Clearly the psalmist has been having some difficulty. She was flailing and thrashing, sinking, drowning, and called out to God for help. God lifted her up out of the miry bog and set her feet on solid ground—on a rock. Made her steps secure. God saved her life, set her back on firm footing.
She is grateful, and she says so! Here’s the key bit of this psalm that caught my attention, because it describes not only her situation but also one of the biggest challenges of the UCC and Progressive Christianity in general:
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O God.
I have not hidden your saving help
within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness
and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love
and your faithfulness
I have not concealed them
from the great congregation.
Not only did the psalmist call on God; not only did God save her life; but then the psalmist sang God’s praises. She told everyone she could find. Look what God did for me! Our God is a fabulous God!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t do a lot of that in my everyday conversations. I’ve mentioned before the challenge of being a Progressive Christian in a secular time, in a secular society, in a society where the terms “Church” and “Christian” carry a lot of baggage. When we walk out of these church doors and tell people in the neighborhood, tell our relatives, tell our coworkers that we are Christians and we follow Jesus Christ—they get all kinds of ideas about what that means, and those ideas are often not what we mean. So, more often than not, we just don’t go there. God may be lifting us up out of the miry bog and setting our feet on solid ground, and we may be thanking God for such salvific, life-giving, life-changing transformation. But we don’t go telling everybody.
If someone says to you, “Where did you get those great shoes?” you would likely not hesitate to say, “Oh, there was a sale at Nordstrom and these were half off. Aren’t they fabulous?” No baggage, no hesitation, no hidden meaning, no need to explain what “Nordstrom” is. You get it; they get it. Maybe they go buy themselves some fabulous shoes at that same sale.
But let’s say someone says to you, “How do you stay sane when our city is growing beyond anything recognizable, when there’s so much homelessness now, when racism is alive and well, when we’re facing the challenge of climate change, when immigrants face impossible odds and are treated worse than animals, when our political system appears to be taking a leap off the high-dive? You seem to have solid ground you’re standing on, when the rest of us are flailing and drowning in the miry bog. What’s your secret?”
How do you respond? Maybe your faith journey is what is holding you together. Maybe you have personally experienced God lifting you out of deep waters and setting you back on your feet. Do you say that? Do you sing God’s praises? Do you share this good news with the great congregation of the whole world? Do you post it on Facebook? Write a poem or song about it? Send a letter to the editor? Put it in your Christmas letter to your family and friends? Do you share the good news with the great congregation?
Maybe. Maybe you do these things.
Once I was riding on a bus, and the guy next to me, trying to start a flirty conversation, said, “Whatcha reading?” I said, “The Bible.” “Oh.” End of that conversation. He did not want to go there. And neither did I. Did I say, “Let me tell you about this passage I’m reading, because it’s really fascinating”? No. I was content to go back to my reading and avoid that whole conversation. For all I know, he was a good guy. For all I know, he may have been flailing and thrashing about in a miry bog, looking for a God to lift him out and set him on solid ground. Did I point him toward that God? No. I hid in the Bible, of all places. “I can’t talk to you about God—I’m trying to read here.”
People are looking for solid ground. They are seeking connection with God or a higher power or whatever you want to call it. Something beyond themselves.
That’s what John the Baptist is pointing to in Jesus. Two of John’s disciples start following Jesus. When he notices them, he doesn’t say, “Why are you following me around?” He says, “What are you looking for?” Like some of us, they seem to have trouble articulating a clear answer. John has told them that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Do they answer, “We’re looking for the Messiah. We’re looking for the Lamb of God. We’re looking for an experience of the Divine.” No. They stammer out, “Rabbi, … Where are you staying?” And Jesus just says, “Come and see.”
I love this answer for a whole lot of reasons. As you may recall, in the Gospel of John, the disciples are always talking on a literal level, and Jesus always responds on a spiritual level. They are constantly talking past each other. So if we look at this little exchange in that light, we might understand the disciples to be asking for the physical address of the house where Jesus is staying. And Jesus, who never gives a direct answer, does not say, “Oh, turn left on the second street ahead, third house in on the right, little white house with flower pots out front.” He does not say that. He says, “Come and see.” Because where he is staying is on the rock that is God. Where he is staying is in God’s heart. And that is actually the answer to the question that they didn’t know how to ask.
Another reason I love this answer is that it is posed as an invitation. “Come and see and answer for yourself.” John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, the one upon whom the Spirit of God rested like a dove. Jesus doesn’t call himself anything. He just says, “What are you looking for? Come and see.”
So the two disciples come and see. And like the psalmist, once they see—once they experience God’s presence for themselves—they have to go and share the news. So Andrew finds his brother Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah.” And now it’s Simon’s turn to “come and see.” When he does this, Jesus identifies him as Simon and renames him Cephas, or Peter, which means “rock.” Rock, as in the rock on which God puts us on firm footing.
Jesus doesn’t give the disciples words to describe who he is or what he’s about. They have to come up with their own words. Andrew uses the word “messiah.” Jesus doesn’t say it.
We don’t have words, either. Describing one’s faith journey, one’s spiritual transformation, can sound woo-woo or magical in a world that lives by science and reason. The words we do have are loaded with baggage that doesn’t represent what we are about. Maybe one of our best responses is this same invitation: “Come and see.” See for yourself.
It helps, too, if we can articulate why we come to this church. What are we looking for? We might each give different answers.
Maybe we just come to sing in the choir and all the rest is extra.
Maybe we’ve become attached to this particular group of people.
Maybe we’ve been coming for 30 years and on Sunday mornings our feet just automatically head us in this direction—we get in the car and it just knows the way.
Maybe our spirit gets fed in intangible ways, and we don’t even know how to talk about that.
Maybe we need to feel connected to something holy, something bigger than our individual selves, something that calls us to serve the greater good.
Maybe we are striving to create the Beloved Community, as Martin Luther King, Jr., called it, where justice reigns and people of all skin colors and backgrounds are loved just as they are and are given equal opportunities to succeed, to have a good life on solid ground. On that rock that is God.
We may not have the words. But something here is feeding us. Something here is setting our feet on solid ground. And there are a whole lot of people thrashing and flailing, looking for that spiritual solid ground and not finding their way to us. I’m not saying we have all the answers or that we are the right fit for everyone. But sometimes I think the UCC is the best-kept secret of our time.
Some weeks ago in worship there were big sheets on the walls and we filled out goals that we would like to see Prospect tackle. Those sheets did not just go in the recycle bin; the Church Board has been looking at them, and we’re putting some plans together to address the suggestions on those sheets. One of the suggestions that came up in multiple ways was a request for faith formation opportunities, the chance to learn more about this spiritual journey and perhaps gain the language, the words, to articulate our faith. Another group of suggestions were about how we take what we’re excited about out into the community. Again, to do that, we need language to say who we are and what we’re about. And another set of suggestions centered on ways in which we get together as community outside of worship—ways in which we get to just be together. All of these are facets of what it means to be part of this worship community. All of them are part of “come and see.”
So we are working on some plans, and we will have a survey out to all of you shortly to help us hone in on the top ideas. Throughout this spring we will be exploring “come and see” in ways that I hope will feed your soul and help you have words so that you, too, can say, “What are you looking for? Come and see.”
In the meantime, I invite each of us to be present to those around us who are looking for that divine connection, that sense of meaning, of community. And to begin the conversation, maybe just by saying, “Come and see.” And then watch what happens when people have their own experience of the Divine. Amen.