All Saints’ Church / January 31, 2016
Evening Prayer / 5pm
Proper 13 / Year B
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany / Year C
Good and gracious God, you eclipse our best words, and still we know that you are with us. May our thoughts and prayers and rumblings tonight be holy in your sight. Amen.
Tonight I am thinking about following Jesus–what it means to follow Jesus.
The beauty of this evening prayer service is that everyone is welcome here, to talk along if you wish, or simply to listen, to let words fall over your ears and bodies. To come together, a group who wouldn’t be together in any other context. To look at each other. To look into each other’s eyes and not have to come up with anything to say. We give it all to you in a little bulletin to follow along.
A chance to sit in silence. When do we do that at other times in our lives?
Anyone can do this with us, no matter what you think about who God is, or even if there is a God, and no matter what you think about Jesus.
But I want to talk about Jesus today, and what it means to follow him. Whether we are far along that journey with him, or at the very beginning, or perhaps walking on a parallel path, or maybe a path that is about to cross, or even a path that has already crossed.
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
This is a common way to talk about Christianity, right? To be a “Jesus follower.”
“I follow Jesus”–
Christians sing it, or feel it, or think it. Or maybe we think some Christians feel it and think it, because they’re good at looking like they do.
Have you ever clicked on someone’s Twitter profile and seen the bio be “Jesus follower?” What implications does it have?
And if you are someone who DOES consider yourself a Christian, but perhaps one who is focused on a relational theology of Christ in us and with us, of Jesus as a radical table-up-ender and world-turner-over, whose values have gone wonky and stand against our specific context of American consumerism and 1-percent-ism and racism and sexism and heterosexism … then maybe you feel a bit confounded about whether or not you yourself are a Jesus follower.
In today’s Gospel, to be a Jesus follower brings us to the edge of the cliff. There are those who are in danger of being hurled off the edge, and there are others of us who are perhaps about to do the hurling. I think there are “Jesus followers” in both groups. However it is that we followed Jesus here, to this space, we are at the edge of a cliff. We are in peril.
I have had this struggle about what it means to be a Jesus follower, and in many ways I continue to have this struggle, and yet I believe that being a Christian is about always being in this struggle.
So much of our society tells us we have to be one way or the other. We have to know the truth about ourselves and what we believe (and it lasts forever and ever on the internet if we choose to “post it”) and we have to proclaim it as black or white. But being in relationship with God gives us a way of understanding truth, our own truths, through a system of paradoxes, of impossibilities, of failures as successes, of sadness as productive, of despair as a door to hope.
The door budged open a bit for me several years ago, when I was being led in an Ignatian exercise. Perhaps some of you are familiar with this kind of prayer: St. Ignatius of Loyola was a hermit and monk from Spain who lived in the 16th century and came up with many different spiritual exercises that contemporary Christians still use today.
The one I did was to follow Jesus, quite literally, to close your eyes and imagine that you are a disciple of Jesus and you are walking behind him. You picture his back, you think about what it might smell like to be on a dusty road in Palestine. Jesus stops abruptly and turns around. Jesus asks you, “What do you want?” and you answer him. He will say something in return.
It sounds preposterous, perhaps. And so difficult in our time and context to place ourselves so firmly in Jesus’ path. But on that day, a day I was very sad, and feeling hopeless, Jesus said, “Julia, I love you.”
It doesn’t always happen, that we can hear God so clearly, as clearly as, for whatever reason I did on that day. But I know–I can say with so much conviction–that wherever you are on your path with Jesus, you are loved. You are loved beyond your wildest imaginings.
But back to that cliff, that cliff we are all on together today, perhaps about to be hurled over, perhaps about to hurl someone else over the edge:
Jesus slips away through the crowd and out of his hometown of Nazareth, into the world. Jesus calls us out of our little bubbles of self-interest so see what’s going on out in the world.
What is going on out in our world? A veritable circus of presidential debates and constant news cycle. Children drinking from poisoned taps, bathing in lead. Refugees with nowhere to go. It is brutal out in the world.
Jesus calls us off the edge of the cliff, quietly, without notice. Perhaps we can close our eyes and even if we cannot see the back of Jesus, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving through us, pulling us away from the noise and out into the world.
If we can hear it, God’s love for us is both a promise and a call to action. If we can feel it–this overwhelming love for us, drawing us through the crowd–if we can feel it, then to follow Jesus is to pass this love on and out. To back away from the cliff and out into the world. Amen.