October 30, 2016 | John 1: 35-46 | Rev. Nancy Talbot –
If you’ve been paying any attention to the US election the last few months you will no doubt have observed the way that for one group of people Hillary Clinton is a liar and a cheat who should be jailed yet for others she is the most qualified presidential candidate in history. In the same way you will have observed that for one group of people Donald Trump is a womanizer and a tax evader while for others he is a successful businessperson who just the right person to make America great again.
All of these conflicting views are a good reminder that the lens through which we see and think about a person has a great impact on the way we respond to them. Each one of us are many things to many people, not just because our personalities are multi-faceted, but because the way we think about one another affects the way we experience one another. The way we experience one another affects the way we think about one another.
Today in our series on Finding Faith we are exploring what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In the same way that there are multiples ways of thinking about and experiencing God, there are also multiple ways of thinking about and experiencing Jesus. No one single way is the right and only way.
Take this morning’s reading from John’s Gospel for example. In 11 verses of scripture we are presented with no less than four ways of naming Jesus. John the Baptist calls him “The Lamb of God” referring to the way through weakness, Jesus reveal God’s strength. The two disciples who follow him call him “Rabbi” or teacher. One of these, Andrew tells his brother Simon Peter they have found the “Messiah” the Annointed One, the one who is to save all of Israel. When Jesus goes to Galilee and finds Phillip who in turns finds Nathaneal, Phillip says “Jesus is the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” And then just to make sure Nathaneal knows who he’s talking about he brings things a bit closer to home “You know, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Which might not have been the best description he could have offered of Jesus because this sends Nathaneal off on the path of wondering whether or not anything good can ever come out of Nazareth. It’s is a very earthly and human depiction of Jesus.
If we read further along in John’s gospel, or go back to the beginning of this first chapter there is no shortage of other names and ways of understanding and speaking about Jesus. He is the Word made flesh, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the way, the truth, and the life, the bread of life, the Living Water and more. And that’s just names for Jesus found in one of four different versions of his story found in the bible.
Each way of naming Jesus leads to a particular experience and interpretation of Jesus which is why there are so many different kinds of Christians and different kinds of churches, some of whom appear to be in complete opposition to the other.
Last week some of my colleagues were having a conversation on Facebook about the purpose of the United Church of Canada. One person posted that the purpose of the church is found in the words of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s a direct quote from what is referred to as the great commission found at the end of Matthew’s gospel.
I really appreciated the response one of my colleagues made to this comment. She said “the great commission is not a particular starting point in the United Church of Canada…. our starting point is more hospitable, more cautious… The United Church has not been front and centre on evangelism, we assume when we welcome the stranger we welcome Christ. Making disciples can easily err into colonialism and empire building. And then she added and inclusive language? It matters.
One of the other people who posted on this conversation thread said this: If I were to articulate the great commission I might say “Go into the world and help people to enter into and deepen their relationship with God, through my teaching and my life; help them to immerse themselves in, and live out of, the waters of baptism.”*
What a contrast that is to those who understand Jesus as the way, the truth and the life to the exclusion of all other faiths or to those who see and experience Jesus only as a personal saviour who died to save us from our sins and not as a wisdom teacher or a mystic or a healer or as the leader of movement that caused such a stir among the political and religious elite of his day that it ended up getting him killed. That’s not even to mention the ways he can be experienced as the Living Christ, the Light of the World, the one who is within us and among us now.
This conversation about the purpose or mission of the United Church has got me wondering what the purpose of our church, Mount Seymour United really is. What do we profess about our experience and understanding of Jesus through the hymns we sing, the way we gather, the activities we engage in and the money we give and spend. What do the words “Being Community, Nurturing Spirit and Living Generously” which are now beautifully printed on the front of our building have to say about what we believe about Jesus? What does your own life say about what you believe about Jesus or about what the purpose your life of faith is for you?
On Thursday of this coming week, the Animate Faith group will watch a video featuring Mark Scandrette, a congregational minister who a while ago began to wonder if anything he had to say on Sunday mornings was making a difference in the lives of those he served. He recognized in his own life that he would preach about love and then go home and be crabby with his family. He would hold up Jesus’ teachings about the poor being blessed but had no relationship with impoverished people.
He recognized the truth for many of us when it comes to our life of faith. It’s easy to get stuck in our heads when thinking and talking about God, Jesus and what it means to be the church. It’s also easy for Sunday morning to become the measuring stick and end goal of our religious or spiritual life. If we make it to worship on Sunday morning we figure we’ve accomplished something instead of considering Sunday morning as the starting point of how live out our faith every other day of the week.
When Mark Scandrette determined his own life was too distant from the gospel he was preaching he decided to enter into a series of experiments with his community of faith. What if, they asked themselves, we began to take the teachings of Jesus seriously? What if we really practised loving our enemies, not worrying, relentlessly forgiving one another (77 x), selling our possessions and giving to the poor?
They started doing things like going on silent retreats and making a conscious effort to share their wounds and weaknesses with one another. They hosted picnics with strangers in parks and ran a “have 2 give 1” project in which they divested themselves of half of their possessions over a 2 month period in order to raise money for people in serious need.
What they discovered was that over time their faith became more than something for them to study and learn about, it became a way of life. It changed them. The more they acted the way Jesus acts in the Gospels, the more Christ-like they became. Scandrette describes this as entering more and more deeply into Jesus revolution of love, a revolution that required them to risk getting out of their comfortable pews and stepping out into the world that God loves, not so much to make disciples of others but to be disciples themselves.
According to the way the writer of John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus life, Jesus doesn’t begin his ministry by asking people to believe a bunch of statements about him. He doesn’t agree with or deny John the Baptist when he calls him the Lamb of God. He doesn’t agree with or deny Andrew and the other disciples when they call him Rabbi or Messiah or the one whom Moses and all the prophets foretold. He doesn’t get into arguments or a debates about his identity. Instead he issues an invitation come, follow, see for ourselves who he is and where it is he is staying.
I love that when he asks Andrew and the other disciple what they are looking for they say we want to know where you’re staying. It’s another way of saying we want to be where you are.
I wonder if Jesus were to show up in our midst today, where he would be. He might be surprised that we had come looking to find him in a church. There were no church buildings in the early days of the Christian movement. People met in homes. So I wonder if we would find him on the downtown eastside, or in the cancer ward, or the old age home. I wonder if he might be found in North Dakota alongside the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. I wonder which side of the protest he would be on? Where do you think he would be found?
The scriptures say the disciples remained with Jesus that day when he first found them and they followed him to where he could be found, the place where he was staying. I wonder how long they remained. I wonder how long it took for their lives to be so inexplicably changed that they could not stop themselves from telling others about the one they had encountered, inviting them to come and see and follow him as well. Not to take their word for it, but to see for themselves who he was and what he had to offer them and how it was that he could change their lives too.
That’s the only way we come to really know who somebody is isn’t it? Not by believing what one person says about another or how one newspaper reports about a politician as opposed to how another one reports on the very same person except in a completely different way. We come to know one another by experiencing one another by getting close enough to learn each other’s stories, to see one another for ourselves.
I wonder what it is you are looking for in your life of faith. I wonder what it is you are seeing and what it is you are coming to know about the one we call Jesus. I wonder how it is you are following him on the way and how we are doing that together.
*all quotes in this section were found on the Below Average Ministers Facebook Site posted by the Rev. Richard Bott