Jesus' Public Witness, And Ours

WISHING TO SEE JESUS
Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
5th Sunday of Lent, March 18, 2018  
‘Trinity on Church’ UC Kitchener

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34, John 12:20-33

We sent off a busload of 40 people to Toronto today.  Only 20 attended in our rented chapel in Kitchener, and as usual, the other 80% of our congregation stayed home or found other recreation.  The folks on the bus were not just seeking novelty, ‘shiny and new’ instead of ‘old and busted’. 

We are all ‘wishing to see Jesus’, in our own way.  Many of us remember a time when something about the sacred hour of worship on Sunday morning, including a couple of choir anthems, pipe organ prelude and postlude, and 20- minute sermon by the Reverend Doctor Somebody, drew hundreds weekly. 

We knew then what vision of Jesus we were following – you can find it for sale online at www.timewellauctions.hibid.com, as we liquidate, and ‘everything must go’!  You can visualize the image:  light brown to blonde shoulder-length hair, fair complexion, blue eyes, serene gaze, slight glow around his head.

In those old days, we used to imagine that our minister re-presented that Jesus.  Betty Pries warned us in a clergy workshop on Friday that people are looking for such leaders today, expecting too much based on unstated assumptions.  She reminds us that lifeguards can be pulled under in panic by drowning swimmers.

What people think that they are looking for in clergy is really to be found, or not found, in Christian community:

  • Passionate, centring spirituality – deeper than thinking, in touch with something deeper, older, wider than we are ourselves
  • Meaningful worship – some churches are peaches, soft and sweet to start but a hidden pit, others coconuts, hard to start, then meat to milk centres
  • Authentic relationships – can we be real here, and share our circumstances, stories, feelings and choices?
  • Safe container, fencepost – is there some clarity of what distinguishes ‘us’ from ‘not-us’, in thoughts, words, or deed, to test ourselves like teens?

What if somebody ‘bus tripped’ our community of faith at ‘Trinity on Church’? What Jesus might they be wishing to see – and which would we show them? For the past 2 months, I invited you to visit neighbouring churches, as a ‘Mystery Worshiper’ using a template from www.shipoffools.com.  How was it?

Today, a busload went looking for the same elusive glimpse of Jesus.  They gave up the vanity of ‘nothing for me to learn’, and the fear of ‘mine is unworthy, but at least it’s mine’.  There is lots of narcissism, lots of insecurity, in our age of anxiety.  Wishing to see Jesus, who and what are we seeking today?

Douglas John Hall, the Canadian theologian from Brantford near here, long a professor in Montreal, wrote in ‘Thinking the Faith’, argue that:

Theology – as we may put it in perhaps a too facile way – is forced to become contextual where the universal assumptions of a previous age become visible as assumptions, where experience no longer conforms to familiar patterns, and the “world” becomes a “strange land” calling for a new rendition of “the Lord’s song.”

Like us, Jeremiah lived through a lot of change. He began to preach in the mid and late 600’s BCE, and came of age in a hopeful, optimistic time. Josiah’s reform recognized how the north, Israel, had been vulnerable to Assyrians, and tried to do better.  Many of us came of age in the later 1900’s CE, after world wars and depression, with hopeful, optimistic social security, health and education reforms intended to prevent repeated disasters. 

Jeremiah lived kept preaching into the early 500’s BCE. He warned folks, but they played fast and loose between empires, out of their league, and he lived to see disaster. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, and exiled Jerusalem’s elite leadership.  Jeremiah was exiled to Egypt – and assassinated there He never did support any status quo, nor Josiah’s reform, nor Egypt nor Babylon empires from the south or the east.  He was seeking some deeper centre in change.

We’ve lived well into the 2000’s CE now, and seen global economic debt crises and wars stretched longer than the 20th century’s ones.  Who was warning, and who was listening, about what globalization means to the ex-elites, or to the majority of people?  Jeremiah prophesied a ‘new covenant’: not like the old covenant for emigrants or immigrants liberated ‘out of Egypt’.   This covenant finds a law written in each one’s heart, with grace and mercy from God.

It’s not about ruling kings like Saul, David, or Solomon, nor about a Promised Land of nation-states.  It’s not about Torah, good constitutions and legislation or ‘international law’.  It’s not about the academy or the bureaucracy – elites of professors and civil servants. It’s about individuals in community: parochial, local personal relationships of risk and of trust.  We have ‘intersectional’ identity, and leadership is about serving common wealth, common sense, common decency, and common respect. It’s not about who we are better than. 

Nobody can tell you to ‘love the Lord’, and wag a finger at you. Everybody knows God, if only they’d listen to their own heart for what they already know to be true, and good, and beautiful. All we can do is remind each other, and trust, and risk. In retirement, Douglas John Hall wrote a memoir, ‘Bound and Free’.  Hall, like Jeremiah, has lived into exile. The mainline has been sidelined.  Distracted by imperial alliances, deluded that we are the ‘conscience of the nation’, we become a remnant of the old days. It’s worth rereading Hall. 

But more importantly, I asked you to listen to your own wisdom. From what does God call you, and to what does God call you? We are not just liberated into licentiousness. Are we just rebels in arrested adolescence, or mature partners in covenants of trust and risk? For whom and for what are we freed, with whom are we bound in relationship?  The bus trip today was not just seeking novelty, but faithfulness, ‘wishing to see Jesus’ to ‘teach these broken bones to dance’.
(That’s a phrase from Psalm 51, today’s responsive reading at worship.)

Who introduced you to this Jesus in the first place?  Whom do you wish that everybody had met?  Somebody among your family or friends showed you something that mattered, and you keep coming back, and inviting others, ‘wishing to see Jesus’ in similar moments of revelation of what it is and who it is that is true, and good, and beautiful.  There is no un-sacred place, just sacred ones, and desecrated ones.  What company do you seek along the way?

Today, we read from John 12, the middle of that gospel.  Jesus keeps coming and going from Jerusalem and the temple, not like Mark where he only arrives once.  It’s festival time, homecoming week.  Even people with Greek names, from Bethsaida in Galilee, were in town to hear about Jesus.  So they ask Philip, the disciple with a Greek name, also from Bethsaida, who in turn went to Andrew, from the same town, then they went to Jesus:  groupie to roadie to assistant producer, the access to any rock star.  Jesus says: ‘it’s time’. 

It’s not time to glorify Jesus – but to glorify the name of God.  John’s Jesus always knows what’s going on, and what comes next, and never flinches from facing the future. The ‘voice from heaven’ heard as thunder by others, is for us, not for him.  He will be ‘lifted up’ all right – on a cross.  That will reveal the light and the dark for anybody to see.  Since we all have that light within, why wait to join with him now?  What side are you on, and who’s there with you?

Some people don’t like that hierarchy of patronage access to Jesus, through ethnic homogeneity, to disciples to the inner circle of favoured ones.  I don’t mind that sense of a community showing and telling good news, introducing others who are ‘wishing to see Jesus’.   WWJD (what would Jesus do) seems too much to ask of myself.  I’d rather ask ‘what would a follower of Jesus do’. Philip, and in turn Andrew, reached out, and brought some Greeks in.  

It’s true that we’re a small group of old white people on any Sunday.  We do not come together for the preacher – you’ve persisted through many of us, who offered very different leadership, while you stayed.  The clue is who introduced you to Jesus, whom you wish all the rest of us had met.  They made you want to be associated with them, and a bit more like them, as part of our own ‘intersectional identity’.  We’ve had a lot of practice at this. 

For many people around us, that sense of meaning and purpose and belonging is what they want when they say they are ‘wishing to see Jesus’.   If they were to ‘bus trip’ us, or be ‘Mystery Worshiper’ in our Christian community, let’s hope they would they find what they can’t even articulate that they are seeking:

  • Passionate, centring spirituality – deeper than thinking, in touch with something deeper, older, wider than we are ourselves
  • Meaningful worship – some churches are peaches, soft and sweet to start but a hidden pit, others coconuts, hard to start, then meat to milk centres
  • Authentic relationships – can we be real here, and share our circumstances, stories, feelings and choices?
  • Safe container, fencepost – is there some clarity of what distinguishes ‘us’ from ‘not-us’, in thoughts, words, or deed, to test ourselves like teens?

What word do you have for our hearts, O God give us ears to hear, eyes to see.