Saturday, January 14, 2017

What Are You Looking For? Reflections on John 1.29-42 (RCL Proper 2A, 15 January 2017)

What Are You Looking For?
Reflections on John 1.29-42

RCL Proper 2A
15 January 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

            1.29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’  31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

            35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”  They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  39 He said to them, “Come and see.”  They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).  42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

            In 1971 I turned eighteen and, in short order, graduated from high school and began my first year at the University of Denver.  The war in Vietnam was going strong and had claimed the life of at least one of my high school classmates.  The civil rights movement was in full swing and racial violence was not restricted to the larger cities of the United States.  Even my small home town of Colorado Springs had experienced its own racial tensions between the Latino-Americans, Afro-Americans and Euro-Americans.  The Episcopal Church in which I had been raised was divided between supporters of de-segregation and civil rights and those who felt threatened by these developments.

            At the same time as I was entering into the adult world, a young graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, John-Michael Tebelak, submitted an unusual master’s thesis.  His thesis took the form of a dramatic presentation of the Gospel according to Matthew with a few additions from the Gospels according to Luke and John.  Within a very short time and with the help of Stephen Schwartz, Tebelak’s thesis became a musical that has been performed throughout the world to this very day.  I’m sure that most of you have heard it or some of it or about it:  Godspell.

            Among the songs that Stephen Schwartz wrote for the musical are a number based upon hymns from The Hymnal 1940, the hymnal that both Tebelak and I grew up using.  One of these songs is based upon a prayer attributed to Richard, Bishop of Chichester, who died in 1253.

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

Through all the joys and sorrows of the last forty-five years, in the midst of the successes and the failures, this prayer continues to direct my path.  And, I believe, it answers the question that Jesus asks of Andrew and his companion, ‘What are you looking for?’

            What are we looking for?  I think that every human being is seeking what the New Testament calls sōtēria.  We sometimes translate this word as ‘salvation’, but a better translation might be ‘wholeness that leads to abundant life’.  Any worthwhile religion or philosophy seeks this goal for its adherents.  Whatever we may think happens after our death, all of us seek to live whole lives that lead us to experience life, abundant life, in the here and now.

            Christians confess that all human beings are made in the image of God.  That image can be summed up in the words of the writer of the first letter of John:  “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4.7-9)  To be made in the image of God means that we have built into us the capacity to love as God loves.

            But it is not enough to have the capacity to love as God loves.  We have to put into practice this capacity if we are to experience that wholeness that leads to abundant life.  The gift of God’s image within us is fallow unless we act upon it.  We must learn how to act like God.  And that requires both mentorship and practice.

            When John the Baptist sends Andrew and his companion on the trail of Jesus, they are responding to a homing instinct embedded in what it means to be a human being.  What are they looking for?  They are looking for the mentor who will help them discover what it means to be truly alive as God has always intended us to be.  In Jesus, God dwells among us and show us how to become who we are rather than one of the counterfeit identities on offer in the world about us.

            What are we looking for?  We are looking to see Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly.  That is built into us, children of God, made in the image of God.  But how shall we see Jesus, love him and follow him, so that we may grow into the likeness of God and know the fullness of life?

  • We proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
  • We teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
  • We respond to human need by loving service.
  • We transform unjust structures of society, by challenging violence of every kind and pursuing peace and reconciliation.
  • We strive to safeguard the integrity of creation in order to sustain and renew the life of the earth.

            Some critics of Godspell have complained that there is no resurrection scene at the end of the musical.  The members of the cast simply lift the dead body of Jesus and carry him off the stage.  Stephen Schwartz responded by adding a comment in the script for the actors to have before them.

GODSPELL is about the formation of a community which carries on JESUS' teachings after he has gone.  In other words, it is the effect JESUS has on the OTHERS which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected.

Friends, I believe in the resurrection, but Mr Schwartz has captured the spirit of the gospel of Jesus, son of Joseph, son of God.  In Jesus we have found our mentor, the one who shows us the way to abundant life.  Our vocation is one of seeing, loving and following him, so that we and all our sisters and brothers might grow into the likeness of God’s image, planted in each one of us since the beginning of time.  Come and see.

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