Sunday, March 25, 2012

5 Lent

March 25, 2012

John 12.20-33

+ For nine years, I have been teaching theology (as well as Philosophy, Ethics and Writing) at the University of Mary here in Fargo. For the last half-hour of each class, I have invited my students to “Stump Fr. Jamie.” To “Stump Fr. Jamie” students can ask any question they would like regarding theology or spirituality or the Church. And in nine years, there have been very few times when Fr. Jamie has been stumped.

On those few occasions when I have been stumped, I find that some of my students are somewhat shocked. They can’t imagine that a priest, of all people, might not have the answers to certain things regarding God or the Church. We, after all, should have all the answers, right????

And oftentimes in my answers to “Stump Father Jamie” I have conceded to that wonderful thing called “mystery.” Some things are just mysteries and we should accept the mysteries of our faith. But what I have discovered every time students ask questions is that, in actuality, they really are seeking. And they are often surprised when the priest himself is a seeker as well.

The fact is, I have never made a secret of the fact that I am also a seeker, just like all of us this morning. We’re all seekers. We must be. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here this morning. People who aren’t seekers don’t need to come to church. They don’t need to listen and ponder the Word. They don’t need to feed on and ponder the mysteries of the Eucharist that we celebrate at this altar. People who don’t need to seek, don’t come following the mysteries of their faith.

I have discovered in my own life as a seeker, that my seeking, my asking questions and my pondering of the mysteries of this life and my relationship to God, are what make my faith what it is. It makes it…faith. My seeking allows me to step into the unknown and be sometimes amazed or surprised or disappointed by what I may—or may not—find there.

In our Gospel story for today, we also find seekers. In our story, we find these Greeks seeking for Jesus.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they say.

I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you—or anyone for that matter—but this Gospel is one of my favorites. I should be more specific. This one line—“we wish to see Jesus”—is one of my favorite lines from scripture. It is such a beautifully simple line. But there’s so much meaning and potential and…mystery, to it that I don’t think we fully realize what it’s conveying.

And what I doubly love about it is that as beautiful and as simple as the petition is—“we seek Jesus”—we never, if you notice, find out if they actually find him. The author doesn’t tell us. We find no resolve to this story of the Greeks seeking Jesus. However, despite it being a loose end of sorts, it does pack some real meaning. What’s great about scripture is that even a loose end can have purpose.

One interpretation of this story is that that the Greeks—as Gentiles—were not allowed to “see” Jesus until he was lifted up on the Cross.

Only when he has been “lifted up from the earth,” as he tells us this morning will he “draw all people to [himself].” Jesus’ message at the time of their approaching the apostles is still only to the Jews. But when Jesus is lifted up on the Cross on Good Friday, at that moment, he is revealed to all. At that moment, the veil is lifted. The old Law of the Jews has died—the curtain in the Temple has been torn in half—and now Jesus is given for all. It’s certainly an interesting and provocative take on this story.

And it’s especially interesting for us, as well, who are seeking to “find Jesus” in our own lives. Like those Greeks, we are not always certain if we will find him—at least at this moment.

But, I am going to switch things up a bit. Yes, we might be seekers here this morning. But as Christians, our job is not only to be seekers. Our job, as followers of Jesus, as seekers after Jesus, is to be on the receiving end of that petition of those Greeks. Our job, as Christians, is to hear that petition—“show us Jesus”—and to respond to it. So, how do we respond? How do we show Jesus to those who seeking him? Or, maybe, even to those who might not be seeking him?

We show people Jesus by doing what we do as followers and seekers after Jesus. We show people Jesus by being Jesus to those around us. Now, that sounds impossible for most of us. The fact is, it isn’t. This is exactly what Jesus wants us to be.

Jesus wants us to be him in this world. He wants to be our hands, helping others. He wants to speak through our voices in consoling others, in speaking out against the tyrants and despots and unfairness of this world. He wants to be our feet in walking after those who have turned away and are isolating themselves. When we seek to bring the Kingdom into our midst, we are being Jesus in this world. We might not always succeed in doing this. We might fail miserably in what we do. In fact, people might not find Jesus in us, at all. Sometimes, whether we intend it to or not, we in fact become the “Anti-Jesus” to others.

But that’s just the way it is sometimes. In seeking Jesus and in responding to others who are also seeking him, we realize the control is not in our hands. It doesn’t depend on any of us. Which, trust me, is comforting. I don’t want all that responsibility. Nor, I’m sure, do any of you. Who would?

In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus saying: “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls on the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In those moments in which we seem to have failed to be Jesus to those around us, when those who come to us seeking Jesus find, rather, nothing, or, worse, the “Anti-Jesus, we find that even then, fruit can still come forth. God still works even through the negative things life throws at us. God still works event through our failures and our shortcomings.

There is a wonderful Latin saying: “Invoked or not invoked, God is still present” We can say the same of Jesus. Sought or not sought, Jesus can still be found. Jesus can still be found, even despite us. Jesus can still be found, even when we might not even be seeking him.

Jesus can be found, oftentimes, when we are least expecting to find him. He is, after all, all around us. He is here this morning in our midst. He is here in our hearing of the Word. He is here in the Bread and Wine of our Eucharist. He is here in us, gathered together in his Name. He is out there, beyond the walls of this church, waiting for us to find him. He is never far away.

So, let us, together, seek Jesus. Let us search for him, here, in the Word where we hear him speaking to us, in this Eucharist, in which he comes to us and feeds us with his Body and Blood. Let us search for him in going out from here and encountering those people who need Jesus. And let us also help others who are seeking him, find him in us.

“We wish to see Jesus,” the Greeks say to the disciples. And people still are saying that to us as well.

“We wish to see Jesus.”

Let us—fellow seekers of Jesus—help them to find him.

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