This morning we celebrated the baptism of Jacob. Like Jesus, who was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, Jacob was anointed as Christ’s own by the Holy Spirit, and joyfully welcomed into the family of Christ.
St. John’s faith community, along with Jacob’s family and God-parents, pledged to be faithful witnesses: to help Jacob grow in Christ, to seek Christ in others, until he feels secure in his relationship with the Holy Spirit.
in this morning’s Gospel reading, although Nathaniel has never met Jesus, Jesus has a deep sense of who Nathaniel is, describing him as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. What is the importance of this statement and what significance does it have in our lives, today?
If Jacob, in 10 years time, were to look you straight into the eyes and say:
So, what do you believe?
How can you have faith in a God that you cannot see?
Are you open to God’s call, as a contemporary disciple of Jesus?
What would you say??
Would his question embarrass you, make you want to escape out the back door ...or perhaps take you out of your comfort zone?
These are questions that Christians often search themselves, for honest answers, at some point in their lives.
Like the fig tree under which Nathaniel sat, anything that has stood the test of time has a foundation to support it. Christianity is no different and as Anglicans, what we believe in largely focused around three elements:
1. Holy Scripture
2. Christian Traditions
3. ..and using Reason to discern the meaning of the two, today, in your life and mine.
As Christians we believe in the wisdom of the Holy scriptures.
That doesn’t mean, as Anglicans, that we take them literally, but we believe in their teachings, especially those in the Psalms, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (which portrays the life and work of Jesus and his disciples).
Each Sunday we read the Gospel to remind us of the word of God and to ponder its significance for us, in our lives.
As Christians we believe in the Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). We believe that God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, down to earth to live amongst us. We believe that, through the power of the Holy spirit, Jesus is here, to guide and comfort us throughout our lives.
We, are never alone.
As Christians we believe that - through the power of Christ's unconditional love & death on the cross– our sins have been forgiven.
We have been given new life and much to be thankful for.
In return all God really asks of us is to be open to his call; to love and serve others, in God's name.
As Anglicans, we recognize the importance of being progressive in our liturgy, recognizing the need to be flexible to accommodate contemporary needs, perspectives and being inclusive. It is therefore not surprising that our style of worship seeks balance - by acknowledging that we are people of the present – but also honoring the teachings of the past.
Many of the age-old traditions still have significance.
Like Jesus' disciples before us:
- we come together, regularly, as a faith community
- to listen to the word of God, to eat and drink-in the new life which is there for us - to feed on it in our hearts until our cup of life overflows in the richness of unconditional love and service to each other.
- we find peace and serenity in prayer and meditation,
- we honour the wisdom of the saints and mystics who have gone before us,
- we find inspiration in the chanting of the Psalms and the singing of sacred music.
The wisdom of the past, informs our present, and brings promise to our future.
Anglicans recognize that each generation of Christians have their own discerning minds that need to reason with what has been written in the Bible, written by Wisdom leaders and written by the mystics.
Each is a gift to us. A testament to God’s love, healing power and infinite blessings.
So Holy Scripture, Christian Traditions and the need to Reason are common threads of what we, as Christians, believe.
But what If Jacob were to then say: So that’s all fine, Juanita, but how do you come to have faith?
For most Christians it takes a lifetime to publicly acknowledge their faith in God.
It’s the journey, not the destination, that holds the key (or leads to the personal transformation).
I don’t believe faith has anything to do with how intelligent, educated or gifted we are. After all, some of the world’s most poor or illiterate are the most devout and spiritually connected Christians.
Based on my own experience, having faith boils down to two relationships:
1. one that you have with God;
2. one that you have with your faith community.
The relationship that you develop with God is based on:
1. intimacy; and,
The depth of this relationship will stem from the value that you place on it, in your life. This means your personal commitment to show up, to be open to God - on a daily basis - in order to be nurtured and just 'be'.
The relationship that you develop with your faith community is based on sharing and authenticity:
1. sharing the experience of your life's journey with others;
2. being open, honest and willing to receive feedback from others;
3. getting in touch with your 'shadow side', for reflection and to enhance your life experience .
As a community of faith, we pledge to support each other… working together; to bring God’s light into the world’s darker places; to support each other through life’s challenges; to love the un-loveable; to be the voice of those who live on the fringes of society; to seek and help others see the face of God.
In a community of believers, we see the evidence of the power of the holy spirit at work in others, as ‘faith in action’.
A well established faith community can be an incredible asset providing learning and support for a new or cradle-Christian. Like the fig tree which Nathan found shade under, the Faith community with its ordained and lay ministry, exists to shelter and nurture its congregation.
Through the personal testimony of parishioners we hear and see, first-hand, how the holy spirit has directed them, transformed their lives and brought peace and acceptance into their hearts. This inspires the rest of us to carefully test the waters and have the courage to move forward as the faith community supports us and holds us up.
The clergy and lay Ministers are there too; their wisdom essential to help guide, shape and interpret what experiences we encounter along the way. I can attest to this having been one of the lucky recipients. They have provided the soil upon which my faith has grown. Indeed it is a life long journey, but being a part of a faith community – one that you truly feel you can be yourself with – is a must.
For most of us, this faith journey doesn’t just unravel over night!
...but there are sparks of enlightenment that can give us a kick start!
Faith can come as a spiritual awakening after a personal crisis or significant loss, which has left us totally shattered and without hope. Almost spontaneously we are compelled to offer ourselves up to God as a last resort.
For many of us a spiritual awakening will result from making a concerted effort to enter into a relationship with God – as the result of a hunger or yearning that has slowly - over a period of months or years - been bubbling up, pressing us to dig for the meaning of our life - calling us, luring us, to look and listen for the signs of God’s intervention in our lives.
It’s about being patient and living with hope.
It involves trust.
It forces us to take risks that push our personal boundaries.
It puts us in situations that we are not comfortable with; relationships that challenge us, confuse us or are unconventional.
...are you still there? ...or did you just go: "delete, delete" ?!
So, what about being open to God's call?
I believe we run the risk of not living our lives to their full potential if we are not open to God’s call to us. That doesn't mean accomplishing a 1000 things on our 'bucket list.
But being guided by the Holy One, to best use our gifts of spirit. The experience will open the door to some of your life’s most beautiful experiences, allow you the freedom to be the person you truly are, not the Nordstrom version! You will be re-directed down a path which you could not previously have imagined, wanted to go, nor perceived you had a calling to.
Like God told Nathaniel, there is no room for deceit in this relationship - only authenticity and total surrender. Each day brings a new opportunity to sit under the fig tree and rest, in the presence of God, inviting the Power of the Holy Spirit into your life - and not telling it what you want - but asking it to reveal God's will for you.
It’s a willingness to use our journeying together to help us each peel off the layers of ego and deceit right down to our centre core. That's what Jesus was speaking to Nathaniel about. This is because only when inspired by the inner beauty of our authentic selves (a beloved child of God - which Jesus immediately recognized in Nathaniel) can we enter into a relationship with God where we are at peace and allow God to lead us into the light and life that we are called to be.
Like the fig tree, only when it is properly fed a balanced diet will it be able to sustain itself. Its strong roots keep it grounded when confronted by life’s storms. The fig tree also symbolizes our church and our personal growth within the church. There we will find a safe environment where unconditional love prevails allowing individuals the confidence to grow and explore without fear. Having the opportunity to explore without fear of judgment helps one to not only gain acceptance but also recognize and develop their personal faith, their gifts of spirit and respond to their own Calling.
For myself, my life was more balanced, when I went to church. However, it wasn’t until I took an active role in the life of the faith community, and gained the courage to be vulnerable and expose my authentic self, that I genuinely connected with people in that community. Then I could really truly say:I have faith in God and am willing to put my trust in God to lead my life, because before then I hadn’t honestly opened my life up to the power of the Holy Spirit.
This also led to the door opening, through the reflections of both ordained and lay ministries in the community, to help guide me on my personal path of discernment and calling. This led to an awareness that my calling might be in the area of pastoral care and working with the elderly. Although I would do a dance back and forth, God kept on calling me back - through the reactions of the residents and the feelings inside of me, especially on occasions when I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to go. Ironically, it was on those occasions when I was unsure that I came away feeling the most fulfilled.
This week I attended an evening at St. Mary's Anglican in Kerrisdale where they had a Labyrinth evening to celebrate the Fall Equinox.
The leader read this passage, by Caroline Adams that I would like to share with you as I think it beautifully describes the relationship that we as Christians strive to have with the Holy One, as we grow in faith, and are open to God's calling:
" Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path. exactly where you are meant to be, right now.. and from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity and of love."
So you and I - at St. John's - are on life's journey together. In relationship, here to help each other.
We are people of the spirit, God’s spirit, a holy spirit that is inherent within us.
Together, may we honour the source of that spirit by letting it radiate outward from our centre – burning freely with love for each other, hope for what is yet to come and a strong faith through which we surrender our be-ing, to God's will.
Bu Juanita Clark