As a liturgical church, we observe the various seasons of the Church year and we read their corresponding lectionary readings each Sunday. In Lent, we shift away from our focus on the Gospel of Mark, which has been our focus in this Year B scripture reading cycle, and we jump into the Gospel of John for Lent and much of the fast approaching Easter season. The Gospel of John does not get its own dedicated year of lectionary readings – and that’s probably a good thing. I liken John’s gospel to a fine fleur de sel salt – you know, that expensive “shi shi” salt you can buy in gourmet shops. In proper amounts, it enhances your food. Too much and your blood pressure spikes, you get bloated, and you blow a whole lot of money. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. John’s gospel is one that needs to be read in small doses as its imagery, textual iconography, ponderous literary devices and circular referencing can overwhelm you. I always felt John needed a good editor. But no matter, John was who he was and the Gospel is what it is.
In today’s reading we hear that some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John juxtaposes sight and blindness on several occasions in his narrative and seeing becomes a metaphor for knowing – for being in relationship. In the passages just prior to where our Gospel reading starts today, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem has taken place and the Pharisees have said, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” The world becomes incarnate in this group of Greeks who want to see Jesus.
But what I find troubling is that we never find out if these Greeks ever saw Jesus. We know Philip went and told Andrew and they together went to Jesus, but then Jesus "answers" them with a discourse on how the “hour has come” and how the death of one grain can bear much fruit and what it means to lose your life for the sake of gaining eternal life. Truth is, Jesus really doesn't answer Philip at all! I found myself praying with this text and standing in Philip's sandals and thinking after Jesus finishes this discourse I would have said, "Well that’s interesting Jesus, but I have some Greeks here who want to meet you."
Maybe, just maybe, we’re supposed to be disquieted about this lack of resolution, especially given that it is the outsiders, the Greeks, then Gentiles, who come seeking Jesus. The term gentile in first century Palestine denoted one who did not know God. How ironic that those who do not know God are the very ones who want to be in relationship with Jesus – the very Word incarnate. In fact, those for whom Jesus ostensibly came, the Jewish people, have a mixed reaction to Jesus. Some are coming to believe and others, especially the “professional religious types” are absolutely set against him.
I believe the desire to see Jesus, to be in relationship with him, is very present all around us and within us. Don’t each of us come here wanting to see Jesus? I believe every person who walks through those doors is seeking something and many want to see Jesus – but do they? When people come here do they see Jesus or do they see our religion?
Last week, I spoke of my commitment to radical hospitality and asked you how we might be Christ for all who walk through these doors. In our recent conversations during our Lenten series, I was reminded of how difficult our traditions can be for a newcomer. When someone new comes in, they are confronted with a confusing array of bulletins, hymnals and Prayer Books, oh my! We don’t make it easy, do we? Those of us who either grew up in this church or, for all intents and purposes might as well have, forget how daunting it can be just to figure out this worship thing on Sunday morning.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love our Anglican heritage and when done well our liturgy is utterly majestic and lifts the spirit. I’m not advocating putting giant projection screens in the front of the church for PowerPoints or ditching our liturgy for something else. But I do ask myself and I ask you, how might we reach out in welcome to help those who come here so they can see Jesus through our traditions rather than in spite of them?
I was reminded of something that happened when I was in the fourth grade attending Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Concord, California. This church was an enclave of Lake Wobegon Norwegian Lutherans in the San Francisco East Bay. My family were Danish Lutherans on my mother’s side, so we were the “outsiders” in a sense. But other than that, it was a pretty homogeneous group. In 1974, on a lovely warm sunny Sunday, the organ prelude was augmented by the sound of about 25 thundering Harleys roaring into the parking lot at Good Shepherd. It was the day the Hell’s Angels show up at our church. Yes, you heard me right ... the Hell's Angels came to church that Sunday.
It seems the Hells Angels have a pact that if a member falls off their motorcycle or has an accident they have to attend church on Sunday as penance. So, evidently, one of the locals dropped his bike and they decided to show up at Good Shepherd Lutheran in their full biker regalia – leathers, chains, bones hanging off their chains, artwork on their jackets that wasn’t exactly church appropriate. It was a rather intimidating sight to behold and it raised the anxiety level in the congregation a bit. But a couple of them slid into a pew with one of our older Norwegian ladies and she had her service book open to the first hymn. She looked at the biker who had just sat down next to her and gave him the polite “church nod” to acknowledge his presence. She then looked down at her service book, looked up at the biker again and, realizing these bikers didn’t have a clue what to do in church, she handed the opened book to him, pointed to the opening hymn and said, “We start right here.” I continued to watch her during the service coaching these bikers on how to use the service book and making sure they were on the right page! Now I don’t know whether or not these Hell’s Angels showed up because they wanted to see Jesus, but I do know this: you betcha that Norwegian lady showed ‘em Jesus. And she showed them Jesus through her traditions not in spite of them. May we go and do likewise.