Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Come and See"

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A)
Isaiah 49.1-7; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42
St. Gregory’s, Long Beach

The Season of Epiphany is about the continual revelation of who Jesus is for us and for the world. An unfolding in ever increasing ways. As we saw last week, this begins with the baptism of Jesus. We saw how we are invited into the mystery. This week, we are invited to go even deeper into that mystery of Epiphany.

Unlike the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – John’s Gospel contains no direct account of Jesus’ baptism. Instead, the Gospel according to John provides the testimony of John the Baptist about his encounter with Jesus, including a detailed statement of what he witnessed at the baptism. This is the reporting of the Baptist’s first-hand account of what happened in that river.

The Synoptic Gospels really provide more of a reporting by an outside observer. These accounts tell us that the voice of God confirms the identity of Jesus as the Son of God when God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3.17). But in John’s account, the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God is made directly to John the Baptist. This is not, however, a private revelation to John for his own benefit. Rather, the revelation he receives is meant to prompt a response from John. It provides the opportunity for him to testify to others about Jesus. Rather than God testifying, John the Baptist becomes the voice that testifies to the truth of who Jesus is. Not a voice from the heavens, but a real live human.

This testifying starts a chain reaction. John the Baptist is with two of his disciples, Andrew and another man. Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist tells them “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Testifying to whom he knows Jesus to be out of his own direct experience. It’s interesting that John refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God. There is no prophetic basis for this description. Under Jewish law, bulls, goats, and sheep were used for sacrifices of sins, but not lambs. It is a new image that could have only been given him through some divine revelation. It is really a prophetic image. Elsewhere in his Gospel, when John refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God, he is likening him to the image of the Passover lamb. The blood of the lamb that protected the children of Israel at the first Passover in Egypt and allowed them to journey to a new life in the Promised Land. The blood of the lamb crucified that provides for the salvation of humanity and entry into a new and eternal life. In this simple term, “Lamb of God,” the Baptist is revealing Jesus’ mission and ultimate purpose.

In this exclamation to his disciples, Andrew and the other man, in turn, are given the opportunity to explore that truth for themselves. They are given the opportunity to act on that truth. And they do. They choose to follow Jesus. And then Andrew takes the mantle upon himself. He tells his brother, Simon, about Jesus. Simon chooses then to follow Jesus, and is rewarded with a new name – Cephas, or Peter – meaning “rock.” And we know from other Gospel accounts that this is because of the foundational role that Peter will play in himself spreading the truth of who Jesus is. He becomes the foundation on which the church is built following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Events that themselves provide further evidence of who Jesus is. Events that provide further opportunity for this new church to testify to the truth. This new church of which we are a part. This church which, 2,000 years later, in our own time, gives us the opportunity to testify to the truth of who Jesus is. In this way, John the Baptist has fulfilled his purpose by pointing the way to who Jesus, so that others may follow him. From Andrew to his brother Peter, to countless others down through the ages, to us.

This is not just the story of how we have come to faith in who Jesus is. This emphasizes that telling others about the truth of Jesus as the Son of God is essential to faith. We don’t just come to Jesus on our own. We come to Jesus through others. Through the truth that they know and experience in their own lives, that is then conveyed to us. And in this way, we too experience this truth, making it our own. With the incumbent responsibility of sharing the truth, just as it was first shared with us.

Of course, receiving the truth offered and accepting it is not the end. It is merely the beginning of the journey. Notice that upon learning who Jesus is, Andrew doesn’t just go home. Rather, he is moved to go still further. He takes the step to follow Jesus to experience who Jesus is for himself. To see where the journey will take him. This is indicated in the somewhat cryptic question Jesus asks Andrew and his companion. “What are you looking for?” They want to know where Jesus is staying. Not just where he is going physically. But what sustains him. What his life is based upon. What his core values are. They want to be with Jesus. To continue to learn from him. To seek ways to deepen their faith. To seek ways to put their faith into action. What are they looking for? A complete experience of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus’ answer is equally cryptic. “Come and see.” This simple invitation to “come and see” has a great depth of meaning. Throughout John’s Gospel, “coming” to Jesus is a way of describing the life of faith. And “seeing” implies deeper insight. Deeper insight into the truth of who Jesus is – a characteristic of true, abiding faith. Seeing for oneself so that that faith may be deepened, strengthened. So that that faith may become so much a part of who one is that it becomes who they are. So that that faith becomes the driving force in their lives. “Come and see” is an invitation into the life of discipleship in its fullest.

Our other readings for today further emphasize this calling into the life of faith, the life of discipleship. Into a life of faith that is of service to God in extending that faith. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is about the calling of Israel. Israel is identified as the servant of God, called from before birth into service. Empowered with a mission. The immediate mission outlined in Isaiah is to return the exiles from Babylon to their homeland. But even more so, in a mission that benefits us, is that Israel is called to be a light to the nations so that God’s love and salvation may reach the ends of the earth through their example and testimony (Is 49.6).

Our Epistle reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is the introductory portion of that letter. Paul sends greetings to the fledgling church in Corinth. In so doing, he refers to his own call to be an “apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Cor 1.1). In writing these words, Paul is not just reporting his credentials. This is an important reminder to the Christians in Corinth of who they are. “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his son, Jesus Christ the Lord” (1 Cor 1.9). This is an important reminder of their own responsibilities as God’s people.

Both the Old Testament and Epistle readings are reminders of the importance of the community of faith in living the life of discipleship. The importance of our own church community. It is the place where we hear the testimony of others that lead us forward in our own lives of faith. Where we are able to share our own experience with each other in deep and meaningful ways. In ways that we cannot necessarily, or at least as easily, in other areas of our lives. A place where we can learn from each other, support each other, and grow together in our lives of discipleship. It is a place where, with our communal resources, we are then able to put those experiences of faith into action, whereby we ourselves become a light to the nations.

Whenever you walk through those doors, you should be hearing Jesus ask, “What are you looking for?” This is the fundamental question that drives us as his disciples. He asks that question not only at the beginning of his ministry. He asks a very similar question three years later, at his resurrection. When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb on the third day after his death. Upon finding the tomb empty Jesus says, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” (Jn 20.15). This is the question that bookends his life and ministry. This is the question that drives his ministry. This is the question that compels us onward in our life of discipleship. “What are you looking for?”

Our responses will vary, of course. They are as unique as we are. But at the heart of each of our answers is that fundamental desire to know Christ more deeply. That desire to live our lives more in accordance with his. That desire to experience his love and mercy in very real ways.

This place has one purpose. To be the voice of Jesus responding to your question. The voice that issues the standing invitation, “Come and see.”

No comments: