My son Benjamin may have glimpsed that yearning last weekend. He and a friend went to the Northampton High School production of “Godspell.” As you probably know, “Godspell” is a contemporary, musical retelling of Jesus’ story. Benjamin’s friend knew nothing about Jesus. But he was on the edge of his seat for the whole play and had tears in his eyes during the crucifixion scene.
I do not know what was going through the mind of Benjamin’s friend. But his reaction to “Godspell” is a reminder that many people do not know the gospel story at all, that the gospel story is incredibly compelling, and that, without even necessarily being aware of it themselves, people want to hear the gospel story.
It is as if people know that something is missing in their lives, and they sense at some level that Jesus is the answer.
That is true today. And that was true two thousand years ago too.
In our gospel reading for this morning, “some Greeks” have gone to Jerusalem to worship during a Jewish festival.
Greeks were not Jewish. So what were these Greeks doing in Jerusalem at the festival? They were seeking God. Their culture had not taught them to know God in an authentic way. They felt a spiritual hunger. They knew there had to be more to life. So they went in search of God.
They were like a lot of people today.
Without really knowing what they were doing, these Greeks headed to Jerusalem to see if they could find God.
Somehow they heard about Jesus. That is not particularly surprising. People were talking about Jesus. Not everyone, of course. Many people ignored Jesus altogether. But some described Jesus’ miracles in hushed tones. Some speculated that Jesus was a prophet, maybe even the messiah. Others called Jesus an imposter and a blasphemer.
That is a lot like our culture today.
These Greeks heard enough about Jesus to pique their curiosity. They thought to themselves, maybe this Jesus has the answer we are looking for. Maybe Jesus can satisfy the yearning in our souls. Maybe Jesus can help us to know God in a deep and authentic way. Maybe Jesus can give our lives the meaning that they lack.
But they needed help taking the first step. So they found somebody who knew Jesus, and they asked for an invitation. “They came to Philip . . . and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”
All of us have been in their position. All of us are like the Greeks sometimes. All of us have had times when Jesus seemed remote, when we did not know how to find Jesus, when we needed someone to guide us along the way. All of us have had to rely on people who are more spiritually mature than we are, or at least are in a better place in their relationship with God at that moment. One of the great gifts we can offer each other is help along the way in those times.
But our place in this story is not really with the Greeks, at least not always with the Greeks. The searchers around us are the Greeks, the people who feel a yearning to know God but are not sure how to begin.
That means our representative in this story is Philip.
Like Philip, we are disciples of Jesus. Like all of Jesus’ disciples, we sometimes fail. But that does not change the fact that God calls us into relationship with Jesus Christ, and that Christ commissions us to share the grace that we have received.
Like Philip, we will sometimes have people approach us because they want to know Jesus. People who do not go to Church will sometimes look to us to see what Christianity is all about.
And what do they see, when they look to us?
We have to admit that Christians have not always handled that responsibility gracefully. We have a long history of intolerance, and violence, and arrogance, and greed, and abuse, and hypocrisy. Too often, we have driven people away rather than bringing them to Jesus.
A friend of mine who is deaf asked me last week why priests are so awkward around deaf people. Don’t priests know, he continued, that they are effectively excluding deaf people from the Church? What could I say, other than that priests are fallible, sinful human beings? That priests sometimes fail to do what Christ calls us to do?
My friend’s point goes well beyond priests and deaf people. Too often, we Christians act as barriers standing in the way of people who want to know Jesus.
Thankfully we sometimes do better. Sometimes we follow Philip’s example in our gospel reading. We do what we can to bring seekers to Jesus. We work and we pray that seekers can learn to know Jesus for themselves. At our best, we invite people in, and we point beyond ourselves to Christ.
We do not have all the answers. But we know the one who does. We cannot fill lives with meaning. But we know the one who can. We are not the source of light and life. But we know the one who is.
It is our job, particularly in an increasingly secular culture, to help others know him too. That is what Philip does in our gospel reading and that is what Christ calls us to do.
But our task goes even beyond Philip’s in one important way. Philip could lead the inquiring Greeks to Jesus himself. They could see Jesus, talk to Jesus, maybe eat with Jesus. During his earthly ministry, Jesus was present to his people in a tangible and obvious way.
Philip’s job is hard enough. But our job is even harder.
Jesus was present in Philip’s day. Jesus is still present. But now Jesus is present in and through us. We are the body of Christ in the world. We are commanded to be Christ’s hands at work in the world.
If we want to bring seekers to Jesus today, we have to be Jesus for them. We have to be Christ with them.
On our own, we could never do it, of course. But we are not on our own. Christ is with us whenever we gather in his name. We have been baptized into the death of Christ and raised in his resurrection. Christ nourishes us in the sacrament of his body and blood. Christ promises us that the gates of Hell can never prevail against us.
Today we enter the last full week of Lent.
As we come to the end of Lent, my hope is that we have used this time to acknowledge the ways we fail to follow Philip’s example of bringing people to Christ. My hope is that we have used this time to acknowledge the greater number of ways we fail to be Christ in our world.
But my greatest hope is that we are more or less ready to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death, to participate in Christ’s victory, and to share the fruits of Christ’s victory with a hungry and hurting world.
In Christ’s name, Amen.