Wrestle with questions of faith

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Revd Jeannette McHugh
Sunday 20 January 2008, 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

There is an old saying that St John's Gospel is deep enough for elephants to bathe in and shallow enough for toddlers to paddle in.
Today's Gospel passage is a wonderful example of the truth of that saying.
But before we reflect on the reading,
listen to the opening words of the Gospel according to John:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the word was with God,
and the word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Wow! You can't get much deeper and wider and more mysterious than that!!

Now to our reading of today from the same first chapter of John:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
Followed by more special things about Jesus and his baptism…
The next paragraph starts with the same words, thus breaking all the rules we learnt at school….
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples and he calls Jesus the Lamb of God again.
The disciples start to follow Jesus who turns and says:
"What are you looking for?"
They reply,
"Rabbi where are you staying?"
He said to them," Come and see."
They came and stayed with him that day.
Today's gospel ends before the next paragraph, which, you guessed right,
starts the same way. I refer to it now because we don't read it next Sunday, and it is about a meeting with someone we have a strong connection with.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me"
Phillip does and meets up with Nathanael who on being told about Jesus asks:
'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip replies,
"Come and see."
Not very original…. Jesus has already said that.

All this dialogue, as simple as the simplest first reader, we could expect Spot the dog to appear any moment. We are sitting in the shallows at Bateman's Bay on a warm summer's day. This is so easy, we start to doze.

But the final words of this first chapter wake us up. Jesus responds to Nathanael's words of faith that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel that even more special things are to come:
"Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

Wow again! What do we make of these words? The tide has changed. We're back in deep water. All this written and published about seventy years after Jesus death and, dare I say,resurrection.

No more idle complacency for us!

So what is required of us now when we hear this gospel message nearly 2000 years after it was written?

It is indeed a very remarkable thing in our very secular society that most of our diaries will still have in them the Christian holy day, Ash Wednesday. Easter is there, but Easter is a holiday for everyone so we all need to know when it is.
However, it is very tiny minority who will observe Ash Wednesday by coming together to celebrate this special day and time of the Christian spiritual year.

The Christian season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 6 weeks before Easter. It is early this year, only two and a half weeks away on 6th February. Perhaps now is a good time for us to attend to outstanding domestic chores and work and relationship issues, so that we may more easily find the time in the Lenten season to pause and wonder and reflect on what we believe, what gives meaning to our lives and what we need to do to make our lives more integrated and whole.

Now some of you might be thinking,
'Oh that's all very well for you, you had to get a theological degree, and convince a church committee that you were integrated, (actually it took two goes for me), but I am content with my childhood faith which is simple and clear. I leave the theology and clever thinking to others.'
My honest response, which I might think but not necessarily say is, 'That's too easy, more is required from most of us'.
Our Christian faith requires of each of us that we come to a personal position on what we believe. We don't have to talk about it or explain or justify it to others, although some of us might feel called to do so, but our lives should be a witness of what we believe.
The two should be integrated.

May I suggest that a good place to start is the Apostles creed which we will say together in a few moments.
If you find there are lines that you have difficulty with, or you truly don't believe, then puzzle over them.
Go and see Rob about them or someone else in a leadership role in the church. Go to St Mark's library in Barton where you can borrow books for free because our parish has paid a subscription for all of us to borrow.

Let me tell you a secret about almost all Christian ministers and academics.They will go out of their way to help you because they are never quite sure that you might not be an angel or Christ himself asking for help, and we all know what happens at the end time to those who refuse a request for help from God or an angel!!

So don't be afraid to wrestle with questions of faith whatever your age and formal education.It's liberating to know more about the ground on which we stand in life.

So no false modesty about how little we can learn or do, no helpless words of 'I don't know where to start, or who can help me.' Start preparing now for the special season of Lent given to us by the wise people of God of former times to help us more fully experience the wonder and mystery and joy of Easter.

Remember the words of encouragement in The Never Ending Story — "Be confident!"
And do not forget our high calling. According to our faith story
we are children of God
who have been given this book to guide, inform and strengthen us.
The writer of John's gospel tells us that his reason for writing about Jesus is so that we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
In this coming season of Lent may we search for and find life and light and peace and blessing.

Amen