The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - March 18, 2018
Scripture Reading: John 12:20-36

Sermon Title: We want to see Jesus

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     “We want to see Jesus.” That was all the Greeks requested of Jesus’s disciples.  There is not a lot of background around this story. We know that Jesus is in Jerusalem, so in a chronology of Jesus’s life on earth, this story happens after Palm Sunday.  And word has spread about this Jesus.  In John he has raised Lazarus from the dead, after he had been dead for several days.  Healing was one thing, people had heard about that, but now Jesus was raising people from the dead?  This made the Pharisees, the leaders of the temple, very worried.  Why would anyone want to be a Jew and go to the temple if there is someone who can raise people from the dead over here?

     The two Greeks in this story are probably in Jerusalem for Passover.  Passover in that time was probably almost like Christmas is in the United States today.  Probably not as commercialized, but it was a huge festival, and I can imagine, even if you were not Jewish, you might stop by to see what is happening. They approach Phillip, he looks Greek, hopefully can speak Greek. Phillip goes and tells Andrew, and then the two of them to talk to Jesus.  Jesus talks about how his hour has come, how he must be lifted up; he uses that same term as in last week’s reading, “lifted up,” as in exalted, or lifted up like he will be lifted on a cross.  He gives a kind of vague light dark story again, probably his disciples didn’t really understand what he was saying, and then, last words of the reading this morning, he ran off and hid. 

     This was Jesus’s last public appearance.  After this he gathers with his disciples, washes their feet, eats his last meal with them, then all that craziness, arrested, sent here and there, trying to get him sentenced to death, and finally it happens, and on Friday he is hung on the cross. 

     So did they get to see Jesus?  Well it is never said, we don’t know.

     If you follow religious news, you have probably heard about the “nones.”  Not the nuns, like you might see in a Catholic church, but those who, when asked about religion, check the box that says “none.”  This has been a huge shift in the past 30 years.  30 years ago, people generally associated with some church.  They may have never darkened the doors of that church, but still would connect in some way, through parents, or a church denomination they were raised in.  But today we have a generation who never went to church growing up, and whose children, some of whom are now having children, have no idea what church is. 

     I was sitting in a class on Thursday about churches merging, uniting, federating, or in some other way working together.  I learned a few interesting things.  All church mergers, in whatever form they happen, come from necessity.  The 1920s were a low point in church membership which run in about a hundred year cycle, or has in the past.  In 1927 three churches here decided that they needed to come together in order to survive.  100 years ago there were many churches that merged, yoked, or found other ways to continue to be the church in a time with fewer members than there were 50 years before.  At that time, many churches did change with the times, adding electricity to the church if they didn’t have it already, purchasing or upgrading their organ, publishing new hymnals and trying new music.  I think it was probably more factors than just a new fancy organ, or electric lights,  that brought people into church.  People did come back; in the 40s, 50s and 60s churches were being built, some of those mergers or unions fell apart - we are not very good at that unity thing when not forced into it.  And now another downturn, the young families with children are not coming back because they were never in the church to begin with. 

     But in many of these studies today they will ask, even if you do not associate with a church, do you consider yourself spiritual?  The number of these “spiritual but not religious” have gone up in the past 30 years.  So while traditional organized religion numbers, church member numbers, are going down, the younger people, especially those under 40, are looking for an authentic experience of God.  They want to see Jesus. 

     For a time, the churches that were growing had praise bands.  In Pembroke there is a physically large church.  I don’t know how many it seats, but I think they were having 3 services every Sunday.  I would drive by the road down to their church on my way to church and they hired a flagger, a guy dressed in reflective clothes to stop traffic on Sundays, so they could get out of that road into Route 3.  I noticed over the past 2 or maybe 3 years that there is nobody at the end of the road to stop traffic anymore, and while their parking lot used to look very full, there are not nearly as many cars today.  When I drove by today they had covered their church sign with a vinyl sign announcing times for Easter Services, two services.  It seems that praise bands, as fun as they are, are not creating that authentic experience of God that people are looking for.

     It appears that many are going back into history looking for that experience.  There is a UCC church in Hartford, Connecticut that has started to use Taize music, from the monastery in France.  Nadia Bolz-Weber is an Evangelical Lutheran Minister in Denver, Colorado.  Her church is called “House for all Sinners and Saints.”  She does not look like your traditional Lutheran minister, has a huge Virgin Mary tattoo on her forearm, and lots of other tattoos.  I have heard that her church was growing like crazy.  So I read one of her books.  Her services are traditional Lutheran services, using old liturgies.  She is not trying new things, she is going way back to the old stuff.  Yes, her sermons are modern, she is very accepting of all people, but she has found that people are finding an authentic experience of God in the old. 

     Of course church membership is important, but one of the ways that it is being measured now is not just Sunday attendance, but attendance at all events, in other words, your reach.  How many people come to Gramma’s table each month?  How many people came to Spring Fling yesterday?  How many people were in NA last night - not our program - but using our building, still touched in some way by our existence.  How many people are we reaching?  And it is through that reach that we build relationships.

     So I am going to make a jump here and ask, what is church?  We expect that people who want to see Jesus will come here on Sunday morning.  But if we are really in the business of introducing people to Jesus, shouldn’t we go out there?  Remember I have deep running New England Congregational roots - We don’t knock on doors.  Sure, if you have a new neighbor, or need to borrow a cup of sugar, you knock on doors, but we don’t just wander around town knocking on doors.  Since I am not comfortable doing that, I am not going to ask you to do that.  But I encourage you to look for places where people are gathering, get involved, many of you already are, and when the time is right, if the time ever gets right, invite Jesus to join you.  If you listen very closely, you may even hear some saying “We want to see Jesus.”  Once people meet Jesus, they maybe interested in following Jesus. 

     The point of following Jesus is that we might be drawn more deeply into the kingdom of God through our love for, service to, and sacrifice on behalf of those around us. Jesus comes to demonstrate God’s strength through vulnerability, God’s power through what appears weak in the eyes of the world, and God’s justice through love, mercy and forgiveness. And he calls those who would follow him to the very same kind of life and love.

     That is not easy, and as we move into the future, less and less of that will happen within these four walls.  I do believe that Sunday Morning church services are great, at least many of them.  But when we hear people asking to see Jesus, they may not find Jesus here on Sunday morning.  For some meeting Jesus may come through helping cook for Gramma’s table.  Meeting Jesus may be pounding nails at a Habitat House.  Meeting Jesus might be collecting food for our food pantry. Meeting Jesus might be standing up for what you believe, in a public way. 

     And others are finding Jesus through meditation and yoga.  Others through ancient spiritual practices and rituals, or through the sounds of a monastery.  We are in an age of exploration.  Those who are asking to see Jesus are out there but may not find Jesus the same way we did. 

     Starting next Sunday, we will enter Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter.  During that week, we will have a time to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but the church will also touch many lives that week.  We may have some new faces join us throughout the week.  We have some special services, and on the day before Easter many will be here for the Easter Egg Hunt.  Through these events, if we listen closely we may hear someone saying “We want to meet Jesus.” 

     Just like this story, we don’t know who will end up meeting Jesus, but it is our job to point out the many places Jesus is, where some might meet him.