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15-43 149th Street
Whitestone, NY 11357


The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has been at work in northeast Queens since 1871, seeking to proclaim God’s Word and live out God’s justice and peace in our lives and our community. We welcome all to join us for worship, fellowship, learning, and service in our small but vibrant community of faith.


We Want to See Jesus

Andy James

a sermon on John 12:20-33

“We want to see Jesus.”

These pilgrims had come a long way to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, traveling from their homes in an entirely different part of the empire to join thousands of other faithful Jews in remembering the main event of liberation that shaped their religious identity and practice. Yet somewhere along this long journey these pilgrims had heard about Jesus, and they started seeking him out. I suspect they started asking around town for him, checking in with anyone they suspected might know this Galilean prophet and teacher in hopes of encountering him for themselves.

Who knows how long it took them to find Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, who finally could make the connection to Jesus for them, but when they found him, I can only imagine their excitement. They were finally in the same town with the teacher that they had sought, and they could finally learn directly from him. They might finally meet this prophet who had an incredible reputation for his signs of power and healing. And they could finally encounter the one who some had begun to wonder might be the Messiah.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” they told the disciple Philip. But Philip clearly wasn’t quite sure what to do. Jesus was quite well known around Palestine, but I suspect he and his disciples were a bit surprised that these people from a little further afield were looking for him. Now I imagine that by this point, after three years of his ministry, the disciples had a bit of a protocol when it came to people who wanted to meet Jesus, trying to manage the crowds a bit, give Jesus some time away for spiritual reflection that he so often needed and wanted, and just generally keep the whole thing from getting out of hand. So rather than taking these Greeks to meet Jesus right away, Philip went and told Andrew, and then after their consultation they went and told Jesus.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, when Jesus heard that these pilgrims wanted to see him, he wasn’t at all interested in actually meeting them. Rather than going out to meet these pilgrims, he turned to his disciples and began teaching them again, now explaining to them why it was so important that these Greeks had come looking for him—even though it seems that their interest wasn’t important or interesting enough to him for John to record any actual meeting with them.

“We want to see Jesus.”

Like most people, when I turn to the gospels, that’s my feeling—I want to see Jesus. I want to get a better picture of this man who launched an incredible movement that against all odds has so deeply shaped western civilization for the last two thousand years. I want to learn about Jesus through the stories of those who were far closer to him and passed down their encounters with him through the generations. And I want to see the Jesus who took the difficult path when he could have just taken the easy road. I want to see the Jesus who set aside his honor and glory to open the pathway for God’s honor and glory to spread wider and further throughout creation. I want to see the Jesus who journeyed to his death to show us how to live.

But John doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about seeing Jesus in the end. He doesn’t tell us if those Greeks who came looking for Jesus ever actually saw him. Instead, John shifts gears entirely, using these searching Greeks to get Jesus to start talking about the things that are ahead for him and the ways in which he is fulfilling the mission set for the Messiah long before this encounter at the beginning of Jesus’ third Passover in Jerusalem.

I suspect that John’s focus on this more theological understanding of Jesus is one of the reasons I am so often frustrated when I read John’s gospel. But today’s reading leaves me especially frustrated. The Jesus I know and have seen in the other stories of the gospels wouldn’t have completely ignored these pilgrims’ request to meet with him. The Jesus I believe cared enough to step up and die for the sins of the world also cared enough to get to know the people around him and engage with the crowds who were beginning to see a new vision of God in and through him, not just a small, select circle of disciples. And the Jesus I follow would have stepped away from his theological lectures and concerns long enough to meet those Greeks who were the sign of the beginning of a new thing for him as he approached such an important moment in his life.

“We want to see Jesus.”

Those Greeks in Jerusalem during the festival were surely only some of the first to offer this inquiry, and even our last hymn picked up on this request to offer it as a prayer for our own time and place. Nowadays, I get the sense that people are asking that question again of us, and far too often we too leave them wanting a glimpse of Jesus when we too talk about other things instead. In a world where death and destruction lurk around nearly every corner, where news reports focus primarily if not exclusively on the bad things that are happening around us, where peace seems far off on our best days and a total pipe dream on our worst, people want to see Jesus bringing us hope amidst all this despair. In a world where expectations of family stand strong yet people still so often feel so very alone, where love is either defined so broadly that it loses its meaning or so narrowly that it isn’t open to everyone, where relationships are so difficult to build and so easy to destroy, people want to see Jesus connecting us to one another as sisters and brothers in the family of God. And in a world where we can listen to so-called authorities on one subject or another drone on for hours and hours without really saying anything new, where we so often assume that the problems of our world can be fixed most easily by greater personal freedom, where justice for all takes a back seat to personal fulfillment, people want to see Jesus working to bring real change for all to our broken and fearful world.

“We want to see Jesus.”

So what would they see if those Greeks, those seekers of our own time, or even the disciples came here to see him? Would they see a dying institution gasping in its final breaths, or would they see a vibrant and hopeful group of people who are trying to show Jesus to the world beginning on one little corner of 149th Street and 15th Drive? Would they see a small congregation longing and begging for more people to do work, or would they see a community of people who themselves are longing to see Jesus and looking for ways to show his presence to others? Would they see a few dozen “frozen chosen” dead-set on their own path, or would they see a faithful group who are joining Jesus on his journey to the cross?

“We want to see Jesus.”

Ultimately, as much as we know that others are asking this question, we too are seeking him out in our own lives. Last month, as part of our youth gathering, we each decorated a cutout figure of Jesus like this one to carry with us into the world. We’ve spent the last month looking for Jesus in the strange and wonderful and challenging and even dark moments of our lives, and I for one am looking forward to the pictures of all the places that we’ve seen Jesus in our lives over the last month that we will share later today. It has been an incredible exercise for me at least to encounter Jesus in the everyday when I have least expected it, maybe in the surprise call from an old friend, in the unusual beauty of one last winter morning even amidst the first full day of spring yesterday, or even in the simple space of a deep breath amidst a difficult moment of life.

“We want to see Jesus.”

May we go into these final Lenten days with that request on our lips and our hearts, offering an encounter with Jesus to all those who come our way as we too carry this deep and beautiful desire to see Jesus with us until we see him face to face as all things are made new. Lord, come quickly! Amen.