Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Jesus found Philip. Philip found Nathanael. They joined Andrew, Simon Peter, and others in declaring eureka! “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). The English translation is dry by comparison. There is joy, amazement, and disbelief in their voice. Can anything good come out of s–holes like Nazareth? Come and see. Follow me.
Great adventures often begin—because of what see calling us to explore. Longs Peak in Colorado is something like that. If you’ve ever been to Denver you’ve seen it. Longs Peak is the highest mountain on the horizon. It took me three tries to reach the top.
You get out of bed at 3:00 am to be on the trail by 6:00 in order to reach the summit by 12 noon before the lightning storms roll in. The final third of the hike has is no real trail. There are boulders to climb over, a scree field at a 45-degree incline, and a narrow ledge across a vertical rock face. At 14,259 feet above sea level, the air becomes thin and breathing is difficult. The top is the size of about two football fields and just as flat. Mathematicians calculate you can see 150 miles. It seems farther. I remember someone driving golf balls over the diamond-shaped cliff. I remember a sailplane appearing as if by magic and circling the summit. I remember catching sight of the tiny glint of the parking lot where we left our car and wondering if I had enough left in me to make it back down. We stopped for pizza that night and I could barely lift the pieces to my mouth. We could see it. That’s why we had to climb it.
Who you follow defines what you do and who you become. We followed a trail most of the way to the top of Longs Peak, but the road to get there was longer. It involved planning and preparation. Following that path meant defining our goals, focusing our energy, organizing our calendar and the commitment of financial resources. Following gives direction to your life.
Philip, Nathanael, Andrew, and Simon Peter didn’t know they were Christians. They just knew they were thirsty and hungry for something better. They didn’t know they were disciples, or followers until they saw Jesus. He said to them come and see. Follow me. He was a walking epiphany, an awakening. The disciples were among the first in the human family to see something in Jesus that answered their own deepest longing that drew them to follow.
The American Catholic Monk, mystic, and writer Thomas Merton compared baptism to spiritual mountain climbing. The original, but censored, beginning of his famous autobiographical book about coming to faith and becoming a monk, The Seven Storey Mountain reads, “When a man [or woman] is conceived, when a human nature comes into being as an individual, concrete, subsisting thing, a life, a person, then God’s image is minted into the world. A free, vital, self-moving entity, a spirit informing flesh, a complex of energies ready to be set into fruitful motion begins to flame with love, without which no spirit can exist…” The disciples saw this in Christ Jesus.
Our baptism tells us what we are. Baptism means each of us is created in the image of God and that’s why we’re restless and searching until we begin to conform our lives into the likeness of that image. Baptism means we are loved and accepted as God’s own child just as we are, and yet called by that same love to be and do more than we ever thought possible. Baptism is the beginning of a spiritual adventure. To say that we are Christians means that Jesus is our epiphany. We have seen and heard in him who and what we are. Because we have glimpsed the divine and have seen God’s eternal love for all creation in Jesus we follow him in the way that he lived. Like a mountain beaconing on the distant horizon, Jesus makes visible a new way of living we have learned to call the way of the cross.
Like climbing a mountain, the way of the cross is the slow, painstaking process of faith becoming lived faith in us. The way of the cross is the life-long struggle to transform beliefs into lifestyles and habits with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We do not make this climb alone. Although it is deeply personal and intimate the way of the cross is not merely a project in self-improvement. It must be communal. It involves us with one another. The way of the cross is learning to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks by fashioning communities of justice and peace. Come and see, Jesus says. Follow me.
Jesus’ invitation to discipleship is also an invitation to wellness. The old preacher W.C. Coffin wrote, “The incarnation says as much about what we are to become as it does about what God has become.” “The Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14). We are called to love and serve the Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Somehow, the poisonous idea that discipleship must force a wedge between our spiritual life and our earthly selves has crept into Christian consciousness. Yet scripture could not be clearer. We are not disembodied souls. We are bodies. As St. Paul reminds us today in 1 Corinthians, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 6:19). Paul admonishes us, therefore, that the life of discipleship calls us to be good stewards of our bodies. Exercise is part of your spiritual work. Respect your bodily needs and learn to love your limitations for these are what make us appreciate one another.
We are embarked upon a spiritual adventure by our baptism into Christ. It will call upon us to plan and to make preparations. Following the path revealed by Jesus means defining our goals, focusing our energy, organizing our calendar and the commitment of our financial resources.
Here at Immanuel, we measure progress toward this goal to the extent that we together are a living sanctuary of hope and grace. This is why we do what we do that gives purpose and direction to everything we undertake and to what we strive to become. A living sanctuary is a place people feel safe. It is a place to renew trust and become a community of mutual respect and care. Sanctuary is a place where we come to know the depth of our own human dignity and hear the still small voice of God. Sanctuary is the place we make together for others to see and hear the living Christ in us. Sanctuary is a beacon inviting and welcoming the poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
We’re keeping ourselves honest and telling the story of ways we’re making progress toward this goal in a piece in today’s This Week and the E-newsletter called This Is Us. Sometime later today look for it to read testimonies of young people in the ECT youth group.
Jesus extends an invitation to discipleship and the way of the cross that is not a command. Each of us must hear God’s call for ourselves, wrestle with the obstacles, and respond in faith with the lived faith we do together. Come and see. Follow me, Jesus says.