There is a brass plaque on the front of the pulpit of the Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta that reads, “Sir, Madam, we wish to see Jesus.”
“It is a reminder to the preacher not to disappoint the worshippers,” the Rev. Casey Baggott said.
Baggott gave the homily for the 9:15 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 13, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her homily title was “Seekers: A Story of Inquiring Faith.” The scripture text was John 12:20-26 (NRSV) —
“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.’”
Unnamed Greeks were seeking to see Jesus, having heard about his healings and his message of hope and promise.
“We still want to understand him, in the hospital room, court room, waiting room— wherever there is need today,” Baggott said. “How do you spot Jesus? The Greeks went to the disciples; where do you look?”
Baggott suggested that one way to see Jesus is to listen to how he talked about himself. He called himself “the bread of life, light of the world, the good shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, and the vine.”
What Jesus was saying, Baggott said, “is that he will satisfy your deepest hunger, provide direction, provide answers and help you when you need to grow.”
She continued, “Seven times Jesus says of himself, ‘I am.’ He is the base source of life, yet much more like God is the great ‘I am.’”
Have you ever seen Jesus, Baggott asked the congregation. Some people search their whole lives for a glimpse of him, and others just know when they have seen him.
In Thailand, there was an 8-year-old boy who was autistic, and he did not begin school until he and his mother thought he could handle the noise and confusion. He was nervous and the teacher tried to keep the classroom as calm as possible.
Suddenly, the teacher noticed that he had climbed out of the third-story classroom onto a ledge and she could not reach him. She called his mother and the fire department.
One of the firefighters overheard the mother say how much her son loved comic books. The firefighter went back to the fire house and put on a Spider-Man costume the department kept to do school presentations.
The firefighter climbed out on the ledge and said, “Don’t worry. I am here to save you. Come, follow me. We have work to do.” The boy let the firefighter approach.
Baggott said, “The boy was unafraid now. He could tackle the classroom. He figured out who to follow.”
The gospel never tells how the Greeks’ encounter with Jesus ended. Jesus talked about the cost of discipleship and the loss of life. “Maybe it was too much for the seekers. It feels more comfortable to peek at a distance,” she said. “Maybe we have to be out on a ledge to trust and be willing to follow.”
To follow Jesus closely, she told the virtual congregation, takes risks to inch along the ledge, to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. “It is only when the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies that it bears fruit. The fruitfulness of new life can spring up anywhere.”
In this time, the world wants to see more than a collection of well-meaning people. The world wants to see Jesus, to get a glimpse of Jesus’ serving, compassionate presence.
“Can you spot Jesus’ spirit now, in this time, sowing seeds of initiative, comfort and courage?” she asked.
Baggott shared a part of a poem from an unknown author.
“I saw Jesus last week. He was wearing blue jeans and an old shirt. He was up at the church alone and was working hard. He looked like one of our members, but it was Jesus. I could tell by his smile. I saw Jesus this morning in my kitchen fixing me a special breakfast and a lunch to take. For just a second he looked like my mom, but it was Jesus. I could feel the love from his heart. I see Jesus everywhere, taking food to the sick, being friendly to a newcomer. For just a minute, I think he is someone I know. But it’s always Jesus. I can tell. You can always tell.”
Baggott asked, “Can you tell where Jesus’ spirit is in the world? This is a time of trouble but there is no need to despair. Where is Jesus showing up in your life? Are you living and serving so others can see Jesus too? I hope so because, today, ‘Sir, Madam, people wish to see Jesus.’”
The Rev. Natalie Hanson, a United Methodist minister and co-host of the United Methodist House, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Meredith Smietana, a student in the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was an improvisation. Smietana sang the hymn, “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” The anthem was an improvisation. Stafford played “Final from Variations on a Noël,” by Marcel Dupré, for the postlude. This program is made possible by Willow and Gary Brost and the Susan and John Turben Foundation.