Sunday, January 15, 2017

Come and you will see


John 1:35-42                                                                               

What do you want?

What are you looking for?

What are you doing?

John, who has just baptized Jesus… recognizes that God’s Spirit is with him and sends his own followers now to follow Jesus. Jesus turns around and there they are… and this is what he asks would-be followers—What do you want?

They don’t really know. We don’t really know. What are we looking for as we come together on a Sunday morning? Healing? Wisdom? A word of hope in a bitter cold and challenging month? Something that satisfies? We can’t exactly put it into words, so like those first followers, we ask our own questions…

Where are you staying, Jesus?

Where are you going? Can you take us with you?

Today, it sounds a little like… could we go to Canada together?

And Jesus invites them, in response to their question about where he’s at… Come and see.

Come… and you will see.

It’s not an invitation to escape. It’s an invitation to deeper engagement.

This is a moment in our national life where many, many people are anxious, worried, concerned about the future…probably for good reason. It’s the month (January) when people who suffer from depression tend to be most depressed. It’s cold. It’s dark. A few of you love winter… others are just trying to endure. Through our news we know, it’s a time when people are so divided about what to do and how to move forward that we belittle our opponents, then struggle with our allies about who has the most right path forward.

And I wonder if it’s comforting to know that we are not alone?

Five hundred years ago, in another moment of re-formation, there were terrible abuses of the whole population going on. Fear-mongering, telling people they would be punished or rewarded, telling people they could buy their way out of their fearful situations… and into that time of great upheaval came the voices of reformers. Sometimes, reformers said to pick up a sword and fight. Other reformers martyred themselves. Here’s what our namesake, Martin Luther did… mostly, he wrote and wrote and wrote. It’s not as flashy a picture of Luther as the 95 theses nailed to a door, not as dramatic as appearing before the religious authorities and refusing to recant his writings. After the high drama, Luther hid (for years) and translated the Bible to get it in ordinary people’s hands because he was convinced that making God’s word accessible to people was the most transformative and powerful thing he could do. And then when the Bible still wasn’t accessible to ordinary people, he devoted most of the rest of his life to teaching and table talks… deliberating together about what it means that Jesus looks at us and asks us, “What are you seeking?” and stays with us, and invites us to follow, saying… “Come, and you will see.”

This week, a book on the Holocaust came home from the school library. It’s not a new story for me, but I opened the cover and got sucked in. Here’s what I read, “At the start of the twentieth century, Europeans had new opportunities that their ancestors could only have dreamed of. However, such dreams faded as war and economic hardship created fear and suffering. The destruction and instability enabled extreme parties… to take control. A new wave of racism evolved that challenged our deepest beliefs in human nature. The book describes in detail embittered people eager to blame others for their defeat, destabilization of the government, leaders who stirred up public anger and chaos. Increased powers at the top level of government, political opponents rounded up and arrested, and persecution and death of 6 million Jews and 5 million others, including Christians who spoke out against the atrocities. And at the same time, in a whole variety of ways, a whole variety of people sheltered and hid and helped people escape. Most did their work in utter secrecy because discovery meant the end of their lives, the end of their work. In 2005, the United Nations made January 27th an International Holocaust Remembrance Day (the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp in 1945).

Fifty years ago, in the United States, at another incredibly turbulent time, Martin Luther’s  namesake… the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King prayed and preached, studied and wrote, sat in jail and marched in the streets because the deep grounding of his faith compelled him to engage in the best ways he knew how to do… and he, too, gave his life. Today is the 88th anniversary of his birth, and we are all invited to commemorate his life and faithful witness at Luther Seminary tomorrow.

When I look back at this history—500 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago—and see the diverse ways that people managed to remain human and care for others in terrifying times… I can only think of Jesus’ invitation. “Come, and you will see.” And see, here’s the thing I believe most deeply, when I can access God’s gift of faith, through my own array of doubts and fears… Jesus doesn’t simply invite us to go into the future on our own. Jesus, who stays with us, goes with us. Jesus didn’t come into the world to show that he was better than us. Jesus came to be with us, to be one of us.

Some of you have been to the exhibit at the MIA, Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation, and if you have been, you cannot have missed the outfit that doctors wore when they visited patients throughout the Plague. The doctors were covered with a scary looking suit with a big mask with a long beaklike nose… in the display, it said something like this. People were almost as afraid of the doctor coming as they were of the plague. People lost half their family. There was no one untouched by this horrific disease. And here’s what Luther said in response. “I cannot tel if the plague will allow me to finish [translating] the Epistle to the Galatians. Rapid and sudeen, it is making great ravages, especially among the young. You advise me to fly. Whither shall I fly? My place is here. Obedience will not permit my flight, till God who has called me recalls me. Not that I do not fear death (for I am not the apostle Paul, I am only his commentator), but I hope that the Lord will deliver me from fear.”[1]   

In this suffering community, Jesus is painted this way… not as the perfect Lamb but as the one who came to get the plague.

One of the lies we are told these days is that this is power: the one with control of the microphones at the press conference, the loudest bully, the one who says all who challenge him are liars, the one who can make the stock market rise and fall at his whim, the one who can give the biggest and best party, the one with the tallest, finest towers. However, as we look back through history, we can see that the way that Jesus has stayed with us, the way Jesus has loved, and how Jesus has been powerful has always been very different from that.

Jesus shows up as the DA in the courtroom, on the streets, with the dying, among the poor, with the grieving, and yes, in little gatherings like this one… around a bowl of water and a taste of bread and sip of a cup… Jesus shows up as we try to figure out what we are seeking by reading the Bible and listening intently for God’s words for today. Jesus stays with us as we pray, “Oh God, where are you? Who are you really? Can we walk with you?” Jesus continues with us, inviting us to move forward with unusual, counter-cultural hope and confidence… not based in naïve trust or blindness to what’s happening around us… but in deep trust in God’s Holy Spirit who has been all of these places and will never leave us, and will never stop giving people the ability to do good in the face of evil.

That’s why King could preach about the promised land on the eve of his death… that’s why so many people sheltered and helped people escape during the Holocaust… that’s why Luther put the Bible into our hands and prayed for courage and love to replace fear. Who knows what we will be called to do this year, and in the coming years, but Jesus invites us, “Come, and you will see.”

In times like this, a prayer that comes to mind is one that I said daily for a year …

“Lord God, you call your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet not traveled, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us, and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

[1] Author Tim Ehring, editor, MIA,, November 9, 2016

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