John 1: 29-42
It’s confusing. In John’s Gospel there’s more than one John. There are three to be precise. In his opening chapter John the Evangelist focuses on John elsewhere known as the Baptist, as witness to the messiah. But there’s also a third John lurking in the background – John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. Despite the Tradition, it’s clear that John the Evangelist is not John the Beloved Disciple. The Evangelist is writing in the 120’s, a period beyond the normal lifespan of the Beloved Disciple. So, John the Evangelist is someone who stands in the tradition of the Beloved Disciple, and as a young man probably knew him personally.
John’s gospel opens on the majestic panorama painted in the Prologue before plunging us into the opening moments in Jesus’ earthly ministry. The evangelist known as John fills this opening chapter and actually the whole of his gospel with word allusions and metaphors indicating the mysterious connections between Jesus and the fulfilment of Old Testament expectations of the Messiah.
We can tie ourselves up in knots trying to decipher just what these allusions and metaphors meant for the Evangelist John and his community. But so much of John remains mysterious.
For instance, John alone uses the metaphor of the Lamb of God. Taken in the context and period in which he is writing this is a peculiar metaphor for Jesus. The practice of Temple animal sacrifice is by this time but a distant memory. John’s metaphors are arresting and in chapter one we have two on display – Lamb of God and God the Son. Lamb of God as well as God the Son -new titles for Jesus deeply resonated in the imagination of the early Church and thus eventually found their way into the mainstream of orthodox Christology, i.e. the branch of theology that relates to the identity, and nature of Jesus.
Chapter one is a story set over three days. Day one the Jewish elders come to interrogate John (the Baptist) during which he identifies Jesus as the messiah because of what he has seen and can bear witness to. Day two, John’s out an about with two of his disciples – one of whom is Andrew the brother of Simon Peter. When Jesus walks by and John points him out as the Lamb of God, curiosity gets the better of Andrew and his unnamed companion, who follow Jesus asking him where he is staying? Jesus replies come and see. Andrew then recruits his brother Simon. In the section following this passage on the next day – day three Jesus journeys to Galilee where he encounters one Philip who then recruits his friend, Nathaniel (Bartholomew) and tells him he has seen the messiah.
John is showing his readers how discipleship happens and how it works. One person’s curiosity leads to discovery of Jesus. This discovery is then shared with a friend and they both begin to follow Jesus.
Jesus and his new disciples are now in position on day three for the first of John’s great signs – the wedding at Cana of Galilee which opens chapter two. John is not telling his readers about the call of the first disciples as much as he is showing them how discipleship works – you notice, you become curious, you ask, and then respond to the invitation to come and see, you then tell your friends what you’ve found and invite them into the same process.
John’s Gospel is a gospel for our own age precisely because John the Evangelist addresses a mixed community in tension; a community comprised from different constituencies.
- There are the former disciples of John the Baptist, hence the Evangelist’s emphasis on the initial role of John (the Baptist) in the first chapter.
- There is a strong contingent of Samaritans as evidenced by the story in chapter four where the Samaritan woman he encounters at the well is the first to recognize his true identity.
- There are gentile spiritual seekers. Later in 12:21 we read that some Greeks come and ask Philip: please sir, we want to see Jesus.
- There are Jews who have openly split with the synagogue
- There are Jews who still faithfully attend the synagogue but also secretly hang out with John’s ragbag of a Christian community on Sundays.
John’s task is to speak to the inner tensions in a community made-up of factions, each with their own slightly different history and take on Jesus; all seeking to hold together against the backdrop of an unremitting hostility from the Jewish authorities represented by the emergence of rabbinic Judaism.
Consequently, the internal tensions within the Johannine Community in the early decades of the 2nd-century are too great for there to be a commonly recognized authority. John’s community is a flat hierarchy community. It seems to have no recognized leaders apart from the guidance of the Evangelist in his gospel. For instance, John never mentions the teaching authority of the apostles as the community leaders so evident elsewhere in the New Testament. Everyone ins John is simply a disciple. All disciples are equal sitting under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. There are no sacraments, no doctrine, only the willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit in the way of love.
The community of John the Evangelist comes to be known as the Beloved Community in which the golden rule is given by Jesus in chapter 13:35 when he tells the disciples to love one another, for by this the world will know them as his disciples.
Come and See, See what? Come and see a community characterized by the quality with which its member love one another. Now there’s a rare and seeming unworkable thing!
I believe that in the world of 2020, Episcopalian Christians with our tolerant and inclusive understanding of Christian community have something to offer our nation torn asunder by so many bitterly held divisions.
Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry chanel’s the message of John the Evangelist; inviting us to the renewal that flows from reframing ourselves as the contemporary Jesus Movement, a modern-day Johannine community embarked on the Way of Love.
The Way of Love involves seven practices:
- Turn – pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.
- Learn – through reflecting on Scripture each day, esp. on Jesus life and teachings.
- Pray – dwell intentionally with God daily.
- Worship – gather in community weekly to thank, praise and dwell with God.
- Bless- share our faith unselfishly – one might suggest unselfconsciously- in order to give and serve.
- Go- cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus.
- Rest -receive the gift of God’s grace, peace and restoration.
The Way of Love is a very Johannine project flowing naturally out of our Anglican love for the Gospel of John. As a historic community, Anglicanism like John’s community has some experience of holding together internal tension within a spirit of right relationship rather than an emphasis on right belief under a strong and centralised hierarchical authority structure.
Our only obligation is to Come and See! Are we willing?
Here are the recordings from the Eulogies from Karl & Christia Langmuir, and Mary Worrell given at Jane’s requiem this morning at St Martin’s.
Below is the text of my tribute to Jane
Jane was our friend. With her death we have all lost a valued and esteemed friend and member in our community. The first woman to hold the position of Church Warden, a position she held on two separate occasions; together, Jane and her husband Paul over several decades contributed their prodigious talents and energies to the building-up and sustaining of this wonderful St Martin’s community. Jane and Paul were integral members of a core of individuals, couples, and families – at a time not so distant but now passed, when church community played a greater role in East Side family and community life.
After Paul’s death ten years ago now, Jane gradually withdrew from much of the hands-on involvement in parish life– though still keeping an important oversight brief for the architectural preservation of this historically significant church. Although no longer able to play a guiding role in our recent extensive restoration project, the work recently accomplished brought her great satisfaction and peace of mind.
After Paul’s death, Jane began to forge a different role for herself within the community. Rather than her activity, it was her mystical spirituality that now began to emerge more prominently. Always a woman whose opinions others valued, Jane came to be increasingly seen as a trusted source for spiritual insight, emotional support, and wise counsel.
Jane was my friend. I well remember the moment during my first interview with the discernment team – when standing in the pulpit at St Paul’s Church in Pawtucket where the discernment team had retreated to privately assess the caliber of the new interviewee for the position of rector; looking down over the small congregation our eyes met. I was struck by the quality of the gaze in which Jane held me. Between us, a mutual recognition flashed. Held in her gaze I came to realize that I was indeed the right candidate. In her gaze I came to know without question that St Martin’s was the door God was opening for me.
In that moment Jane and I became friends.
Friendship between pastor and parishioner is always a wonderful thing. Despite the church’s official warnings to the clergy that our parishioners cannot be our friends, many variations of friendship flourish between pastor and parishioner. Yet, always there is the recognition that the pastor must keep in check – or at the very least, be mindful of his or her own personal needs in order to hold open the interpersonal space in which the parishioner’s needs take priority.
Jane was my friend, but not in the ordinary sense that I might say that of so many of the folk in this wonderful St Martin’s community. Jane was my friend and for Al and myself, she quickly became our friend – because in a real sense she needed nothing from me or from us except the desire for a balanced reciprocity – the ordinary everyday coinage of human friendship.
With Jane, I found that rare freedom to air my fears and anxieties without concern for lessening her trust and confidence in me. She received the revealing of my fallibilities – often expressed through the pent-up feelings and frustrations that any priest experiences within the discipline of the pastoral role. I received from Jane her unjudging compassion and her wise counsel that often concluded in a sound piece of advice for me to get over myself. She didn’t say it quite like that, but Jane understood the creative use of pain and suffering, and she expected nothing less of me than she did of herself.
Beyond speaking of friendship, I have another task this morning. It is to speak about how within the tradition of Christian faith we might imagine life for Jane now. For life is what she still enjoys – except it’s from the other side of the veil that separates the parallel dimensions of God Space from Our Space.
The medieval images of heaven as a place up there among the clouds no longer works for our 21st-century minds. We need to exercise our imaginations in a different direction. For us, heaven is none other than the divine dimension –God Space -that sits alongside Our Space; the dimension of time, space, and matter. The energies of the divine dimension interpenetrate this dimension of Our Space.
Having been adopted by the ancient spirit of the Langmuir name, Jane was intuitively drawn to the landscapes and Celtic spirituality of Scotland’s Western Isles; the isle of Iona in particular, which Jane and Paul visited a number of times. After Paul’s death it was to the holy Isle of Iona that Jane returned a portion of his ashes. She was to visit Iona again – where she still found the needed spiritual sustenance and confirmation in this thin place.
Celtic spirituality recognizes the thin place in both geographic locations and also in spiritual -nonphysical states of experience. Within the thin place the energies of the divine co-mingle with the energies of time and space. In her everyday life, Jane often experienced this interpenetration – or interleafing of dimensional energies characteristic of the co-mingling of divine and temporal dimensions; the God Space’s entry within Our Space.
Jane has now made the return journey. The event of her biological death has freed her to enter into the fullness of the God Space. Yet, Christian faith does not view this event as the end for her. There is too much emphasis these days on the souls of the dead living for ever in the presence of God as if eternity in the God Space is our ultimate destination. Christian faith views entry into the God Space following biological death as simply an interim stage awaiting the final renewal of the whole of the physical creation – in a new heaven and a new earth.
Jane was our friend. She was a friend to so many of us here this morning. As her friends; as her children; as her sisters – none of us experienced Jane to be a saint. Like all of us, she was far from perfect. To come close with Jane was also to experience her own particular limitations and struggles.
Let us be mindful of two things. In the words of the Prayer Book Preface for the Dead, which we will hear in a moment, for Jane life is now changed but not ended. And, that our task now is to take the gifts she has bequeathed to us through her love and friendship and incorporate them into our lives – qualities and values that hopefully will re-prioritize our living. So that in the meantime, Jane will live on in us.
I conclude with words from the great mystic poet, John O’Donohue in his poem For Longing. The late John O’Donohue was not a Celt of the Western Isles, but nevertheless, the next best thing, a Celt of the Irish homeland.
I offer us these words as Jane’s final benediction and blessing to us until the day of our eventual reunion.
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging—in love, creativity, and friendship—
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
The image comes from a mural in Kessler Park’s United Methodist Church
So it seems the world is gripped by the latest royal drama. This time it centers on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s desire to step back from the first rank of the Royal Family to carve out for themselves a more independent lifestyle and protective identity.
Identity is a tricky thing. Is identity a given or is it constructed? Prince Harry has finally said enough is enough of the blatant racial abuse of his wife by the British popular press, with the Daily Mail – like Fox News part of the Murdoch media empire not surprisingly, leading the charge in expressing scurrilous media persecution and bigotry.
The depth of the racism expressed against the Duchess is astonishing. The BBC fired Danny Baker one of its more populist Radio Five presenters for tweeting a picture of a chimpanzee after Meghan gave birth to Prince Archie. Even a member of the Royal Family, Princess Michael of Kent – the wife of Prince Michael, a cousin to the Queen, was forced to apologise for sporting a blackamoor brooch on her lapel as she attended a royal family event. Though educated largely in Australia, we might remember that Princess Michael is the daughter of minor German nobility with her father having been a principal aristocratic supporter of Hitler’s Nazi party. Princess Michael and her husband are no strangers to controversy.
Identity stories shape us. Prince Harry is not the first royal to struggle within the tension between the identity he was born into and the one he seeks to adopt for himself and his family.
I wish I was a natural storyteller. I firmly believe that as human beings it’s through stories that we create meaning from our experience in the world. A recurring theme for me is that story is all we have; that human beings construct personal and social meaning through the stories we tell ourselves and each other; that certain stories influence us, shaping our worldview, claiming our allegiance whether we know it or not.
Though not naturally gifted as a storyteller – an appreciation for the power of story lies at the heart of my theology. I think of myself as a narrative Christian. A narrative Christian is one who chiefly encounters God within the overarching Biblical Story – a story that is brought to life through participation in the life of the Christian Community.
Where do we draw our identity from; now a burning question for Harry and Meghan? Stories that privilege material progress, increased social inclusiveness, the building of a society based on principles of equality, justice, and the rule of law; these are among the central stories that lay principal claim on me and have shaped my sense of personal identity as someone who passionately believes that such stories identify those pillars of society that are non-negotiable. These story themes have transmitted to us across 4000-years of the human community’s struggle to stay in faithful relationship with the God who throughout the great biblical story of Jewish and Christian history unequivocally reveals such social stories as sacred.
In a matter of days, 19 to be exact, liturgical time has moved us through 30 years of Jesus’ life – from the stories of his birth to the story of his baptism.
The New Testament gives us four Jesus origin stories. Matthew and Luke begin with Jesus’ birth – and the birth of Jesus took place in this way. The third origin story comes from John, who paints an overarching scenario of cosmic proportions – harkening back to the first chapter of Genesis – in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. The Word was God and became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory as of the Father’s only son.Prologue to John’s gospel
Yet, there’s a fourth origin story most strongly echoed in the writings of the Apostle Paul. It’s this story that Mark begins his gospel with, and which Matthew repeats in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. With the story of Jesus’ baptism the Church concludes the Christmas cycle.
For centuries we thought that the beginning of Mark’s Gospel had been lost because he omits Jesus birth story – opening instead with the adult Jesus striding out of the wilderness to receive baptism from John in the Jordan.
Mark is the evangelist writing towards the end of Paul’s ministry. Paul preached a revolutionary connection between Jesus’ birth and our status as followers of Jesus. Paul is not concerned only with Jesus’ biography as Son of God. His more pressing concern is the make plain the connection binding Jesus Son of God with those who follow him.
Paul proclaims: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.Galatians 4:4-5
Stories of identity through birth sit alongside a stories of identity by adoption. For most of us life is shaped not by the story we are born into, British Royalty aside for a moment -but by the story that we are adopted into; by the story that adopts us.
You and I do not aspire to the status of children of God through the accident of our birth. Neither is our claim to be children of God a product of some pre-existent cosmic status. We are adopted into becoming the children of God. This adoption is expressed through our baptism. At his baptism, God adopted Jesus as his son – this is my son on whom my favor rests. Likewise at our baptism, we too became adopted as those upon whom God’s favor rests.
Adoption takes us to the heart of what it means to have faith. Faith is not an accident of birth, but something deliberately chosen. For Christians, faith is the story of our adoption through baptism as children of a loving God.
Birth is an accident from which we can take neither credit nor bear blame. Adoption, now this is another matter. For adoption is always about a conscious choice, a deliberate decision made, a clear direction chosen.
If the central meaning of the birth of Jesus is that to be fully human is to become most like God, then the central meaning of his baptism is to take this truth one stage further. Our humanity not only accords us God-like potential. Our baptism is a choice taken to live in the conscious knowledge and self-awareness that to be fully human is to be most like God.
We are God’s daughters and God’s sons and upon us God’s favor rests. As it was for Jesus, the gift of identity through adoption was a costly one. The tricky question is – will we risk the cost of living into the promise of our adoption and allow ourselves to become the people God intends us to be?
I guess at a more mundane level, Harry and Meghan are about to find out what identity through adoption rather than birth or marriage might cost them.
Christmas 2 (Epiphany transf.) from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs
Matthew 2: 1-12 5 January 2020
We three kings of Orient are,
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.
A colleague of mine told me of a job interview in which he was asked by a seasoned old rector, “You’re not on some kind of journey are you?
I have to say that this is one of the saddest things I’ve heard in my vocational life; an utter dismissal of one of the most vital aspects of a life of faith. How can a life of faith be lived without some sort of trajectory? The spiritual journey moves forward, backward, and may even occasionally stall for a time—but wherever it goes it forms us, if we choose, as children of God, and offers us, through our questioning, struggle, and moments of epiphany, an opportunity for humility, self-awareness, and a heightened sense of perspective, all of which are vital in a time when many people’s perspective is blocked by anxiety and fear of wars and rumors of wars. Now more than ever the spiritual journey is not an optional side excursion in a life of faith; it is the soul of the trip.
The Eastern sages from afar can teach us something about journeying. Later tradition tells us that they were kings, and that there were only three of them, but Matthew tells us what we need to know; that an undetermined number of outsiders read signs in the stars and followed them westward to a foreign land where their inquiries about a new Jewish king sounded alarm bells in the halls of power. These outsiders followed the star first to Jerusalem where they asked directions of Herod, who consulted his own wise ones, the chief priests and scribes. Note that when they read the signs in scripture: “`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” –the scribes and chief priests did not feel prompted to accompany their Eastern counterparts and seek the promised one in Bethlehem. I hadn’t noticed that before–they stayed put. Why? Because part of their job was to keep the peace in the Jewish community in order to keep the Roman occupiers at bay. This alleged Messiah was a threat to King Herod’s authority. And when King Herod wasn’t happy, nobody was happy. So the Temple authorities remained in Jerusalem and kept the peace, while Herod plotted murder. And the magi journeyed onward, unaware of the danger that followed in their wake.
There are those who say that a journey is more important than its destination, and that’s true in a lot of cases, but not all the time. Sometimes the journey is formed by the destination. Or, in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.” For all we may enjoy the picturesque image of the Wise Men on their camels trudging through the desert, we must never forget that the Epiphany story is not about the kings; it’s about what they seek: the Christ Child. The star they follow has revealed the birth of this Messiah, this promised one, and the Magi will not rest until the God-shaped space inside of them is filled.
“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”
Matthew says that they brought three symbolic gifts: gold for a king, frankincense for a God, and myrrh presaging death. But there was a fourth gift, given before all the others.
“…they knelt down and paid him homage.”
This is a specific term; the Greek word “proskyneo” means that they prostrated themselves, lying face down upon the ground in front of the child Jesus. This gesture was their first and most important gift. For all of the symbolism of the gold, frankincense and myrrh, the gesture of offering them was physically a political act; something offered by kings to a king as in a diplomatic mission. But the act of complete humility and obeisance shown through prostration—paying homage—was a gift, not of tangible objects, but of their devotion, their very selves. These outsiders from the East, prompted by Creation itself, had wandered for months in unfamiliar and dangerous territory—wandering, but not lost— focused on offering their lives to a Jewish Messiah. When the star rested at last, it revealed the Christ as Savior to all of God’s people throughout the world, eliminating the boundaries between insiders and outsiders—a theme that would mark the life and ministry of the One to whom the Magi now offered their lives.
This first Epiphany was not the end of the journey. Where spiritual journeys are concerned there is no such thing. The God-shaped space, once filled, becomes dynamic—a source of invitation, challenge and vocation; an inner stirring that reveals a new way of envisioning the world, leading to a shift in priorities, even a dramatic change in one’s life.. And so the wise ones went home by another way—a new journey in new territory, to a home that might not look the same to them, because they were not the same.
What are we to make of this as we enter a new year—a year that for many doesn’t so much beckon as loom with uncertainty and anxiety? We can’t avoid remembering that Matthew’s story of the Magi ended with the warning in a dream of Herod’s evil intentions toward Jesus, prompting them to avoid Jerusalem on their way home. Thwarted by the Magi’s dream, Herod sent his soldiers to kill all toddler boys throughout the region—an unspeakable event that the Church now commemorates three days after Christmas as the Holy Innocents. The proximity of these two diametrically opposed remembrances—Christmas and Holy Innocents– reminds us that the world into which the Christ Child was born did not immediately become a painless paradise. It remained as broken and wounded as our world is today. So it is crucial that we must also remember that this is exactly why the prophet Isaiah named the child born in Bethlehem Emmanuel—God with us. Journeying with us. When fear and anxiety grip our hearts, we must remember that in this Epiphany we celebrate the star’s illumination of the promised Messiah who said, “Do not be afraid”; whose own journey reveals that Herod does not get the last word; that cruelty and injustice and war and terror and Twitter do not get the last word. It is the Christ who reveals on this Epiphany that love, life and hope will have the final say.
“You’re not on some kind of journey, are you?”
Well, I hope so. Unlike the wise ones, we no longer follow the Star. Now we seek to follow Jesus; called to live our lives as if lit from within by the star that finally rested over Bethlehem. It is my prayer for each of us, and for this St. Martin’s community, that by God’s grace we will find what we seek and that the journey itself will form us as dreamers and co-builders of God’s Dream for all of Creation.
Glorious now behold him arise,
king and God and sacrifice;
heaven sings alleluia;
alleluia the earth replies.