“Keeping It Real”
by The Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United church of Christ
January 15, 2017
When Pontius Pilate, the administrator of the region of Judea when Jesus was arrested… When Pontius Pilate, the tool of empire, the puppet of Rome, the autocrat, the one charged with oppressing the Jewish people in Jerusalem and keeping them quiet and complacent… When Pilate was interrogating Jesus, he asked, What is truth?
He asked this because Jesus had said that his purpose was to tell the truth, to witness to the truth.
What is truth? We might each ask that as individuals, and we might ask it as a community. What is truth and what is falsehood?
Lots of both going around lately.
In our tradition, we each have the right and privilege to decide the truth for ourselves, and yet we are called to be in community and to discern truth as a congregation as well.
We are called to be honest about what we think and feel and to discern the will of God for our own lives and our collective life as a church community. We are also called to make choices about our life as a town, as a commonwealth, as a nation, and as a human family.
We might struggle to decide what is true about our country and world and even our community, but what about ourselves? Despite what our parents tell us about our childhoods… Despite what our siblings say about their impressions of us as we grew up together… Despite whatever even our best friends may say we, we have the best information about who we really are – and why – because we are we!
Leaving home is hard because we can no longer rely on what we’ve known, what our parents and teachers and coaches tell us, but one of the best things about going someplace else, even it if just a few miles down the road, is that we have the chance to be more real. We can perhaps be who we really are because the people in our universities or neighborhoods or workplaces don’t have any assumptions and we can be whoever we want to be.
Why is it so hard to be our authentic selves? Why is it so challenging to be honest about who we really are?
Why do men have such a hard time expressing fear? Because we have been told that fear is not masculine. So we express our fear in the form of anger or withdrawal. But all men experience fear. Each of us.
Women have been told that to be strong or to enjoy sex is not feminine, but we know better, right?
What are the spiritual implications of all of this?
In order to be open to the movements of the Spirit of God within us, the Spirit of life and of love, I believe that it’s important to be open to our own truth, our needs and weaknesses and also our strengths and gifts.
How can God use us for healing and kindness, for reassurance and service, if we don’t know what we’re good at and what we’re not so good at, what we might accomplish and what we’ll never accomplish?
When we were young, maybe we wanted to be an artist or a veterinarian or the shortstop for the Red Sox, but after a while, we hopefully accepted who we really are and what we’re truly good at.
This month here at church, we are celebrating those who are wonderful musicians, singers, poets, and dancers. We’re lifting up those who express God’s light and love through the arts.
In our reading for this morning, John the Baptist, the son of a Temple Priest, a son of the establishment, is down by the riverside, away from his father, away from all those who might want him to follow in his father’s footsteps, away from the pressures of the Temple leadership and the occupying Roman army.
John’s movement is all about being honest – honest with God and with oneself. He offers a baptism of repentance, a baptism of honesty and of turning ones life around, starting anew in a completely different direction.
Jewish people had been using water, for as long as anyone could remember, to purify themselves symbolically for worship. John was using the waters of the Jordan River to cleanse people not just for worship, but for life!
When our heart is clean, when our eyes are clear, we can be more honest with ourselves and with others and with our Creator.
John the Baptist knew. Even though he had hundreds, maybe thousands, of folks coming to hear him preach, coming to let him dunk their heads underwater for a chance at renewal, a chance at something more hopeful than the damn Romans and the spiritually ineffective Temple (at least at that point in time)…
He knew. He knew that Jesus was the man, that Jesus was the one who would follow through on what he, John, had started.
Here is the Lamb of God, he says, pointing to Jesus. Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
John was a great preacher and a compelling leader, and he knew that. Hopefully, he did. But he also knew that he wasn’t the one who would bring all of this to fruition. He knew that he wasn’t going to take away the sins of the world. Jesus would be the one to do that.
And he stepped aside to allow Jesus to be who he was and is.
Jesus was honest with everyone, especially the powerful, about what they need to do to change, but they didn’t want to hear it. Martin Luther King was honest with all of us about injustice and his dream of equality, but many didn’t want to hear him, either, and it cost him his life.
Peter and Andrew were being honest with themselves that day. They knew that they needed to take a break from their fishing nets and do something different, something really special – maybe for a season, maybe for a few years, maybe permanently. They felt it deep down and, when Jesus came along, they leapt at the opportunity.
How often do we ignore that voice within us that says, It’s time for something new? It’s time to go, to leap, to sing a new song?
What on your life needs refreshment or change? Is there a talent, an interest, a gift, a curiosity, a yearning deep within you that you’ve been ignoring? Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to it and see if there may be a sacred calling there or just a healthy change waiting to happen. Look within and ask yourself whether your outer actions match your inner reality.
I believe that the Spirit of the Living God, the Spirit that led Jesus to John and the waters of baptism and then into a ministry of compassion and ultimately sacrifice, will lead you where you need to go and will comfort and inspire you along the way.