Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sermon for Epiphany II

Christ Church, Springfield--John 1:29-41

How’s your day going? We hear that question from time to time, don’t we? So, what’s your definition of a good day? I’ll tell you mine: A good day is when I feel like I’ve been efficient with the tasks that were set before me and effective with the people associated with those tasks. Most of the time, that happens, so most of my days are “good days,” though certainly not always. Our lives are complex and elaborate. With the internet now, we pretty much have information on anything we want information on within a matter of seconds. Then it becomes a full-time job just to organize and keep up with all the information. It commands our constant attention. It invites us to define “success” in very short-term categories—tactical categories, we might say—things like getting the bills paid, completing a project at work or school, accomplishing a particular household chore, remembering to channel our anger and express our positive feelings appropriately, or whatever we think we need to do ensure that we have … a good day.

These tactical victories can be very distracting. They can distract us from deeper issues of identity, deeper issues of finding a purpose in life. They distract us from whatever it is we might be aware of if we were able to be still and silent and listen to the deepest longings of our hearts. Sometimes we’re secretly grateful for the distraction of everything we call life-as-usual, because it excuses us from facing some of the uncomfortable things we would need to face if we didn’t have something else jumping up and down in front of our face and yelling, “Look at me!” Things like broken relationships that were never set properly, so they didn’t heal straight, and now we walk through life with a limp, though we’ve quite forgotten why. Gimpy has become the new normal for us. Things like bad decisions we have made that have ended up hurting ourselves and others, but which we’ve never looked square in the eye and taken responsibility for and said, “I renounce you. Now leave me alone.” Instead, we struggle through life with a hobbled conscience. Things like hurts we have suffered at the hands of others that they have long-since forgotten about, but which have bound us with resentment and anger for decades. These are some of the things we get to deal with when we get off the train of daily distraction. So it’s no wonder most of us don’t make the effort.

So here we are near the beginning of the season “after Epiphany.” It’s one of those rare Sundays when we have a gospel selection from John. (John doesn’t have his own year in the lectionary the way Matthew, Mark, and Luke do; we find him in various “pockets” during the three-year cycle.) Jesus is all grown up now. He’s been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and is ready to begin his public ministry. This means, of course, that it’s time for John the Baptist’s ministry to wind up. The main event has arrived; the warm-up act’s work is done. So Jesus walks by one morning, and John shouts out, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.” And immediately two of John’s disciples get up and take after Jesus. After a bit, Jesus pauses and looks at them and asks, “What are you after?” What do you want? What do you seek?  Jesus’ question to these disciples of John who are apparently “defecting” to him might appear to be casual, but I want to suggest that it is more fruitful to read it as very, very profound: What do you seek? What do you really want? What would have to take place for you to feel unshakable peace about who you are and your place in the world? What conditions would constitute for you a reservoir of lasting joy? What would give you such happiness as would eliminate all fear and anxiety? These are not casual questions. This is way beyond, “How was your day?” This is way beyond the sort of life-as-usual concerns that distract us from the deeper questions we really need to be asking. These are the deeper questions we really need to be asking.

And so the disciples respond to Jesus’ question with another question of their own, “Where are you staying?” This might also be interpreted on two levels. It certainly makes sense, from a literal, natural, point of view, for them to be curious about where Jesus was lodging, and perhaps even angle for an invitation from him to come on over and continue their discussion, which is exactly what happened. But, more helpfully, and, I would submit, more likely, they may have been tapping the same root, drinking from the same well, from which the Psalmist drank when he wrote, “Lord, I love your house, and the place where your glory abides.” These disciples have figured out that where Jesus is “staying” is indeed the place where God’s glory abides, the place where God doesn’t just occasionally show up for a quick cameo, but where he is guaranteed to be “in” whenever anyone walks in looking for him, a presence that is so dependable that it leaves no room for doubt, no room for anxiety, no room for fear. It invites the sort of transparency that reveals the deepest needs and desires of the human heart, of those who come seeking a knowledge of who they are and who they are called to be.

So the good news today is very simple. It’s this: Jesus, and only Jesus, knows and satisfies the deepest desires of the human heart.

Jesus is probably not of any use for the short-term, distracting, tactical goals that define “success” or “a good day” for us. He won’t help us beat the next traffic signal change, or guarantee a parking spot close to the store, or cause the market to smile on the particular stocks we own. But in those moments of silent stillness, when the clutter of our lives is set aside, we hear the voice of Jesus ask us, “What do you seek?” and our response is, “Where are you staying?”—Where does your glory abide? Where can we always find you?—and Jesus responds, with great love and with great tenderness, “Come and see!”—in those moments, Jesus is all the world. This is the Jesus I want you to see. This is the Jesus I prayed I would be able to show you in the words of this sermon. This is the Jesus who has been at my side during the darkest days of my life, and whose faithful servant I will endeavor to be for the rest of my days in this world and then for all eternity. Jesus says to us all, Jesus says to you, “Come.  Come and see. Come and see like you’ve never seen before. Follow me and you will have your eyes opened like you never dreamed possible. Follow me and you will know yourself like you never thought possible. Follow me and you will know God, you will share the very life of God. Come and see.”

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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