Saturday, 18 January 2014

Come and See - sermon for 19 January

John 1: 29-42
They say that word of mouth or peer recommendations are the best way to choose a new piece of equipment, or new book to read or even finding a new employee, or new job.
The recommendation of someone you trust gives a degree of confidence that is not so easy to come by when searching ‘blindly’.

The first eight verses of the gospel reading tell us how John recognised and named the Lamb of God; how he witnessed and gave his testimony
How his assurances, his assertions, were such that two of his followers, his disciples turned from him, John, and followed the new guy.

When I read the gospel accounts in particular I like to visualise... I like to imagine what this scene looks like, how it plays out; how, if I were directing this as a scene myself, I would build up the tension and anticipation.
“There is the Lamb of God!” he said.
37 The two disciples heard him say this and went with Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked, “What are you looking for?”

These two verses make me ask a very particular question: what’s the time scale?
When John said, “There is the Lamb...” did they go immediately? Did they ask other questions not recorded here; did they have a wee discussion between themselves?
Or, were those words so empowering, that they just went?

And then, we have the equally sparse, “They went with Jesus...” talking? Listening? Walking behind? Walking close? How long was it before Jesus noticed them? Looked at them? Spoke to them?  
Now, his question to them on the face of it seems fairly incongruous, “What are you looking for?”
Not unambiguous; everyone knows what this question means... but they didn’t answer it!!
Maybe, having been told he was the Lamb of God, and taking that step to follow was enough... because, the real answer to that question would have been somewhere along the lines of,
“Well, John said...”
“Yes, John told us you are....”
“Well, we are looking for the Lamb of God and....”
“We are looking for answers, looking for the Messiah; we are looking for you!”

Yes... much easier to simply avoid the confrontation and answer a question with a question!

You will remember that I’m using each week of Epiphany to focus on the different ways God is revealed through the gospels… so the question Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” is the key thing for me… answered with another question, but leads to that invitation “come and see”… and wow!! So many things are then revealed in these verses…

In asking, “where do you live, Rabbi” the disciples do two things, first, they avoid making a statement too soon; and second they elicit an invitation to explore further.
The next few hours remain a mystery of speculation. They spent the rest of that day with him... in conversation, in listening, and most likely sharing a meal together. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon we are told, so the evening meal would take place during that ‘rest of the day’, and during that time something astonishing happened.

By the end of the evening, Andrew was convinced!
Andrew’s assertion, “We have found the Messiah” is a God given inspired revelation. It was a new beginning for him, and for those he knew.
There’s a gap here in the narrative.
They spent the rest of the day, and then, presumably they returned home... we are told that at once he found his brother.
At once at home that night?
At once, at home, next morning?

Before we look at the next part of the encounter, the first meeting between Jesus and Simon Peter... take a moment with me to reflect on the spiritual aspects of these verses, and how they might encourage us.

Jesus asks the disciples, ‘What do you seek?’ They reply, ‘Where is it that you dwell?’ Jesus says, ‘Come and see.’ This can be the language of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. The two disciples had already started to follow Jesus before He asks them what they seek.
Only when we are open are we willing to enquire and follow.
 It is our spiritual hunger which compels us to search for new possibilities.
It is our dissatisfaction with where we are in our life and in our spiritual life which forces us to go in search of something new.
The dwelling-place of Jesus is with the Father; He abides with the Holy; He is at home with the Sacred. It is to this encounter that the two disciples are drawn. Jesus invites them, ‘Come and see.’
We too can be drawn into encounter with Jesus. It is our natural instinct to seek the divine, to search for the holy; it is human nature to respond to our inherent sense of other so that when we follow Jesus, when we ask him where he lives, he asks us too, “What do you seek?” “What are you looking for?”
And if we continue to follow on that pilgrim path, he will invite us to come and see, and then...
Then, anything can happen!!

What happened to Andrew when he first responded to Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See”? well, the first thing he wanted to do, was to share it!
He wanted others to have the same opportunity as he had. He knew instinctively that God in Jesus Christ was not exclusive; he wasn’t there just for a few privileged individuals; Jesus came for all humanity, and Jesus was to be shared with all who would listen.
So, for Andrew the only thing to do was to bring his brother along to meet Jesus; to meet, the One – the Messiah, the Christ – the Lamb of God

I don’t know for a moment what Simon was expecting when he first met Jesus
Maybe a teaching moment; or a sense of holiness; or an instant recognition of who this man from the north was... instead what he got was a new name.

Simon’s new name...Simon, son of John, brother of Andrew
Simon, the couthy old fisherman, not given to fancy; not given to subtlety. Simon: a man’s man; a man who liked to call a spade a spade. A man who would give as good as he got.

I wonder what he thought about this strange man from up north.
And I wonder what he thought about this upstart giving him a new name?
And what does it tell us, and him?
Simon noisy, brash, opinionated, hard worker... not the sort of man you’d want to give a solid, dependable sort of nickname to.
And yet, that is exactly the name Jesus chose for him: from now you will be called Cephas: the Rock.
The Rock: solid, reliable, steady, unmoving, the foundation and base layer... what would being given that name do to your confidence? Your self-image? Your confidence?

I wonder, if Simon has been asked to chose an alternative name, if he would’ve come up with something different, something to reflect the personality traits he was proud of?

Trusting God to choose for us leads to all sorts of revelations.
Just as, when choosing our starwords, we were trusting God to lead and guide; to show us something we need. We still may not know the why or the how or the what of our word. But that’s the beauty of it!
It is a word for a whole year, not just a moment
Simon’s new name was a name for him to grow into; a name for him to wear in, to work with, until it really did fit him.
Simon encountered Jesus and was utterly changed: the change did not happen overnight; the change took much wrangling and many moments of joy and utter dejection over a period of time; but all of that happened because of this first encounter:

We too can be drawn into encounter with Jesus. It is our natural instinct to seek the divine, to search for the holy; it is human nature to respond to our inherent sense of other so that when we follow Jesus, when we ask him where he lives, he asks us too, “What do you seek?” “What are you looking for?”
If we let him, Jesus can bring about change in our lives; Jesus can give us a new name; he can give us a new sense of purpose, he can lead us on the Pilgrim Way, to walk with him into a great new adventure.
 And if we continue to follow that pilgrim path, he will invite us to come and see, and then...
Then, anything can happen!!

When we “come and see”, anything can happen!

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