Looking to Follow

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!

A sermon for 18 January 2015 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Click here to read scripture first:   John 1:29-51 (NRS)

Recently I heard a spiritual teacher (Richard Rohr) tell about the two different kinds of people that exist in this world. Type number one are those of certitude. Those with whom you never want to lock horns. You know what I mean. Type one people ALWAYS are right. They know for SURE what they believe they know for sure. Like concrete that solidifies fast in the mold, type one folks cling ferociously to what they believe to be the truth. It’s even worse when they think they know everything for sure! We’re not bad people as type ones. But we’re probably driving most everyone around us a little mad. Because type oners are convinced they know what’s right – and they usually think only one way can be right. There’s no need to hear any other perspective when you’re a type one. No need to do a little self-reflection to admit our own biases. We’re absolutely certain we’re right – no shred of doubt. But, if we did enough digging, we’d probably discover that type oners really are filled with doubt. It’s why they have to keep such a red-knuckled grip on it all. Rock bottom, type one people of certitude are drowning in a sea of fear. Their certainty acts like the life-saver that keeps them afloat and out of the realm of deep consciousness where all sorts of scary things lie lurking in the shadows. That’s type one people of certitude.

The opposite type, type two, are those open to the mystery of life. Those who know they do not know. They look at the world in such a different way. Unlike type one that has to be certain, type two tends to live a little and let that living influence their perspectives on it all. They greet the world with a warm embrace – ready to experience whatever unfolds on the journey. They’re open to meeting new people, hearing new thoughts, wondering about everything instead of quickly coming to decisive conclusions. They tend to be a bit more on the adventurous side and when the petals are peeled away, two fragrances generally are released: that of love and that of trust. At rock bottom they’re not as concerned about being right because they know they are held. Loved in this great big cosmos by something that always eventually bends toward the good. It’s true type twos sometimes can find themselves lost in a forest of confusion. So it might actually be good to have a little bit of type one’s assurance woven into the fabric of being so open to the mystery of living. A bit more balance might be needed between both. . . . The fascinating thing is that too much of Christian history has teetered over to the side of type ones, when what Jesus really seems to be about is bringing into community a whole lot more type twos.

Just look at the story we encounter in the gospel of John today. “Come and see, come and see, come and see,” we keep hearing. Those aren’t words for ones, but for twos. Actually, I’ve been wondering this week about how many people of absolute certitude Jesus might have called from the start of his ministry. Maybe there were others but because their minds already were 100% certain about everything in this world, we never have heard their names or learned their stories. Instead from the start they responded: “No thank you, Jesus, I’ve no need to see what you might be up to. I already have this thing with God all figured out!” . . . Not so with the men first named in John’s gospel. Andrew. Simon, his brother, who Jesus quickly named Cephas, Peter: the Rock. Philip. And Nathanael too. Come and see! Come and see! Come and see! . . . According to the gospel of John, the first words out of the mouth of the Messiah, the eternal Word embodied in this one from Nazareth called Jesus. The first words the eternal, embodied Word speaks according to the gospel of John are a question. “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). It’s an interesting word to first speak as one of us in this world; for it almost sounds as if our search has become of utmost importance to the Holy One.

What are you looking for? How might we answer that question. . . . I spent the better part of the past 2 and a half days at a Circle of Trust retreat. It’s the Courage Work Parker Palmer created to bring strangers together to listen one another deeper into the Spirit’s desire for our whole-hearted living. It’s the first of 4 seasonal retreats to be held throughout 2015 and it all began Thursday night with the question: What question is rising up in your life now? But I heard it as: what are you looking for now?  . . .  Peace from the hectic life we’re living these days? Security in a world where those dead-set in their certitude keep trying to destroy others? Restoration from the aches and pains of aging bodies? Hope where it all seems hopeless? Connection with One that has been Life for us all along our journey? . . . The first two disciples respond to Jesus’ question by saying: “Teacher, where are you staying?” There’s that whole play here in this story on staying and remaining and coming along to see (John 1:38-39). . . . What were they looking for? Someone who might turn their lives around – even if they really could NOT imagine the ride they were in for. They’re going to see amazing things – stupendous works, life-altering words, jaw-dropping love if only they will leave their current comfort zones to follow where – who – they cannot yet know. Come and see. Come and see. Come and see.

You’re aware, I hope, that here in this congregation we’re doing this thing called The Vital Church. The other night after what I’d like to think was a thought-provoking presentation, a few folks were antsy about doing more. You know that since the days you all undertook New Beginnings in 2010, this church has been in a time of seeking to clarify your vision for future ministry. I think it’s getting a lot clearer than it was a few years ago. You have begun ministries in the community like assistance to those in need through snack bags to the local elementary school and dollars that you give face to face to those coming here in need of help with utilities or medicines or rent. You’ve been earning a name in the community with the annual Craft Fair and the music ministries to the senior living facility next door and beyond. I’m probably missing something that has been a new focus for you all in the past few years, but all these are the ways you all have been following Jesus anew into the world. It’s wonderful! . . . And now a few of you are telling me you want to do more. Part of the shift in 21st Century Christianity is go out to meet the neighbors and there’s rumor that some of you have decided you are heading next door to the senior living facility this week to get to know the neighbors there. To see if they might desire the kind of loving, caring family so many of the rest of you treasure among one another. Come and see Jesus is saying to us . . . see what stupendous works, life-altering words, jaw-dropping love we might experience with those living right across the street if only we would leave our current comfort zones to meet up with Jesus over there. I hope you will make an effort to join in. Every member and friend is invited to be a part of this endeavor. And if you don’t have time to give to this attempt to get out there, then I hope you at least will be ready to greet any new people if in fact they show up here, across their street. . . . We cannot know how it all will turn out or where it all might take this church. We only can trust the One who is hoping and praying we’re type number twos: open to the mystery of how the journey will unfold. Even if a bit timid or filled with swirling doubts, willing to greet the world of our neighbors with a warm embrace. Ready to enjoy an unimaginable ride! You’re all invited: come and see!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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