Time flies when you’re having Lent.
The season that began what seems like “just yesterday” with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday has brought us already to this Tuesday in Holy Week – to the time author Nora Gallagher writes of as "the hinge between Lent and Easter ... between the guilt and shame, the inertia and fear that bind us to the past and leave us in despair and the love that lures us toward hope."
"The love that lures us toward hope." I love that line: for it speaks to me of the love of God so great that it triumphs over death ... a love that continues to "lure us toward hope" these 20 centuries after the death of the One who came to show us how to "walk in love, as Christ loved us". Was it that love -- that hope -- that lured those we read about in today's Gospel of John? The "Greeks" who approached Philip in Jerusalem with the plea, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus"?
A brief historical “contextual” note: when John says "some Greeks", he doesn't mean folks who hang out in Athens and are related to Zorba. To the 1st century hearers of the Gospel "Greeks" meant "non-Jews" - foreigners - Gentiles. No wonder Philip had to go check with Andrew first ... did you notice that in the text? "They came to Philip -- who went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus." As one of the commentaries I consulted noted: "... evidently being dubious how they might be received." No automatic welcome for these guys: these Greeks who wanted to see Jesus.
But see him they do. Crossing all sorts of boundaries -- breaking a whole list of deeply ingrained cultural rules -- Jesus teaches them the same way he has been teaching his disciples all along. Did he think about the words of the prophet Isaiah appointed for today? “It is not enough for you to do my bidding, to restore the tribes of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Maybe. John doesn’t tell us what Jesus thought, but he does tell us what Jesus said: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also ... 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." Then John, the gospel writer adds, "He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die."
In those few sentences is the essence of the Gospel -- the Good News Jesus came to give the world and the world couldn't hear: Follow me ... do as I do ... I have come to show you the way to live in love and community with God and each other.
NOW the Kingdom of God is in your midst ... and it is for ALL people.
Yes, he said all this to indicate the kind of death he was to die; for the inevitability of the crucifixion must have hung heavy in his heart these last days. But if we settle for John's explanation at face value, we miss the power of this text for us today. I believe Jesus said all this to the Greeks who sought him out in Jerusalem -- lured by love and hope -- not ONLY to indicate the kind of death he was to die, but to indicate the kind of life we are to live.
"When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself." And how will he do that? I'm jumping ahead in the story a bit, but come Pentecost we will hear again of the coming of the Holy Spirit ... the birth of the Church called to be the Body of Christ in the world ... called to take up the ministry of Jesus on earth.
So if the church is indeed the Body of Christ here on earth, how good a job are we doing with those who come to us as they did to Philip saying, "Please, we want to see Jesus?" Let me tell you about my friend ... a woman I've known since the 7th grade who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children. After many years without a faith community, she wrote me that she started going back to church. "Only it's not exactly church," she said. "It's at a church but I don't go on Sunday yet ... I go Wednesday night and meet with other women. We pray and sing and support each other. And they read from the Bible, but it's so wonderful ... they don't beat you up with Jesus, so it hardly feels like church."
"They don't beat you up with Jesus" -- what an indictment! Yet in the church she grew up in Jesus -- the Jesus who yearns to draw all people to himself -- became for her a stumbling block, a barrier to faith rather than a lure toward hope. My friend never knew that there was a choice between the Jesus of Judgment and the Christ of Faith and so I pray that this community she's found will be a gateway for her -- that she can finally "see Jesus" - just as those Greeks in Jerusalem did: can see for herself that "draw all people" means her, too!
Thankfully, All Saints Church has a long history of offering a voice of hope to those who come saying "Please, we want to see Jesus" – who come looking for a place to encounter the Lord of Love rather than the Letter of the Law. It is a history with deep roots in our Anglican heritage – for the Episcopal Church is a product of the glorious 16th century experiment intended to end the bloody feud between Catholics and Protestants in England during the reformation – an experiment that resulted in a church where orthopraxis (common practice) was valued over orthodoxy (common belief).
The significance of that experiment, my Church History text tells me is that “it was able to hold the vast majority of the people together, despite being a compromise few would have chosen." And there you have it: Anglican Traditionalism.
It seems to me that as 21st century Anglicans facing the very real challenges in front of us we would be well served to dig more deeply into our 16th Century roots ... to claim with enthusiasm the heritage that has historically given us the ability to live with disagreement ... to honor the tension of diversity and focus on the things that bind us together rather than allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that threaten to divide us.
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world," said Ghandi. When we do that, then we truly follow the Lord who told us not only what kind of death he was to die but what kind of life we are to live.
And if I have "an agenda" – and I do -- it is an agenda as old as Isaiah and Andrew, of Jesus and the Gentiles. It is the agenda of a Lord whose love lures us toward hope – of the one who yearns to draw all people to himself – of the Jesus who took time, in the last days before his crucifixion, to reach out to those Greeks who came to him -- not sure if they'd be welcome. It is the Gospel Agenda and it is begging to be fulfilled – and we are the Body of Christ who have been charged with fulfilling it in our generation.
And so, in this Holy Week, I pray that God will give us grace to commit ourselves to being "… the change we wish to see in the world" – to persevering in the proclamation of God's Good News to all people -- in spite of the setbacks and the obstacles; of the challenges and the costs -- as we journey with Jesus and claim his "agenda" as our own. Amen.