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To See Jesus—Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2020

--The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire


The events of our gospel reading take place during the holy festival of the Passover in Jerusalem. Passover was the most solemn observance in the Jewish religious calendar. It is a festival centered around community, family, and the shaping of a ragtag bunch of former slaves into a people.

A specific people singled out by God and preserved over and over again from death, even the literal angel of death who swept across the land of their captors, and whose savage reaping finally convinced the Pharaoh of Egypt to, in the words of the famous spiritual “Go Down, Moses,” to “let my people go.” And so Jewish people, as well as Gentile converts and those attracted by the Jewish faith from all over the Mediterranean, if they had the means, would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate in and around the Temple.


We hold this in mind as we look toward next week’s pageantry of Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar, with Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem during Passover to shouts of Hosanna and the waving of palm branches—a hero’s welcome. There will be declarations of his rightful claim to be the Messiah, the anointed one appointed by God to liberate the people of Israel, some believe—to with power throw off the oppression of Israel by the Roman empire. Jesus will ride triumphantly into Jerusalem in the name of liberation during the festival which celebrates the liberation of the people of Israel from bondage. That’s what so many of those cheering expected.


But there were two processions parading through the streets of Jerusalem at that moment. As Jesus and his band of followers come in from the east, a much more impressive procession would be entering from the west. The Roman governor would himself put together a huge military display and ride through the streets of Jerusalem with rows of infantry and a powerful show of force of cavalry.


Each year, as the people of Judea started dangerously talking about their freedom and about the power of their God, the Roman authorities would put on their own show of force, reminding the people that they WEREN’T free, that they were still enslaved under the relentless forces of empire.


As Jesus’s followers proclaimed him the heir of King David and dreamt of a return to the glory days of Israel seen through the lens of myth and legend, the Roman governor would remind the people that they could be crushed at a moment’s notice. That he represented someone who also claimed to be God’s son on earth—the Roman emperor. An emperor who represented the oppression, impoverishment, and enslavement by right of conquest. Certainly not a prince of peace—but also representing forces still at loose in our own world today.


In the midst of all this hubbub, we have this little detail that two outsiders approach two of Jesus’s closest disciples and ask to see Jesus. The Gentiles who are in Jerusalem are probably “God-fearers,” people drawn to the worship of the God of the Torah and the Prophets, and they attempt to contact Jesus through the two disciples whose names are—pay attention-- Greek.


Maybe their appearance is a throw-away detail in the story at the time. And yet, I am drawn to these two Gentiles who screw their courage up and approach these two disciples who also have “Greek names” and ask to see the infamous wandering rabbi. Do they get to see him? Or do they get turned away in the hustle and bustle of the festival and all the demands upon the disciples’ and Jesus’s time and attention.


Yesterday, at our Diocese’s Healing in the Heartland gathering, the Rev. Traci Blackmun, our amazing sister in Christ, told a story to underline the importance of being seen. She shared an anecdote about the Zulu Nguni people of Southern Africa. In their culture, when one person greets another, they say, “Sawubona.” This roughly translates in English to “I see you.” The common response is then “Yebo, sawubona,” which means “I see you, seeing me.”


These is not just statements of sensory recognition. These are statements of equality, of valuing each other, of recognizing each other’s humanity, of welcoming someone into our presence.  And it reminds us all of how we must move beyond superficialities to truly see each other not based on our differences but by our own common heritage that goes beyond race or nationality. And as people of faith, this is our calling: to, as we affirm in our baptismal covenant repeatedly throughout each year, to honor the dignity and worth of every person. To see the face of Christ in each person, and to BE the face of Christ to those who see us. That is the deeply political act that is at the heart of the Gospel. To make Jesus visible in ourselves, and to seek the face of Jesus in others as we remember that we are all created in God’s own image.


I wonder how many times someone has approached us, and asked US to help them see Jesus. Oh, I am not talking about directly asking us—that would be too easy. But what about all the people who look upon us as we are going about our days—acquaintances or strangers. They may be able to tell that we claim the identity of Christian. Maybe they see a cross hanging around our neck. Maybe they saw you with an ash cross on your forehead on Ash Wednesday. But maybe we didn’t even notice them. Maybe they didn’t ask out loud. But we know that there are people every day who seek the filling of a perhaps nameless hunger within them. In this world that too often denigrates attributes like faith, hope, charity, self-giving, and community, we are surrounded by people who nonetheless yearn for these things, if they could put it into words. They long for connection, for the experience of being loved.


They want to see Jesus. Just like all of us.


Maybe they were the person who was having a bad day near you last week. Maybe they were angry, or close to tears. Maybe it was a dad in a grocery store with a screaming three year old who is screaming because dad didn’t let him eat the strawberries out of the carton before they were washed. Maybe it was the kid with the lip piercing and neck tattoo who made you a smoothie. Maybe it was a person in a nursing facility who never gets visitors. Maybe it’s a refugee who can never return to the only home they’ve ever known but are trying to make a home here, where everything is different and bewildering.


But the thing is, we brush up against people all throughout each day who may not be able to put it into words, and may not even be aware of it, but who are hungry to see Jesus. The Jesus-on-a-cross thing possibly scares them, or confuses them, and makes no sense, so that’s not the Jesus they are ready for right now. We celebrate Christ crucified—but also Christ who is risen. Christ who lives still within all of us.


No, they are looking for the Jesus in us. They are looking for the flash of recognition—for each of us to look at them, to see them as an individual despite our differences. They are looking for a smile, a small kindness, a dropping of pretenses and aloofness and a demonstration of compassion and really seeing people for who they are: beloved children of God, made in God’s very image.


Jesus says, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” What caused this hour to finally come at this particular point? The world—in the form of some “Greeks,” which means us—has come to Jesus, to experience yet another Epiphany. And now—NOW--Jesus is going to be exalted—lifted up—on the cross and beyond the cross. The cross that, as we have contemplated it this Lent, is a sign of hope, of the victory of love over sin and death. Jesus’s entire life—ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension—was a gift to bring all of the world to God—the world, we remember, that God SO loves. Not just the descendants of Abraham. ALL the world. The world that longs to see Jesus, and know Jesus sees them.


John says Jesus’s language here about being lifted up is to indicate the kind of death he was to die. But we know, from our distance of two thousand years, Jesus’s words also indicate the kind of life that awaited him—and all of us who follow Jesus-- on Easter morning.


The season of Lent is not one that centers on deprivation. It is meant to be a gift of contemplation and renewal—which is why it is held in the spring. It is meant to be a tome of remembering God’s covenant with each of us—that God so loves us that God’s own son calls us to see how to live a God-shaped life of love and commitment to healing and grace as a fully human being.

We all want to see Jesus. And our calling is to see Jesus in each other. To see Jesus, to know we are deeply loved and known by Jesus. And then to lift up Jesus in our own lives, so that the world may see him too. And to exclude no one.



Yebo, sawubona.



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