This morning’s sermon is for those who know they are loved by God, but who want not just to know but to feel that love. The rest of you are welcome to listen in.
There must have been something more going on in this morning’s Gospel lesson, something that the scriptures don’t tell us about. Like maybe Jesus had already met Simon and Andrew, and James and John, at an earlier point in time. Or maybe Jesus exercised his divine powers on them and somehow compelled them to follow. Or maybe the disciples had had a particularly bad night of fishing and were especially susceptible to Jesus’ invitation to “Follow me.” We know that normal people just don’t get up and leave family and friends and a stable living to follow a stranger who appears out of the blue and says, “Follow me.” There must have been something more going on in this morning’s Gospel lesson, something the scriptures don’t tell us about.
I wonder if this morning’s Gospel lesson is vague on details because the evangelist hopes that we will do just as we have been doing – wondering about “what really happened.” For example, as we imagine what may have transpired between Jesus and the future disciples before Jesus came to them on the beach, maybe we start to wonder what we would do in their shoes. Or maybe if we imagine what it was about Jesus that so compelled the disciples to follow, maybe we would imagine ourselves there on the beach, seeing Jesus approach, noticing how he looks, how he looks at us, wondering what sort of a person this might be. Or maybe if we wonder about the disciples’ lives that morning, about what may have predisposed them to drop everything and follow, maybe we might look more closely at our own lives, how attached we are to our things and what might be getting in the way of us following Jesus so wholeheartedly.
Some suggest that the whole reason God gave us the gospels – a peculiar genre of writing, really, quite unlike any other genre, either in scripture or elsewhere – is so that we can imagine ourselves into the stories. And as we imagine ourselves into the stories, we move from the “head” to the “heart.”
Let me explain. We could remain in the realm of the intellect and the head, and we could study and hypothesize about “what really happened” when Jesus came to the disciples on the beach. To do so would be one way of understanding Jesus and the Gospel. But to use our faculties of imagination and our senses – to move from the head into the heart – provides an entirely different experience. With the head we might achieve a kind of intellectual satisfaction; with the heart we can relish and feel and know “in our gut,” say, the steadiness with which Jesus looks at us, the tenderness with which he speaks to us, the strong attraction we feel to one who loves us unconditionally and invites us to be with him.
“The longest journey in the world is the 12 inches from our head to our heart.” This journey is not easy to make, but if we desire to make it and if we ask God for help, God can give us, not simply an intellectual knowledge that God loves us (because “God loves everybody,”) but a felt, interior knowledge of God’s love for us. This journey will take time. If we are able to make at least some time in our week to pray with the gospels, to imagine ourselves into the story and to discover what (who?) we find there, God will give us the graces to see, love and serve Him more closely. And to know – to feel! – how much we are loved by God.
If in your life at this time you know that God loves you but you want to have a felt, interior knowledge of God’s love for you, I invite you to take some time to pray with the gospel stories of Jesus. Maybe imagine yourself into the story and notice what you see, hear, taste and feel. If you’d like some guidelines on how to do this kind of prayer, I’ve printed guidelines for “Gospel Contemplation” and left copies on the table in the Dunbar Room. This kind of prayer may not be for everybody – and there are other methods of praying with scripture that might suit you better – but it can be a powerful tool to see Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly, day by day. Like all relationships, it takes time to develop and grow a relationship with Jesus. But if we take the time, if we are patient and invite God in and give God room to work, then perhaps we, like the disciples, will see and know – feel – something about Jesus. Something so compelling, so attractive, so fulfilling, that we will be drawn to follow him, to. And I have a hunch that, deep-down, following Christ and being with him is what we really want.