Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sermon for Mrach 24, 2012; John 12:20-36

Rev. George Miller
John 12:20-36
“Seeing Jesus, Seeing God”
March 25, 2012

A few months ago there was an article in GQ magazine about studies being done with soldiers returning from war with severe burns all over their body and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Regular therapy did not work; pain medication wasn’t making things better. One doctor tried something radically new: virtual reality.

In essence, virtual reality is like a complex video game that makes you feel as if you have stepped into it. A scene is created, like a snowfall on a peaceful mountain, and the soldier puts on eyewear that immerses them into this virtual world in which they feel as if they actually there.

What the doctors have discovered is that what the eye sees does not have to be real for the brain to process it as real; so if it seems like it is snowy and peaceful, the brain processes it as snowy and peaceful, which means the body responds accordingly.

They did an experiment on a soldier with third degrees burns and in constant pain. He was placed into a virtual winter wonderland with snowflakes and snow men. They monitored his brain waves and pain receptors.

What they saw was that the parts of his brain that dealt with sight and senses lit up as if he was really there and his level of pain went further down then when on medication.

Such exercises in virtual reality have been used to assist people in various ways. The mind is a powerful thing, and scientists are discovering more and more just how true this is.

What our eyes see isn’t always what our brain processes and what our brain processes isn’t always what our mind sees.

Fascinating stuff.

Also fascinating is the concept of sight in the Gospel of John. John is perhaps the headiest of the gospels; with long, drawn out quotations and deep, theological discourses.

When reading the Gospel of John, there are at least two things to keep in mind when it comes to the concept of sight.

First, often times in John, to see is to believe. For example, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is resurrected until he can actually see it for himself.

Second, for John, to see Jesus is to see God. Or to put it another way: if you want to know who God is, look at Jesus.

Pretty heady stuff.

Like I’ve said before, I have long wrestled with who Jesus is and what believing in Jesus is all about. But this view of John’s has made my belief in Jesus a lot more real:

When we see Jesus, we see God.

That’s a small part of what’s going on in today’s reading. It’s the last few days of Jesus’ life. He has entered the city of Jerusalem. There are those who love him, there are those who hate him.

Those who saw Jesus call Lazarus out of the tomb love him. The Pharisees, who were used to being the ones in control, hate him. In verse 19 they say to one another “Look at how the world has gone after him!”

On cue, a group of Greeks ask to see Jesus. The Greeks were inquisitive folk, notorious for seeking knowledge and always looking for something new.

It is their desire to see Jesus that signals the time for him to be glorified.

Now, we are Christian people, and we are nearing the end of the Lenten Season, meaning that soon we will bear witness to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Last week we delved into the crucifixion and how Jesus being lifted up on the cross became a means of redemption and life.

Today we will explore those themes in a different way. It’s already been stated that according to John, if we want to know who God is, all we have to do is look at Jesus.

So let us look, but let’s do it backwards.

On Easter, we have the resurrection, in which Jesus is raised from the dead. What do we see there? That God is more powerful then death. That God vindicates and cares for the righteous and unjustly accused.

That God is eternally present with us.

On Good Friday, we have the crucifixion, in which Jesus unfairly suffers for our sake. What do we see there? The extant of God’s glorious love for us; that even in the midst of great suffering, God draws the world to Godself and that we are all still forgiven.

But if the resurrection is all that we look at, if the raising of Jesus from the grave is all we see, then what we have is a lopsided view of a God who is victorious and defeats death.

If the crucifixion is all that we look at, if the nail prints of Jesus are all that we see; then what we have is a lopsided view of a God who continuously suffers and only knows how to show love through pain.

But there is so much more to God; there is so much more to the Jesus experience; there is the life that Jesus led, the people he met, the things which he did that also show us who God is.

For example, the Greeks valued wisdom; they believed that knowledge was a way to experience God. For some of them, when they met Jesus and experienced the vastness of his teachings, they felt as if indeed they were seeing God.

But not all of us are Greeks nor do we all see God this way, so there became many ways in which Jesus lived and ministered that allowed people to see him in a way that allowed them to see God.

For example, if you were a woman, Jesus came into your home, and encouraged you to sit at his feet and to personally learn from and spend time with him, just as he would with any of his male students.

If you were a woman and people shunned you and gossiped about you, Jesus met you at the well in the heat of the lonely afternoon and engaged you in conversation in which you were treated as an equal and given an opportunity to experience Living Water.

If you were a man trying to earn a decent living for your family, Jesus would come by while you were working and suggest that you cast your net over to the other side so it could be filled and you would have a successful day at work.

If you were a man who felt like you didn’t match up to others, who felt you were looked down upon or despised, Jesus heard your voice in the crowd and came to your home to share in a meal, no matter what others would think or say.

If you were a parent, Jesus set aside time to welcome your young one and to admonish anyone who would dare think about hurting or exploiting them.

If you were a parent, he attended your children’s wedding, where amongst songs and laughter, he made sure your guests had the pleasure of experiencing good wine as you anticipated new beginnings and high hopes.

And if you were part of a community, Jesus welcomed you to hear about the Kingdom of Heaven, and when there seemed like there wasn’t enough to eat, Jesus invited you to sit on the green grass, gave thanks for what was there and found a way to make sure that everyone had more then enough.

Ever wonder who God really is? Look towards Jesus and you will see.

Do you see a Jesus who only suffered or worried about death? Or does Jesus look like he also knew how to celebrate and to live life?

And here’s an interesting thing; the way we start to see Jesus; the way in which we start to see God, becomes the way in which we start to see ourselves.

So we if we see Jesus as wise; we see ourselves as wise. If we see Jesus as caring, we see ourselves as caring. If we see Jesus as extravagant welcome, we too see ourselves as extravagant welcome.

And in our views of Jesus, of God, and of ourselves, we help the world to become more like the Kingdom of Heaven.

In conclusion, we don’t need expensive virtual reality to see God; all we have to do is to look at Jesus.

Yes, the resurrection allows us to see that God vindicates the righteous and is more powerful then death; yes, the crucifixion allows us to see that God loves and forgives.

But let us not forget that we have the whole complexity of Jesus’ life to look at to see who God really is.

When we set our eyes upon Jesus, we see that God views us as equals; that God looks past what we have done and gives us new opportunities.

God sees who us even when others turn a blind eye; God cares about our livelihood.

God cares about children and their well being; God celebrates with us during all the stages of our lives.

We see that God is invested in our community, making sure that we are all educated, we are all fed and we all have green pastures to lie down upon.

“Who is God?” you may ask yourself today.

Look upon Jesus and you will see just who God is, and perhaps by seeing God in such good and holy ways, it will also transform the ways in which we too see ourselves.

And how, through Jesus, we are all walking in the light.

And for that, we can say “Hallelujah!” and we can say “Amen.”

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