Knowing Jesus

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Sermon for 2B Epiphany and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, January 18, 2015, by the Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick, Rector.  For attributions and Scripture references, please see the PDF. 

Knowing Jesus from Recognition to Recognition

There must have been something. There must have been something to cause people to just drop their nets, turn away from their lives as they knew it and follow Jesus. After all there were was no string orchestra belting out strains of the theme from “King of Kings,” no Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What was it? A Magnetic personality? Charisma? something in the eyes?

We can get pretty smug about all this. After all, we can recognize Jesus of Nazareth.

We know what he looked like. We know the story. We have Creeds and doctrines. and we have the complete guide to personal salvation. Perhaps.

But maybe this book learning and creed memorizing is not the true starting point. It’s fine as far as it goes, but its not enough. Maybe it even can get in the way of our own inner knowing, our own inner recognition.

So imagine yourself beside the shores of the Sea of Galilee 2000 years ago, and this new teacher appears. People are talking about him. They say he was baptized by John the Baptist, and that John himself talks about him. Some people are saying ‘this guy is amazing!” Others, like Nathaniel are saying, “seriously? he’s a nobody from no place!”

At this point Jesus hasn’t said anything, hasn’t done anything, hasn’t healed anyone. You don’t know anything about resurrection or incarnation or the son of God or the star of Bethlehem. And yet, there must be something. What is it? What causes you to follow?

Jesus asks repeatedly throughout the gospels: “who do you say I am?” that is the question for each of us. “What in you recognizes me?” Ordinary knowledge? Habit? nostalgia? duty to your grandmother?

Cynthia Bourgeault says that what moves the disciples is what she calls “recognition energy. It’s the capacity to ground-truth a spiritual experience in your own being. The Gospels are built on it – and so was the early church – as the powerful liberation energy of the Christ event spills over and travels forward, moving from recognition to recognition.”

Father Bruno Barnhart says this “One person after another experiences a mysterious power in Jesus that from this moment changes the course of his or her life. if we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves experience the liberating power of this awakening.”

We weren’t there, in first century Galilee, but we are all gifted with the capacity for inner knowing. This inner knowing, this resonance of the heart, is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 18 when he says “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” “The kingdom of heaven” as we have talked about before, is not a place but a state of consciousness. “Becoming like children” is a state of open awareness.

The invitation to ‘Come and See’

It is passed on “person to person.” We need each other for this. The boy Samuel, basically an acolyte in training to Eli, hears the voice of God but doesn’t recognize it until Eli tells him who it is who is calling. The life of faith is lived person to person. John the Baptist tells Andrew, who tells Simon Peter. Philip tells Nathanael and says “come and see.”

Come and see. What a simple invitation, with no preconditions. Jesus offers us, not a doctrine or a set of creeds but new life, a new way of seeing. We are invited to open our eyes and hearts and take in a new world, one where we see God and each other in a new way. The only way to experience this is to “come and see.” Jesus calls us to a personal intimacy and shared life with him.

We show each other where to look for Jesus. We help each other to see. This is why who we listen to, who we choose for our heroes, our leaders and our guides becomes so important. Knowing the real thing – it’s a challenge. It was to the first followers of Jesus, and it is for us. There are always false prophets running around, preying on those who are hungry for anyone to follow, anyone who offers a glimmer of hope.

“Heroes and heroines are scarcer than they’ve ever been,” the singer Mary Chapin Carpenter laments. Whom to follow? who shows us the work of God in the world? who helps us to deepen our own inner knowing?

King and the Beloved Community

This weekend we commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. To understand Dr. King is to remember that he was not only an advocate and activist for social justice, but also a Baptist preacher whose faith grounded his vision and his courage. All Dr. King’s work was oriented toward the creation of a community characterized by love and justice. King found in Jesus a model for nonviolence and radical inclusiveness. He spoke as one who could see God’s hand at work in human history and who gave voice to God’s demands on human life, both individual and corporate. In his very first public statement as leader of the Montgomery bus boycott, he said “We must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all our action.” He stood on the line between the church and the world. He reminded the church that God created and loves the world an calls us to engagement on behalf of the poor and the powerless.

If we look at Dr. King – indeed, if we look at anyone we might choose to follow – in search of perfection we will not find it. If we try to use him to be the burden-bearer of our times it isn’t enough, for him or for anyone, for he struggled fully and in ways that were all too human, and we each bear our own measure of accountability. We look to heroes and guides not to create a cult of personality, but to see in his or her life God’s work revealed. The point of heroes and guides is not to look AT them, but to look where they are looking, to see where God is at work. If we do this, we might see that this vision of universal love and social justice is there to strengthen and guide us too.

Jesus’ invitation to come and see is there for each one of us. And we are each called to pass that invitation on to others. We are to see in our heroes and guides the model for our own life, to be people who show others where God is at work in the world, what it means to turn our lives over to God. We do this so that we in turn may reveal God in the work we do in the community. We may reveal God by the way we handle our own suffering. We may do so by the simple invitation “come and see.” by our generativity of love and by the way we bless each other. We don’t know precisely what that will look like or what will be asked of us. But we know that Jesus promises new life.

Let us be in the spirit of prayer as I pray the collect for the day commemorating Dr. King: Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last; Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.