Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sermon: St. Philip's Day: Sightlines

St. Philip, sanctuary painting

Sermon for May 3, 2015
St. Philip’s Day (obs)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
John 14:6-14

Listen here

Lord, Open our Lips,
that our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen

Years ago,
while teaching business courses,
it was impressed upon me
to be sure to have clear “sightlines.” 
That is, be sure that all participants in a course
can see you and can see
what you are writing on a flipchart
or showing on the projector. 

Surveys show that most adult learners
complain about poor sightlines;
that and the environmental comfort of the room. 

Clear sightlines was a challenge,
because hotel conference rooms often had
pillars for structural support,
mid-way through the room. 
In these cases, learners were invited
to move around the room for their own needs.

“Do you best to have clear sightlines,”
was the admonition.
In today’s Gospel text,
Philip asks for clear sightlines. 
“Lord, show us the Father
and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus replies to Philip,
“Have I been with you all this time, Philip,
and you still do not know me? 
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father
How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 

Well, Philip,
as a named Apostle in this discipleship course,
seemed to be complaining that his teacher
had not set up clear sightlines

Philip often had this kind of
exacting way about him,
“Show us the Father – clear out the sightlines, and we will be satisfied.” 
Philip’s calculating way showed up
at the loaves and fishes event when Jesus asked,
“From where are we to buy enough bread
to feed all these people?”
Philip replied,
“…[dude,] six months wages will not buy enough bread to feed these people!”

In other words, Philip tended to see
only up to the pillar, not beyond.

I wonder if sometimes we are that way, too. 
Calculating, precise, exacting. 
Not seeing beyond the pillar.

Sometimes, if we don’t have *just* what we need,
        we can’t imagine how things could work out.
Sometimes, we can’t see around
the pillars of brokenness in our world
whether brought on by
the civic diseases of greed, or
of racism, or of homophobia
Sometimes, we can’t see beyond
the pillars of suffering
by innocent people whether brought on by
natural disasters or war or migration.
Sometimes, the pillars block our sightlines.
How can we see the divine
when these pillars are in the way?

This question about how to “see” God
is not just for our generation,
as we find in the Psalms –
sacred text from our ancestors
that presents nothing short of
God’s claim upon the whole world.
This question about how to “see” God
shows up in the rhythmic complexity
of the Psalms,
detailing humanity’s struggle with
the pillars that block our sightlines
The Psalms offer
God’s sacred response to humanity
with poetry, prayer and paradox
[as we hear today.[1]]

Martin Luther once said
that when read only occasionally,
“…the Psalms are too overwhelming
in design and power
and tend to turn us back to more palatable fare…
other little devotional prayers …
[but these] do not contain …
the juice, the strength,
the passion, the fire…”[2] [of the Psalms.]

In today’s offertory, we will hear the poignant
tension of God’s claim and humanity’s hope
in the comfort of Psalm 23
paired with the disturbance
of “raging nations” from Psalm 2. 
This powerful movement offers the paradox
of God’s dream and our hope
for justice, righteousness and peace.  (Bulletin P.6)

Although Philip sought clear sightlines to God,
he saw only Jesus. 
Yet, Jesus kept pointing beyond himself
to God the Father.
Jesus persistently and faithfully revealed God,
empowering Philip and the apostles
to share the truth
of God’s steadfast Love for all of humanity.

Jesus cleared the sightlines
for Philip to see God and God saw Philip,
the true Philip,
the sacred Philip,
the soul of Philip. 

God saw beyond Philip’s pillars,
like his characteristic need for concrete action,
like his pillar of desire to solve things his way.

And, God loved Philip, opening him to a new life,
a transformed heart, and an expansive vocation. 

According to the Medieval classic,
“Golden Legend,”[3]
Philip spent his life preaching and teaching,
baptizing and ordaining,
and seeking, with God’s help,
to do greater works than Jesus.

And so it is with us. 
Although we sometimes see only the pillars
of the broken world around us,
Jesus points us to God’s dream
for justice, righteousness and peace. 
Jesus shows how to see God’s Love:
·        through peaceful civic demonstrations,
·        with communities of first responders to disasters
·        and in our community, working in solidarity with the poor,
o   as through our food pantry
and Laundry Love ministries. 
Jesus clears the sightlines
for us to see God’s grace
and so God sees us, our true identity,
our sacred self, our tender soul.

God sees beyond our pillars,
like our need for concrete action,
like our human desire to solve things our way.
God sees us and loves us, opening us to new life, transforming our hearts
to do God’s work in the world,
so that we will can do even greater works.

This week, when you find yourself
struggling with a solution, listen. 
Do you hear Jesus’ question, “have I been with you all this time, and you still do not know me?” 
Then, look through the clear sightlines,
with God’s help, and Jesus will show you
the way, the truth and the life. 

[1] Today’s First Sunday Music is Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, presented by the St. Nicholas Choir, St. Philip’s Singers, Canterbury Choir, Canterbury Apprentices, and special guest choir members from Temple Emanu-El, with the St. Philip’s Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Woosug Kang
[2] From Faith Alive / Finding Your Story in the Psalms, by Kevin Adams (Grand Rapids, Faith Alive, 2011), p. 14