In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, two of John the Baptist’s disciples decide to physically follow Jesus. When Jesus realizes he is being followed, he turns to the two men and asks, “what are you looking for?”A valid question, a question we should often ask ourselves, especially in terms of what we are seeking or hoping for in our relationship with God. I suspect this is a question very few of us ever ask ourselves as we maintain our spiritual lives on auto-pilot.
What are you looking for? Why did you choose to come to church today?
Most often, we don’t know the answer to these questions. In the case of the two disciples, after being confronted by Jesus, all they could answer is “Where are you staying?”
In our Old Testament reading, after years of theocratic rule, the Israelites now want God to give them a king. Why? Because Israel wanted to be like all the other countries in their area. They thought their lives would be better with an earthly ruler as opposed to being guided by a prophet as they had been while ruled by Samuel. They did not think about the laws of primogeniture, or succession. All they could think of is the ease which would come with an earthly King.
One would think, after their long history with Yahweh and all the different ways they had screwed up in the wilderness, along with all the different ways they tried to go it alone on their own terms, one would think by now they would know to trust in Yahweh and let go of their own ideas.
Then again, human nature is human nature and it seems to matter who we are or when we live, we rarely learn from the past.
Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “thy will be done.” God’s will be done, while at the same time we refuse to accept that God’s ways are not our ways, God’s will for us is not necessarily the same as our will, our desires for ourselves.
In this morning’s Gospel, we found Jesus preaching, presumably somewhere near his family’s home in Nazareth. We do not know what he was saying to the crowds that day, all we can assume is, whatever he was teaching probably did not fall along the lines of traditional Judaic thought.
“He’s gone insane” the people said. While others tried to claim he was possessed by Beelzebul. All because he had cast out demons and claimed to know the will of God.
Here in lies the crux of the problem we have with God. Knowing the will of God is confusing. We are constantly being asked to choose among the many varying and often conflicting messages we hear in the world today. Often times God’s will is not in sync with what we think it should be making it harder to choose what God desires over our own desires, and besides there is always someone proclaiming a divine message that fits what we are looking for.
Recently, I told a group, the problem we face both as a country and as a people of God is, we now live in a world of competing narratives and competing understandings of the Christian message. Depending on who you are and what you seek in your relationship with God, you will pick the narrative or message which best fits what you are seeking.
For example, if you are looking for God to be simply your divine comforter, you will resonate with a message which assures you your lifestyle is God’s will. If you are seeking a God of revolution and change, then the message Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders preached during the sixties will inspire you in the same way it inspired many in the black community to fight for justice at that time. If you are seeking a God of absolutes, then the God of laws and regulations, who tells you what is right and what is wrong, who tells you who is in and who is out becomes the God you will find.
The problem with all these different messages, is they all contain some truth while at the same time none are absolutely correct. Yes, Jesus did live with a sense of right and wrong, Jesus did preach a message of justice, and yes, Jesus did assure people they were righteous before God.
He did this however, through the message of Agape’, charity and compassion for others. Those who do will of the Father as Jesus told the Pharisees are those who understand Torah as simply loving God with all one’s heart, mind and soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
This however this was not the whole of his message. At the root of Jesus message were also the words of Micah, “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
When we are able to combine justice, kindness and humility with loving God and our neighbor as well as our enemy, then we begin to have all the elements we need to discern what the will of God is for each of us as individuals, as a nation and as a global community. When we strive to live into these ideals, then, as Jesus told the crowd the crowd this morning, we become brothers, sisters, and mothers of Christ.
This is what Jesus is implying when he refuses to acknowledge the concerns of his family and on the occasions when he denied the righteousness of the Pharisees. To both his family and the religious authorities his message was always the same, not to assume righteousness with God based on status, birth right, gender, etc. All of those things are meaningless in the eyes of God.
What is meaningful is how we live our lives. Do we live with charity and compassion in our hearts? In essence, do we seek to understand those who are different from us, or do we seek to judge? Do we seek to embrace them or do we seek to avoid them? Do we hold compassion for the poor, or do we choose to blame them for their problems? Are we willing to sacrifice a little so others can have the same access to education, nutrition and adequate housing?
When we hear messages calling us to these things in the name of God, then we are hearing the will of God. The call of God may not feel comfortable, it may challenge us, and even frustrate us, but then again, following Christ was never meant to be easy and without sacrifice. Instead it is meant to help us find what we are truly looking for, the peace of God which passes all understanding and the reign of God on Earth.