"Pastor, we have visitors this morning!"
This excited comment came to me just a few minutes before worship, while I was meeting with the worship leaders for the service. Underneath the exclamation was a clear question: now what?
In this week's gospel passage from the lectionary, we're told that "some Greeks" approached Philip, one of the twelve disciples, with what seemed to be a fairly straightforward request. "Sir, we want to see Jesus."
How did Philip respond? He looked for backup, going first to tell Andrew, and then the two of them going to tell Jesus. "Teacher, we have some visitors this morning!"
This scene follows Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem in John's gospel, and the shouts of "Hosanna!" are still ringing in the air. Not long before that, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and before that Jesus had been healing and feeding and teaching people for almost three years. By now, you'd think Philip and Andrew would know what to do when someone approaches them and asks to see Jesus.
Ah, but these were Greeks, outsiders, foreigners, even though they, too, had come to worship at Jerusalem for the feast. Philip must have felt some confusion and uncertainty; were these outsiders welcome? Surely they could see Jesus from the side of the road, so were they asking for more? Were they asking to be introduced to Jesus, to know him as something more than a distant spectacle? What would Jesus say about that?
So Philip turns and leaves the people asking to see Jesus in order to confer with another disciple. That conversation clearly doesn't provide any clarity, so Philip and Andrew decide to bring the problem straight to Jesus, whose response doesn't turn out to be very straightforward or obviously relevant to the question at hand.
Some Greeks want to see Jesus. Some visitors have stepped inside the sanctuary. Some strangers are knocking at the door. Someone is hoping to meet the Savior.
All too often, we respond like Philip and Andrew. We ask if they're welcome, if they're allowed, if they're the right kind of people, if they're like us. Before even starting a simple conversation, we huddle with one another to whisper and strategize and decide what to do. And then we excuse our own inaction and our own lack of hospitality by turning the problem over to the person in authority, the pastor, the teacher, the leader.
I wonder if the Greeks in John's story stuck around, hoping that their request might be honored and their desire fulfilled. Or did they watch Philip hurry away with sinking hearts, realizing that the way to Jesus was going to be barred to them, wondering why they didn't measure up.
When a visitor steps into the sanctuary for the first time, or a stranger starts a conversation about faith, the underlying longing is to see Jesus. And the only way outsiders, strangers, foreigners can see Jesus is if we show that love ourselves. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, the Body of Christ, the witness to the world, the bringers of Good News. We are, no one else. So if we do not share Jesus with the people who come looking, how can we begin to share Jesus with those who have decided there's nothing left to see?
Let's re-write this story, or at least tell it in a new way for our times. Think of someone who may not be welcome in your sanctuary. Be honest! The lack of welcome may be very subtle, but noticeable nonetheless. Imagine that person approaching you, having made the effort to come to church, to walk through unfamiliar doors into a potentially unfriendly atmosphere. Hear the request, spoken or unspoken. "I want to see Jesus. I want to meet the Good Shepherd. I want to know the Lord of Life. I want to step into unending love. I want to encounter the Prince of Peace. I want to see Jesus."
Now, it's your turn. Don't turn away. Don't look for help. Don't retreat behind propriety. Let the Holy Spirit guide you and let the light of Christ shine. Let Jesus be seen in you.