The Very Rev. Tom Callard – March 21, 2021
Today we have a passage in John’s Gospel where there are some Greeks who have come asking to see Jesus. It is the Passover, and people have come from all over the Jewish world to gather in Jerusalem for the big celebration. And we assume these Greeks there because they have heard about Jesus because his fame is spreading. People have said things like: He can walk on water. He can heal the sick. He changed my life with his message. He performs miracles. And so these folks, these Greeks, have come to see for themselves.
I have a friend who is a priest who has a story that when she was about 16, she had this desire in her heart to see Jesus. And so she went to her local Episcopal church. She and her family were Episcopalian even though they hardly attended – imagine that. But there she was with the intention of going to talk with someone in the church because she wanted to see Jesus.
And so she got to the church, it was locked. This was many years ago, it wasn’t Covid 19, just a regular weekday. The front door of the church was locked. She walked around back. Locked. She looked for some office hours and couldn’t find any information. There was nothing there that would help her go into the church and talk with someone about this desire she had to see Jesus.
She got the church’s number from the phone book. She called, there was no answer. She left a message, and no one called her back. Ever. And so that was it. She felt like the one thing she knew to do as a marginal Episcopalian was to go to her local church and talk with someone, preferably a priest, about seeing Jesus. But, as is the case, she didn’t get in, didn’t get an answer and was left with this kind of negative taste in her mouth.
And I confess I think about this a lot, about her story and her experience, when I think about us being here and being open and being able to be helpful in the life of someone who wants to see Jesus. We have to try our best as the institution to help people who come here and to help people who are searching. But I’m aware that it doesn’t always work. There are so many human limitations on what we can do, and thankfully we’re not the only show in town. This isn’t the only way to see Jesus.
So this woman did not see Jesus at 16 in the church. But later, she said, when she was in college, she had a course on religious studies, and as part of her course she had to go to a local hospital to talk with a chaplain and find out what a hospital chaplain does. And so she went to the nearby hospital, she met with the chaplain, and she actually got to follow the chaplain around as the chaplain went to visit and to pray with patients.
And she said that when she saw that, she saw Jesus, watching as the chaplain visited people in the hospital. In those interactions, in that mix of talking and prayer, in being there at the bedside, she said she saw Jesus.
What did she see? What does it mean to see Jesus? What are the Greeks looking for there in John’s Gospel? I think it’s hard to say exactly what we mean when we say someone sees Jesus, and it’s not the same for everyone. Maybe you and I see Jesus in different ways. I know our parishioner Andy Park has said that when she’s here in the Cathedral, looking up at the big image of Jesus up there in the stained-glass window there behind me, she sees Jesus. And she knows that he sees her as well.
Perhaps you have your own way of seeing Jesus. Maybe you see Jesus in the host which you receive during the communion. Maybe you see Jesus in other people, in your children or loved ones, or your friends. Maybe you see Jesus in the flowers that come up in the spring. Or maybe you see Jesus in the face of the poor, like Mother Teresa said. Or in times of prayer and visiting people in need, like the young woman in the hospital.
The truth is, we all see Jesus differently. And the truth is, we don’t see him all the time.
It’s not easy to see Jesus all the time. When I hear this Gospel today, I can imagine that the Greeks go to Phillip thinking it’s going to be easy to see Jesus. But Phillip goes to Andrew and Andrew and Phillip then go to Jesus, and I don’t think Jesus ever goes back to see those Greeks. I don’t think they ever see Jesus.
It’s very complicated to see Jesus, just like when the 16-year-old is trying to go to her local Episcopal but it’s not open and she can’t get in and they don’t return her calls. It can be very complicated trying to see Jesus, you wouldn’t think so but it’s not always guaranteed that you can, try as you might.
It’s nice to imagine that we have the power to automatically see him or to automatically make him seen here at church. I’d love to believe that I can give a perfect sermon, or lead an incredible Bible Study, or have an amazing liturgy here at the altar and these things will automatically help make people see Jesus. But it doesn’t work that way.
And what a lot of pressure on churches or clergy to think that we are responsible, or we are the only ones who can get all of you to see Jesus. And what a lack of humility on our part to imagine that we have that power.
I think seeing Jesus is partly upon us. We need to want to see him. We have to have some desire and openness within us so we can have an interaction with Jesus where we can really know he’s there. A lot of that is work we have to do. We have to be like the horse that goes up to the water to drink. We need to put ourselves in times and places where we’re not distracted or caught up in things of the world and enter a space of prayer and holiness. And sometimes we have to get on our knees. But nothing guarantees, no matter what we do, that we will always see Jesus when we want to.
I had a conversation recently with someone who said that years ago she was considering a call to ordination and trying to figure out what it was that God was asking of her in her life. She was driving her van one day, she told me, and asking God, asking Jesus, what sign do you have for me about what I should do? She was asking to see things thing from Jesus.
And she said that after she asked for a sign, almost immediately, she heard this message as clear as a bell which said: Wait. Not yet. Almost like saying: you can’t see me yet, Jesus said. Which is kind of seeing Jesus, but which is really Jesus saying – Check back.
For whatever reason there are times in our life when we cannot see Jesus and almost always what Jesus is saying is check back. Not yet. Keep plugging away. We can’t make it happen. And this is part of why we have to live with humility. Because we can’t do it. We can’t make it happen. It’s part of why we have to get on our knees from time to time. Why we have to accept that we’re not in charge of Jesus. And why we have to keep coming back to faith. It’s why we have to keep looking at that window where we see him, and searching him out day after day. And remembering that Jesus is not our waiter. He is not here to answer our beck and call.
In our collect today, the prayer at the beginning of the service, we pray this: Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners. This prayer is an admission that God is in charge. You alone, God, can make these things happen. So we pray that our will and our affections are guided toward you. It’s your grace, and not my power that can bring me closer to seeing Jesus. Our power is limited. Our vision is murky. And try as we might to order him to be here now, we are not in charge of Jesus.
Think about this, as a priest I can bless the host at the altar and it will become for us the presence of Jesus Christ. But I cannot always see Jesus there. I see him there a lot, but I also have times when I just see the host.
It’s only the grace of God that allows us to see him, it’s beyond ourselves. We cannot always appreciate him there in the sunset or in the faces of our loved ones, or in the faces of the poor, or find him in prayer. We can know in our head that he’s there, but that’s not what it means to see Jesus.
Our hearts are where we see Jesus. And our hearts are not always open. Out there in the world we have to guard our hearts and we can’t just let them be blown around and exposed to all sorts of pain and trouble. Out there in the world, there are all sorts of things that threaten to block and to complicate our hearts, like churches that aren’t open, like Christians who may not be the nicest people, like the temptations of the world and the pains of life.
And it pays to keep your heart guarded. But you do pay the price, which means that you may not see Jesus in the moments when he’s so clearly there because you’re focused on protection or distracted by things or busy with anxiety or fear, and all the time Jesus is standing right there before you. And that’s okay. It’s okay if we don’t see him always. Because he’ll be back.
So it looks like the Cathedral is going to be open to having people here soon. It may seem like your experience this last year has been like that young lady who knocked on the door of her church but couldn’t get in to see Jesus. But remember, she still saw him somehow.
It’s looking like the Cathedral is going to be able to reopen to having people worship inside with us again the week after Easter. It would be wonderful to have us all here on Easter, but Easter is also a it’s also a day that’s very complicated, and a lot of people want to come but our space inside is still limited, so we’re starting the week after to keep it simple. On Easter morning we’ll gather outside at 7am in the park where the statue is.
But as we look ahead in the weeks to come, thinking about being here, I wonder if we can also think about the many ways we have seen Jesus away from here. I wonder if we can think of our Covid19 Jesus, the one we encountered out there, wherever you were. Because I know you saw him. I know he dwelled in your heart.
And it would be so great to develop a theology of Jesus as not just being here located here in the building of the church, but as also being located in the heart. And maybe we can see the practice of faith as being one of focusing on the heart, of lifting the heart to find him, and offering the heart to him regularly, daily, hourly. And even if we don’t know he’s there, we can strive to fill the heart with love. Because after all that’s what church really is. Church is the practice of filling our hearts with love.
If you want to see Jesus, you will see him in a heart filled with love. And you will see what that heart can do to the world around it. How it touches people and changes them. How it can practically walk on water and do miracles. A heart filled with love can do miracles. And in that we will see Jesus.