“They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’” (John 12:21). May I speak to you in the name of the One, Holy, and Living God. Amen.
I don’t know if y’all have noticed, but I have a habit of saying some phrases like: “yes sir,” and “no ma’am,” probably more often than the average individual. And I know there are some faithful few of you who time and time again, have tried to convince me I don’t need to use such titles. But friends, I hate to break it to you, it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. I mean, first of all, I grew up in the South—the Deep South—where everyone had a title. Our teachers were Mr. & Mrs. so and so, the priests were Pastor or Reverend, or Mother or Father (and no, you don’t need to use any of these titles for me). Even long term family friends had titles. All of a sudden I had a plethora of aunts and uncles who were not actually my aunts and uncles. So when everyone has a title, “sir” and “ma’am” become almost second nature. Then to top it off: I came from a military family. My mother came from a military family. And my father attended military schools Kindergarten through the day he finished undergrad. So like I said, the “sirs” and the “ma’am’s,” they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
For me to use such a title, is not a designation of age or authority necessarily, but it is a symbol of respect—a sign that you have my honed in, undivided attention; that I notice you; that I acknowledge you. I even use these titles with our youngest of parishioners. I imagine that is how it is used in today’s Gospel reading from John: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!” It comes across as a symbol of respect and a desire for the disciple’s undivided attention, because they know that Philip is close to Jesus. In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the crowd, they encourage Philip: notice us, acknowledge us, pay attention to us, ‘cause we want to see Jesus!!!
Now I pray that the disciple Philip did not let this request go to his head—did not think that “sir” meant he was better, possessed more authority, held more power, because he was close to Jesus. For it is easy enough to do this. Over the centuries it has been easy for the church to assume we are better; we possess more authority; we hold more power, because we are close to God. Yet the times when I have seen the church flourish, is when those who are empowered by the Holy Spirit—who know they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them—choose not to abuse this power and instead choose to lift up the least of these; choose to witness to people who may not accept them; choose to share the Gospel with those whom we would not expect.
Like our own beloved Patrick, our patron saint of this beautiful community. Although he is now most closely associated with Ireland, Patrick was originally from modern day Britain—probably the Western coast of the Island, near Cornwall. As a young lad, only a teenage boy, he was taken prisoner and enslaved in Ireland. For six years he worked far from home, tending a flock of sheep upon unknown mountain peaks. Yet in the midst of this dark and distant place, the Divine called out to Patrick. And thanks be to God: Patrick finally saw Jesus.
Now when Patrick eventually escaped and returned to Britain, what did he do? Instead of playing it safe, instead of remaining in the comforts of his home, he decided to go back to Ireland! He returned to people who he probably did not want to see again. He returned to witness to a population who probably would not accept him. He returned to share the Gospel with those whom we would not expect. Patrick could have denied that the Irish would ever have wanted to see and to know Jesus. Yet without his ministry of compassion and love for those who had enslaved him, the face of Christianity would be forever changed.
Even though the Church today does not hold the same power and authority as it in Patrick’s time or a thousand years ago, five hundred years ago, or even sixty years ago, we still must recognize our place of privilege in our proximity to Jesus. We are beyond blessed because we see Jesus all the time, upon this holy ground. Like the Celtic Christians we are witnesses to God in creation and we get to name God among us—the Divine present in the here and now, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, in the vistas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We see Jesus in this place. And we see Jesus in all of those within our beloved community. Christ is still present with us. As the hymn, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” reminds us: “Christ beneath me, Christ above me,/ Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,/ Christ in hearts of all that love me,/ Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.” St. Patrick witnessed Christ before him in every aspect of the created world and in everyone he encountered—in all of those ancient peoples of Ireland, in their language, in their traditions, in their worship. With them he knew he was never lost from the love of Christ.
We like Patrick, are privileged that we are close to Jesus; that we know Jesus; that we see Jesus—not only in the majesty of this place, but in the beauty of its people. And right now we may not know with whom we are called to witness to God’s love, with whom we are called to share the Gospel. We may not know who might be asking to see Jesus. For even in today’s Gospel, we do not know who “they” are. “They” are “some Greeks.” “They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.'” “They” are anonymous. We don’t know who “they” will be. We don’t know who will come to us desiring community, seeking solace, searching for a spiritual home. They could be millennial ski bums, or the working Latino population, or young families in search of a church family.
They may be at our St. Patrick’s Day Party this evening—a celebration that has already exceeded our expectations. Therefore, we have a privilege and responsibility set before us: to give those present at the party our respect and undivided attention; to let them know they are acknowledged and loved; to have them experience the Divine’s abounding and overflowing hospitality; to say, no matter your history with church up to this point, none are excluded and all are welcome in this place. Praise God, they are coming to celebrate with us! And so whatever title we are given this evening, whatever our relationship may be—whether it be friend or neighbor, teacher or student, workout buddy or work colleague—, let us give those present our honed in, undivided attention. Let us make sure all tonight, all of those present, no what title they have been given or their status in society, all get to experience, and know, and see Jesus.