Psalm 119: 97-105; John 1:43-51
April 29, 2012
So there you are, walking through the sliding glass doors of our very own Lowes Foods grocery store one weekday afternoon. You’re there to grab a few quick things for dinner and something for breakfast next morning. You’ve got your canvas grocery bag in hand, because you’re all green that way. After peeking way over to the breads and seeing that, unfortunately, there are no free samples, you hang a quick left. You walk past the flowers station and sniff in the fresh aroma; you glance over to your right to see if there’s a good Merlot or Chambourcin on sale.
You head past the gift cards and candy and vegetables, all the way to Aisle 8 – the cereal aisle. A few feet down on your left, you stop and ponder what you should stock your kitchen pantry with. Your heart is saying Cookie Crisp, but your head says Fiber One, right above. You’re lost in this all-too-familiar breakfast food dilemma when you hear someone to your right, laughing to themselves. You glance over there. It's some guy, mid-30's or so. You don’t recognize him. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that he's totally enamored with something he’s holding – a box of Honey Nut Cheerios.
You turn back to reach for the Cookie Crisp when the guy speaks, apparently to you. He says, “Man, this is something! Look! You get a free curvy straw inside with each purchase!” He points to the logo across the front that reads: Curvy Straw Inside! He seems to assume you're just as amazed about this as he is, so he continues: “And check this out - there’s a curvy straw maze on the back too. And it’s half-price today!”
You smile at him; the kind of polite smile that says you really have no desire to continue this conversation, thank you very much. You’re hoping he picks up on the hint. He doesn’t. He continues on: "You know, I love this stuff. They come out with some new-fangled cereal every day, based on some cartoon show or something. But there's no beating the original, don’t you think so?
“I……guess….” you reply.
“Yeah. And it's good for you, too. Like it says on the front: Can Help Lower Cholesterol. The perfect breakfast food! It's like I heard someone say one time: It’s sweet, it gives you a great start to your morning and clears the heart of evil things. At least I think they were talking about Honey Nut Cheerios. Maybe it was forgiveness.”
You're starting to feel a little uncomfortable. I mean, who launches into random conversations about cereal with total strangers in the grocery aisle? You begin looking for an out, a reason to excuse yourself. So you say, “Yeah, that's great. Listen, I gotta go; I'm meeting some friends for dinner.
“Oh, I know,” he responds. “They’re already at the Thai restaurant waiting for you. And one of them might be a few minutes late. I believe she's feeding the dog.”
Okay, now you’re freaked out! Because the truth is that you are meeting some friends at the Thai restaurant, it is a few minutes late, and one of them has a dog she feeds right before dinner. How in the world could he have known this??
You ask him his name. And he says, “Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Jesus.”
You're suddenly aware that you're staring at him; just staring with an expressionless look on your face and your mouth wide open. Staring at this guy who looks nothing like Jesus, unless Jesus wore jeans and a t-shirt and walked around espousing his love for Honey Nut Cheerios. You are totally at a loss with how to respond; and when you finally speak, the best you can come up with is, "Oh – is that a family name or something?”
He laughs and says, "You could say that. I’ve been around for a while. Actually, I need to be honest with you about something. I didn’t really come for the Honey Nut Cheerios, though I love the stuff, and the curly straw looks incredible. No, the truth is I came here to see you.”
You feel the color run out of your face, and for a second you are extremely tempted to turn and run. But you stay. For some reason, you stay. And you gather yourself together and ask, “Why is it exactly that you've been looking for me?”
“Well,” he replies, “I’d like for you to follow me.”
“Follow you? You want ME to follow you?”
“Yes,” he says.
“But why? Did I do something wrong?”
He laughs again – he seems to enjoy doing that. “No, no, not at all. On the contrary, I believe in you very much. That’s why I’ve called you.
“I’m sorry," you say, "I don’t think I remember hearing you call me before.”
“Yeah, I know; my voice gets drowned out pretty easily these days. You see, I've known you since the day you were born. When you were a baby, baptized in your church, I was there. Now you’re all grown up and taking on responsibilities and facing new challenges. Your whole life has been leading up to this moment – here in the cereal aisle at Lowes Foods. The moment when I ask you to follow me.”
You pause to soak all this in. And you realize that if it were anyone else, you would’ve been long gone by now - out the door in a flash; maybe reporting the incident to the store manager. But you stayed and listened, because something inside of you told you to.
“So,” Jesus says, “what do you think? Will you follow me?”
Have you ever imagined something like this? Jesus himself, walking the streets of our little town, hanging out in the cereal aisle, searching each one of us out, simply to ask us to follow him. You ever wonder what you would do if some man literally came up to you and introduced himself as Jesus Christ? Would you take him up on his offer and follow him? What does it really mean for you and me to follow Jesus?
See, I’ll tell you why I’m thinking about this today. I’m thinking about this because this morning, we are celebrating some folks who, in different ways, are choosing today to do just that - to follow Jesus. Earlier we recognized Bill's graduation from seminary as he answers Jesus' call to ordained ministry. And of course, on this Confirmation Sunday, we give thanks to God that Emma, Matthew, Logan and Hunt have decided to follow Jesus by making a profession of faith and joining this church.
And I think it's important to recognize that, while the faith they profess today is certainly rooted in this church and in the faith of all who have come before them, it is also very much their own faith. Today they join this church because they want to - not because they have to; not because it's something that’s expected of them. They have made a choice – they’ve chosen God. Or, more accurately, God has chosen them, and they’ve recognized that. And in their own way, each of them are meeting Jesus in the cereal aisle of Lowes Foods and answering his question, “Will you follow me?”
And really, isn’t that something we all do at some point in our lives, when you get right down to it? It's not all that different from what a couple of disciples did years ago, hanging around the outskirts of Galilee, when some guy named Jesus came up to them. Walked right up to Philip, in fact, and said, “You – follow me.” And what did Philip do? He went and found his buddy Nathaniel, and begged him to come meet this man from Nazareth. Come and see, he said. Nathaniel was skeptical, though; wondering if anything good could ever come out of Nazareth, like Nazareth was Toast or Cana or some remote part of Stokes county. But Philip insisted: Come and see. Just come and see.
You know, I gotta tell you, I see where Nathaniel is coming from here. I get his skepticism and doubts. Because to “come and see” means to give up a part of ourselves, when honestly, we’ve got a full plate already. We’ve got school and jobs, we have play practice and piano lessons and dance competitions. We’ve got family reunions and Scouts and meetings. Not to mention that money is tight and so is our time. Not to mention that following someone means really trusting them, believing in them; and do we really believe? Do we really believe Jesus is who he said he was, who everyone else says he is? Do we really believe the church is the body of Christ, even though sometimes the church doesn’t act very Jesus-like?
If there’s one thing I love about the confirmation journey the four of you are on, it is this: as you prepare for the “Come and see” part; as you prepare to follow Jesus, you get to ask all those questions. In fact, that’s precisely what Confirmation is for! And I want you to know that you should be commended for that. Because too many people in this world take everything at face value; believe everything that's laid before them without question. And frankly, it's terribly easy to do that, because life sure is a whole lot simpler when everything is handed to you; everything either black or white, right or wrong, in or out. And so I love the fact that Nathaniel is in this story, because honestly, I think most of us are very much like him.
Back to that story. Philip takes Nathaniel to see Jesus. And in his first words Jesus reveals a number of things about Nathaniel that even he didn’t know. And so he is shocked, kind of like that guy in the cereal aisle; and he confesses Jesus to be the Son of God. And Jesus’ response is marvelous: he says, “You will see greater things than these! “ I like to think today, Jesus would’ve said something more like, You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Which reminds me of the Psalmist’s words:
How sweet are your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
A path that leads us from this day of confirmation into the unknown – but into the unknown with our family of faith and with God.
It’s like four-year old Elizabeth once said. Her father was putting her to bed one night; and as he tucked her in she leaned across the pillow and whispered in his ear something very profound for a four-year old. She said, “Daddy, I don’t understand life.” Slightly taken aback, her father fumbled with words, finally saying, “Well, honey, I don’t understand it either – but I’d say the best part is doing it together.” And instantly little Elizabeth corrected him: “Daddy, the funnest part is doing it with God!”
Emma, Hunt, Matthew, Logan, all of us – Jesus is there, standing in the cereal aisle as Lowes Foods, waiting for us. Waiting so when we come to him, he can interrupt our schedules and our plans, and ask us to follow him. So come and see, my friends. Because truly, you ain’t seen nothing yet! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.