A Way of Being

The Rev. Becky McDaniel. This sermon is based on John 1:29-42

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?” He said to them, “Come and see.”

A simple question and a simple answer. Or so it seems. “What are you looking for?” asks Jesus. “Come and see.” He answers. But perhaps these are not a simple question and a simple answer after all. It is the Lamb of God who is speaking, so we should listen more carefully to the deeper spiritual meaning behind these seemingly simple words.

In fact, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves this question: “What are we looking for?” We are all looking for something, aren’t we? We are all seeking. Some of us are wilder seekers than others. Some of us are more comfortable in these pews than others. But even the most dedicated, firm in faith among us are asking: “Why am I here?” “What am I looking for?” But Jesus doesn’t give us an answer in a statement of belief. Jesus doesn’t say, “You are looking for God, and God is a transcendent being who sent me to tell you what to think and do, and if you don’t get it right, then there is no hope and here are the rules of how to get it right.” NO. Jesus never answers in black and white, in creed or in certainty. Jesus tells stories and parables, metaphors and poetic visions. Jesus asks questions. “Who do you say that I am?” And Jesus acts. He teaches, he heals, he performs miracles, he walks on water, he brings the dead back to life. He overturns the tables, he wanders alone, he draws people together. Jesus acts. And when he is asked the question, “where are you staying?” he answers not with an explanation of a physical place, but with the command “Come and see.” Jesus invites his followers into a Way of Being, not into a way of thinking.

We talk a lot about “belief” in the church. We say together each Sunday, “We believe in one God . . .” But what does this mean, “to believe?” Is belief something that we do with our rational minds? Is belief a mental assent to something and nothing more? Or is belief something deeper? Something that we do with the whole of our being: body, mind, and spirit. I find the late Marcus Borg’s words very elucidating here. If you don’t know him, Marcus Borg was a New Testament scholar, a theologian and an author, a distinguished professor at Oregon State University, who died two years ago this Saturday. Borg wrote that “Believe did not originally mean believing a set of doctrines or teachings; in both Greek and Latin its roots mean ‘to give one’s heart to.’ The ‘heart’ is the self at its deepest level. Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self.” So, in essence, when we say “I believe in God,” we are really saying “I give my deepest self to God” or “I dwell in God.” And dwelling in God is a way of being. If we abide in God, as Jesus says later in John’s gospel, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” then we will bear much fruit. And to bear fruit is to act. Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Just as in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says “seek and you shall find.”

So it seems that the deeper answer to our seeking is to abide. Seek with your whole being. Dwell in God with your heart. As the Orthodox say, draw your mind into your heart. And act from this deepest part of yourself. In fact, these words are all words of acting; they are action verbs. To abide, to dwell, to bear fruit, to seek. And of course, to come and to see. In a sense, it is helpful to think of God in terms of action, to think of God as a verb. What if instead of experiencing God as a being, we begin to experience God as be-ing. We hear so often, God is love, but love is action. What is love if not acting? As Martin Luther King, Jr, whose birthday we celebrate today, said, in any campaign for justice, there are four basic steps: “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” Direct action. To love is to act. To fight injustice and oppression is to act. To purify oneself is to act. To live and move and have one’s being in Christ is to act.

Let’s ask ourselves the question again, “What are we looking for?” Might the answer be: a way of being. A way to love. A way to be just. A way to bear fruit. The early Christians called themselves people of the way. Their identity was in their being: the whole of themselves, body, mind, and spirit. This is how we shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. This is how we act as light in the world. We purify ourselves and then we offer ourselves. We become beings of loving action in the world. We leave all of the unnecessary things that we have and we follow the way of Christ. Today, let us go forth in the way of Christ, called to action, abiding in God and bearing much fruit.