By: David H. May, Rector
A flyer came in the mail at home yesterday. Before I tossed it into the recycling, I took a look. On one side it read, ‘This piece of mail could change your life forever’. I flipped it over and saw pictures of sincere, happy faces along with the promise that you’d experience ‘friendly people, engaging music, relevant and practical messages and fun for kids.’ It’s an announcement of the start of a new church that the flier says will be ‘full of real people, living in a real world, serving a real God’. The flier feels a little prepackaged and glitzy to me. But my guess is that the people who are starting this new church are sincere and passionate. What they’re trying to do isn’t easy. There’s a lot of competition out there for peoples’ time and attention so who can blame them for trying to grab your eye and to turn a few heads with their flier. So, God bless them, I say. Making a new beginning is hard. It’s a big risk. It takes heart and hope and determination.
I think the reason I found myself lingering over this flier is that, as Bob Hetherington reminded us last Sunday, the season of Epiphany is the season of a new beginning. In Epiphany we remember how the love of God in the face of Jesus and the world met each other for the first time as Jesus began his public ministry. And it seems to begin on a wing and a prayer at best. There was no big roll out, no angel choirs, no big opening event. He just, begins. When two people find their feet following him for reasons they would probably have been hard pressed to explain. As John tells it, Jesus was just walking by and John the Baptist says, ‘behold, the Lamb of God’, and two of those who’d been following John follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them. And the first words out of his mouth to them are, ‘what are you looking for?’ Which you can hear as either a really, really deep question or something a little more straight forward. And the two men took the more straight forward approach with a question of their own, ‘where are you staying?’ And Jesus simply replies, ‘come and see’. You have to decide for ourself.
Which for all the pizzazz of the glossy flier for the new church is probably all they’re saying too, ‘come and see’.
When someone comes here to St. Mary’s Church on Sunday mornings, what if they, or you, were greeted with the words, ‘what are you looking for?’ Maybe you’d be tempted to answer, ‘a bulletin and pew with a place to sit would be just fine’. And that would be fair. But after that, what if your soul overheard that question you thought was for someone else as Jesus question for you? What are you looking for?
Which is such a big question! What are you looking for? Where do we start? Peace on earth? An end to human hunger? And end to the awful divisions that are fracturing our world into a thousand pieces? Hope that we are here for a reason? Or an answer to that largest of all question: why is there suffering and pain in this world?
But for most of us, I bet, what we’re looking for lives a little closer to home, a little closer to our own lives. What we’re looking for looks more like simple pleasures like a warm, dry place when it is wet and cold, and hoping for that same pleasure for someone else who needs it too. Or seeing someone being kinder than was called for. Or a day when all was well with those we love. Or the joy of a new friendship, or an old one. Or the simple goodness of food. Or making it through a hard day as best you could. Or hearing you weren’t alone. Little lights in the dark.
When Jesus says, ‘Come and see’, what they will come and see as they walk with him day by day, in all the tiny bits and pieces of life, and countless faces and lives, and all that is loving and all that is fearful, is the simple hallowing of all of life in his hands. Wine for a wedding, bread and fish for a multitude, standing beside someone whom everyone else has put aside, finding what was lost, mending what was broken, blessing what seemed beyond blessing. All of the thousand thousand ways he lays his hands on our lives in blessing.
And how he has given all that into our hands now: to forgive like him, to heal like him, to proclaim good news like him, to show compassion like him. Isn’t that what we asked God for in the Collect for this day: “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people illumined by your Word and Sacraments may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory….” To be light in this world, to lay our hands upon all the ordinary bits and pieces of a day in blessing for his love’s sake.
What are we looking for in this season of a new beginning? – just us who came here today looking for a bulletin and a pew to sit in. There is a beautiful petition – a little prayer in a chain of prayers – that you can find in the Prayer Book if the liturgy for marriage. It is a prayer for two people pledging their lives to one another that describes so beautifully a church showing the radiant love of God in the face of Christ to whom we pledge our lives. The petition asks God to make our lives together a sign of Christ’s love in this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.
That’s what we’re here for – in all the thousand thousand ways God gives us to lay hands of blessings on all the bits and pieces of life, like him.
What are you looking for? For you Lord Christ. For you. Amen.