2 Epiphany—Year A
January 19, 2014
In the South back in the 1970’s lots of cars sported a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus is the answer”.
Answers are important. I believe the answers given by the Christian Church are crucial for our world to survive. I view the doctrines and creeds as maps drawn by people who had a deep knowledge of God in Christ. These maps show us the territory of the mystery of God’s Kingdom. Without the map we invariably end up going in circles, landing once again in the hell of a selfish, violent world.
But it is also true that if all the church does is hold up the map, or a bumper sticker, and never head out into the territory the map describes, then we’ve done nothing more than invite people into a restaurant to feed them the menu.
This has been the mistake of Mainline Christianity for the past 100 years. In my confirmation class when I was 12 we had to memorize the catechism in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, not a bad thing at all, but no one talked to me then or later about how to have a relationship with Christ, so I could know the presence of God. At Saint Anne’s, Atlanta, very few people ever mentioned God or Jesus outside of reciting prayers during church.
I’m not saying there were no people of deep faith in my parish—certainly there were, including my parents–only that it was thought to be enough to recite the creeds, so no one had to train us for and lead us on expeditions into the realm of God.
We need both maps and expeditions if we are going to proclaim Jesus is the answer.
Of course it wasn’t too long until another bumper sticker showed up: It read–“If Jesus is the answer, what’s the question?”
In addition to being a snarky rebuttal, “what’s the question?” is actually a question worth pondering.
Though we don’t usually think of him this way, Jesus is a master of asking important, life transforming questions.
A few random examples will suffice:
- Jesus asks the blind beggar Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” Luke 18:41
- He asks the crowd “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Stand up, take up your mat and walk?” Mark 2:9
- In the Sermon on the Mount he asks: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
- Jesus asks the disciples: “who do you say that I am?”
Or take today’s question: He asks the two disciples of John the Baptist who approach him, “What are you looking for?”
Pondering this question in the presence of Jesus will jump start the spiritual life in a hurry.
What are you looking for?
One of my father’s favorite World War II stories is about the G.I. who one day started picking up every scrap of paper he saw on the ground, looking at it a moment, and then dropping it and saying, “That’s not it.”
This went on week after week: “That’s not it, that’s not it”, until his captain sends him for a psychiatric evaluation.
Finally it is decided the man is unfit to serve, so they give him a Section 8-Psychiatric discharge.
When the captain hands the man the discharge order he reads it and says, “By God, that’s it.”
What are you looking for? A way out, a way in, a new way?
The grown-ups back in the 1960’s were convinced those hippies who went to India searching for enlightenment were crazy because sane people go to college, find a job, a spouse, a house, a church, and settle down to live the American Dream.
But they weren’t crazy. They were hungry for Life with a capital L, something the American Dream can’t provide.
“What are you looking for?”
Maybe Andrew and his companion are 1st century guru seekers.
What are they looking for?
They go to see Jesus after John says that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The word ‘sin’ is singular, not the plural “sins”. They are looking for the one who will take away the force that enslaves humankind.
Another way to describe the sin of the world is outlined in 19 theses by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann in an address he gave to those at an Emerging Church conference. http://jasongoroncy.com/2010/02/03/a-script-to-live-and-to-die-by-19-theses-by-walter-brueggemann/
1. Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognised or unrecognised, but everybody has a script.
2. …. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialisation, and it happens to us without our knowing it.
3. The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socialises us all, liberal and conservative.
4. That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.
5. That script has failed. That script…cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.
6. Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script….
8. The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.
9. The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative….
10. That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature – its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Andrew wants to know if Jesus is the one who can create “an alternative script… a counter-narrative” that “can make us happy and safe.”
Andrew decides Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, who will take away the script of the world, so he brings his brother Simon with him to meet Jesus.
And right then and there Jesus begins the de-scripting process by giving Simon a new name.
In Aramaic Jesus says Simon’s new name is Cephas; in Greek, it is Petros. In English it is Rock.
In the other three gospels Jesus renames him Peter and says, You are Rock and on this rock I will build my church.”
I don’t want to get into the discussion between Roman Catholics and Protestants about the meaning of this.
What interests me today is more mundane. According to the script of the world this man’s name is Simon and he’s a fisherman. That’s who he is.
By giving him a new name and a new call Jesus is giving Peter an alternative script, one not written by the world, but one written by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus wants to make all things new by overcoming the script of the world.
In thesis 14 Brueggemann says “The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?”
Or as the old prayer book puts it: “do you renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil?”
Of course Brueggemann recognizes that we are ambivalent about what Jesus is up to because we are afraid the cost will be too high. If we join Jesus we have to be disconnected from someone or something else.
He says “this ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit.”
Jesus asks us today: “What are you looking for?”
The script of the world will have us looking for comfort, stuff, and success.
God’s script will teach us to reach much higher:
A new name?
A fresh start?
A new call?
Life with a capital ‘L”?
The peace of God?
If those are your questions, Jesus is the Answer who can take you there.