The very first words we hear from Jesus in the Book of John are “What are you looking for?”!
When John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus, he asks them “what are you seeking?”They answer him, rabbi (teacher): Where are you staying? And he says “come and see.”
These words have much deeper meaning than
“Come see where I’m staying for the night.”
From the Greek this form of staying mean: How are you abiding; Where are you dwelling…
And the word used for “see” Come and see means: clear discernment, and experience. Not mere looking with the eyes.
Jesus essentially says, Come abide with me, this residing in God - and experience it for yourself.
I really like the remarks from Dr. Steve Mueller in his weekly message: where we abide has to do with who we are -and the gifts we really have. And, that in the context of walking “the way,” Jesus asks us to appreciate the question deeply: What are you seeking?
Mueller writes, “As Jesus begins his public life, we too are invited to reflect on our own unique mission, the task marked with our name, which no one else can do…"
Last week we spoke about naming. That Jesus names people; One of the reasons I love him so much. And here again are more stories of Jesus naming. The second thing Jesus says in the book of John, is “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas”(which is translated Peter).
Following “the way” gives us a new identity. It is significant.
Jesus is called Lamb of God by John the Baptist affirming his role as the “suffering servant” from the Book of Isaiah.
In our beautiful passage from Isaiah today, the prophet is speaking about Jacob and Israel. Here again, if you remember: the story of Jacob involves a new name. Jacob had been terrified to return home to his brother Esau because Esau had vowed to kill Jacob for stealing his birthright. But God tells Jacob to reconcile with his brother. The night before their happy reconciliation Jacob wrestles with an angel for an entire night. In the morning God names Jacob Israel meaning “one who strives with God.” He becomes the representative of the people identified as Israel: a name that involves reconciliation.
The prophets are always in one way or another asking us to reconcile on behalf of God. This morning God speaks through Isaiah. God’s vision for redemption, for salvation, for being called into loving relationship with our Creator is not for Jacob/Israel alone. God says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
This suffering servant, This Lamb of God, this Jesus is also called a light to enlighten the nations.
The prophet Isaiah and Jesus are always reminding us that the spiritual path is not ours alone, but one that extends to others. And we have unique ways of naming our own participation “on the way.”
Recently, Fr. Richard Rohr has had a serious of meditations on the Prophets and the role of prophetic voice. He wrote
“History is continually graced with people who somehow learned to act beyond and outside their self-interest and for the good of the world, people who clearly operated by a power larger than their own. Consider Gandhi , Oskar Schindler, Martin Luther King Jr. Add to them Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, …and many unsung leaders. Their inspiring witness offers us strong evidence that the mind of Christ still inhabits the world.”
Tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. There will be a Diocesan-wide service held on zoom for those of us who can’t make it to the Bronx. That info is in the Damascus if you would like the link.
In the context of the weekend it is impossible not to associate this passage of Isaiah with MLK. And It is one of my favorite images:
“The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’”
If ever there was a polished arrow or mouth like a sharp sword it was Martin Luther King Jr.
He is known for the civil rights movement, but his message was not solely for racial justice in the USA; he was also speaking to the needs of those around the world. His theology and his message was a profound and prophetic voice for people in war-torn countries, for people in poverty, no matter our color…
Paul writing to the Corinthians reminds them that we are all called to fellowship through Christ. Powerfully, Paul reminds us that Christ’s testimony is actually strengthened through us! And that we are not lacking in any spiritual gifts.
Most of you know that I was a Spiritual Director for many years before I was ordained. In spiritual direction we discern our place “on the way”… looking to grow, we consciously become aware of our journey and the direction our path is taking: how to recognize the signs … and to be engaged in the process. We begin to be awake to what is being revealed.
There is the eternal learning of a lifetime. We say the home is where the heart is… And we really mean what matters to us deeply is that abiding space we call home. Everything we do flows from that center. Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.
Now this seems obvious, but as Mueller suggests we need to reflect on it… because our daily lives get complicated with people and things and objectives that tempt us away from ourselves, our hearts, and the stability of abiding in God, and operating from that center.
So often as St. Paul says, “I do not do what I want to do, but instead I do the thing that I hate.” So often we get caught up in troubles that as Julian of Norwich says, darkens our eyes to the Spirit of God…”
We see: my eyes were darkened because of my propensity for winning, or jealousy, my phone, shopping, drinking or even the thirst for perfection. I’m not honoring my heart (and the people in my life: what truly matters) with my constant drive for accomplishment!
The Spiritual journey is often a wrestling match.
Like with Jacob: We strive with God.
Our spiritual path to follow “in the way” names us as Christians. Striving…
So what does that naming mean for you?
What is your unique mission?
I believe that we start to uncover our own prophetic voice… Not that we are all called to be like Isaiah or Martin Luther King, Jr…. But that we have our own distinct yearning…
It mirrors what was happening with the disciples in the Gospel: God says, what are you seeking? Come and discern/come and experience it! And once we do… that interior voice becomes clearer and clearer. This is who I am in God… this is what matters to me, and this is what I am doing!
The psalmist this week remind us not to fear.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
This is a common theme in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.”
Fear may protect us as an instinctual red flag, which is important, but most of the time it is unhelpful. It hampers us from exploring, engaging in something new, and growing.
While the Hebrew scripture often includes the instruction to “fear” God, that translation is referring to “awe” (not our animal instinct of fight or flight). Awe in God is reverence, amazement, wonder: something that may include fear only because of the incomprehensibility of the World; its vastness and complexity; and the mystery of our being.
Julian of Norwich says there’s nothing to be afraid of other than that Awe for God, really. So, as the self-help people tell us: “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Today in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus calls to a few young fishermen. They pick up and leave what they are doing and immediately follow Jesus on the way. Talk about fearless!
What exactly was going on, that they felt so moved, so brave?! It was a radical thing to do: leave their father’s house (His fishing - to go, as Jesus says, “to fish for men”).
Many years ago I read a book called Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It opened my eyes to the complexity of the time in which Jesus lived and demonstrates so clearly and helpfully what we know about him as both man and Messiah.
We know he and the disciples were living under Roman occupation and this meant that young men such as Jesus’ first disciples may have been fearless because they were fed up with their political environment and their social predicament. They were most likely contracted through Rome and were unfairly taxed through a percentage of the fish they caught.
In our Gospel, John the Baptist has just been arrested. John had an even greater following than Jesus. He was the one who pointed his own followers to Jesus.
So John the Baptist, their wild and unruly leader, who speaks truth to power has just been arrested - and Jesus has just come out of the desert after praying for forty days and being tempted by Worldly power and resisted. It is at this juncture that Jesus begins to collect his disciples.
When Matthew introduces Jesus and his mission he borrows Isaiah’s words:
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
The Jewish people were awaiting a Messiah. According to Isaiah he will be a light to enlighten the nations, but he will also cast the mighty from their thrones. This is where the story gets very interesting because they anticipated their savior to be a fierce leader bringing God’s righteousness and justice to the poor and the oppressed.
And Jesus arrives as the savior quite counter-culturally. His response to a world of pain and injustice is to teach about peace, forgiveness and to offer healing.
It is helpful not to divorce Jesus from this historical background. Many of his initial followers probably believed he was going to lead a rebellion by force.
What comes next, is his ministry of teaching in the synagogues, healing, and curing people from every disease and sickness.
What strikes me is how fearless these first disciples were. They heard the call to truth and radical action… and by joining with Jesus they assist in the radical action of healing and curing people. Jesus did not walk on the earth alone. He traveled with companions and was supported by the apostles, and many women and men who made his healing work possible in the world.
The first followers of Jesus, that caravan, became pacifists and healers through his leadership as both man and Messiah.
St. Paul did the very same. He turned from violence to peaceable leadership. Our passage from Corinthians demonstrates how easy it is for us to start turning from that counter-cultural approach to competition and quarreling.
It is so apt for today with all of our polarization and taking sides. Apparently this group has splintered offering allegiance to those who baptized them forgetting they are all followers of Christ.
Paul says, has “Christ been divided?” To Paul’s credit as a leader he denies any positive accountability for baptizing, saying that Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to proclaim the gospel.
Paul in his wisdom, did not turn (repent) to becoming just a super nice guy. Paul had incredible conviction. Paul spoke truth to power and the truth to those who would take the power of God and try to make it their own. He says their quarrels make them “foolish” and they “perish.” The power is in our unity in Christ and Jesus’ message on earth. That is life. And life-giving.
To make divisive camps within the house of God is to make an idol of the power itself.
Paul speaks to a cruciform shape: the cross. It is a power that is self-emptying. This is the power that Jesus came to share. Wisdom flows from a place of self-emptying. It is sacrificial in that it requires coming out of ourselves into the perspective of another and re-integrating. It will never come from a place of force or violence or divisiveness.
God’s righteousness and justice is not about putting someone under a thumb. It is about opening and opening to a place that takes a much broader perspective that leads us to greater understanding.
That can be scary…How do we do this?
Jesus comes out of the desert and learns that the prophet who baptized him has been arrested. The passage tells us Jesus withdraws to Galilee. The word here withdrew is the same word as flee… the word that was used for the Mother Mary and Joseph’s fleeing to Egypt). In Matthew the word is always associated with dangerous situations and fear. Jesus is afraid. Here is the very human aspect of Jesus in his historical context.
What does the man Jesus do when he is afraid? He withdraws to pray. As the psalmist says, Jesus seeks God’s face.
We are reminded that “behind all these [prophetic] activities was a life of constant prayer and profound contemplation.” Richard Rohr reminds us that “any idea that one could be a prophet calling for justice and social change without some experience of union with God [ie: prayer life is] unthinkable.
In the Gospel of Luke, it says before he chose his disciples he spent the entire night in prayer. And in this gospel Jesus has spent forty days in the wilderness praying before he chooses his disciples.
We are turning to February which is Black History month. It falls in February largely due to the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. These were fearless men. Or shall I say, like Jesus, they were men who felt the fear, but did it anyway. That is a place where wisdom and justice can be revealed…
Our Bishop Mary Glasspool recently wrote a letter in which she framed our Christian mission as “teaching our children to love justice.” It is a great way to help our children understand Christ’s work in the world is for everyone. And the way into justice is through prayer, through the practice that God’s love is our source of power.
Today we still struggle like the Corinthians. We are countercultural. Christianity continues to be misunderstood It takes conviction to say “I am Christian” at a time in our history when secularism seems the rule. As adults we may not want to be associated with fundamentalism. As children we may not want to be seen as “different” from our peers.
But let us not be afraid. Instead, let us engage in awe; with exploration, and prayer knowing that we continue to be part of that timeless caravan: the heart and hands of Christ working in the world for justice.
Power comes from seeking God’s face.
Wisdom comes from self-emptying.
Justice comes from love.
The psalmist sings: ”When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *”
From the beginning we believe that we have been given the name Adam meaning Humankind. What’s in a name? We have been given a precious and amazing calling.
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
The name we were given comes with responsibility for the care and stewardship of the earth, all creatures, and one another.
This Sunday is called “Holy Name” Day; We celebrate the naming of God among us. One of the things the story reminds us of today, importantly, is that Mary and Joseph were a faithful Jewish couple. They were following the tradition of their religion, participating in the eighth day circumcision, one of the covenants God made with Abraham.
At a time when we are re-encountering Anti-semitism in our media feeds, in bomb threats and in shootings, it is important to remember Jesus, Yeshua was Jewish.
The book of Numbers this morning is also primarily dedicated to the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and his descendants. And Mary and Joseph were, as we are, descendants of that Abrahamic faith.
A second important thing about the story is that Mary and Joseph do as the Angel Gabriel tells them to do. We have already heard from the Angel Gabriel that Mary and Joseph are to name Immanuel, “Yeshua” (Jesus) which means God Saves.
The story reveals that Mary and Joseph are a couple with deep faith. They practice their tradition while they are also open to this new mysterious blessing, the acceptance that God is breaking into this world accompanied through their confidence and faith. Surely they are familiar with Arron’s blessing: the blessing Priests are to give to the people (to put God’s name on them).
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
If we had any doubt what God among us would be like, we are told right away that God is one who saves…
When I fell in love with Jesus as a child, it was not because I understood the concept of savior, or could wrap my mind around the resurrection, or even understand many of the parables. These were adult concepts wrapped in mystery, like most of the adult world, which was beyond my reach or understanding.
I fell in love with Jesus for a very simple reason. I fell in love with Yeshua specifically because, he named other people. Jesus let everyone he encountered know that they were somebody. They mattered. Everyone was someone and he cared for them.
As a child witnessing playground fights, games of choosing teams, winners and losers, bullying, children who had less than others, who were left out or made to be class outcasts; I already had been provided with another model. I already knew there was another way to operate. I knew Jesus.
I knew Jesus would call each one of those children into relationship. He would not put up with the clicks, the division, cruelty and the name calling. He would see them all as equally beloved individuals, children of God; Heirs of God (as Paul puts it).
And if that’s the only teaching our children get from church, frankly, it is enough because Jesus came to teach us that the nature of God is love. So Pass it on.
That’s the third lesson we receive in the Gospel today, that the shepherds heard this incredible message and passed it on. The message they received from the angel was from our Christmas story:
"Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
It is a message for all people. God saves. And Jesus does this through recognizing us, healing us and naming us.
Jesus calls us by name. He begins with his very first disciples. Remember, Nathaniel asked, “how did you know my name?” And Jesus said, I saw you sitting under the fig tree. In the Gospels, Jesus is aware of a greater picture - and sees people for who they are.
When Jesus was passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, climbed a tree in order to get a better look at him. And “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Remember: All of the people grumbled, because he was a sinner.
When he met the Samaritan Woman also known as the “Woman at the Well” their conversation was the longest recorded conversation Jesus had with anyone in any of the Gospels. Afterward she tells her townspeople, “he knew everything I’d ever done.” She may have meant that literally, but it primarily expressed that Jesus understood her very deeply.
These strangers were not people Jesus was running to for popularity, to fit in, to be accepted by the crowd.
No, Jesus sees them all as heirs of God; All as adopted children wrapped up into the one loving embrace of the father.
Jesus also gives us another name:
Another name for God, “Abba, Father.”
“Abba:” It is an endearing word for father, like Papa. He wants us to know that no matter our circumstances, the ultimate father, the ultimate creator loves us intimately: has “made us but a little lower than the angels.”
And Jesus gives us names.
Peter: “the rock.”
Mary Magdalene: “the tower.” Later after the resurrection he again calls her by name when she doesn’t recognize him. Calling her back to herself: Mary!
All through the Gospels Jesus calls us by name, that life affirming gesture of welcome, that great belonging we all wish to have.
Jesus gives of himself to give us ourselves. He wants us to be known, individually affirmed, yet one undivided body, one family: the heirs of God.
Our own namesake, St. Paul was on the road to Damascus (on his road of wrath) chasing down followers of the way, capturing and killing followers of Jesus and is suddenly blinded by the light.
He hears Jesus say, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” He doesn’t say why are you persecuting “them” or “my followers.” No: he says why are you persecuting “me.”
Jesus the Holy One, with the Holy Name, offers himself to us so we can understand that we all may be one with him. God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!”
Jesus was born into the world to be Immanuel meaning God with us. But the Angel Gabriel said to Mary and Joseph to name him Jesus: God Saves.
The name Yeshua was actually popular at the time when our Holy Child was born. The first century historian Josephus lists many men with this name including ten that were his contemporaries.
The Hope of God was not just hidden in the lives of a young woman and her faithful fiancé, but God Saves was a name children and men were already bearing. It shows we already believed in this notion. We already had hope and faith that God would save us; that God would make his face to shine upon us and give us peace; to give us each names, and to put his name on us… to make us each just a little lower than the angels.
May we like Mary and Joseph have the faith, courage and confidence to allow this saving notion of God to break into our hearts and our lives, to be born again anew in us. Let us name it.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
On Friday we marked Epiphany: The visit of the Magi to the Christ child. And today we celebrate The Baptism of our Lord. Epiphany is not transferred to today. We have two special days back to back and they are paired for a reason.
“…when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
This is a Trinitarian moment Father, Son, and Holy Spirit calls on our senses. It invites us to hear God’s voice, see the Holy Spirit and feel the movement of Jesus coming up out of the water! It invites us to use our senses.
Otherwise it is quite difficult to wrap our minds around the Trinity. Our Trinitarian understanding of God may not easily be captured by the mind alone, or as one image.
Primarily because as this moment expresses: the Trinity is the ever dynamic movement of exchange. It was actually described as a circle dance by the earliest of Christian thinkers; Perichoresis.
Our Fourth Century theologians, The Cappodocian Fathers, described the Trinity as an ever out pouring, self-emptying flow of love. This dynamism. It is the exchange between God: Creator Love; Son: Human Love; Spirit: Returning Love. That redemptive Love that returns us to God through love working and moving in the world.
It requires all of our senses.
In this baptism imagery, We see it, hear it, feel it.
With all aspects of the Trinity in motion we are given a true picture of the dynamism of our God.
Recently in our Wednesday study of Julian of Norwich we read a section she entitled Sensuality. She wrote:
“At the very moment that our Soul is made sensual, the dwelling of God is established, divinely placed within us since before the beginning of time.”
She really captures Jesus’ constant teaching that “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.”…
Jesus says, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Believing in Jesus is the same thing as believing about Jesus:’ following in the character and way of Jesus. Allowing Jesus this indwelling. God in you, and you in me, and I in you.
We hear from Peter in Acts that all those who believe in the character, the name of Jesus, and who are living justly, will be forgiven for their sins. Jesus is ordained judge The way of Jesus is into right relationship, with God…
Righteousness as it is called in the Bible. The covenant with God is about being in relationship.
This emphasis on Righteousness shows up in our Gospel passage today too. John the Baptist at first doesn’t think that it is his place to baptize Jesus. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? But Jesus says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
John the Baptist protests that Jesus should be the one baptizing him. So what is this righteousness? In the Old Testament righteousness is about trust and faith in God, not about perfection. The whole thing is really about being in right relationship with God, rather than pretending to somehow be perfect. Jesus joins others in the Baptism of John to be in right relationship with God and Others.
Returning to Julian Of Norwich, Another question that came up for us in our Wednesday study related to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism…While we also hear from Jesus and the mystics that we have had the Holy Spirit from birth… that the Spirit breathed life into us.. and our souls become the dwelling place of God. So which is it?
Baptism is a rite. It is one of our sacraments. We define sacraments as the outward sign of an inward grace. They are a ritual to mark what already is.
Baptism means we are recognizing what already is seeded in us and what we are making a commitment to live out. Like marriage as the sign and commitment to our love which is already there.
Baptism is recognizing that indwelling of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit already there, already brimming with potential. For infant baptism, it is the community and family making the commitment to help the child live into this identity to the fullest… to be in relationship with God.
We are in the Season of Epiphany. This Sunday is called the First Sunday after the Epiphany and The Baptism of our Lord.
On Friday we celebrated Epiphany as the Wise Men (the Magi) arrive in Bethlehem to seek out and honor the Christ Child born in a manger.
It is a story full of excitement: danger, dreams, prophecy and miracle. It is also connected with the word epiphany itself which we use year round to express a sudden insight. The word comes from the Greek, meaning “revelation from above.” Generally, when we have an “epiphany" it is a great idea that surprises us. It often comes suddenly and with the power to shift our perspective, illuminate a situation, even change our minds. It is an awakening.
Epiphanies usually happen when we are problem solving…we are trying to figure something out, and a light bulb goes off in our heads; awakening us to a new possibility.
Epiphany for us marks the new way of the Christ Child. The problems of humanity will be solved through a new revelation. Like the Magi (who do not return to Herod who had plans to kill the Christ child). Our wise men will not sell out to leaders through perpetuating cycles of violence.They will find another “route.” We will begin to follow "the way" led by the Prince of Peace.
Our vision, is that Like Mary and Joseph, we will start to embrace the epiphany that God may be made manifest through us;
And Like the shepherds we will announce to one another that joy and love are our inheritance.
The Gospel of Matthew fast forwards us from the Magi’s visit to Jesus’ as a two year old, to his Baptism as a grown adult. These two feast days are paired for a reason.
Jesus (our Epiphany ) comes down to the Jordan and at his baptism, we hear: Look! See: the Holy Spirit! Listen: You are the Beloved! Touch the living water. Use all of your senses to be engaged, to be awake, to be present. And be one with others.
Jesus goes down to the river to be baptized with everyone else. He doesn’t stand apart, aside, or above. Jesus immerses himself in the creation completely. He immerses himself in the waters of creation and in humanity. He is immersed in his senses.
He places himself in the muddy waters of the Jordan with a wild and unruly prophet, and with all of the other people seeking forgiveness. And like at the beginning of Creation: God said “it was good.” “In you I am well pleased.”
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Jesus did not take on human form to teach us perfection, but to teach us belovedness, justice, mercy… and the divine and dynamic flow of that work in our lives.
Epiphany reminds us of this Revelation. That each day we may recommit to this righteous path that we have inherited.
And Jesus’ Baptism reminds us to live in this dynamic flow of love that Christ came to reveal.
In the name of the Father,
and the Holy Spirit,