They Would See Me, Not

It’s a delightful text where the Greeks come, without bearing gifts I might add, saying, “We would see Jesus.”  Every pastor ought to know that some pulpits have a plaque or an engraving that only the pastor can see quoting this verse. Yes, the people, the sheep would see Jesus but way too often they have seen me, and worse yet, that’s what I thought they needed to see!

I am reminded of this every time I read an obituary in Time magazine. Not every one is like this, but if it’s someone relatively famous, they have another person from their area of expertise write the obituary. Except the obituary then is rarely about the deceased; it’s about the one writing it.

For example some time back the obituary for Phil Everly was done by Linda Ronstadt.  The first two words are “I remember.”  So? You can begin an obituary remembering something about the person, but Ronstadt’s remembrance is really about her; where she was and what she was doing.  To convince you, I quote the last lines of the short obit. After listing all the people influenced by the Everly Brothers, curiously she omits Graham Nash who credits them with his music career, she ends with, “Oh, and happily, me, who recorded a hit version of Phil Everly’s ‘When Will I be Loved’ in 1974” (Time, January 20, 2014, 16).

I think several things are going on.  Time magazine has a sense that death still bothers people.  So they have the living front, mask, stand-in for the dead. The beat goes on after all.  Second, we all want to talk about me. We understand our world with ourselves at the center. We think about life and death that way.

This is not the way to preach. People aren’t to come away with a sense of what a great preacher they just heard but what a great Savior saved them. Ideally, they would not be able to remember what the pastor looked like, but only the Jesus he showed them.  They would see Jesus not our oratory, erudition, or education but Jesus.

The Time obituaries I speak of are really more like Protestant testimonials where the person purports to be talking about what Jesus did for them but is really talking about himself. You come away with their “story” firmly in your head and, “O yeah Jesus plucked them out of that mess.”

We’re never told if the Greeks saw Jesus. Maybe it’s like those hanging, unanswered questions in Luke. It’s not answered, so that we might ask ourselves: who do people see when we preach Jesus?

 

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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