Off Ramp – January 15, 2017 – Epiphany 2 A

I’ve been wrong before.  Once or twice.  Factoria_I-405_offramp_sign

Let me explain.

Some of this is going to sound scary to you, and as I explain, you are going to wonder if everything is ok, and everything is.  It’s really great, this actually a good thing, but it is something that I am dealing with, that I am challenged with, and I have been feeling called to share this for some time.  I am sorry in advance.

I am at a junction in my life and my faith.  Maybe not a junction, more like I feel like I am travelling along, and there is this off-ramp perpetually beside me, and it is calling me to take it.  To take the exit, to go in a different direction, to consider things in a new way.  The problem is, I know that the off ramp is good, it is something that I need to do.  I feel like I’ve got the clicker on, and I’ve shoulder checked to see that it’s clear for me to take the off ramp, but after I shoulder check, I change my mind, and I shut the clicker off, and I continue on the path I am on.  Even though I know that taking the off ramp is good, it is good for me, and it is good for those around me, I continue, driving straight ahead.

I believe I know why I won’t take the off ramp.  I am comfortable.  I am comfortable in the lane that I am in.  I think sometimes, I have put the clicker on, shoulder checked, and I have even started to change lanes, only to change back.  Because this right hand lane is what I know, I am comfortable here.  I know it.  It’s like instincts, I come back to it because it is natural for me.  But it is not good.  This right hand lane that I am in is my life, it is my way of thinking, it is my faith, my understanding of the world, my understanding of the people in the world, and how to deal and be with them.  This right hand lane that I am in is what I have always understood to be true.  But I am coming to realize it is not truth, it is not right.

My whole life I have endeavored to do what is right.  By doing what is right, I mean follow the rules, you know the unwritten ones, like sit still in church, stay in the right lane if not passing, respect your elders, don’t swear, listen to your teachers, don’t litter, you get the idea.

The problem wasn’t so much the rules, but the way in which I handled them.  To me, I just wanted to do what was right.  I want and need to be right, to follow the rules, and this defined me.  I have some struggles at work, because growing up, I followed the rules, that’s just what you did, and if you didn’t follow the rules, someone talked to you about the right way and you did it, because it was the right thing to do.  Same with parenting, I want my kids to do what is right.  By that I mean, I want them to do what I think is right according to the unwritten rules.  No sugar after 7:30, pick up after yourself, help other people out.  Like I said, it wasn’t so much the rules that were wrong, but the way I handle them.

But I got the order wrong.  Doing what is right is important, and it is good.  But I got the order wrong.  The lane that I am stuck in, that I have been in forever, is the RIGHT lane, not the right lane, but the RIGHT lane.  Ask anyone, you probably know this about me, I am rules based.  Ask any of the ten students that I seem to butt heads with at school, I am rules based.  Doing the right thing.  Or so I thought.

I feel that the off ramp is about the good.  For me, right now, being right and being good, are not necessarily the same thing.  In my right lane, I see rules as coming first, doing the right thing is more important than anything else, including the people that I am trying to teach and to lead into being right.  Being right, means rules first, people second.  For me, being right is causing me to not be good.  Being right has caused me to not be a good friend, not be a good teacher, not be a good father or husband.  In terms of faith, I had seen God in the rules, my faith was in following and doing the rules.  And yet, doesn’t Christ teach time and time again, that it is about the people first?

So the off ramp is pulling me to be good, rather than to be right.  Relationships, people, should be first.  I need to get out of the RIGHT lane, and take the good way.

I struggled with this message this morning.  I got lost many times, so I hope this makes sense.

Our season of Epiphany is focused on who Jesus is.  We learned about His identity last week as He is baptized by John.  Epiphany for me this year, and I am sorry for dragging you along with me on this road, is about that off ramp.  A lot of it is about who God is, but for me, it’s about who we are.  We start Epiphany with baptism, and the imagery of being washed.  We often attach the idea of repenting and being reborn with that.

Play podcast – https://robbell.podbean.com/e/episode-133-live-robcast-with-john-philip-newell/ – 13:00-15:05

So it starts for me, in recognizes the sacredness that is in us.  We were created by God, saved and redeemed because we are God’s.  So in a sense, it starts with creation, with the created.  We are created good.  And I know that, and I have known that and even talked about it, many, many times, but have I recognized it.  Have I recognized that when I am calling someone on their behaviour, some would say that is called scolding, do I recognize the sacredness that is in them?  They were created sacred.

In our Gospel today, Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?”.  Audrey West, from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, wrote that the translation could also be written as, “What are you seeking for?”  

This is such a meaningful question for me right now, but it also fits beautifully into the imagery of Epiphany, as we consider who Jesus is.  What are you seeking for?  What are we seeking for?

My challenge is to seek people’s sacredness, rather than to seek to be right.

Listen to podcast – 39.15-41:45

John Philip Newell’s comment reflect on the idea that creation, and you and I are begotten of the Only, that we are created as sacred, there is a sacredness inside of us.  While it is interesting that in our Gospel today that it is clear that John is trying to get the focus off of himself and pointing to Jesus, I can’t help but recognize that Jesus continually tried to get the focus off of Himself, and pointed to God, to the Creator, the One who made us, and he continually pointed to others, to those around Him.  While Peter recognized the sacredness in Jesus when he said, “We have found the Messiah, how did Jesus respond?  Did He say, “Yep, I am.  Drink me in.  I have come to save you all, bow down and worship”?  He could have.  No, He said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas”.  To me, and I could be totally wrong, like I have been all this time in the right lane, but Jesus is recognizing something in Peter.  Who Peter is, not what he did or what he is going to do, not what rules he followed, or customs he broke, or bad things he is going to do, like denying the Messiah.  Jesus recognizes the Creator in Peter, He recognizes the sacredness in Peter.

For me, people first.  Rules later.  Sigh.

Thanks be to God.

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