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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Lent 5, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 25, 2012

John 12:20-33

We would like to see Jesus’

In chapter 1 of John’s Gospel we read about two of John the Baptisers’ disciples choosing to follow Jesus. “When Jesus turned around and noticed them following, he asked them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They replied, ‘Rabbi’ – which means ‘Teacher’ – ‘where are you staying?’ ‘Come and see,’ Jesus answered.” … Soon after, in the same chapter, we read that “Philip sought out Nathanael and said to him, ‘We’ve found the One that Moses spoke of in the Law, the One about whom the prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph.’ ‘From Nazareth?’ said Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ ‘Come and see,’ replied Philip” ... Today’s text from John 12 suggests that it is only when the Greeks, via Philip and Andrew, ask to see him that Jesus recognises the advent of the “hour”. It is the hour of glorification, accomplished climactically on the cross but anticipated in the words and works of Jesus’ ministry (2:11). “Please, we would like to see Jesus.” “Please, we would like to see Compassion/Courage/Grace/Truth/Peace/Love/Dignity …” Philip models a faithful response to seekers of all cultures: “Come and see.” God be with you …

Riding my bike along King Street in Newtown yesterday, I stopped at the St Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. There are usually stalls out the front on Saturdays and I was keen to look at the icons on display. I didn’t anticipate the encounter I’d have with the stallholder. “Choose the ones you like and I’ll make a special price,” said Philip the stallholder. “Philip? I’m Andrew!” I said. “Take some more – this one is St Catarina (Catherine), she was a princess who gave up everything to follow Jesus … This one is St Nicholas.” “St Nicholas-Santa Claus?” “Yes!” “This one is St Andrew.” “Ah, I see!” “Do you know how long I’ve been here selling the icons?” “How long? Twenty years?” “No, no. Fifty years!” Philip laughed, packing my icons into a paper bag, and adding a small wooden cross with an imprint of the crucified Christ. Philip models a faithful response to seekers of all cultures: “Come and see.”

One commentator has described the ultimate goal of Christ’s work as “the pentecostalisation of the world” (Sergius Bulgakov) – the transfiguration of all things under the light of the risen crucified one, who shines with the glory of Abba God in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Uniting Church theologian, Ben Myers, writes: “Let us be alert and discerning, so that we can see that pentecostalisation wherever it is at work in our world, and wherever we see it, let us point it out to others, calling people in our local communities to ‘Come and see!’”

Myers goes on – in the same Spirit as Philip the disciple/stallholder: “Finally though, and most importantly, we must never forget that God’s glory has a particular shape and form. Christ’s cross is his glory; his humiliation is his exaltation. The hidden depth of creation is disclosed not in strong, successful, admirable lives, but in cruciform lives. The church is that community that takes upon itself the form of the cross … Christ’s glory will flame out from among us when with glad hearts we stoop down, take up the cross, and follow him.”

Disciple and writer, Naomi Ward, has shared some glorious prose poetry inspired by time spent with an ailing aunt. One prose poem in particular is pertinent to our theme – two people, each in their own ways desiring to see Jesus: “Please, we would like to see Compassion/Courage/Grace/Truth/Peace/Love/Dignity …”

“Come in,” she says in a sweet but commanding voice, “Hello was I expecting you?” Before I can answer – “Not to worry, it’s so good to see you.” We proceed to the table. “I’m all in a muddle here, maybe you can help me sort it out.” Her radiant smile, warmth and glittering blue eyes always lift my spirit. I feel loved and appreciated. “Now, what do you think we could throw out?” she says proudly. “I think we have a fat chance of that – you don’t like throwing anything out,” I say. She laughs. I point to a shelf of jars. “How about we throw out these jars?” “No!” she cries, “I might like to make jam.” I respond with, “How are you going to make jam without a stove?” She laughs again. “Well, that’s a thought.” I proceed to gather a bundle of old loose envelopes lying on the table. “You can’t throw those out. You never throw paper out – you never know when you might need it.” At this point I say, “I know, why don’t we have a cup of tea?” “What a good idea,” she says. We sit down having a cuppa and a stale biscuit that I look at curiously, hoping not to see green furry bits. She peers out the balcony door. “Look at those trees. Aren’t they beautiful? They look so strong. Let’s go and find them one day.”

I really like those concluding sentences – we can really see the older woman and empathise with her dementia as well as her hopefulness, her glad heart, in the company of her niece. She peers out the balcony door. “Look at those trees. Aren’t they beautiful? They look so strong. Let’s go and find them one day.” Is there not something of Christ – reality and redemption – shown and seen here?

It’s a scenario reminiscent of a gathering on Friday night at the NCIE (National Centre of Indigenous Excellence) – organised by the Gamarada Aboriginal men’s group. Following a screening of the film Mad Bastards (directed by Brendan Fletcher, 2009), the film’s male lead, Dean Daley-Jones, told of how the story’s anti-domestic-violence message is enabling boys and young men, including those in prisons and remote communities that have hosted screenings, to see what words such as Compassion, Courage, Grace, Truth, Peace, Love and Dignity look like in action. Gamarada and partner organisations like Biyanga Naminma (“Father to Show”) encourage men (fathers, uncles, neighbours) to be more aware of their emotions and more disciplined in respect of expressing negative emotions, and to assume roles as carers and peace-makers – “peace warriors”. Is there not something of Christ – reality and redemption – shown and seen here?

In a moment you’ll be invited to come to the altar-table, to “come and see” something of Christ shown in this selection of Orthodox and contemporary icons. You’ll be invited to take your time – to look closely at the icons, and to contemplate what is shown – what is shown to you. Perhaps a colour or shape is significant. Perhaps a facial expression, a gesture, a symbol. You’re invited to share aloud, when we gather together for Communion, what you see.

I’ll just say this before finishing. Icons are traditionally distinguished from idols in that icons allow a seeing through, a seeing into the heavens (the deeper parts of creation). Idols, by contrast, arrest or block vision, drawing attention to themselves. We might look upon idols. We see into icons. Which may help to explain why icons are traditionally written with a certain crudity or plainness. Icons are windows onto glory – just as the balcony door in Naomi’s prose poem is a window onto the trees that are beautiful and strong – just as the movie projected on a screen is a window onto a world where men learn of Christ-like beauty and strength.

Jesus is an icon in that divine love is shown in and through his fully human life. Of course, it is always possible to make an idol of Christ – if we merely admire or venerate his person, his personality, his cultural or political particularity – without an appropriation in our own lives, without, that is, seeing into the glory in which we too have our being. We would like to see Jesus – and we just might find ourselves one day.

Let’s complete the homily together. You’re invited to come to the altar-table, to “come and see” something of Christ shown in the selection of Orthodox and contemporary icons. You’re invited to take your time – to look into the icons, and to contemplate what is shown – what is shown to you. Perhaps a colour or shape is significant. Perhaps a facial expression, a gesture, a symbol. When we gather together for Communion, let’s share what we see. Amen.