28 November 2010

Back to Church Sunday

Proper 2A

St. Luke’s, Burlington

26 September 2010

In Jesus’ time there seemed to be a great yearning in people to return to God. What was it that was causing it? Something just wasn’t doing it for them in their temple and their synagogues. Perhaps they just felt left out of a religion which was just about rules and regulations.

In Jesus’ time your religion dictated how you behaved almost every moment of the day: what you could wear, where you could go, to whom you could speak. And with all those rules, many of them didn’t feel really spiritually connected to anything at all. And so these people were marching across the wilderness to find John the Baptist who was teaching them to change their lives around and to return to God.

We might think, aren’t we glad that we don’t live in a society when religious rules dictate our every move. And yet, there are many people whose memory of religion is very much about rules and regulations. Perhaps some of our earliest memories of Church would be about rules:

Sit up straight!

Stand up and sing!

Sit down and be quiet!

Stop kicking the pew in front of you!

Get rid of the gum!

Don’t crawl under the pew!

Don’t pull your sister’s hair!

Don’t hit your brother!

Don’t look at the rector with your eyes crossed feigning death!

Not that I did any of those things!

Even after we’ve matured to adulthood and have been mostly conditioned as to how to behave in Church, then there comes another list about etiquette in the parish. How to dress. Whom to speak to. Connections which one should make. Things to say and not to say.

While consequences for infractions might not be as severe as they were in Jesus’ day on earth, for many people, the idea of religion can seem just as restrictive.

Perhaps it was the need to find some kind of freedom that drove those people out to find the Baptist. He was promising more. It wasn’t about following rules, it was about changing your heart and your life.

The people were amazed and awed by John. He had many disciples, including a man called Andrew. They asked him if he was the messiah and he told then, no, but that there was someone coming after him, the thongs of whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. Then one day, Jesus passes by and this is where our Gospel story starts. John points out Jesus and says; “Look, here is the lamb of God.”

We don’t know all that John had taught his disciples about Jesus, but we do know that these words were enough for Andrew and the other disciple to follow Jesus and Jesus, seeing them asks them this crucial question

“What are you looking for?”

Sounds simple enough, and yet it’s an important question. “What are you looking for?” They know he means it in the deepest sense. What were all those people looking for who went off into the wilderness in search of the Baptist? What are people really looking for today?

The people in Jesus’ time aren’t looking for a religion of rules and regulations and people today aren’t looking for that either. I think what we all most want is a relationship with God which will touch our souls and give us meaning.

St. Augustine expresses it so clearly when he writes: “God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

So people walk around searching for something which is missing in their lives. It’s the God-shaped hole inside of us. The emptiness which we might try to fill up with all kinds of things. We need something “more.”

In our materialistic society there are all kinds of ways to search for the “more” which we lack. The right perfume, the right car, the right job, the right address, the right vacation. Just get these and you’ll fill that hole.

Many, perhaps most people go off chasing the right things in order to find satisfaction, but sooner or later we realize that no matter how many things we have in our lives, there is still the “more” which we lack.

Andrew and the other disciple don’t know how to answer Jesus. They answer the question, “What are you looking for?” with “Where are you staying?”

Jesus doesn’t say “Well that’s a dopey answer.” I imagine he just smiles gently as he says, “Come and see.” And they go and spend the day with him.

I wish we could hear all that they saw and spoke about that day, but perhaps, ultimately this doesn’t really matter. We’re not really supposed to know. We know that they spent the day in his presence and whatever they experienced was enough for Andrew to go home and get his brother, Simon and say to him, “We have found the Messiah.” And to bring him to Jesus. Andrew is the first missionary ever by going and getting his brother.

This is the ultimate show and tell. Andrew has found the answer to all that he has been searching for, and the first thing which he does is to go and share this wonderful truth with someone close to him.

In the end it isn’t Andrew who becomes the most famous disciple. It’s Andrew’s brother, Simon who will be the famous one. Jesus took one look at him and called him by another name, Cephas, or Peter which means the rock, and it is upon this rock that Jesus will build his Church. And what of Andrew? We don’t know much about him, except that in the few stories we have of him, he is often introducing others to Jesus – like the boy who had some bread and fish to share, or the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus.

Andrew must have known that not everyone can be a Peter, but that everyone can do their part, and perhaps the most important part is simply bringing others to “come and see.”

There are those in the congregation today who played the part of Andrew recently and invited others to come back to Church to come and see. And there are others who have come to check us out once again.

I believe that you will see that the essence of our religion is not rules and regulations, but is about being invited to spend some time with Jesus. And how do we do that? We Jesus gives us the biggest clue about that. He says to his disciples, what you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.

What are you looking for in your life? Come and see that here at St. Luke’s, we’re about forming a community of people that is reaching out to make a difference, and when we’re doing that, we’re spending our time in the presence of Jesus. Amen.

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