Monday, January 27, 2014

Behold and Desire

A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC on January 19, 2014. The texts were 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42.

In an age where sexuality is used to sell both hamburgers and health products, you can be sure that we are living in an age of commodities and desire. Think about all of the advertisements you encountered on your way to church this morning. Restaurants advertising their specials in an attempt to net the highest volume of customers. One of my favorites is an illuminated billboard just beyond the Bradley Creek Bridge advertising plastic surgery: “Buy legs, get your back free.” When we are able to put a price on the human body, you can be sure that we are living in an age of commodities and desire. We have become encoded with the need to buy, sell, and trade our way into greater levels of sophistication and accomplishment, all the while remaining ignorant of the fact that the modern-day advertising machine actually dictates what is fashionable, popular, refined and classy. Rather than being a free people, our ‘freedom’ to desire ends up enslaving us to an appetite ultimately unable to be satisfied. And so the cycle continues. Behold, and Desire, then Consume. Rinse and repeat.

It’s the cycle of repetition that makes this whole thing so painful and demoralizing. It’s one thing to be occasionally caught up in the fervor of the newest blockbuster film, or excited by finally purchasing that pea coat we’ve been looking at. It’s another thing entirely to be stuck in a cycle of consumption that essentially trains us to go looking for that next big thing, palms sweating with anticipation as we ourselves are consumed by the desire for the ‘New’. Would any of us know how to respond if we encountered, today, something so profoundly beautiful and life-altering, something so deeply satisfying yet simultaneously elusive?

Andrew, our namesake, and the other disciple had no other option but to cast their nets aside and begin the long march towards freedom when they encountered true life and profound beauty. Though once committed to the way of the Baptizer, this momentary encounter with Jesus left so great of an impression upon them that they could do nothing other than follow Jesus immediately. It was John’s invitation to “look” that caused them to take notice. “Behold” it says in another translation. “Behold and see the Lamb of God.” As if it wasn’t even an option to remain present with John, to remain unchanged, Andrew and the other disciple heard this cry to “behold” and responded as quickly and passionately as possible.

And Jesus noticed this turn…this response to John’s cry. But he didn’t ask the obvious question, “Why are you following me?” He didn’t ask, “Who are you”? He asks a deep and penetrating question: “What do you desire?” The English rendering in the NRSV is weak compared to the original Greek. “What are you looking for?” as we’ve received it today doesn’t point to the deeper reality of what Jesus asked the disciples, and what he asks of us today. He wasn’t asking the disciples, “What are you hoping to see, to find?” as if they’re on a scavenger hunt. He was asking them, “What do your bones cry out for? What do you long for at the deepest part of who you are?” “What do you desire?”

The disciples inquired about where Jesus was living. And rather than offering an easy answer, he extended an invitation: “Come and see.” It’s an invitation to journey alongside of Jesus, to follow where he would go, to remain where he remained, to abide with him. And truly that is what Andrew and the other disciple did. They came, and saw, and remained with him that day, and for the rest of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus’ very penetrating question was answered not by words, but by the disciples’ response to him. Their desire was satisfied by following Jesus and abiding with him.

I have a painting of St. Andrew that hangs in my office. He’s an old man, haggard and tired looking. In his left hand, hoisted onto his left shoulder, is a giant cross…a sign that he will carry the Gospel even unto his death. He’ll soon abide with Jesus on the cross just as he once abided with him in that home some years ago. In his right hand, cast down, is a dead fish. A sign that the man he once was, before he met Christ, before his desire was satisfied…the man that he once was is dead. The fisherman died that day of encounter, and the saint came alive.

Friends, what do you desire? We are trained to drink from wells that dry up, leaving us to search with parched tongues for something else to momentarily quench our thirsts of materialism, sexuality, and power. But in Christ there is a living spring, gushing up to eternal life that will never leave us thirsty. Will you, like Andrew, cast aside your nets…cast aside the life you have left behind and take up the cross? Will you reject the world’s script of “Behold, Desire, then Consume” in order that, perhaps for the very first time, you will “Behold, Desire, then Abide?” Will you plunge headlong into a life of discipleship and proclamation that perhaps one day you too will be a saint? For nothing in Christ is impossible.

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