Fr David's Sermon for Passion Sunday
Our Gospel reading this morning, is also that set for St Philip’s day. Having been curate at a church dedicated to St Philip, I’ve preached on it several times, and know it is a rich, if somewhat complex passage. It’s presumably chosen for today, as we begin to look towards Holy Week and the cross, as in it, Jesus is himself looking towards the cross, and John tells us that his mention of being lifted up, is an indication of the death that awaited him.
This answer of Jesus to Andrew and Philip, seems, however, to have little to do with what they had gone to tell him. It’s not clear, that the Greeks that had approached Philip had come with them to Jesus, and John tells us later in the chapter that when Jesus had finished speaking, he disappeared. So, what became of their request to see him, we don’t know.
The issue is probably caused by John’s focus as a writer not being on those people, rather than Jesus’ ignoring them, but it makes me think about my own focus.
A request for help to see Jesus
is the most precious request any of us can receive as Christians,
and the thing I most welcome as a priest.
Yet many requests come to me every day:
by phone, by post, in conversation.
Most come by email:
requests to advertise some initiative or campaign,
requests for information, or the implementation of a policy,
requests for decisions, permissions, for risk assessments and planning.
By far the most precious are the requests for time, for prayer, for conversation: the requests of those who want help to see Jesus. But with so much to do, to think about and to process, sometimes those precious requests get missed. If I ever miss your request for time, prayer, help to see Jesus, please be patient, but please do remind me. A priest’s life is a busy and complex one, but much of the busyness is at best the support structure and some can be simply distraction. My primary role as your priest is to help you to see Jesus, and to lead you in helping others to do the same.
With all that busyness, seeing Jesus, never mind helping others to see him, can be hard for any of us. Sometimes, like the grain of wheat Jesus mentions, we need to let some things disappear, die, in order for other things to grow. I’m trying to learn to say no more often, to not mind if some of the less important things don’t happen, or take a bit longer than might be considered ideal. Please be patient with me as I get used to that, and especially if you’re the one to whom I need to say no! None of us are served well by being too busy to be able to stop and see.
So how do we see Jesus? We’ve thought a lot this Lent about what it is that we need to put down, and what it is that we need to pick up: giving up the need to define our status by our ability to consume, and embracing the good news of our status as God’s beloved children; responding to the call to the suffering of compassion; the invitation to deep self-examination that helps us to see our part in the injustice and exploitation in the world and seek God’s grace to speak out against it, and the call last week to take seriously our duty to safeguard “Mother Earth”, as God’s good creation and gift to us.
All of those things help us to see Jesus, but they each mean a radical shifting of our focus and priorities. That’s hard for me, even as one paid and sent to do just that, I know it can be even harder when one is called to secular employment, and to other roles and duties in life.
We need to continually stir up that desire to see Christ. It’s one of the key reasons why meeting together for worship is so important. Whether online or in person, taking time to be with others who have the same hope, the same desire; being reminded of our faith, our creed, all helps reorientate us, and at the heart of our worship are the two central ways we see Jesus in contemplation: scripture and sacrament. Jesus is there to be seen as we read and consider the words of the Bible, and makes himself present to us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but both of those things send us out to seek Christ in the rest of life too, to move from contemplation to action.
Most of us tend to be more drawn towards one or the other, to contemplation or action, and their relative appeal may be different at different times or stages of our lives, but both are central to the Christian life: The book of James reminds us that faith without action is dead, but if we rely solely on our actions and not on our faith, we soon find ourself serving our will, not God’s. And Jesus warns us that it’s no good being in love with the lives we create for ourselves.
The challenge to hate our lives in this world, and Jesus’ mention of the judgement of this world, can very easily be translated into faith good, world bad, but not only does that contradict God’s declaration of the goodness of creation, Jesus makes it clear that it is the misplacement and misuse of power that is the issue, not the world itself: “now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out”.
The evil in the world is the issue, not the world itself, and that evil manifests itself in the misuse of power, from the seeking of power for power’s sake, that so often corrupts our politics, to our own misuse of the power we ourselves have, to influence others, and over the resources of the world.
Sometimes that power needs challenging. While examining our own lives and actions is important, central even, to our faith, it is not always enough. As we continue to consider the environment in our Lent course, I am struck that the actions we can take at home as individuals, are crucially important but they have a limited reach. Sometimes we need to work together to achieve bigger things, and sometimes we need to challenge those with the most power, to use it in the right way.
St Matthew teaches us that one key place to see Jesus is in the lives of the poor and needy, those most affected by the unjust distribution of the world’s resources, those most damaged by the devastation of the climate. Sometimes that needs to lead us to the righteous anger, we thought about two weeks ago, when reading of Jesus turning the tables at the temple, and we need to let that anger provoke us to action.
There are many ways for us to put our faith into action in relation to the exercise of power in the world. Our involvement with Climate Action Lewisham, and Lewisham Citizens have both done that. They have involved conversations with our MP and our borough Mayor, and through London Citizens, are leading to a forum with the London Mayoral candidates.
There are easy ways to support the justice campaigns of organisations such as Christian Aid and Oxfam, by signing up to receive their emails or newsletters, and responding to petitions, or writing to our MPs about the issues that trouble us most. And we must defend fiercely our right to protest, currently under attack from the government’s policing and crime bill.
If we, like those in our gospel passage, seek to see Jesus, we may just be reminded of the call to follow him, in challenging the exercise of power in the world. Sometimes that will mean being willing to give up the power we hold, and sometimes it will mean being willing to use it, to defend those with least power, from the mistakes and greed of those with most.
As we contemplate this Passiontide, Jesus’ love for the world leading him to the action of the cross, we are called to put our love for him into action too.