Scripture: John 1:29-42
Given On January 19, 2014 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
I can still remember the moment that it all made sense for me. The moment that I knew I had touched the face of the Holy, shared a mystical connection with the divine, be immersed in the love of God. The moment it all became real for me. I was 14 years old, sitting in the mountains of North Carolina at a Young Life summer camp. We had just listened to a speaker talk for sometime about the love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the plan for all of us to know that love on a deep and intimate basis. That God’s love was for all people even the most sinful, most broken, most hurting, most lost. At the end of the talk some 150 high school kids were sent out into the syrupy warm North Carolina summer evening to contemplate what we had just heard in silence. As a parent of two kids under 7 one of whom is a 5 month old, I crave moments of silence. When I was a 14 year old boy, I hated it. The thought that anything good could come out of sitting in silence looking up at the stars seemed so foreign to me that I had half a mind to go down to the rec room below the conference hall because for sure the pool tables would be unoccupied. But seeing the group file out and not having developed much of a rebellious streak, yet, I followed suit and soon found myself a few hundred yards from the building, sitting on a large rock and staring up into the night sky with sweat running down my brow. What happened next, I cannot describe, words fail, as they do with most encounters with the Divine. Much like trying to reenter Narnia by the same way twice one simply cannot use words later to locate an experience of God in the now. They somehow all fall short of the enormity of the moment. And I wish I could say that a huge shooting star crossed over the night sky, or a meteorite emerged out of the firmament. I wish I could tell you that I stared deeply into a full moon but in the end, it was me, a simple night sky not unlike the one that will occur tonight and God, and I left that moment both shaken to my 14 year old core and knowing without a doubt what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had been called.
Each of the biblical witnesses notes that soon after the baptism of Jesus he begins to move throughout the countryside with a new message for the people of first century Palestine. And with this message, seemingly immediately he begins to assemble a collection of followers. Fishermen, tax collectors, doctors. To each, a simply phrase, “Follow me.” and each time they would stop whatever it was that they were doing, leaving behind families, wives, children, jobs because when the call of Jesus did arrive to them they could do no other but to follow this man as he moved from town to town. In the biblical witness for this morning, we are given a very scant description of the experience of some of those earliest followers. A scant description of the moment in which the message of Jesus rang loud and clear in their souls. And in today’s passage we are seemingly introduced to the story in the midst of it’s telling. Coming right on the heels of Jesus’s baptism, John the baptizer, still with a company of folks around him, sees Jesus, the one whom he had baptized just the previous day coming before him again. And as he sees Jesus coming in the distance he once again becomes excited as only John the Baptist can. As if everything he had been telling the people about the coming of God’s realm is playing out right before his eyes. “This man, this is the one I was telling you about. This is the one whose sandals I am not worthy to unite. who went into the waters of Baptism and had the spirit of God descend on him like a dove. This is the one who is God’s own beloved. The one in whom God is well pleased. I can assure you, he is the child of God.” And then the next day the scene repeats itself. John, this time with two of his trusted followers is holding court and again Jesus walks by but this time, his presence, his aura, his being caused John the Baptizer to cry out, “Look! There is the lamb of God.” And just like that, something clicked inside the hearts and souls of his two followers. For maybe the first time in their lives, the universe and creation and life all made sense and they had to follow this person who had brought all this about. And Jesus, noticing that he had gained two new followers turned and in the silence, the stillness, the intimacy of the moment asked the question that burned deep in their hearts and souls and mind. The question that continues to burn in the hearts and souls and minds of the faithful in all times and places. The question that can be heard reverberating through the universe from the fall of humanity and ending in the new dawn of the realm of God, “What are you looking for?”
If Thoreau is right that the mass of people live lives of quiet desperation then the question at the heart of this story continues to possess a deep currency in all our lives. Because from the moment in our childhood when we first experience separation anxiety from our mother’s to the time in our old age when we stare deeply into the void we find ourselves on a quest to find peace and comfort to follow us all the days of our lives. We find ourselves on a quest to make sense of the brokenness of the world, of the hatred that we often feel towards one another, of the diseases that too often plague our world, of the abject poverty of many held in tension with the luxury of the few, and all this makes us genuinely search for something upon which we might build a faith, upon which we might garner the strength to get out of bed in the morning knowing that in our waking hours we will see things that continuously shake us to our core and make us question our place in the world and within creation. Like square pegs constantly trying to fit in round holes, the scriptures confirm time and again that we are in this world but not of it, that we are children of God and not simply of flesh and when we come to that realization we are both comforted and shaken. We when hear the call of God we are both comforted and shaken. “What are you looking for?”
I left that night and that trip to the mountains of North Carolina with a deep and abiding sense of God in my own life. The near constant longings to be close to God that had dotted my childhood seemingly coming to fruition on that mountaintop and it would be nice to say that the question that screams through the universe, this question of “what are you looking for?” no longer touched my own life. That I, like all those saints and martyrs of the faith who had gained seemingly mystical strength to face the challenges of their days, had gained a measure of strength for myself. Something to take with me all the days of my life and perhaps I had but in truth, my own faith waxes and wanes much as I imagine those who came before me experienced as well. The question, the dis-ease, the longing, the searching, continues to reverberate through all the lives of the faithful. The darkness continues to seek to draw us in until each of us loses sight of the light that continues to burn within the depths of creation as a beacon to all weary travelers to come and find rest. And perhaps this is where the church to should begin to locate its mission within the world.
To be called by God is to peer deep into the fabric of the universe and to know and believe that you are, as you have always been, a beloved child of God, wrapped in love and grace that is always sufficient for the living of this day and the next. That you are from the first moment to the last always in the hands of the one who created you in your mothers womb. Who knitted and formed you into the wondrous person that you are today. To be called by God is to experience love and experience it in abundance and then be willing to pass that love along to the next person you meet. In truth, more than anything, the world needs more people to be willing to take the love of God, awash themselves in it, live into it, believe in it, and then to share it with the next person they meet, and the next, and the next, and the next until we might be sure that all God’s children know that they were born and forever caught in a web of love that sprang forth from the beginning of time and that continues to envelop them today. That they live and breathe the very breath of the holy spirit each moment of each day if they will but stop and take a moment to breathe. That even when they walk through the valley of the shadow of death they are forever held in the light and that light will eventually bring them home. When the disciples were each called at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry they could have no idea what they were in for. Exhilarating highs, soul crushing lows, dark death, bright new life, and hope. And yet, at every stage, Jesus continued to answer the question, continued to comfort, continued to walk beside them. As he continues to walk beside us today. In birth we are infused with the wonderful. In life we are given a chance to share the wonderful with everyone we meet and in death we return to the ground of our being, the grace from which we arose, to the love upon which all creation is built.
For many, the search for love and hope is an arduous one. For many, simply existing is challenge enough day-to-day. For all, there is a deep and abiding need to be loved, to be cared for, to find peace from the ravages of time and the difficulties of life and they, we need somewhere that we might come and leave the baggage of the day behind and simply abide with like minded travelers for a period of time. Is it possible in these times of economic uncertainty, of violence springing forth everywhere, in these moments of political gridlock, in the midst of deep theological arguments that threaten to rend the church asunder that we all might recommit to the mission of being a place of refuge from the storm for any and all who enter into the sanctuaries of the world. In a world that desires for us to be uniform in our thinking and to possess a conviction of our dogma, can the church be the one place where it is ok to come in wherever you are today and free yourselves, free ourselves of the masks that we are often forced to wear in our attempts to create uniformity within the world?
And so it is that we arrive at this place and at this table. The table that represents the darkest last moments of our savior’s life. The table that represents the great feast of heaven in which all of God’s children will be seated one day. This table that represents all the sustenance we need for the living of our lives. As we will gather around table this morning, know this. There is nothing more radical, more transforming, more inclusive that we can do as a family of God than to invite all that we encounter to come and be a part of this feast. To go out into the streets and bring in the sick and the lame, the naked and the poor, the one in prison and the one who thinks no one cares anymore. All these people are called to be here right now. To be fed with bread and cup and to taste and see that God is still good, that God still calls us, the God still embraces each of us from now until eternity. Even til the end of the age. Ask yourself, “what are you looking for?” and then come find it. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.