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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 5, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 18, 2018

Psalm 51; Hebrews 5:1-10; John 12:20-33

‘Come and see’

In chapter 1 of the Fourth Gospel we read about two of John the Baptiser’s 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 when the Greeks, via Philip and Andrew, ask to see him, Jesus recognises the advent of the “hour” – the hour of his glorification, accomplished on the cross and anticipated in the words and works of ministry (2:11). “Please, we would like to see Jesus.” Please, we would like to see Compassion/Courage/Grace/Truth/Healing/Love/Dignity … Philip models a faithful response to seekers of all cultures: “Come and see.” God be with you

There is a man named Philip who has an icon stall every Saturday outside the St Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in King Street Newtown. He’s had the stall for over 50 years. Orthodox icons, like stained-glass windows in churches, are a wonderful example of teaching the Gospel by making pictures, sharing images. The Greek word “icon” means image. Icons, we might say, proclaim, “Come and see” …

What can we say about icons? Five points …

1. Firstly, because Jesus is the Word made flesh and image of the invisible God, icons invite veneration of God incarnate – embodied, physical, emotional, historical, cultural – and a God transfigured in the world – in whom the world is transfigured. Everything is open to sanctification/holiness; matter becomes a channel of grace. In short, icons offer glimpses of heaven on/in the earth.

2. The very materials used to make icons – wood, linen, egg-white and pigment, gold leaf – bear witness to the goodness of the world – animal, vegetable, mineral.

3. Over centuries (the 4th to the 6th in particular; then the 8th and 9th in response to iconoclasm), a special rule of icon writing developed a visual language, a visual theology, we can learn to read. Colours are important, symbolic. Gold symbolises the light or glory of God. Red stands for life, blood. Blue represents the spiritual or heavenly. You might notice that the icon of Jesus is composed in gold, red and blue. Of course, there are other colours and symbols …

4. Figures are lit from within … Faces (front-view or three-quarter view) are depicted with eyes a little larger than normal, with lips closed … Can you think why that might be so? … Hands of Christ, Mary and the saints offer a blessing – the gesture is a particular shape (we can learn to make it ourselves)

5. Although the icons affirm the goodness of the material world (as we’ve seen), they aim to engage our inner spirit. That’s one reason the faces look directly at us. Icons invite a prayerful gaze. We gaze/pray quietly, gently – and we learn that we are not praying alone. Even if we are on our own, we are not praying alone. What does this mean to you?

And so … icons show – rather than simply explaining – faith, hope and love. Whether we write our own icons or whether we gaze at/into a traditional icon, we are caring, learning, praying … we are called to “come and see”; called to a deeper love and commitment in Christ …

In conclusion, and shifting the focus just a little, we might reflect on times we’ve been invited to come and see something or someone we’d only ever heard or read about. What’s it like to see for ourselves? What’s it like to explore a new place? (I could have mentioned that hills are very important in the icons. Hills or mountains are places of divine encounter, usually featuring steps for climbing; steps for spiritual ascent.)

What’s it like to visit people in their own home, in their home city or country? (We might think about that in relation to Indigenous Australians.) How much more, then, might we learn? How much better might we understand?

What’s it like to “come and see” something or someone you’d only ever heard about? What’s it like to see (feel, touch, experience) for yourself?Amen.