Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Are You Looking For?

Second Sunday After Epiphany (Year A)
Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-12; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42
Sunday, January 16, 2011 –
Trinity, Redlands

“What are you looking for?” (Jn 1.38)

That’s a pretty loaded question, particularly in the context of today’s Gospel reading. It’s the question that Jesus asks a couple of John’s disciples, but it’s also the question that can be asked of each and every Christian as we attempt to live into what it means to be followers of Christ. The specific answer to Jesus’ question will be as unique as are the individuals who are called Christians. But today’s Gospel reading can provide us with a framework to help us ferret out what the answer is for each of us.

Today’s reading from the Gospel According to John starts off with another encounter with John the Baptist. This appearance is reminiscent of Advent in some ways. On the first Sunday of Advent we talked about how John the Baptist straddles the Old and New Testaments as he looks back to the Old Testament prophecies and looks forward to their fulfillment through Jesus. That role certainly continues in today’s Gospel. So, just as John the Baptist straddles the Old and New Testaments in his role, so too does he have one foot in Advent and one foot in Epiphany. In Advent John helped us with the anticipation and preparation for Jesus’ coming at Christmas. In the season of Epiphany, Jesus, the one who is pointed to by John, is revealed to humanity in various ways.

Yes, at Christmas, Jesus is revealed as God Incarnate. We know that is who the baby is in that manger in Bethlehem. But is this really sufficient proof? Do we need him to be revealed in other ways, to have his glory as the Son of God revealed to us? Epiphany is the time when Jesus as Messiah, as savior of humanity, is truly revealed. It’s when we are given the specifics of how this baby now grown up is the Messiah. It’s when we are specifically shown what Messiah means and what this Messiah can and will do for humanity.

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Epiphany, focusing on Jesus’ baptism and how he is revealed through God’s statement “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3.17). Today is the beginning of how Jesus is revealed to humanity in more tangible ways, through his words, his ministry, his actions. To that purpose, today’s Gospel passage has John the Baptist continuing to point the way to Jesus. The Lamb of God has already been made known to John. His job is now to provide testimony, pointing the way so that others may come to recognize Jesus as the Christ.

The first who are given testimony that Jesus is the Messiah, or at least the first to believe John’s testimony, are a couple of John’s own disciples. These two men, Andrew and his companion, are obviously looking for something. They have been following John the Baptist. But John, by his own admission, does not have what they are looking for, is not who they are looking for. John willingly fulfills his designated role as the one crying in the wilderness, pointing the way to the truth that they seek, to Jesus.

So with a word from John, “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” the two disciples are off seeking to follow Jesus. As they approach him, Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” Now how would most of us answer that question under those circumstances? “We’re looking for the truth?” “We’re looking for the Messiah?” “We’re looking for salvation?” Rather than give some theologically correct answer, they answer Jesus’ question with a question. And with a bit of an odd question at that: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” What kind of response is that? What does Jesus’ address have to do with what they are looking for?

In actuality, it is the absolutely correct response. Cryptic, but correct. In that one simple question – “Rabbi, where are you staying?” – these would-be disciples are giving a huge indication of what they are looking for and what it will truly mean to be a follower of Christ. These disciples have been following John, who undoubtedly had some things to teach them. But they weren’t satisfied with just sitting around listening to some simple teachings about who the Messiah is or what he will be like. Words were not enough for them. They weren’t content to sit around and help out as a bunch of people flocked to the River Jordan to be baptized. Liturgical actions were not enough for them. They wanted more. They needed more. They recognized that a true life of faith is more than words and liturgy. In asking Jesus where he is staying, these new disciples were saying two things. One, “we are not so much interested in what you say as how you live your life, how you live what you profess to believe.” In other words, “actions speak louder than words, and that will be the true test as to whether you are indeed the one we are seeking.” But even more importantly, they are saying, “we’ve had enough of words. We’ve had enough of liturgy. We want to learn from your way of life. We want to learn from your actions. We want to be with you, to be a part of your ministry.”

And then the other piece of it, which occurs after Andrew and his companion have had a chance to see just what this Jesus is all about and decided for themselves that they do indeed want to follow him and be his disciples, is to reach out to and share that revelation with others. In today’s Gospel reading, after spending some time with Jesus, Andrew goes to his brother Simon and tells him all about what he has discovered: “We have found the Messiah.”

Today’s Gospel lesson provides a great summary of what the essence of true discipleship is about – going out and doing ministry, sharing the Good News with others not so much in our words, but through our actions. All the other stuff, the words and the liturgy, are important because help us to understand what we are doing and why we do it, but it is living the message that has the most powerful impact. I saw this illustrated in several ways this past week.

First, this past Sunday our Youth Group started a new unit entitled “Compassion and Acts of Mercy,” which will last for three to four months. In their first session the teens studied and discussed scripture passages dealing with the subject of compassion, as well as the thorny issue of faith versus works. I was very proud of our teens as they delved into the texts and really struggled with the importance of faith and works, and how works are an outward sign of our faith, that we do acts of compassion not to score points with God but in response to God’s love and compassion for us. We do these acts of compassion to share God’s love and compassion with others. Over the next few months, the Youth Group will be studying this subject in more detail, and will be exploring and discerning how they themselves might engage in acts of compassion – putting the words of the Gospel into action.

And second, on Tuesday the City sponsored the “Heal the Land, Heal the City” prayer walk as a community-wide response to the tragic shooting a week and a half ago of four Redlands High School students – injuring Jordan Howard and Tequan Roberson, and killing 16 year-old Andrew Jackson and 17 year-old Quinn McCaleb. On Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen of our parishioners, including two teens, along with a thousand other people gathered at the intersection where one of the boys died, to support the families and to send a message that the evil of such a tragedy will not prevail. We prayed together, and then walked to Micah House where we prayed some more and listened to City officials and local clergy reflect on both the tragedy and the promise of hope that arises from the unity and solidarity represented in the assembled crowd. Yes, there were lots of words spoken. But what touched me the most was not the speeches by our mayor or the police officer leading the investigation to find the perpetrator or the pastor of one of the boys or the other clergy present – all of which were spirit-led and hope-filled. What touched me, particularly as I had my turn at speaking and as I looked out over the crowd, was the awesome sense of oneness that this crowd represented. In that moment, it was obvious that what was important was not race or age or gender or denomination or political ideology or whether we were from the north side or the south side. What was important was that we were all children of God, coming together to proclaim the Gospel through our actions – through praying together, through walking together, through just being together.

Those thousand people got it. They were not content to sit at home or in their pews and lament what had happened. Rather they were willing to take the Gospel to the street, to proclaim it through their very presence. In those thousand people standing in the middle of Oxford Drive, the Gospel of peace and compassion was proclaimed – that despite the darkness of the tragic situation that drew us all there, the light of the Gospel shines in Redlands through those people present, and many more who could not be there. In my words to the crowd, I told them as much, that they carry the light of Christ, that they carry the Gospel within them, and that their job was to carry that light of Christ back into the community. That is what today’s Gospel lesson is about – seeking how to follow Christ and to live the Gospel in our own lives, out in the world – through our actions, through our presence – even in the midst of darkness, especially in the midst of darkness.

As baptized persons, we share the journey with Jesus – the journey whereby he is revealed. We too are to reveal the light of Christ to the world. And that was accomplished this week in our church and our community. Our Youth struggled with discerning what it means to reveal the light of Christ to the world through acts of compassion and mercy. Our community came together to reveal the light of Christ in the midst of darkness. In both cases were examples of how we as God’s faithful people struggle to discern what it means to live the Gospel in tangible ways. In both cases were carried on the tradition of Andrew and his companion, seeking to answer for themselves the question, “what are you looking for?”, seeking the Messiah, the one who invites all of us in our own searching and in our own quest to live the Gospel, to “come and see.”

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