals a day, social work services and art therapy for thousands — did you hear that — thousands of the District of Columbia’s most vulnerable citizens. Miriam’s is able to connect some of these individuals with permanent supportive housing – housing that includes case management services to help the individuals to adjust and thrive in their new environment. And Miriam’s is working tirelessly to dismantle the systems that would perpetuate chronic homelessness.
If you wish to see Jesus, you might consider how you can join in this mission and you will see Jesus working through you. I know Betsy Carter or Mark Finks can point you in the right direction.
We wish to see Jesus. How true that is; but how rare those sightings are. I wonder, though, are those sightings rare because Jesus is nowhere to be seen? Or, are those sightings rare because we do not have eyes of faith to see him, and we do not understand what it means that we in the church of Jesus Christ are called to be an incarnational people.
For more years than many of us in this room wish, More Light Presbyterians have diligently worked to make the Church a true community of hospitality. The mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in society. In 2011 the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church USA was amended to reflect this reality in her ordination standards. In 2014, the General Assembly of the PC USA granted ministers permission to officiate same gender marriages in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal. Last week with the 87th affirmative vote, the definition of Marriage has changed in our PCUSA Constitution. It now states: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between TWO PEOPLE, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.”[iii] On June 21st of this year, performing a same gender wedding ceremony in a PCUSA sanctuary will no longer be an actionable offense – largely because of the work of More Light Presbyterians who have embodied God’s blessing in the world all these many years.
Some see this as the end of a struggle. Most of us recognize this as the beginning of a new conversation of how to make this a reality in all corners of the PCUSA and in every sector of society. If you wish to see Jesus, you might consider how you can join in this mission and you will see Jesus working through you. I know Anna Cook and Sherry Trafford would love to engage you in this ongoing ministry. Anna and Sherry are members of this congregation and on the Board of the local chapter of More Light Presbyterians.
Indeed, we wish to see Jesus. How true that is; but how rare those sightings are. Perhaps we have not cultivated our eyes of faith to see him at work in the world; and, we do not understand how it is that we are incarnational people – called to embody God’s blessing in the world.
Kris Thompson is a member of this congregation and the director of Calvary Women’s Shelter here in DC where homeless women receive housing and have access to health care, education and employment programs that empower them to change their lives. The goal is for each of the women to be able to move into their own residence and be self-sustaining.
So, if you want to see Jesus, you might want to talk to Kris and consider how you can join in this mission. I promise – you will see Jesus working through you as you embody God’s blessing in the world.
We wish to see Jesus. How true that is; but how rare those sightings are.
Or are they?
If you scratch a member of Western Presbyterian Church you most likely will scratch someone who is embodying God’s blessing in the world in real-time. Perhaps they are working to improve student learning in America’s public schools or laboring for restorative justice. Perhaps they are working to provide housing assistance to those struggling with shelter and food insecurities, or maybe – just maybe – you will find a government lawyer trying each day to do right by this country’s citizens.
What do you do with your days? How do you engage the world around you? Are you doing it as the incarnational person you are called to be? Are you demonstrating the kingdom of God as a present reality? Are you the embodiment of God’s blessing in the world?
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”[iv]
We wish to see Jesus. How true that is.
[i] John 1:1
[ii] See Galatians 3:28
[iii] W-4.900: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.
“In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.
“If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who may agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.
“The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session (W-1.4004–.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises; prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.
“A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the statements made shall reflect the fact that the couple is already married to one another according to the laws of the civil jurisdiction.”
“Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”
[iv] Colossians 3:17 (NRS)