Second Sunday after Epiphany, 2020
One of the great truths of I’ve learned raising children is it is a two-sided coin, I love them with all my heart, mind, body and soul, and from infancy to adulthood they can be annoying to no end! I am sure they would say the same about their Dad. And note, I go down this road on a Sunday I know neither will be here! I am also chicken!
As children grow into adulthood, you encounter those frustrating moments there is always that thought in the back of your mind, “Wow, that will sure serve them later in life…but right now it is a pain in the butt.” Of course the annoyance is not about a particular action or habit, but rather one of those burgeoning personality traits, claiming agency, oppositional behavior, self-reliance, unbridled curiosity.
Do you remember how difficult it could be to get from point A to point B with a four-year old? A child who wants to stop and examine every tree or ask a question about every building can wear a parent out? I remember two long drives we took that mirror each other, the two-hundred mile approach to South of the Border in South Carolina, the hundreds of miles approaching Wall Drug in South Dakota. I think the owners of those establishments put so many signs on the road, just so children could keep asking parents questions: “Daddy, have you ever seen a Jackalope?” “Daddy, can we stop for the big sombrero?”
Curiosity is a gift. Curiosity is a gift. Curiosity is a gift. Repeat that phrase as often as you need, until you truly believe it. Or acquire the patience of the man in the yellow hat as he perpetually chases after Curious George.
The reality, however can be a bit different. Curiosity is often more of a theoretically awesome idea than a settling and secure practical act. What I have found is that curiosity, this yearning to see what may be just ahead or to understand why something is the way it is, can be a disruptive act to the surrounding community. Those curious impulses to see a roadside attraction disturb Dad’s carefully planned itinerary.
Look at it from the disciples’ perspective. If you think about this moment in their journey, they could have simply walked on, but no…they kept answering the internal prodding to see what was next: who was this Jesus and what did it all mean? There was a nagging curiosity that kept them moving despite the fact that they were at the seminal stages of a life transformation beyond their own imagination and, at times, even beyond their ability to follow Christ.
This curiosity was also not just about them. With every person who chooses to follow Jesus, from the first moments to today, there are larger communities that look upon this curiosity as a disruptive annoyance. Be it family, or friends or faith community, our default choice is comfort, stability, stick with the plan, the itinerary; so anytime anyone begins to question the status quo and explore ways we may be called out of that space, there is going to be disruption and resistance. Some people handle these moments with grace and openness, while others become more calcified and belligerent.
On this weekend when we commemorate the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. I am reminded of Elijah Lovejoy, a Presbyterian minister and fellow Princeton graduate. Lovejoy’s curiosity led him from his native Maine to the West, St. Louis and Illinois. Nominally a pastor, his true passion was in newspapers. With the backing of other Presbyterians, Lovejoy started a paper, The St. Louis Observer. He began to publish editorials criticizing tobacco and alcohol, chief commodities in the port city of St. Louis. Then, in 1834 he began publishing editorials against slavery, another component of wealth and the status quo in the city. City leaders, including friends, urged him to tone down his writings against slavery. He persisted, until he was forced to resign.
A year later he was publishing a newspaper in Alton Illinois. There he urged readers and the state to pass anti-slavery laws. His writings and passion to see enslaved human beings freed was so disruptive, that less than a year after the paper was established, a mob attacked his press, burned the building and shot Lovejoy as he attempted to protect his printing press.
Lovejoy’s legacy is two-fold. After his death, his brother entered Illinois politics and helped pave the way for its growing role in the abolition movement. And in his famous Lyceum speech a year and a half after Lovejoy’s death, 28-year old Abraham Lincoln highlighted the editor and his viewpoints. 25-years later, President Abraham Lincoln would author the Emancipation Proclamation. A change that transformed our national community, and continues to disrupt us today as we encounter racism, distrust, fear and a desire for the status quo.
No matter how people respond, curiosity changes us and changes the world. Faith in Christ is not about dogma and doctrine. Those tools, and they are simply that, tools, can become the calcified bludgeons of status quo mobs, just look at the Pharisees.
It is rather our curiosity to come and see where Jesus leads us in relationship with him, with God and significantly, with each other, that is the touchstone of the faith that compels us forward.
Our questions of curiosity become “How does our community handle curiosity and the possibility of change? How have we seen curiosity lead to meaningful transformations in our selves or our community? How do we discern whether or not the path down which curiosity is leading us is a good path?
Our challenge, as people of faith, is to set aside that sense of parental annoyance with curiosity and let it take us where Jesus leads. How will you answer each of these questions? Will you answer it with desire for the safety of the status quo, or with the gift God has given you of unbridled curiosity?
The end of today’s story has the disciples brought fully into the community where new names are given and they commit their lives to being in the world differently. Not every path we encounter must be travelled, but being open to new paths at all times is a must, if we are to grow in faith. Perhaps again, that is why Jesus said, “let the children come unto me…” for they approach with unbridled curiosity. Would that we could do the same.