Jesus is the way; follow him to fullness of life
Revd Rebecca Newland
Baptism of Jonah de Raadt, Easter 3C 14 April 2013
Acts 9:1-6 (7-20); John 21:1-19
I was in the supermarket the other day and I had a very disturbing moment. I wanted to buy some liquid soap to refill my containers at home. I found the section in the supermarket and then started to try and make a decision. There were six shelves of every possible brand and scent before me. I went into choice overload. What was I going to choose and how? On price, brand, value for money, smell, colour, environmental credentials, was it made in Australia, how do you decide this stuff? Does it matter?
I stood there for a while struggling with the choice and ended up feeling completely stupid. I mean how hard is it to choose liquid soap? I did finally choose but the whole experience brought to mind what I think is our very modern or if you like post-modern dilemma, at least in this country —overwhelming choice from liquid soap to paths of enlightenment. There are so many ways to go, so many paths to follow, so may different options.
In the first reading we heard how around two thousand years ago a brand new path to follow was opened up for a man called Saul. Saul was a zealous protector of his religion and he had obtained permission to take prisoner any men and woman, who belonged to the Way, the way of Jesus. I love this phrase that describes the early Christians—the People of the Way. On the road to Damascus, Saul has an experience of the risen Jesus. He becomes Paul and now he too belongs to the Way.
He no longer persecutes, tortures and kills others. Now he follows the path of Jesus Christ. Choices were much more limited back then, but there were choices, there were different paths to follow.
Today a choice has been made for little Jonah. His parents, Johanne and Hilde have decided to have him baptized into the way of Jesus Christ. Out of all the choices available to them they have chosen this one. In time Jonah will have to decide if he wants to continue on the same path.
So many choices, so many possibilities! How do we end up choosing one path over another? I for one ended up choosing the way of Christ because out of all the other things I had tried—and I had tried a veritable cornucopia of experiences, a supermarket of philosophies and spiritual pathways—out of all those possibilities the Christian way was the one that made the most sense, was the most internally coherent and perhaps most importantly it truly brought me home to God and my true self via the way of Christ. To help you see where I am coming from perhaps it would help if I gave you the swamp baptism talk I give to all the parents who bring their child for baptism. If you follow my thread it will all become clear :)
- I first ask why?….One often stated reason is for Values, community. These are good reason although I do make the point that just pouring water over a babies head will not teach them values. Actually, there are many good ways to learn values, all the major religions, all those spiritual and philosophical paths, all of these and more have values. So why the way of Jesus?
- The most important thing to get clear is that no baby is born sinful and bad. All newborns come into the world innocent, good and perfect in their own right. They like all of us are made in the image of God, a God who as the philosophers say is good, true and beautiful. Genetics may mean that each human may have a leaning, a disposition, to certain behaviours and conditions but a baby is fundamentally good. We are all fundamentally good.
- The baby begins to learn about life, from its parents, from the world around….learn by imitation and copying. Learn how to talk and walk by copying. Learns to want what other children want and what other people want. We learn how to be human by copying other humans. We learn what to want by copying what other humans want. We don't just want what other people want. We end up desiring their characteristics and being. Advertising and capitalism are built on this fundamental human trait. How else do you explain all those airbrushed and surgically enhanced bodies in woman's magazines?
- In a world of limited resources this imitation the desires of others, wanting the same thing, wanting the same specialness in being and possession creates some problems … tension, conflict and the danger of destructive violence.
- When human beings find themselves in this place of social tension, unrest and threat they have a uniquely human way of dealing with it and solving the problem. Instead of fighting the members of our family or friendship group or tribe we turn and find a scapegoat, someone to whom we can safely direct some of this tension and violence. … We have an in group and out group, us and them … We blame, vilify, hurt and sometimes kill these scapegoats often in the name of a God or an ideology. We do it in the playground and in the gas chambers of the Third Reich. Time and time again this is what we do on a small scale through to the unimaginably large, over and over, time after time. Through this focussed violence we buy ourselves a time of false peace and security - until the next time. This pattern is so insidious, so central to how we set up our social systems, that we don't even know we are doing it.
- To break this cycle it took something out of the world and out of our experience. All those centuries ago in a back water of the Roman Empire, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the blessed Trinity, the One who holds all creation together came to us and become one with us and one of us. Fully human, fully divine, he called us to learn a new path. He taught about compassion, healing, goodness, mercy, forgiveness. He taught that God's love, the way of the universe was for all. Jesus ate with the outcasts, the scapegoats, the unclean and the unrighteous, the irreligious and the blasphemous, the hated, misunderstood and reviled. He tried to show a different path through powerful word and deed. Over and over again his followers just did not get the message. Jesus managed to infuriate his enemies and confuse his friends.
- In the end he was betrayed, captured, denied, rejected, abandoned, tortured and killed painfully and slowly on a cross. He was taken from the cross and buried in a tomb and his followers fled in terror, fear, shame and guilt. And so Jesus became the ultimate innocent scapegoat whose death seemed to bring that sought for easing of tension, that false peace.
- We all have heard what happened next—we just celebrated it at Easter a few weeks ago. He comes back from death, he is raised by God. He appears to the disciples … two things, wrath or abandonment … he stands and he says, "Peace be with you". Peace be with you. In today's Gospel he comes and stands with his friends, with the man who denied him three times, and he offers forgiveness, hope, trust and purpose. In the face of our violence, our shame and our guilt he brings peace and hope.
- This is extraordinary Good News!! Alleluia, he is risen, he is risen indeed!! Through this resurrection, this love, this forgiveness, the cycle of violence is revealed for what it is. It is our violence and God is the God of love. And it is this that we want for our children. We want this way of love, of inclusion, of compassion and forgiveness. We want Jesus to be the one we imitate and follow. We seek to desire what he desires, to love what he loves and to act as he would act.
Jesus says to Peter, "Follow me". Jesus says to all us, "Follow me". We hear the call in different ways and at different times. We hear it over and over again. And whatever our response, Jesus keeps saying. "Follow me". To follow Jesus is to have a relationship with him in some way. There is someone to follow, someone to talk with, someone to be challenged by. There is this loving, forgiving person who is our brother and friend but also our conscience if you like, always leading us in the direction of truth and light. To follow Jesus is to bring nourishment to those he cares for.
But to follow Jesus means to go where we may not necessarily want to go. It may even mean into difficult and painful places. Following Jesus means the cross as well as the resurrection. It means dying to something but it is ultimately about living for something good and beautiful and true.
My daughter once said to me about my faith, "But Mummy, what if it is not true, What if you die and there is no god, no heaven, what then"? I replied, "Well if it is not true I would have lived the most wonderful life, I would have dreamed the most glorious possibilities and lived my way down into them, my life would have been full of meaning, and love and joy. I would have journeyed with the friend and brother of my heart, Jesus Christ, and that would be enough, that would be OK".
It is the journey that is important, not the destination. It is the God we choose to follow that creates our reality. It is the companions we choose along the way that makes the difference. May our journey together bring life and nourishment to others and may Jonah's journey in the Way bring him and others blessing and joy Amen.