Year A, Epiphany 2, St. John 1:29-39
May my words be life and truth in the name of Creating, Redeeming and Sustaining power. Amen.
Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania I am privy to a period of American civilization that few my age have had the opportunity to experience. Of course, one could argue that isn’t a good thing, and I might agree with them on certain points. My husband tells me I grew up in an town that is at least, seventy years behind the majority of the country when it comes to urban development, political thought, lifestyle and overall practice. I tend to guess around a fifty year difference but then I suppose I am often in denial. I am the oldest of nine children, we grew up with only a wood stove providing heat, we had pigs, cows and chickens on our little farmette in the two acre back yard and the Bible was the rule of the land. Discourse on world issues, critical ideas and disputing the Bible was rarely, if ever, a part of the discussions in my family and community. Instead our focus was relentlessly placed on the sinful world, the evils of television, the need to be American and the constant reminder hell awaited the unsaved.
Don’t get me wrong, I cherish much of my childhood and that “backwards” way of life that came with a multitude of blessings. We learned to work hard and if we said something, we better have meant it. We were a passionate people about our focuses in life, wether they were misplaced or not. Family was absolutely paramount, as long as you abided by the rules. It also seemed everyone had a deep love for God which, yes, resulted in the judgement of others, but more importantly it meant true willingness to reach out those in need. Neighbors always had their doors open, everyone’s backyard was an extension of your own and holidays were celebrated with a grandness only the slow pace of country life allows for.
There are many images in my head from those early years of childhood. One that is the clearest is a stage scene which was found in the local Baptist church, where I attended with my grandmother at the early age of five. In the wood covered sanctuary, above the majestic podium, taking center stage, hung a huge reproduction of the famous painting, “Christ at Heart’s Door,” by Warner Sallma. You have likely seen this painting, it is a vibrant image of Jesus, clothed in flowing white robes, standing outside a wooden door, surrounded by flowers and shrubbery, with his hand outstretched knocking. The inspiration for the painting comes from Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
If you grew up in traditional Christian circles you know very well this concept or image of Jesus knocking at the door of your heart, soul, spirit or however you were taught to see it. Sometimes this idea is conveyed in beautiful poetic ways which are enlightening and compassionate. We are told Jesus himself knocks and says, “Let us dine together.” This is not only a beautiful thought but also a call for us to knock on the hearts and doors of others extending our love and aid to them. However, I fear this image does not always remain so beautiful in our minds and hearts or in the sermons many of us heard growing up, or at least the sermons I heard.
In time the idea of Christ knocking on the door of my heart became synonymous with the fear of hell. From countless years of evangelistic salvation messages where we were asked again and again to truly discern if we had allowed Jesus to “come into our hearts,” I began to cringe at the very thought of Jesus at my heart. I feared I had never opened the door or perhaps I had only cracked it enough to see Jesus but not allow him inside. What was a well intended piece of art attempting to demonstrate the idea that God wants to come to each of us, instead, became a horrific reminder that I might not yet be saved. Perhaps I was one of “those people” who weren’t saved, one of “those people” who never let Jesus into their heart and therefore, they and I, were damned to an eternity of torture.
It took me many years of my adult life to come to a place of true belief in the grace of God. To accept that salvation, however we understand that mystical word, is not reliant upon my or anyone else’s quoting of magic words or somehow figuring out how to “open an artery for Jesus.” God cherishes all her children and always has and always will. It took over a decade of adult life to accept the reality that the Bible was a beautiful book telling the story of some of God’s people but it wasn’t a rule book for all the ages, rather a spiritual guide to help us move closer to the Divine and accept the love of God already within us. That well-intended image of Jesus knocking relentlessly on my heart did not lead me closer to God but instead placed a chasm of fear between us. A fear which only went away when I realized only one painting or only one verse of Scripture can never tell the whole story of God. They are all but shadowy images of the possibility of how God interacts with us and how we interact with God.
Today’s Gospel reading paints for us another image of God’s interaction with humankind. We find John the Baptist standing on the side of the road with two of his friends, probably followers of his ministry in the desert. The three of them are having a deep theological discussion when along comes Jesus, who simply strolls on by without a pause. I love that about Jesus, he could care less about their theological thoughts on who he might be. So the two friends of John decide to follow Jesus and essentially stalk him.
Now, we often times fill these stories with romantic notions as we read them without meaning to do so. We see Jesus extending his arms, the two men beholding some mystical light, John’s declaration of who Jesus is booming across the heavens but in reality nothing of the sort is happening. Instead we have two men lurking behind Jesus on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere because John suggested it. Creepy? You might say so. Finally, Jesus turns around and says, “What are you looking for?” The two men truly have no idea what they are looking for, they don’t have the Bible in front of them to explain who is Jesus is supposed to be and they know nothing of modern salvific theology. They are simply following because they might catch a glimpse of something new, something unexpected. So the only response they can come up with is, “Where are you staying?”
Jesus’s response is three simple words and yet, I believe, some of the most powerful in all the written Gospels. He says, “Come and see.” Jesus invites two lurking strangers into his own private home where he breaks bread and fellowships with them. In this story we see a dramatically different version of God’s interaction with us then the one we found in the book of Revelation. Here we are invited into God’s own home! Rather than we being expected to clean up our hearts, hear the knock of the Divine and make sure we open the door all the way…God simply says, “Come on over and hang with me…see my crib.” God’s home is big enough for all of us and we are all invited, just as we are, without having to change a single thing about ourselves. The two men did not have to change their beliefs, repeat a magic prayer or beat themselves up over their spiritual heart’s condition. All they were asked to do was, “come and see,” and I believe this is all God asks of each one of us.
Our Psalm today reminds us that God picks us up from the pits and miry bogs of life and sets us on a rock. All that is asked of us in return is that we do NOT hide this in our hearts but rather proclaim it to all around us. That is the vision of Btown Inclusive Eucharist, to give a chance for people to enter into God’s home without worries, to be picked up by God’s love and then to share that miracle with others. It isn’t about conversion, it isn’t about convincing you of your need to adopt a certain theology or belief structure. It’s simply about lurking in this chapel until God says: “Come and see!” Soon we will lurk around a table and we will find God revealed to us in food and drink, just as Jesus revealed himself to those two men who dared to follow him having no idea of what they were really looking for. We might have no idea what we are looking for ourselves but we follow anyhow with faith knowing there is something wonderful to be found.
Instead of a moment of silent reflection today, I ask you to close your eyes, for a moment, and allow yourself to see what I am describing. It is dark, quiet, still, you have been walking along a road in a solitude, when suddenly a shut door appears before you. You stop. You look at the door and before you can raise your hand up to knock - it has flung open before you. Inside you see warmth, love, brightness, peacefulness; you see Incarnate Love standing in front of you asking you to come in and dine. You enter. Arms of compassion embrace you. You know you are loved. You know are valued. Yes, you, just as you are this day. Feel the love of God which is free from all fear and judgement.