A sermon by the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson, Rector
May 7th, 2023
Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, Saint Paul, MN

Last week, sitting in the Newark airport waiting for our plane to board, I was reminiscing about all we had packed into a short 3 day trip to the East Coast. I was full of joy and good memories of time with Erin and time with friends. And, naturally, I was full of good food. The only box I had not ticked on this short vacation was an essential celebrity sighting while in New York City. And then, just like that, they were in front of me, two vibrant, well-dressed, robust looking humans, a man and a woman. They had on sunglasses and masks, but, almost immediately, there was something familiar about the man. Was it his hairstyle, the shape of his eyebrows, or the curve of his cheeks? Then the woman removed her shades and lowered her mask to drink her coffee. Sure enough, owing to a lot of not so positive press in the not to distant past, I knew immediately it was Felicity Huffman! And, that affirmed my initial suspicions – the other person was definitely William H. Macy. I tried hard not to stare as they sat right across from me, hidden in an alcove of the terminal, organizing their tickets and putting away their passports, but finally I had my celebrity sighting!

It struck me later how much time I had to have spent over the years staring at William H. Macy’s face in movies and shows and wherever it turns up in the media, to have been able to tell it was him from the very scant few inches of face that were poking out from behind his mask and sunglasses. I don’t know him at all, and yet his face is so familiar that I could pick it out without more than a few reference points.

In today’s gospel Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father. The question falls in a longer farewell discourse, and the scene is tinged with grief and loss as the disciples grapple with what it means that Jesus will not always be with them in the flesh. Yet, Jesus seems exasperated in his response. Jesus says to him,

“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’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

It struck me this week as I prepared for this sermon just how personal and painful this whole conversation must have been, to have your heart broken knowing that your teacher and friend is leaving, to have so many questions and to feel so unprepared, and unsure how you’ll get on without him, and then to be told you just don’t get it.. “Have I been with you all this time…and you still do not know me?”

A friend recently shared a picture of her daughter’s graduation announcement and I marveled at how much her daughter was her spitting image. I would know who her mother was just by seeing her face in a crowd. I am getting accustomed to this feeling as my eldest son grows up before my very eyes, how others see so much of me when they look at him.

Have we really seen God when we see Jesus? Do we know the face of God, or do we even know God for that matter? For many Christians it would seem that we want to know God, or at the very least, we’d like to know how to end up with God at the last. Yet, judging by how we behave, it might appear like we’ve never seen Jesus, or never known him. Maybe this is an unfair comparison. After all, the disciples, including Philip in this story, have literally been with Jesus, hour after hour, day after day, for months and possibly years. They knew him intimately and closely. We, on the other hand, are only left with his stories, reports about him passed down over the centuries. We have not met Jesus, we might fairly say, nor spent days, let alone weeks with him.

Yet, like Philip, we yearn for the assurance that comes from knowing God. And, Jesus says, any who have seen him have seen the Creator, the source and power behind the cosmos, the One who spoke and all things came to be, the One, we are told, who can sustain the weary with a word. Do you know Jesus? Have you seen his face?

Barbara Mraz is fond of opening her sermons with a prayer of invocation, saying “In the name of Jesus, the face of God turned in our direction”, a reminder that as Christians we believe that Jesus reveals God’s very self and presence to us. Have we seen that face? Have you studied the stories, listened close enough to the remembrances to discern who Jesus was, spent time seeking, searching, yearning to know the face of God?

In Victor Hugo’s famous novel turned Broadway show, Les Misérables, we hear the truth, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” It is a truth evident in the whole of the gospels, that, as Jesus says in Matthew, whenever you did it unto to the least of these, you did it to me. When we show up in acts of generosity, love, care, sacrifice, and giving, when we direct energy beyond ourselves for the good of others, especially those most in need, then we are given a chance to see glimmers of the divine, the face of God, or more specifically, the face of Jesus himself, in the face of those to whom our love is directed. It is a reminder that we need each other to be able to see God. If we want to know God, we must study the needs of our fellow human beings, seek to know them in all their difference and need, and to show up to them, time and time again, in love.

And, why is it so important that we see the face of God? Why is it essential that we comprehend Jesus in the faces of others? For no other reason than this is how we all get free. Our salvation from the sin and decay of the world, scarred and degraded by selfishness and violence, our liberation from the racism and sexism and homophobia that so divide us, comes in the ability to see each other as precious, beloved, holy, reflections of the Divine. Unless we can look in each other’s faces and peer into one another’s eyes, and see the face of God peering back, we are stuck. We are lost.

So often we hear today’s passage and hear Jesus talking about how there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house, and believe he is talking about some future pie in the sky, telling a story about the hereafter, instead of the here and now. But, in the end, Jesus is giving comfort to a grieving people in the midst of their real struggles in the moment in the real world, and he reminds them, if they can remember their connection to him, and his connection to the One through whom all things came to be, if they can believe it and trust it, then “greater works than these” will be possible by their own hands. Healing, abundant life, reconciliation, liberation, joy, connection, belonging – these and so much more are possible, he says, because we have seen and known Jesus. We have seen his face and known ourselves more fully, as creatures imbued with dignity and grace and love, because we also bear the image and likeness of the Divine in each of our faces.

In her powerful book, This Here Flesh, author Cole Arthur RIley describes a moment of staring at her father’s reflection as he looked in the mirror, and it registered to her that he didn’t actually look like that reflection. And she asked him if he thought that was his face. “He looked at me like I was setting up a joke” she says, and concludes “I wasn’t.” The mirror gives us a reflection, sure, but it is only that, an image in reverse, not the thing as it actually is. And, she goes on to point out that none of us will ever actually be able to see our own faces as they are, whether in a photograph or in the mirror in front of us, a distortion of what we truly look like to those who see us. As she thought all of this she thought too how handsome her father was, and wanting to find the words, but lacking them, she instead held him fast and stared at his face.

She writes:

We need other people to see our own faces –to bear witness to their beauty and truth. God has made it so that I can never truly know myself apart from another person. I cannot trust myself to describe the curve of my nose because I’ve never seen it. I want someone to bear witness to my face, that we could behold the image of God in one another and believe it on one another’s behalf.

The way to God, is not a way that leads us out of this world. God can be known and experienced, God’s power can be shared and apprehended, God’s face is available to us, right here, and right now. Jesus says, he is the way and the truth and the life, and invites us to know him. So look for him, friends, by loving others, by serving, by seeing and knowing that each face around you is shimmering with the glory and grace of a God who loves you and all of creation with a fierce and unending love. Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have seen the face of God.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Copyright © 2020 St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church

St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
[email protected]
60 Kent St N, St. Paul, MN 55102-2232
Map & Directions

Skip to content