Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 21, 2021
Glass has got to be one of the strangest and coolest things people have ever made. You can blow it, mold it, form it. We use glass in the bathroom to see ourselves shaving in the morning and we use glass in our churches to glorify God. We put glasses on our face to read, we put a highly specialized glass in the Hubble telescope to see distant galaxies. Glass starts with the basest material on earth – it’s just sand that’s been super heated and then super cooled. But glass has this significant property – depending on how you prepare it, glass is either transparent or reflective. You either see through it or you see yourself.
And herein lies one of the great metaphors for the Christian life and leadership. We are either transparent or reflective. People look at us and they either see Jesus through our lives, or we reflect on our own image back onto them. We are window or we are mirrors. The cult of personalities, I think, are dangerous to our faith. A church, a Christian community, must never become about the image of the person in the position of leadership. That is a recipe for disaster. Christian leaders, indeed all disciples of Jesus, are called to be windows, not mirrors.
This is precisely what is called into question when some Greeks tell Philip that they wish to see Jesus. Put yourself in Philip’s shoes for a moment. These Greeks don’t know what Jesus looks like. They don’t know who he is. They only have the vaguest idea of what Jesus is all about. Think of how easy it would have been for Philip to start his own preaching career right there. He could have started talking to those Greeks, he could have told them that he was just as important as Jesus. Philip could have fanned the flames of his own self-importance. The road to fame, maybe even to wealth and notoriety, was right there in his grasp. In that moment Philip was like sand that’s been super-heated and super-cooled in the hand of the artisan. Would that glass become a window or would it become a mirror? Would Philip allow the Greeks to see Jesus through him, or would Philip reflect Philip’s own image back to them?
This is what God has always been getting at for God’s people. We have been called to be windows, and not mirrors. Remember, the people of Israel are chosen as God’s people not because God only wants to save them. No, God wants to save the whole world. And through the people of Israel the whole world will see the works of God. The people of Israel are a window. When God saves the people of Israel through the Red Sea, it’s not just so that they are delivered from Egypt. It’s to show God’s strength and power to the whole world. The story of the Red Sea is a window. The prophet Isaiah calls upon the people of God to live in such a way that the whole world would come to know God (Isaiah 60). This is the vocation of all the people of God – to be windows. So that all may look at us and not see us, but see Jesus through us.
This is what Philip had the courage to do. When the Greeks come to him, wishing to see Jesus, he goes and tells Andrew. Then Philip and Andrew go and tell Jesus. They are windows, not mirrors.
The same goes for all of us in our daily discipleship. Other people are always looking at us, looking to us. They want to see how we act and behave as Christians. They want to know what it means to live a life with Jesus. Think of it – your co-workers, your neighbors, your family, your children – they are all coming to you with that same request echoing through the ages – “we wish to see Jesus.” And so the question is obvious – are they seeing Jesus through you? Or are you reflecting your own image back to them?
Now, it’s much easier, in many ways in much more natural to be a mirror. It’s how the world has programmed us. And in this, the Church has reaped what it has sown. When we lament, when we fret about the Church dying, about fewer people coming to Church, I think we know the reason why. It’s not them, it’s us. For too often, the Church has settled on being a mirror, reflecting back to the world our own petty desires for prestige and authority. The Church has caved in and bought in to cheap power plays and self-righteous indignation. When people look at the Church, are they seeing the God of grace and love? Or are they seeing human smugness and sanctimony?
This is why we must continue in the Church. Because we want it to be better. It is our duty to help the Church, as a whole, become a window of grace and love and mercy. It will not do to walk away from the Church, as a whole, because some part of it has been smudged up by human fingerprints.
No, the good news is that windows can always be cleaned. This, I think, is also what is going on in the Church right now. About every five hundred years the Church undergoes a massive window washing. The glass has got a few too many of our fingerprints on it, and it’s time to do some cleaning. Think back on your Church history. In the fifth century, Christians did not have a consensus on what they believed about God. God broke out the window cleaner, and we settled on the creeds. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, churches started to pop up everywhere as the population grew. Again, God had some cleaning to do and clergy had to become pastors to the people and not just sacrament machines. In the sixteenth century, we had a Reformation, and the God cleaned up many of our worst abuses. And it’s happening now. The weeping and gnashing of the teeth is simply part of the window washing. I believe that God has busted out the Windex and is applying a little elbow grease to our smudgy little windows. And, over time, the dirt of self-centeredness, the smudges of hate, the grime of anger and of conceit will be scrubbed out of us so that we can shine through again. Not with our own light, but so that the light of God can be clearly seen through us. God is making sure that when those Greeks come to us looking for Jesus, they can actually see him.
And this, I think, is what God intends to do to us every Lent. We are that basest of materials – like sand that becomes glass, we are mere dust of the earth. We have the capacity to show the great things of God, or we have the capacity to show only ourselves. I pray that God would scrub us down to our cores, to wash away our fingerprints so that others look at us and see only Jesus. I pray that our Easter feast will be a clear window to the hope of God in Christ. I pray that the light of God shines right through you.