Sermons

Sun, Jan 15, 2017

It's the journey that matters

Series:Sermons

In a sermon that he preached this week…

Pope Francis cautioned against worshipping idols such as beauty, wealth, and power.

And, as an illustration, he recalled a story that he said he had heard––

a number of years ago, when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires––

of a beautiful woman whom…

he claimed…

had bragged of having an abortion simply to retain her figure.

With any number of examples that he could have chosen…

in order to illustrate his point about the dangers of worshipping beauty, wealth, and power—

and thoughts of a recently elected sociopathic, racist, misogynist, billionaire property-developer come to mind––

why pick on this one?

And doesn’t that perfectly illustrate one of the problems with the Catholic church––

and especially its celibate, all-male hierarchy––

namely, its attitude to women?

As progressive Catholic groups have pointed out…

despite his supposedly softer approach…

and all of the seemingly more pastoral and progressive statements that Francis has made…

he has “a blind spot when it comes to women”.

Be it the attitude to abortion…

or contraception…

or even the place of women in the Church…

we shouldn’t expect any significant change any time soon.

 

And yet, in a sense, the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy are not really alone in such attitudes.

We could find similar attitudes and pronouncements among most denominations––

and not just on this particular issue.

Most denominations have been actively involved in campaigns against voluntary euthanasia…

marriage equality…

and even allowing gay couples to act as foster parents.

In varying degrees throughout history…

religious groups have sought to dictate policy on censorship…

on marriage and divorce…

on whether cinemas should open on Good Friday…

and even on hotel closing hours.

Religion has always been good at telling us what we ought to believe…

what we ought to think…

and how we ought to live.

Indeed, for too many Christians…

if you don’t believe what they do, then you’re destined for hell.

Is it any wonder, then, that for many people…

being religious––

being a Christian––

means being a socially-conservative, intolerant, judgmental wowser?

And, frankly, who could blame them for thinking that?

 

Writing some seventy or so years after Jesus lived…

the community that produced John’s Gospel were not trying to write history.

Rather, they were writing symbolic stories––

stories that were never intended to be read as “realistic” or “factual”––

but stories that invite us to enter in…

to see ourselves in the characters…

to allow the stories to connect with our own experience…

albeit at a much later time and under quite different circumstances.

And, in our reading this morning, that’s what we’re invited to do.

We’re invited to see ourselves in the place of the two disciples of John the Baptist…

one of whom, we discover, was Andrew the brother of Simon Peter.

In this story––

unlike in the other Gospels––

Jesus doesn’t go out looking for followers.

He doesn’t go and call them.

He doesn’t ask them to leave behind their boats and nets…

their homes and families…

nor does he ask them to give up their way of life.

Far from it!

Rather, here, Jesus is simply walking along, minding his own business.

John the Baptist sees him…

and, the author suggests, he has some sort of insight or awareness of who Jesus is…

and he shares that insight with his own followers.

Whereupon, two of them leave John the Baptist and start following after Jesus.

Later, they go and tell their family and friends…

and they invite them to come and meet Jesus.

So, in this Gospel, Jesus doesn’t call people to follow him––

rather people come seeking him.

They come at the invitation of family and friends…

they encounter him through those whom they trust––

through those who offer their personal perceptions and insights…

and their reflection on their experience.

What they find in him they understand through a variety of images, metaphors, and symbols…

which are drawn from their history, their culture, and their experience.

But we don’t get the sense that any one of those images…

or metaphors…

or symbols is meant to be binding.

Thus, although John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the lamb of God”…

he’s the only one who does so in this Gospel;

as if to say that all revelation––

all spiritual or religious insight––

is both personal and partial.

After all, our knowledge and experience of God is always shaped and constrained…

by our culture…

by our world-view…

and by our own experience.

Here, John the Baptist has had his own perception and insight––

he’s drawn upon images and traditions that are meaningful to him––

and he’s also drawn upon his own revelatory experience that’s led him to certain conclusions.

But, in the end, it’s his insight…

it’s his experience…

it’s his conclusion––

which he offers to others by way of suggestion.

But it’s not imposed and there’s no sense of compulsion.

Indeed, rather than simply swallowing John’s understanding…

the two disciples follow after Jesus in order to discover for themselves––

in order to understand who Jesus is…

and whom he might be…

and what it might mean to follow him.

 

In other words…

what the author of John’s Gospel is describing here is a spiritual journey.

It’s a story about people who are looking––

people who are longing for a deeper dimension to their lives…

who are searching for spiritual awareness…

and who are trying to understand and relate to God;

they have some insight and they go searching for more.

In this story, people seek out Jesus as part of a search or a quest.

They come to Jesus…

and note how Jesus engages them.

He asks, “What are you looking for?”

What is it that you are seeking?

And his response is simply to offer an open invitation––

“Come and see”.

Jesus invites would-be disciples to embark on a journey of discovery not knowing the destination…

but a journey where the journey, itself, is what matters.

Jesus invites people to follow and to learn…

to see and to stay.

And, in the end, that is what the author of John’s gospel suggests that faith––

that religion––

is really about:

fundamentally it is a journey.

It’s not about subscribing to some set of dogmatic beliefs…

nor is it about adhering to some rigid moral code.

It’s a journey of spiritual self-discovery––

a search for deeper truth and insight about God…

a quest for greater awareness of self in relation to God.

Other people can help us on that journey…

by sharing their own insights and experience––

like John the Baptist did for those two disciples…

or like Andrew did for his brother.

Other people can point us in certain directions.

But, in the end, it’s not for them to tell us who God is––

as if theirs is the only correct insight…

as if only they have true understanding.

Nor is it up to them to tell us how we ought to experience God…

or what we ought to find on our journey…

or even where we ought to end up.

Because, in the end, it’s our journey of faith.

It’s up to each one of us to “come and see” for ourselves.

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