03-18-18 SIR, WE WOULD SEE JESUS

SIR, WE WOULD SEE JESUS

John 12: 20-32

 

I have left the sermon topic in the King James translation because that’s the way I once read it.  Under the pulpit in the Columbia Theological Seminary Chapel is a plaque that can only be seen by the preacher who is sitting down before preaching. It says: “We would see Jesus.” John 20:21.  In other words, it imagines that every worshipper, or at least some of them, have come to the chapel service that day to receive a new or a modified picture of Jesus and who he is. John, in his gospel, was always about telling who Jesus was; others gospels by contrast, told a lot about what Jesus did.  The question from John’s gospel today is asked by what we would call “seekers;” people interested in learning more about Jesus. And after the request made to Philip, Philip told Andrew, and they both went to tell Jesus! This was evangelism without work! There was no knocking on doors, or holding a tent revival, or inviting your neighbor to church. These non-believers, called Greeks, wanted to see Jesus. And the disciples complied.  There. That’s all we have to do, right? All we have to do is lead people to Jesus. Yes, but as I showed the children, we’re actually not sure what he looks like. And we don’t know if we’d recognize him if we bumped into him!  If someone came up to me and asked “Sir, we’d like to see Jesus,” I might say, “So would I! And one day I believe I will see him. But until that time, I want to invite you to see what Jesus did, by observing people doing what Jesus would do were he here in the flesh today.”  Christians let others see Jesus through them when they are doing what Jesus would do, or at least what they think he would do. How do we make a list of what Jesus did? We go to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And then we can see if we can see Jesus in others, or if, perhaps, they can see Jesus in us.

 

In 1887 a Congregational pastor from Topeka Kansas had a book published that told a story of a congregational experiment. The book was called “In His Steps,” and the pastor was Charles M. Sheldon. In 1985 the book was reprinted as a tool for evangelism. In the forward, pastor and motivational speaker Tony Campolo wrote this:

Seldom has a book so influenced Christian thinking. Its profound message set forth in a simple style makes an impact on each and every reader…. The author, Charles Sheldon, describes an ordinary church congregation which is challenged by its pastor to ask, in [the] face of every decision and situation in life, the simple question, “What would Jesus do if he were in my place?” {Barbour & Co. 1985, Intro.]

 

Yes, it was that book being read and reclaimed in the 1980s that started the WWJD movement and the bracelets that could be worn with those letters on them as a reminder to the wearers, always asking, “What would Jesus do?” As you walk down our breezeway this year and every year during Lent, you will find our purple WWJD banner, reminding you of that as you depart.

 

If we can’t actually see Jesus, how can we as Christians show Jesus to the world? Part of the answer is to do what Jesus would do. No, Jesus did not have technology in his day as we have, but knowing very well what Jesus did can guide us. We can’t easily figure that out if the last time we went to Sunday School was when we were young. Christians committed to showing Jesus to the world would do well to know what Jesus did! That leads us to study Scripture as youth; and as adults. How can we do what Jesus would do if we don’t know what Jesus did?  Turning to the gospels today, let’s see what Jesus did.  First, Jesus refused to condemn.  In John chapter 8 Scribes and Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught in adultery (by the way, the woman was caught in adultery because men could not be accused of adultery in that day!) They asked Jesus to rule on any sentence they may dole out. He seemed lost in thought and bent and wrote something on the ground. Feminist theologians have suggested he might have written “Where is the man?” but we don’t know what he wrote. What we do know is that after approaching Jesus, they all went away, one by one, leaving Jesus with the woman. “Where did they go?” he asked the woman. “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she replied. And Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you.” [John 8: 1-11] Over the years, Christians have been known to condemn those with long hair, with loud music, with tattoos, those of different skin colors, or different nationalities; or different denominations. Such actions create communities of “us and them.”  Jesus saw all others as children of God, whether they had disabilities, or leprosy; whether they were poor or rich. To let people see Jesus through us, we can cease condemning and seek to listen, ponder, to pray for, and to not call for a judge or jury regarding someone who is different from you. The job of judge is already taken.

 

Second, Jesus fed the hungry and loved the little children.  In all four gospels Jesus feeds 5000 hungry people. Enough said! And in Matthew, Mark, and Luke they record that Jesus famously said: “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” He said in Matthew’s gospel, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  What do we do with these passages? Do we dismiss them as time locked? No; we do what Jesus would do.  Our church has created intergenerational dinners and studies like “The Epic Story” that deliberately placed people of different ages at each table.  When I participated I was so proud to have my three year old friend (she’s older now) Lauren Camp, sitting at my table and working on our projects with me! I was equally proud to have others older than I was sharing the table.  In addition, to the consternation of some parents, my Christian Educator, Mary Ann and I, believe that children belong in worship and not shuttled off to a children’s program. They may have papers on which to draw, or the arm of a grandparent around them, but they are part of our church family. Every time I offer them a message, I think I am doing what Jesus would do! We even have a partnership with Longtreet Elementary School to be an emergency shelter if needed; we have helped purchased backpacks for students, and offered funds to see that children are well fed. We are now approaching that school and others to see what classes need a volunteer adult who, with the guidance of a teacher, can become a mentor or tutor to students who are struggling, or ones who need another good adult role model. We are seeking to do what Jesus would do! This year in Sunday School children put hygiene bags together to help homeless people get clean. We bring canned and dry goods to the food pantry at Grace Episcopal Church each week, and members of our church join members of other churches in staffing it. In addition, a team of men and women go monthly to the Star Center of Halifax Urban Ministries to feed more than 200 people a lunch time meal. We too seek to do what Jesus did.

 

Third, Jesus asked his Heavenly Father to forgive.  The example is to forgive, and to get out of the way so God can offer forgiveness. In our study of the Apostles’ Creed this week, a man named Darrell gave this testimony that was both powerful and moving. He served twenty-four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the evidence that would have set him free was suppressed.

For all that time I was in prison, one step from death row and could have been executed. And I was full of hate; prison is a hateful place. I hated the system; I hated the entire criminal justice system. And I was not a believer for at least 15 of those years. Some Christians used to come and they [were] really representing Christ. And I asked myself “What is it about these people and other convicts who believed in Christ?” They were just loving inmates. And they said they were mandated to love inmates regardless of how you got there. And they never knew my story, but I knew I hated the system and I couldn’t forgive, and they spoke of forgiveness. But as I began to read the Scriptures, and began to read about Christ, that verse, Luke 23:34, spoke to me, and that one verse began to transform my heart. When Jesus said on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they don’t know what they’re doing.”  And I decided that was divine. And I said “How could he do that, because I’m ripped in this anger and this hate toward the system, and I began to pray; and I began to pray through clenched teeth literally saying ‘I’m going to pray for these people Jesus, but you know what they did to me,’ but this is what I heard the Holy Spirit say to my spirit when I said ‘God I can’t forgive these people; its too hard.’ That’s when the Spirit spoke to my spirit and said ‘Darrell; no, you can’t forgive them; but I can forgive them through you if only you would let me.’ And that’s how forgiveness began to work for me; and I looked closely at that verse that Jesus quoted, and I saw, in his humanness, the he couldn’t forgive them either! He said ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ So I realized that forgiveness can only come from God, and that’s what Jesus said; forgiveness can come from God through us. And if I wanted to be a vessel for God, I had to forgive, and I began to pray that I wanted what was best for those people, just like I wanted what was best for me and my family. Then I realized that forgiveness wasn’t for them, it was for me! It set me free spiritually! 8 to 10 years before I left that place, I was at peace whether they let me go or not. They were forgiven, and I knew it because God forgave them through me; I had nothing to do with it.

Jesus asked his Father to forgive others; we are called to do the same.

 

Finally, Jesus loved his neighbor as himself, and he told us to do likewise. Jesus chose to speak to a Samaritan woman one day, and to a Syrophonicean woman another.  He met with men who had the perceived contagious disease of leprosy, and he healed a gentile man who was possessed by demons. These are four ways that the world can see Jesus through us: Refuse to condemn others; let the judge of the world decide who needs to be condemned and who needs to be saved. Feed hungry people. You can choose to do that from your car window at the end of an exit ramp, but I don’t recommend that. Feed hungry people by bringing your canned goods, or dry goods, to church as often as weekly; offer to help at our food pantry or to feed hundreds at the local Hot Meal program. Some of you are physically able to roll up their sleeves; others can reach into their pockets or their pantry to help us feed hungry people. Jesus also loved the children.  He delighted that they joined him for his Palm Sunday entrance. You too can help us help children as we reach many in our Vacation Bible School program, and as we have intergenerational dinners and weekly classes.  Welcome children as they come to worship; Jesus would do the same. The next is a big one: forgive.  Seek to forgive others so that God can also release forgiveness for you.  We cannot expect forgiveness from God if we personally will not forgive. And finally, Jesus loved; we are to love one another. Sometimes we may not like one another, but we are always called to love one another! Those are ways we can change the world and show people Jesus through our actions. Ask daily: “What would Jesus do?” In so doing, you will—paraphrasing Stephen Schwartz who wrote the musical Godspell—let others “see Him more clearly; love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day.”

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                           March 18, 2018