January 20, 2008 2 Epiphany (RCL Year A) John 1:29-42
As we gather clues from the New Testament about the character and history of the life of Jesus and of the earliest days of the Christian movement, one of the things immediately apparent is a deep and important connection and overlapping relationship between John the Baptist and his followers and Jesus and his followers. Luke tells us that John and Jesus were kinsmen, cousins, and all the gospels tell us that Jesus was himself in John’s circle, at least to be baptized by him, and here in John specifically we see that some of the disciples of the Baptist moved on to become what we might call the core group of the disciples of Jesus.
Some Biblical scholars will say they sense perhaps a certain anxiety about this connection in the gospels. The Baptist was certainly more famous than Jesus during the period when their lives overlapped, and it does seem important to the writers of the early church that we understand from the very beginning that Jesus wasn’t ever just a plain old ordinary follower of John, but that what distinguished him, and his pre-eminence, was clear to all, including John, from the very beginning. Some have wondered if there might not be reflected in this a bit of a sense of competition between the followers of John and Jesus, at least for a while. In any case, in the traditions preserved in the scriptures it’s quite clear not that Jesus is a “successor” to John, but that John is the “fore-runner” of Jesus.
So this moment in John in the readings appointed for us this morning seems to represent what we might call the passing of the torch. One incident that may suggest the story that was repeated over and over again as a kind of pattern for the followers of John, and for others in the wider Jewish and eventually the Gentile community as well, who had perhaps been seekers, followers of other leaders and movements, who began in so many ways to come into the orbit of Jesus and his companions, and to see in him, in Jesus, the fulfillment of their quest .
And not simply a phenomenon of ancient history and first generation. Which is why this story still has so much power, as we imagine the scene all these years later. The pattern repeated over and over, down through the centuries, and even then a template for our own life and experience. None of us born as Christians, but somewhere, somehow, for all of us, this character of John, who points us in that direction. “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Whoever “John the Baptist” may have been for us: a parent, a teacher, a friend, a book. I’ve heard pretty interesting and exciting stories of the spiritual journey that were launched in dramatic new directions by seeing a film or even a t.v. show . . . or hearing a piece of music. Then the attraction of curiosity. Who is he? What is he about? The encounter, and that great question, “what are you looking for?” A question generous in its openness even as it puts us on the spot, and one that continues to come before us, I think. It’s up to you to figure out what your goal is, after all. Sometimes the journey itself becomes so challenging or even just so interesting along the way that we lose sight of the destination. What are we looking for? And of course this even more wonderful response of Jesus, this invitation that first our patron St. Andrew and his companion heard, and which has continued also to roll down the centuries to us: “Come and see.” Come and see.
I want to make something of how Jesus encounters these seekers, the disciples sent by John, and about this invitation, “come and see,” because it is I think a guide and a challenge and sometimes perhaps a cautionary rebuke for us as we sort through our relationships to one another and our call to be representatives and ambassadors of Christ in our own lives and as we are a gathered community and church. This kind of challenge, to say something like this: don’t listen to my words, don’t pay attention to my wishful thinking, my parish profile and my mission statement. Jesus doesn’t meet these inquirers with a sermon or an educational curriculum. At least not with one you could write down on paper. The invitation: Come and see. About moving from the realm of “talking the talk,” into the place where we “walk the walk.” Not what I say, but what I do. How I live. Who I am. That’s where we find the encounter with Christ.
Certainly it may be intellectually challenging and stimulating and even fun to read the ancient Church Fathers or even latest books by the latest cutting edge theologians, something which many of us may like to do, to hear the speaker or preacher with the hottest reputation, to engage in spirited inquiry and debate with friends and colleagues. But all of this, so important that we would remember, because so easy to lose sight of, all of this at its best and most meaningful when it can somehow, someway, for each of us in our own unique time and circumstance, happen as a prelude to the invitation we would hear to the encounter with the living Christ.
In this Epiphany to follow the Star not just for sake of wandering endlessly across the desert, but to follow the Star until it leads to the Child, in this great cycle of the Nativity, that he would be born not just in a stable in the old story of the ancient world, but that he would be born and come to life in us. As the Collect for this Second Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany would have it, that we would shine somehow with his light, that he would be brilliant in us, that we would be radiant with his radiance. With the word from the beginning of our reading this morning from Isaiah, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” That word that we might hear spoken by God in Christ, to us this morning. “You are my servant, in whom I will be glorified.”
So--when people visit a new church, what exactly they say about it. Or, I don’t know. Maybe the same old church they’ve been going to for years, and all of a sudden some morning pause for some reason and take notice as if for the first time. The music was great, the sermon wasn’t too bad and in any event was reasonably short, the coffee was good, the people were friendly. All those important things—which they are. But to say, What was it like? It was radiant. That would be quite a new word, perhaps. Shimmering with the illuminating brightness of Christ’s presence, shining with a holy light. That would be something more, and something we might pray for, always, that it would be so here for us, and not just for us, but in expanding circles of light, ever wider and wider, and as the old prayers would say, “world without end.” As I’ve said the last couple of weeks, again and again this season after the Epiphany seems to want to make us all mystics and visionaries. “Seers” (I love that word: “see-ers”). Who see the light; in whom the light shines.
But in any case, this morning, again, this invitation. Whoever sent us here. However long we’ve been hanging around. That we would say, are you the one, Jesus? What I’ve been looking for? And his word, which is about opening our eyes, opening our minds and more than our eyes and our minds, opening our hearts, opening our lives. “Come and see.” Come and see.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.