Questioning Faith

January 19, 2020

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40:1-11

John 1:29-42

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:29-42, NRSV)

Let us pray: O God, you spoke your word and revealed your good news in Jesus, the Christ. Fill all creation with that word again, so that by proclaiming your joyful promises to all nations and singing of your glorious hope to all peoples, we may become one living body, your incarnate presence on the earth. Amen.

I must recommend a movie, the Two Popes.  Now, not being Catholic I had my own preconceived notions about the Catholic Church and the popes. This movie enlightened me, it educated me, and it moved me to tears.  It is an excellent movie that portrays the joys and triumphs, struggles and victories of faith in a real and honest way. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI or Joseph Ratzinger and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis.  It was affirming to me to see even in the highest office, the Pope, there is doubt, searching, and hope as well as struggle.  The movie reminded me of other a wonderful saying of a clergy colleague of mine from my former church in Tennessee. He was the Priest at St. Williams Catholic Church in Shelbyville, Tennessee, His name is Father Dick Driscoll. We were part of a weekly lectionary study and he often said that the task of a preacher is like that of one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.

In our case the bread is the bread of life.  In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus offers an invitation, a non-threating, non-binding invitation to come and see for yourself what he is all about.

This time of year in the Confirmation Class the students begin to lose some of their shyness, and they ask more bold questions, about God, about faith and about life.  We call this big bowl questions and as a pastor this ritual can feel like stump the preacher night, but it is also one of the greatest experiences to have young people express their faith and offer their own questions.

This year’s class has been particularly interested in height. Like, how tall was Jesus? How tall is God? How big is God? They are also interested in age. How old is the Bible? How old is God? How long ago did Jesus live? If the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples, then why do we use other prayers?

Then we get into the theodicy questions. Meaning, why do bad things happen? Why does God let bad things happen? Why does God let bad things happen to us? These are just a few of the questions I can share. Others I cannot because they are not safe for church. Then we get to the really deep and profound questions. 

Why out of all the women in Bethlehem did God choose Mary to carry Jesus? Does God know my future? Does God know our choices and our future because we are the ones who believe in him? Will God always forgive us?  What a wonderful and inquisitive group of young people we have in our Confirmation Class.

Now, it would take more time than this sermon to answer each of these questions so I won’t start, except to say that it would be fun to devote an Adult Forum to each of you to ask Big Bowl Questions.  And I would let Nancy answer them…

The focus of this sermon is not the questions per say but the fact that Jesus himself offers an invitation for people to find out for themselves.  That is what I love about these confirmation questions, find out for yourself. God is big enough to take your questions, your doubts, your anger, your hurt, your pain, your lack of faith, your lack of belief, your dislike of organized and institutionalized religion. Instead God is inviting each of us to come and see for ourselves what God and faith and church is all about.

While we spend so much time and energy on the liturgy of worship and the words of statements and Creeds, that is just our merger attempt to explain the unexplainable.  To put into words the mystery of God. It is again as my old Catholic Colleague Father Dick Driscoll used to say, a group of beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.  Where to find sustenance, where to find a higher power, where to find God.

This may seem heretical to many of you, but I am much more concerned that you know God than you can recite the correct Creed or believe the correct Theology. It is my passion and sense of call to ministry that you know God’s love and forgiveness more than if you become the most knowledgeable and best Presbyterian ever.  So, instead, I hope that you hear this invitation loud and clear, come and see God for yourself.  In your language, in your way, in your images and in your time.  We in the Presbyterian and Episcopal traditions tend to shy away from talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  But, honestly that is what this text is all about.  We have to feel it, see it, experience it for ourselves.  Come and See. And it is a bit different with everybody. Because it is personal.

This is one of my favorite passages because, John in John’s way is throwing so much at us.  Theological statements, hyperbole, and utter nonsense and in the midst of this confusion breaks down to three components: A question, a clear statement and an invitation. The question Jesus asks the disciples is “What are you looking for?” Others make a definitive and clear statement, a declaration of faith, “Jesus is the Lamb of God!” Hey, pay attention, this guy is important, watch him, how he lives, how he treats others, how he loves the least, the last and the lost. Followed by Jesus offering them an invitation, “Come and See!”

This is that dreaded word Evangelism at its best an invitation, to check it out. No politics, no judgment, no you have to adhere to these rules, no you have to dress like this or live like that, no money down requirement.  No Obligation to adhere to a core set of beliefs.  Notice that Jesus does not condemn other religions, he does not scare them with eternal damnation and put the fear of hell in them. He does not use a glitzy and gimmicky marketing campaign. A simple declaration of who Jesus is and an invitation to participate in the good news. 

What are we looking for? We come for all kinds of reasons, driven by a multitude of motives – we are sometimes confused and needful, and always aware of the inadequacy of our faith.  Jesus doesn’t demand any of that here.  Jesus says, “Come and see.”  He offers hospitality.  He offers a space for us to come to him so that we may grow, change, mature.  If you want to know Jesus, God, Christ, the way is to follow him.  So, my Big Bowl question is more an invitation, “Won’t you come and see?”

Let us pray: