Many of us have people in our lives that are willing to ask those questions that others are unwilling to ask. Often these are questions that are embarrassing or ones that seem better left unanswered. They are those questions that you might be thinking, but you wouldn’t say aloud (unless you are one of those people). I call these cringe worthy moments, because often that is exactly what I do when I hear those questions asked. It doesn’t matter whether I am in the presence of the person asking these questions or if I see them on t.v, my reaction is the same. Really did you have to ask that question? The person, in my life, who tends to ask more cringe worthy questions than anyone else is my mom. I remember a specific time when my mom driving my date and me to dinner for my sophomore year’s homecoming. As if that was not embarrassing enough, my mom tried to cut the awkwardness by asking a few questions. This is ok, until she starts asking questions better left unsaid, “So do you like Thadd…or do you think you will only go to homecoming together and that’s it?” “You two make such a cute couple and I think Thadd likes you a lot more than the girl he went with last year.” “ If the child locks were not on in the back seat, I might have tried to get out of the moving vehicle at that point. She seemed to know which questions should not be asked out loud, and then proceed to ask them.
In our gospel text, Phillip, must have been that guy for the disciples. He must have been the one asking the cringe worthy questions. Thomas has just told Jesus that they don’t know what “the way” is that he is talking about. The disciples are confused, so Jesus tries to explain that he is the way and there is more confusion. So Phillip asks a cringe worthy question, he says “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied” or to put it more directly, “What does God look like?”
John doesn’t record this, but I suspect there were quite a few disciples gasping and maybe even cringing when Phillip asks this hard question. In ancient Israel it was simply understood that no one can see God and live. Moses, the model of heroic faith in the Old Testament, once made a similar request, and God put him face-forward in the crack of a mountain and passed by and all Moses could see was the glory of the Lord shimmering around him. He was finally allowed to turn around and look only after God has passed by, so that Moses ultimately saw only the trail of the Lord’s glory.
God is too much for us to bear – too holy, too powerful, too infinite, too full of life for any mere mortal to behold and live. And yet Philip asks to see God anyway. “If you want us to trust you, Jesus, just show us the Father.” In other words, “What does God look like?”??
It was a cringe worthy, and even inappropriate question for Phillip to ask, and I bet there were some of the disciples that wanted to duck out of the room. But underneath this question, underneath the uneasy nature of the question, Phillip is searching. He wants to get to the point. Jesus, just show us God and all will be made right.
It is a question I would imagine we have asked at certain points in our lives. Maybe when we were at our wits end, desperate for some hope that things will get better, for some reason to believe that this tragedy is not all there is. Maybe it was when the doctor told you that the cancer had returned. Or when a loved one died unexpectedly. Or when you discovered your spouse has left. Or after a miscarriage, or the floodwaters rose.
Each of us has also had moments where we wanted some reassurance, some glimmer of hope, that all that we had heard and learned about God is not just some false story but true. “Just show us the Father,” we plea, “and we will be satisfied.”??
To which Jesus responds, not in frustration but in love, both to Philip and to us, “Have I been with you all this time and yet still you don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the father!”
Which takes us back to the very beginning of John’s gospel, when John, says that the Word that was from the beginning and the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might have life. After all this, John says, “No one has seen God. But the only begotten Son, who rests in the Father, he has made him known.”
And there it is John says that no one has seen God. And that’s hard, sometimes crushingly hard, to believe, to trust, to keep faith in and with a God no one can see. And yet, Jesus, the Son, the Word made flesh, if you’ve seen him you have seen God and so know what God looks like and, more importantly, what God is up to and who God is for.
Our gospel text this morning takes place on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus is about to be betrayed, abandoned, handed over, tried, and then crucified, nailed to a cross and hung there to die. Why? To satisfy the righteous anger of a just God? To set for us some kind of example of what real faith looks like? To take the just punishment we deserve? No. Jesus goes to the cross for one reason and one reason only: to show us God, to show us God’s grace and mercy, to show just how much God loves us and how far God will go to communicate that love to us that we might believe and, believing, have life in his name.
It is through Christ’s love that we are able to experience God. In the midst of everything going on at this point in the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they should not let their hearts be troubled. That must have been pretty difficult because not long before this, Jesus had just told them that he would die. The room must have been filled with anxiety. We still live in a world that is still filled with anxiety. Maybe it has come down a bit today, since at least everyone in this service seemed to survive the end of the world. I can’t help but think about helping the flood victims on the mission trip last year. They were so desperate to experience God. Through their flooded house and ruined furniture, they were able to see God in the muddy and smelly youth of Messiah Lutheran Church. However, what sticks with me is that we still receive letters and cards thanking the youth for what they did on the trip. I mention that not to prop up the youth, but just to show how much two days of showing God’s love is able to such a big impact on our world. That is when we see God. What I didn’t realize that night my mom drove my date and I to homecoming was that my mom was trying to show some hospitality to my date because her awkward 15 year old son was too afraid to string more than a couple of lines together. In her unique way, my mom was trying to show she cared about me and my well being. Sure I wish she kept some of her questions to her herself. But it is through relationships, that we build here on earth that we are able to experience God’s love in heavenly ways. We live in a world desperate to experience this love. So may we be a vehicle that can bring about this love to a broken world and have the freedom to know that God responds to us with love. Amen.