A young American engineer was sent to Ireland by his company to work in a new electronics plant. It was a two-year assignment that he had accepted because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee, and their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They corresponded often, but as the lonely weeks went by, she began expressing doubts that he was being true to her, exposed as he was to comely Irish lasses.
The young engineer wrote back, declaring with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.”
In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.”
The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.”
At the end of his two-year stint, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, “Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica!”
Our gospel reading today takes place at the end of Jesus’ ministry during the Passover. This celebration of the Passover would have brought to the people’s minds all the great works of God during the Exodus from Egypt: the plagues, the parting of the sea, the pillar of fire by night and smoke by day, the giving of the ten commandments, and so much more.
During his ministry, Jesus has also performed many great works: healing of the lame and the blind, feedings of the thousands, walking on water, raising the dead. Yet, even after witnessing so much, Philip said to Jesus, ”Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Philip, in his zeal to understand and to believe, is asking for more proof in the form of some of that old time religion, perhaps some great acts of power like Moses performed in the time of the Exodus. He is saying to Jesus, “I know who you say you are, but let’s see you knock out a tune on that harmonica.”
The events surrounding the Exodus were a real show of force and a demonstration of God’s power, but the coming of Jesus served a different purpose, it wasn’t about what God can do, instead the coming of Jesus is about who God is, His very nature and essence.
Yes, Jesus did demonstrate the power of God through the miracles, but the miracles were a means to an end, which was to show his relationship to the Father as the Son of God. When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus responded, “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? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” Jesus’ demonstrations of power, the miracles, were how Jesus revealed that he was in the Father and the Father was in him; however, the coming of Jesus was not about these demonstrations of power. The coming of Jesus was to reveal the nature and essence of God, which is love. He came to show a dying world, “God is love” and that great love of God’s for us desires that we should be with him always.
Oh, my goodness! How many times do we have to hear this? He’s preaching on love again, isn’t he? Yes, I am. And the reason I’m preaching on love again is because sometimes we believe that if God really cared about us, really wanted to prove his love for us, then he would play the harmonica more often, especially when we ask him to. “Jesus, show us the Father and we’ll be satisfied.” “Jesus, do this one little thing for me and I’ll really believe.” “Jesus, (fill in the blank with your heart’s desire) and I’ll know that you love me.” “Jesus, play the harmonica for me.” And when we read what Jesus says next, we truly come to believe that he should be playing a mighty fine tune. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Call me crazy, but doesn’t that sound like he’s going to play the harmonica? Doesn’t that sound like, if he really loves us like he said, then all we have to do is hand him the sheet music and he’ll strike up, not only the harmonica, but the entire angelic band? If he really loved us, he would show us the Father, allowing us to see and perform greater works than the disciples were ever witness to.
Perhaps that is the rub for so many. I’ve never seen anyone turn water into wine. I’ve never fed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. I’ve never seen anyone raise the dead. Never mind playing the harmonica, at this point I’d be satisfied with him whistling a few bars of Amazing Grace. However, what I have seen are the ravages of incessant wars. I’ve seen hate in action. I’ve seen despair, poverty, hunger. I’ve seen the scourge of disease lay waste to so many. All this pain and we can’t seem to bring any of it to an end.
Jesus’ acts of power identified him as the Son of God, so that he could reveal the nature and essence of God – love – so where are the acts of power today that he said we would accomplish? Where is this love of God in our world today? How come we can’t see and experience it?
Harry Potter, Book Six: The Half-Blood Prince. The great wizard Dumbledore has an encounter with He Who Must Not Be Named, bad wizard number one, Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore suggests that Voldemort will never be as powerful as he desires, because there is a kind of magic that Voldemort knows nothing about, in fact, he is, in the words of Dumbledore, “woefully ignorant” of it. It is the magic that Harry Potter’s mother passed onto him when she died. Thinking himself the most powerful, Voldemort sneers out a wretched smile and responds softly, “The old argument. But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic.” “Perhaps,” suggested Dumbledore, “you have been looking in the wrong places.”
Perhaps, when we look for examples of God’s power and expressions of his love, we have been looking in the wrong places. We become so obsessed with hearing the harmonica, that we miss the love song He’s been singing all along. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
He is the creator of the heavens and the earth, He can do whatever he chooses, and he chooses to love. He says, “Yes, I can send the ten plagues and free you from the bondage of Egypt, but I would rather find the one lost sheep so that they may experience true freedom in me.” “I can divide the sea so that you can walk through on dry land to save your life from your enemies, but I would rather conquer death once and for all so that you may have eternal life.” “I can fill this place with my presence so that you, like your forefathers, will cower in fear, but I would rather fill your hearts with an unconquerable love for me and for one another.”
We can look into a mother’s womb and not only hear, but see the heartbeat of the child that is growing there. If that same heart is sick, in many cases, we can heal it, before the child is even born. We can do great things, but it is only through God’s love that this same heart, like Jesus’, will be united with the Father, so that the Father will be in the child and the child will be in the Father. And through this union with God, this same child can grow and show others the Father. What greater work can you do than to point someone to God, so that they too may have eternal life?
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You, show the world love, show the world the way, the truth, and the life, show the world Jesus, so that they may see the Father.
Let us pray: God, my Father, may I love You in all things and above all things. May I reach the joy which You have prepared for me in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in my heart a desire to please You and fill my mind with thoughts of Your Love, so that I may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace.