Sunday, January 12, 2014

Come and See: A Sermon on John 1:35-51

"Calling Disciple" by He Qi

Scripture can be found here...

At first, it feels like people realizing there’s a celebrity in their midst. Or maybe, this is high school, and the nerdy kids finally have a brush with the really cool kid. But there is more, much more.

As today’s passage begins, John the Baptist sees Jesus again, and he calls out: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And for just a minute, he does sound a bit like the captain of the math club who sees the varsity football star and wants to be a part, even in a small way, of his glory. And even though life as we know it has taken its toll on that biblical metaphor, and most of us are far more likely to associate that word, “Lamb,” with something we enjoy occasionally for dinner, the fact remains that the name John has assigned to Jesus has incredibly troubling overtones. In its first appearances in scripture, the word “lamb” is associated with wealth—barter, purchase. After that, the lamb appears as a sacrifice to be offered to God to atone for sin. To call Jesus the Lamb of God this early in the gospel is to make an entirely anachronistic claim about him—how could John know? How could he guess? How could he imagine? That in Jesus would be the capacity to purchase something. That through Jesus a sacrifice would be enacted.

But I am getting way ahead of myself

Two of John’s disciples (a word that really means, “learners”—the people who have been learning from John) see Jesus, and they hear John call him “Lamb,” and decide to investigate. And so they start following him around, and Jesus—who is not, in fact, playing the “cool kid,” he is far too welcoming for that—turns to them and absolutely cuts to the chase. “What are you looking for?” He asks. They respond with a question that sounds kind of bizarre, the sort of thing you say when you don’t have the nerve to say what you really want to say. At first, they use the title of respect given to teachers of holy law. “Rabbi,” they ask, “Where are you staying?” Jesus answers, “Come and see.” And then they go and hang out together, all afternoon.

What if they could have really heard the full implication of Jesus’ question: What are you looking for? What if they could have asked what they truly wanted to ask?

What if they could have said, “We want someone to guide us.”

Or, “We want someone to serve as a still point and sure foundation in a frightening and changing world.”

Or maybe, “We want someone to be with us, someone we can lean on when life gets hard.”

Or even, “We want someone to help us see the big picture, to give us a sense of where we are in the grand scheme of things.”

But are not able to ask for what they really want, and so instead they have a tour of the place Jesus is staying—my money’s on Bethany, he really likes this one family there. And whatever happens that afternoon, whatever words are exchanged between them—we don’t know, it all happens offstage—whatever Jesus shows them, or tells them, or awakens in them, it’s as if a match is lit. One of the two, Andrew, hurries to see his brother Simon. He tells him, “We have found the Messiah.”

And in that moment we know. They entered trepidatious. They entered wary. They were respectful—they called him Rabbi. But now they call him Messiah—Anointed one. Leader. Savior.

And then we get a taste of what it might have been like for Andrew and the other one, the one whose name we never learn, hanging out that afternoon.

Jesus meets Simon, and says, “Hello, nice to meet you, I’m going to give you a new name now. I think I’ll call you Rocky.”

Then he meets Philip, and tells him, simply “Follow me.”

And then there’s Nathanael. Nathanael, who sits under a fig tree—symbolic of his interest in holy things, the knowledge of good and evil—and whose interest in all these things has given him the heart of a skeptic, and also some geographically-based prejudices. Nathanael, who hears about Jesus and all but rolls his eyes, saying, “He’s from WHERE?” Until Jesus claps eyes on him, and reads him like a book, and he all but falls to his knees, stammering, “You are the Son of God!”

It is all very unsettling. No one leaves an encounter with Jesus unchanged. No one comes away from his searching gaze without being stirred up, read-like-a-book, re-named, and issued an invitation: Come and see.

It is unsettling, because these people who have suddenly found themselves in Jesus’ orbit have received answers to longings they didn’t even verbalize—they have received THE answer.

They wanted someone to guide them.

They wanted someone to serve as a still point and sure foundation in a frightening and changing world.

They wanted someone to be with them, someone they could lean on when life got hard.

They wanted someone to help them see the big picture.

They found all this in Jesus. And more.

Except that guy (or gal?) in verse 39 whose name we don’t know. Who is that unnamed disciple, that anonymous learner?

Actually, it’s you. One of the beautiful and haunting features of this telling of Jesus’ story is the way in which it leaves a space for us, the readers of generations to come. Through the unnamed disciple we too are invited to see how an encounter with Jesus can stir us up, leave us feeling we’ve been read-like-a-book, re-named, and issued an invitation. As you read along in the gospel of John and find traces of the unnamed disciple, go ahead. Insert your own name in there. Take the ride. Go and see.

Yesterday, eighteen Jesus-followers, all called by this church to be deacons and elders, gathered together for a retreat. In that time of learning, we shared what our faith in Jesus has meant to us.

Our faith is a guide, shows us a path.

Our faith is a sure foundation in a sometimes frightening and ever-changing world.

Our faith is a source of strength and consolation when life gets hard.

Our faith gives us a sense where we are in the grand scheme of things.

And now, eight of the eighteen will come forward to see how service in his church will surprise them, transform them, and challenge them. Get ready, R, M, J, C, C, B, M and J, because Jesus will stir you up. He will read you like a book. He will give you a new name. He will keep issuing this persistent invitation into deeper relationship with God: come, and see. Come and see! Thanks be to God. Amen.

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