Gospel: John 1:29-42
1st Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The Oscar nominations have been announced. A few weeks ago, we went to see one of the films that has been snubbed, “All is Lost” with Robert Redford. Good movies can be parables, and I find myself thinking of this film quite a bit. I’ll give you the thumbnail. Man sails boat in bliss. Boat gets a hole in it. Man tries to fix it but can’t. Man tries to contact several sources of help but can’t. Man looks to a higher power to get help. Man gives up everything in last ditch effort to contact help. Man finds peace.
We missed the first shot of the movie because we were still in line for pizza, but I imagine Robert Redford sailing alone in peace on the ocean. He’s got all his comforts—food, a bed, warm clothes, a really nice boat. He’s alone, though. Maybe it is his choice to get some alone time. Maybe nobody likes him. In this moment, he has no one and no one has him. I get the feeling he is sailing and floating without much focus.
Maybe the Disciples were a little bit like this, going through life, doing what needed to be done, nothing in particular having their attention, not really going in any particular direction. I can relate. Sometimes you just go with the flow because that is where you are in life.
When we walked into the theater, there was a hole in Robert Redford’s sail boat. His boat had hit a shipping container. There are many different kinds of shipping containers in our lives, that put holes in our boats and interrupt our aimless sailing. Someone gets sick, someone dies, we have financial troubles, we lose our job, a tree falls on our house, we wreck our car, we go through a divorce. In these moments, we realize we can’t do it alone. We recognize our own mortality. An awareness of our failures runs around and around in our minds. We experience suffering. But not all these shipping containers are bad. They might be someone new in our lives who wakes us up to a reality we needed to see. It could be a book we read that really makes us think. It could be a religious experience, an epiphany, in which we see our life and our dissatisfactions and we know we have to go in another direction.
For the Disciples, I think their shipping container was Jesus. They met him and they were intrigued and they got moving because he got their full attention. That shipping crate punched a hole in their family life, it removed all their possessions, it took away their jobs and all the ways they found meaning in their lives and put them in a crisis situation in which they were learning, but they weren’t really sure where they were going or what the outcome would be.
Usually this crisis gets us moving. We go from aimless sailing, to focused surviving. That’s what Robert Redford does. One of the first things he tries to do is to establish contact with someone who can help him. He tries to use the radio. He brings it up to the deck of the boat. Then he brings up the battery. Robert Redford is the epitome of manliness and strength. We had to look up his age when we got home—77. He’s got this very heavy boat battery that he is carrying up the stairs and you can see how weary he is. You can see the weight pulling down on him. He’s weak and vulnerable. He needs help. But his ties to community are gone. He’s put himself in a situation in which he is all alone. He has no community, no relationships to help him. He’s on his own. He’s not able to contact help with the radio.
He works by himself to repair his boat on his own. But another storm hits and his boat is destroyed. He gets out the life raft. And just before he severs the ties with his sail boat, he goes in and grabs a strange brown box. Just a little later, we find out it is an instrument of navigation. He has to read a book to figure out how to tell where he is on a map, because he never had to do it that way before, but he is able to track his movement across the sea.
With this instrument he peers up at the stars. He tries to orient himself and find help via the light of the stars. This was a metaphor for the way we look for help when our sailboats run into shipping containers. Sometimes other people can help us and sometimes they can’t. Sometimes we’ve burned all our bridges or our usual ways of communicating just aren’t working. But if we can remind ourselves to look up, to look beyond the crisis of the moment, we might find a little guidance from a heavenly body, from our Advocate the Holy Spirit, from our part in a story of timelessness and beauty, from our relationship to something greater.
The Disciples were looking God in the face, but they didn’t know it. They only knew their life was changing and they were following. They were asking Jesus to rescue them, but he only said, “Come and see.” He only said to open their eyes to suffering around them, to a bigger story of who God is, and to the power of the Holy Spirit to change our world.
In the same way, Robert Redford’s navigational instrument didn’t save him, but it indicated how he might find himself on a path to be saved, made him aware of the shipping lanes he was approaching, and told him to keep alert to the possibility of being saved. Both the disciples and Robert Redford were being swept along again, only instead of being in a trance or being aimless, they were ready to see. They had no choice where they were going. The current was taking them. But they could open their eyes to how God was at work around them.
Maybe it is a good thing for us, too, to admit that the current is taking us certain places that we are helpless to avoid. Or maybe there is a way we can steer the boat a little bit and make ourselves easy targets for the Holy Spirit. For a couple thousand years we have built these sanctuaries, churches to be places of refuge and protection for people in need, quiet places where we can come and worship and experience God. But there is a hole in our boat, sometimes literally when the ceiling or window leaks or the ants try to take back their space. But there is the other hole, which is that people don’t trust organized religion to protect them, save them, or anything else. Our hole is that people aren’t coming like they used to. We send out a mayday. We find out that all the other churches have run into the same shipping container. We start bailing and mending our boat, and it works for a while, but pretty soon the water comes rushing back in. Sooner or later, we need to get out of the boat.
The Disciples ask Jesus, where are you staying. They are hoping for some safe shelter where they can be cozy. Jesus says to them, “Come and see.” He doesn’t expect the poor and hungry to come to him or the disciples, he expects the disciples to forfeit their comforts and sanctuaries and homes and families and come out to be with the people in need. Jesus is asking the same of us. It will probably be a very long time before this building is no longer. But what would it mean to come and see like Jesus invited the Disciples? We are Disciples too, right? What would it mean to do our ministry out there? One way we do this is Spirits and Theology. We gather once a month at a pizza parlor, share a meal, and discuss theology. Because it isn’t in a church, people invite others who are uncomfortable at church and we get some visitors there we would never get here. We go out from this place to gather food for the pantry. We participate in Backpack Buddies and go and see where God is at work, elsewhere.
There are so many ways we can expand on that. We could put a labyrinth in the parking lot where people could go and meditate on their faith journey in nature. We could put a garden on the property to grow food for the food pantry. We could go to our neighbors around here and tell them about the pantry and ask them if they’d like to participate. We could attend neighborhood association meetings and find out what’s going on in the neighborhood and see how we might help. We could put together kits of food and other necessary items and take them to Your Host Motel. We could have church in the park in the summer time. We could do a Johnson Creek waterways cleanup. I know we can’t be all things to all people, but Jesus is calling us to come and see, and we get to practice that now before our boat sinks.
Several times, large ocean liners passed right by the little life raft adrift on the ocean. Mr. Redford even sends up flares that they don’t see. For too long the church has been an ocean liner—powerful, focused on its own goals of delivering religion and making profits, losing an occasional shipping container that trip up small sailboats and punch holes right through their hulls. We’ve missed the people drowning right in front of us, waving their hands, hoping for a friend, a hand, a relationship. But now we find ourselves on a life-raft, realizing that we need each other to get through life and that in our power we have at times ignored Jesus in our midst, wasting away in an ocean all alone. And maybe the life raft is the place to be, or maybe a much smaller boat that can get to people, that makes it easy to come and see and work with others.
Life may make us feel adrift, but the one we rely on is steady. In the Gospel, 4 times this morning we find the Greek word “meno” that means to remain, stay, or abide. God is both those steady stars, that steady hand that is reliable, that remains with us, and the portable boat that can reach us when we are all over the place. That’s what it means that God is both human and divine, limitless as Creator, in all places and times, and limited as Jesus the Son of Man in a specific time and place. May we find God’s steady hand reaching out to us when we are adrift on the ocean. May we be God’s saving hands to others who are suffering and in need. And may we be willing to get out of the boat to come and see when Jesus invites us into something greater than we could ever imagine.