s074g97 Somerton Park 5/5/97 St Philip's Patronal Festival
"Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."" John 14:8.
There is nothing like asking for the world! Some of us are content to pray that our numbers come up in the "cross lotto". But none of that for our patron. He goes for broke - he wants to see God.
It has always struck me as a curious request, curious because the Old Testament witness is that people died if they saw God. Perhaps Philip was less familiar with the Old Testament despite his words in John 1.45. Philip is of course a Greek name. He may well not have been a Jew before meeting Jesus. So our patron had a certain brashness.
I suppose that brashness could have been partly Jesus own fault. After all Jesus did say, and say twice, firstly in verse 13: "I will do whatever you ask in my name", and then in verse 14: "If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." It's all fairly unequivocal, even if it is said after Philip's request. It is more than likely such sentiments as these had been expressed prior to this. Clearly Philip had been encouraged to make his requests known, even if opening his mouth was just to change feet.
But he had more than a certain brashness, for he says to Jesus: "show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." The problem is that Jesus had already said to them all: "If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him" (John 14.7) and it is in response to this that Philip asks his brash question. We can assume that for all Philip addresses Jesus as "Lord" - in fact he wasn't satisfied with Jesus' first statement: "you do know him and have seen him". For all the religious sounding sentiments like: "show us God", he remains - like the other religious opposition that Jesus faced - the official opposition - dissatisfied with what he is given by Jesus.
Our patron St Philip spent some of his time at least, thinking that Jesus was incarnated and put on this earth solely to satisfy his own personal longings, curiosities and ambitions.
My Dictionary of Saints (Oxford p353) speaks of Philip's appearances in the New Testament. He was from Galilee. He persuaded Nathanael to follow Jesus, he made the statement that 200 pennyworth of bread would not be enough to buy sufficient to feed the 5000, and that he is approached by some Greeks who wish to see Jesus - presumably because he was also Greek. I guess we might describe him as a "mover and shaker" - a pragmatist. He gets others involved, he serves as a link from his own countrymen to Jesus, he has a ready appreciation of the value of money and the difficulties Jesus might be faced with. A fairly capable operator - would have made a good evangelist.
I find it interesting that after this interchange about seeing the Father, the only other reference to Philip is that he is listed with the other disciples and the women, with the mother and brothers of Jesus in the upper room waiting and praying. (Acts 1.12-14) "After that there are only vague traditions ..." comments my Dictionary.
So other than this brief inclusion in a list at the beginning of Acts, our gospel reading for today essentially marks the end of what we know of Philip. If Philip did believe in Jesus and if he, as a consequence, did the works that Jesus did, or even greater works than those - we are totally unaware of them. Indeed when we look at him in this light, one wonders whether Jesus' further explanation in fact served to satisfy Philip. For Jesus only restated his case. "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'?" (John 14:9) For, of course, some people are never satisfied. Perhaps in the end, he too went away. Here he was, after the inner three - Peter, James and John - probably the head of all the others about whom we know little except their names. The exception is of course Judas - we know a lot about what he said and did.
Jesus' reply to Philip perhaps softens his grandiose schemes and vivid fantasies. God is not out there, in heaven, in some sort of spiritual realm separate from this existence, like the chasm which separated the rich man from Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham in the parable. The messiah is he, it was the person speaking to Philip. But perhaps Philip wanted to keep his grandiose schemes and vivid fantasies. Perhaps even after Jesus' words, Philip failed to believe or to recognise. To believe the words that Jesus spoke which were not his own ... to recognise in the works ...
Likewise in our Easter faith, do we, like Philip, look for Jesus to "show us the Father" when all that God has given us is staring us in the face. The words of the prophet Isaiah might serve to soften our own grandiose schemes and vivid fantasies: "when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."" (Isaiah 30:21). God is very close, all around us, we have only to see and hear ...
I am reminded of the words of Paul Simon - in his song "Sounds of Silence": "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls". They are not at all inappropriate. Many of the disciples found some of Jesus' words deeply disturbing - words like: "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life". (John 6:53-54). Our reaction to having to look for the word of the Lord in the graffiti at the local railway station is, I suspect not far different from the reaction the religious authorities and some of the disciples had to these words of Jesus.
I was interested to read in the latest issue of "Church Scene" (18/4/97 p18) the Bishop of Wangaratta reported as saying in an English magazine "New Directions": "Ever since I moved to Australia from Papua New Guinea I have lamented the failure of the Anglican Church in Australia to really adapt to the local culture ... good taste reigns supreme ..." He concludes with the words: "What is God doing? Where is he at work? Are we following him?"
I wonder if we see beyond the criticism to the grain of good news - indeed I wonder if he himself sees it too - that God is at work and we will find God in the local culture. Perhaps it is because the local culture in Papua New Guinea is so defined, whereas it is much harder to define what our local culture is in Australia.
I confess I was somewhat distressed to find our Primate's words as reported on page 11 of the same issue: "I challenge Anglican schools to critique carefully fundamentalism of all kinds (even liberal fundamentalism!)" Christianity doesn't seem to me to be endless theological exercise to make sure we are right ...
It is extremely fashionable to say things like that we live in a post Christian era, and bemoan the fact that the society we live seems to have lost all moral teaching. I suspect that in fact what we mean by this is that the Church has lost its moral clout and we feel lost when people don't take any notice of us any more. We need to ask the question whether the Church's role is primarily to exercise moral clout on the rest of society.
I, in fact, see in the so-called secular society a healthy reaction against those who exercise power. I suppose just one example is the issue of contraception. I'm not wishing to have a shot at the Catholic Church, but the reality is that the issue of contraception for the first time on a world wide public basis made people make up their own minds on this and hence on like issues. So people have been freed from always turning to an outside authority for answers to questions on moral matters - for the reality is that an external authority will always be conservative - will always say "No". It is a good thing that people are free to exercise their own judgment about such matters.
I see in our modern society, people and agencies transcending customs, cultures and lifestyles, responding to the real needs of people and trying to treat all with the appropriate dignity. The Church will find itself at a loss trying to respond to Pauline Hanson's new political party, it will be the SBS* which will do most to save us from the excesses there espoused.
I personally believe that far from being a less Christian society, in fact we are as a society struggling to be more Christian than ever as we affirm the dignity of every individual.
The struggle over the recent High Court "Wik" decision on aboriginal land rights is a case in point. I think it is a real sign of hope that we struggle over this. In years past it would have been that "might is right" and powerless people would have been trampled on. I know that there is a perception that the boots on the other foot now and the rights of the indigenous people are more important than others. We are still struggling and that we are struggling is good - because the struggle is to make sure all people are respected.
There is real hope that for perhaps the first time ever such matters may be resolved by negotiation not surreptitious or not so surreptitious murder. Certainly the old ways were easier, especially if one was on the side of "might", and one turned a blind eye to the suffering that was caused. But I am pleased to live in this so called "non-Christian" society, for in many ways it reflects more clearly the compassion and acceptance of Jesus than ever has been possible before, precisely because the Church still had power and authority over others.
On this our Patronal festival, the same exhortation Jesus gives to St Philip, he gives to us all, and that exhortation is - to believe. For that exhortation is not without promise, that when he and we believe, we will do the works that he does, and greater works ... To live without climbing over others. To live without fear. To live in harmony. Are these too miraculous to hope for?
* SBS - the Special Broadcasting Service - the national multicultural television network.
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