Sermon: The Only Thing

John 1:29-42

“The only thing is love;
Everything else is advertising.”

That is a benediction said each week
at a church in Cape Cod.

I have been pondering its meaning this week:
“The only thing is love;
Everything else is advertising.”

It seems an apt quote in light of the Scripture this week,
where Jesus turns to these two people beside him, and asks,
“What are you looking for?”

Or in some translations,
“What do you want?”

Or in other translations,
“What are you seeking?”

That question unsettles me
as I consider the difference between
what we think we seeking,
and what we are actually seeking.

What are you seeking?

There are so many things that
I am striving for:
I want to win the battle
of keeping up with household tasks
and summit a mountain,
and remember to respond to my friends’ text messages.

I want to do all of these things,
which enhance my life.

Yet, when challenges litter my trail,
and I come up short,
or even when I try hard and succeed,
I am still left unsatisfied.

A clean house, a climbed mountain, a composed message:
this tidy list, this tide of tasks at last met,
does not fill the longing inside of me
for something more.

Instead,
I find myself returning to Jesus’ question:

What do you want?

Preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber
reflects on that question in her sermon,
“A Sermon on What We Think We Want.”
She recalls that when she was in her twenties
she thought she wanted to marry
her guitar-playing boyfriend.
However, she says that
what she was really seeking
was being loved for who she was
and connection to another human being.

Yet, she was so distracted
by not getting what she wanted,
that she was unaware of the moments
when her friends were consoling her,
being present to her,
and loving her.
She was unaware how, in these moments,
she was actually receiving
what she was truly seeking:
Love and connection.
She missed it.

Her story piques my curiosity:
What do we spend our time seeking?
What do we actually want?

Those are questions that
pastoral counselor Bob Beverley explores
in a chapter called “Reverence”
in his book, “Emotional Elegance.”

Beverley discusses how
advertisement teaches us
that life lies elsewhere …
in that Lexus,
or new iPhone,
or fashionable fad.

However,
the curse of familiarity is that
once you have the new Lexus,
you will soon be looking for the new Benz
to deliver that same sense of cool and importance.

Beverley writes,
advertisement teaches us that
“life is always somewhere over the rainbow
and, after a while, we barely look up to the rainbow
because ‘it’s just another rainbow.’”

I wonder if that is what the disciples
thought about Jesus,
when they hear the prophet John shout
about this great new teacher and healer.

After all,
when Jesus asks them,
“What do you want?”
they coyly responding asking, well,
“Where do you live?”

What is the space you inhabit,
they are asking.
What are you all about?

They aren’t sure
if what Jesus is offering
was like the empty calories of a chocolate cake,
that fill you up for thirty minutes,
and then leave you quickly hankering
for something more.

Would Jesus offer something
that truly satisfied,
they wondered.

In response to their question,
Jesus replies,
“Come and see.”

The multiple meaning of those words
open something up in me.

Come and see,
Jesus beckons,
inviting others over to his place, yes.

Come and see,
Jesus also pleads,
that you have not seen everything yet.
There is something, perhaps,
you have not yet learned,
particularly about yourself.

Come and see: There is more to life than
an untidy desk, a tide of tasks unmet,
and problems moved around a calendar
like tiles cascading down a Tetris grid.

Come and see
there is more to life than
living as a vagabond chasing elsewhere;
there is more to life than
running on a treadmill track as long as Main Street,
going nowhere fast.

The function of wise discernment and dialogue,
Beverley reveals,
(in books, magazines, conversations,
sermons, music and art)
is to point out the poison of elsewhere;
to pull us to the present
with the disposition that beauty of all sorts,
and even the Divine, can be found
in more places than the front seat of a Lexus,
and maybe even found in you!

Part of life, Beverley says,
is learning to love where we are,
to love this good and present
moment if it is good,
to love our angry, hopeful wish
for a better tomorrow
if that is where we are,
to let the love in that wants to adore you
until you can adore yourself,
and to love others,
because their journey has probably
been far harder than you can imagine,
and even the person
in the front seat of that car
might think that
they should be elsewhere.

Beverley concludes
with the Cape Cod benediction:
the only thing is love;
everything else is advertising.

This is where Jesus lives,
loving every part of us,
until we can love ourselves.

Is that what we actually want?

A year ago,
I read the line in a sermon,
“Human beings are mistake machines.”
And I still can’t get it out of my head.

There’s no avoiding it:
Human beings are mistake machines.

It makes me wonder:
Would I let Jesus see this truth in me?
Would I let Jesus experience my humanness?
Would I let Jesus observe my frailty?
Would I let Jesus encounter
the parts of me that didn’t feel like
they were cut out to be a disciple?

What about you,
would you let Jesus love you?

That is an experience to which
Nadia Bolz-Weber has been opening.

In an e-newsletter entitled
“Just Throwing It Out There”,
Bolz-Weber reflected
on the line from the Hail Mary prayer,
that says, “Hail Mary, full of grace.”
Full of grace.

Bolz-Weber talks about how Mary, mother of Jesus,
did not do anything to make her
“worthy” to be the God-bearer,
rather her need for God,
her need for grace,
is precisely why God chose her.

Mary goes on to sing a song,
known as the Magnificat
that celebrates how
God looks with favor
on her lowliness.
She doesn’t say that God looked with favor
on the fact that Mary had tried so hard
that she had finally reached
an ideal version of herself.
No. God looked with favor on her lowliness.

In contrast,
Bolz-Weber says she is always
cursing her lowliness.
Obsessing about her flaws.
Berating herself for not trying hard enough
to become her ideal self.

That is one reason that
she is also obsessed with grace.
That is one reason she writes and preaches
about grace more than anything else.
Grace is one thing you simply cannot earn.

Everything in this bankrupt world,
Bolz-Weber writes,
feels like it is about worthiness.
It is about proving ourselves
and knowing who we are better than.
It is about judgments, hoarding wealth,
being the best and optimization.
Everything not rooted in grace,
in Bolz-Weber’s experience,
is just about trying harder.
And she says trying harder doesn’t make her free,
it just makes her tired.

She posits,
“We are imprisoned in the
human worthiness competition extravaganza.”

She concludes, I know I am.
And that’s why I, like everyone else, need help,
I need a power greater than myself,
a power greater than just trying harder.

She states,
my soul needs to feel its worth
in a way not linked to advertisement or optimization.

And suddenly I see that
the only thing is grace.
It is gift that we practice receiving.

Come and see,
Jesus beckons,
that love dwells with you already,
in the sadness you feel,
that awakens you to the soft, preciousness of life,
in the anger your feel,
that stirs your desire for something better,
in the longing you feel,
that launches you toward transformation,
in the emptiness that you feel,
which anticipates love,
in the tiredness you feel,
inviting you to rest,
in the embarrassment you feel at mistakes,
that presses you to practice persistent mercy.

And suddenly I see that what I most seek,
is love that I do not earn.

Maybe you do too.
It’s yours for the taking.
It’s yours for the freeloading.

Even now,
Jesus calls you over for a play date,
beckoning, pleading, enticing,
come and see.
Try dwelling in this place of gentle love.

Do you respond?

What do you do? 

 

 

 

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