Faith and Habitations of the Mind

I remember as a young boy awaking one morning to a disagreement between Grandma and my brother who was then in the first grade.  It seems she had been going over some of his science notes with him and he was attempting to tell her that the sun went around the earth.

When she insisted that, absolutely, the earth went around the sun, he argued back, “No, it’s in my notes.  The teacher said that the sun goes around the earth.  It’s right here in my notes.”

There was nothing she could say that would disabuse him of this notion.  Being in the third grade, I knew that Grandma was correct.  The earth goes around the sun. Tom insisted that they go show Mom.  She would know that he was right.

What I learned that morning was not an astronomy lesson, but a psychology lesson.  Once people get a notion in their minds, it’s very difficult to convince them otherwise.

Will Rogers spoke this truth when he said that it’s awfully hard to convince a man of something when his getting a paycheck depends upon him believing exactly the opposite.  Logic in many cases only goes so far.  Maybe, in most cases, doesn’t count at all.

The mind is a strange habitation of all sorts of stuff.  What is really real?

Who would have ever thought that our 2020 election could turn on a conspiracy theory that Hillary, and later, Joe Biden, were part of an international child sex trafficking ring, holding kids in the basement of a pizza parlor?  These QAnon fever dreams have infected an entire national political party.

It seems that such bazar conspiracy theories are now a national past time.   Like baseball or the NFL.  I was astounded as I watched Trump’s former national security advisor General Flynn and his entire family, take the QAnon pledge, “Where we go one, we go all.”  Go figure.  This lunacy has reached the highest levels of national life.

Now, one could say that such notions are harmless.  We can dismiss their adherents as kooks.  Pay no attention.  Harmless.  Until they aren’t.

Americans were horrified to watch thousands of rioters breaking into the halls of Congress, filled with the notion that the past national election had been stolen.  “Stop the steal,” was the chant of those surging down the passageway.

All to show that much of life is not rational, but emotional space filled with need, desire, and fear.  All highly irrational.  And that is the case of this strange call of the disciple Nathanael.

When Philip finds Nathanael, he implores him to come and meet Jesus, the one of which the prophets and Moses wrote — Jesus from Nazareth.  With a shrug, Nathanael dismisses the summons, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Look, man, you’ve gotta to be kidding.  Nazareth?   Really?”  

“No, really.  Come and see.”

When Jesus sees Nathanael approaching him, he exclaims, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  Nathanael is astonished.

“How is it you know me?”

“I saw you sitting under a fig tree,” Jesus answers.

“Say what?”  Nathanael incredulously responds.  This is crazy stuff.  “You think I’m reliable just because you saw me under a fig tree??”

“Philip, where did you meet this dude?  I don’t think he’s all there.  He’s off his meds.  Let’s get going, I’ve got work to do.  No time for this nonsense.”

This is WHAT Nathanael should have said.  What you or I would have said.  Or at least thought.

But, no.  Nathanael exclaims in wonder, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!   You are the King of Israel.” 

Now, it’s Jesus’ turn to be astonished.  “You believe because I told you that I saw you sitting under a fig tree?” 

This has to be the weirdest recruitment call in history.  Can you imagine Human Resources bringing on a new employee in such a fashion?  Can you imagine this interchange at a Diocesan Commission on Ministry interview?

“Do you believe because I said I saw you sitting under a fig tree?”

The candidate and the members of the commission would all have been referred to an appointment with the shrink.  This is totally bonkers.

STOP.  STOP RIGHT THERE.

Think about it.  Isn’t this the basis on which we make most of our important decisions? 

How did our oldest son meet his wife?  He was late to a concert in Portland and when he got there the doors had closed.  So, what to do?  He wonders into a video game parlor down the street.  While he’s zapping space aliens or whatever, he looks at the women at the game next to him.  They get to talking, and the rest is history.

I met Jai on a bus trip to Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our younger son Christopher, probably went about the relationship thing more systematically, more logically. He met Alexis through some online relationship web site.

And how did each of us come to faith?  How did each of us come to such matters of the heart?  It wasn’t through the logic of some syllogism; I can tell you that.

We were immersed, at least in America, in a culture saturated with Jesus.  It may have been what we grew up with.  It may have been a friend who said, why don’t you come to church with me.  It may have been through despair, the “dark night of the soul,” when everything else we had tried had fallen apart or seemed empty.  But, as a mature person, we made a decision that Jesus had something for us.  He was important.

To finish the dialogue between Jesus and Nathanael, let’s re-enter that story.

“You believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these.”  

“Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Whatever this means, I take it to be saying that in Jesus, we will encounter all that brings vitality and meaning to life.  Its “On-earth-as-in Heaven” time.  A way of living scripture calls “eternal life.” Kairos Time – the fitting season when everything hangs together.  It’s about our hearts’ deepest desires – something that causes all the busyness of our days, and the nothingness of our days to hold together.  In short, it’s about a heavenly banquet here on earth.

We taste smidgens of those brief moments – your child’s first word.  A lover’s embrace, overhearing your boss praise you to another employee.  A concert that stirs the soul.  The face of a dear one at church.  The enthusiastic welcome home by a beloved and faithful dog.  Watching the line of faithful receiving communion at the altar rail.  We’ve all know those moments.

It’s about stepping outside the bounds of logic into a space where there are no guaranteed answers.  “Come and see.”

It really is about the “leap of faith.”  That’s the price of the ticket.   Absolutely NO GUARANTEES for this ride.

The call of Samuel, the call of Nathanael?  The call of any the rest of us?  Where’s the guarantee?  The proof of the validity that this is about something real?  There is none.  The only reassurance, if any is to be had, is that of our heart and of those who care for us.

“Come and see.”  “Come and see.”

And many do.

These days, the conspiracy theories that swirl around are probably no more bizarre than those of Nathanael’s day. 

I read that many are heading to Washington this coming week with all sorts of fantastical nonsense filling their minds.  Many are absolutely convinced that the election was stolen by a pedophile, or that the recent insurrection at the Capitol was staged by Antifa just to make Trump look bad.

It’s all a jump shot.  A million distractions vie for our attention.  And yet there’s Philip: “Come and see.”  And he  will reveal all the secrets of your heart’s desire.

The summons to day is still the same, “Come and see.”  Our hearts and good friends will direct us to what gives life.  Scripture, a community of faith are yet good guides.

Those who reside outside this sphere of influence are not exempt from a “Glory Attack,” as my friend Ed Bacon calls it.  Could happen on a lonely night of desperation, the sight of a homeless person asking for some spare change outside her sidewalk tent, or on some dusty road to Damascus.   

“Come and see.”  And it might just be that the heavens are opened with angels ascending and descending.  In a moment of splendor everything is made clear.  Life is full with an overflowing abundance.  Yes, on some days we do experience that goodness.  “Come and see.”

This week we remember one such disciple who not only came and saw, but led many others to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Martin Luther King was a beacon for those hungering and thirsting for justice and inclusion.  His way of nonviolence freed oppressed and oppressor. 

In the days to come, we have a lot from which to recover in America. The bonds of affection have been sorely tested. 

For our fellow citizens, the summons is still the same, “Come and see.”  See what gives life and binds us to one another.  The proof is that of the Spirit-filled heart.  Life brim-full and overflowing.  Even on a day in the sun with hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial.  Or on a day filled with snarling dogs and Billy clubs on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, “Bloody Sunday.” 

Nathanael came.  Martin Luther King came.  Ella Baker came.  John Lewis came.  Rosa Parks came, and so have countless others.  They made it to the mountain top.  Saw the Promised Land.  How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.  “Come and see.”

The gladness of your heart will be the only proof, the only guarantee you’ll get that this way of life is the way for you.  “Come and see.”

Amen.

January 17, 2021, Epiphany 2

“Faith and Habitations of the Mind”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-5,12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20;
John 1:43-51

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