Epiphany 2, Year A, 2017

We know Jesus’ debut really well right?

We definitely have his birth story down. We read it every year. If our kids are of a certain age, we may even have the pageant script memorized! We know how Jesus came on the scene.

But what about his adult debut? We know he gets baptized, of course. We could probably give a pretty clear description of how he comes across John the Baptist in the wilderness and asks to be baptized. We might even remember that the heavens open for a moment and God’s voice booms down, “This my son, the beloved. With him I am well pleased.”

But what about Jesus’ first public words in each Gospel? How does he present himself?

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus comes out of his experience of temptation in the desert, goes right to the temple, unrolls a scroll and begins to read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me!”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus comes out of the desert and proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

These are all dramatic proclamations of Jesus’ identity. He is telling the world who he is, and what he stands for. Today though, we aren’t reading from those Gospels. Today, we are reading from the Gospel of John.

In the Gospel of John, we get a slightly different story. Jesus’ baptism happens off-stage. We just get John’s word for it that God spoke and called Jesus his beloved. Two of John’s followers overhear John saying that Jesus is the Lamb of God. This makes them curious, so they start to secretly follow Jesus. Can you picture them staying a few paces back, occasionally slipping behind a tree when he looks around? Eventually Jesus stops, turns around, and speaks his first public words. But these words aren’t a profound declaration about who he is. He asks a question, “What are you looking for?” Another translation might be, “What are you seeking?”

These are Jesus’ very first followers. Can you imagine? He now has literally a billion followers, but once there were just two. Two curious men willing to sneak around to follow someone they knew to be of God. Two men willing to be impolite, willing to drop whatever their plans were for the day. Two men willing to be out in the wilderness listening to John the Baptist talk about God. We laugh at their bumbling attempts to tail Jesus, but they are the genesis of a movement that would change the world.

What were they seeking? What are we seeking? Why do we come here week after week to sing old songs and pray old prayers and eat the same meal we eat every single week? Do we come to be soothed by traditions that are familiar to us? Do we come to see people we love? Do we come to encounter the Divine? What are we seeking?

Andrew and his friend don’t have an answer to Jesus’ question. They ask a question in return, “Where are you staying?” Where does the Lamb of God stay? Does he rent a motel room? Stay with a friend? Does he carry a tent with him? Maybe they are really wondering how on earth the Lamb of God dwells with us. How is the presence of God able to stay here, with us? How does that even work?

Jesus invites them to “come and see”. It is his first invitation. In the other Gospels he tells his disciples to “follow me,” but here the invitation has a lower level of commitment. He responds to their immediate question. He doesn’t force them into anything. He simply invites them to see where he is staying. That initial invitation is the beginning of a huge change in the world. Andrew runs off to grab his brother, Simon. Simon, who becomes Peter, who becomes the rock of the church after Jesus’ death. In these very initial moments of Jesus’ ministry, the church is being born. By following Jesus, these disciples get to be part of history.

Jesus’ invitation to Andrew and the other disciple, still stands. “Come and see.” Whatever you are seeking: comfort, forgiveness, joy, meaning; Jesus invites you to come and see what following him will do to your life. Now, be warned, you may not get what you intend. The disciples end up being so devoted to Jesus they each ultimately died in his name.

We may not literally die from following Jesus, but we will be called to die to ourselves. For when we come and see what Jesus is up to, we see that following him isn’t that easy. When we follow Jesus we have to look at ourselves honestly. That’s not easy. When we follow Jesus we have to love other people. That’s not easy. When we follow Jesus we are supposed to put God’s priorities over our own. That’s definitely not easy.

But Jesus knows following him won’t be easy. In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes,

For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.

“Come and see.” It is a simple, life changing invitation.

We all have different levels and interests in faith, but this Epiphany we invite you to “Come and see”. Wondered about contemplative prayer? You don’t have to be an expert to come. You don’t have to have prayed a minute in your life! Just come on Mondays at noon and join our prayer team. They’ll teach you what you need to know.

Curious about how it feels to worship God in a different kind of service? Come and see our Celtic service. You may encounter a part of God you’ve not experienced before.

Want to get to know God better? Come and see the bible study for Education for Ministry group? Both work to equip you for a deeper faith by educating you about what we believe about God.

There are many ways to encounter Jesus in this place. Wherever you are, he extends an invitation to you. Come and see.

It will change your life.

Amen.

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Epiphany 2, Year A, 2008

A dear friend of mine recently moved to New York City.  She is a gifted actress, recently graduated from UVA, and is working in a legal office by day and acting in a play by night.  Every few months she sends long, gossipy emails about her new life filled with stories of life in a small apartment, working in a big city office, the auditioning process, and of course celebrity sightings.

Recently, she went to see Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner.  After the play, they went around to the back door in order to catch a glimpse of the stars exiting the building.  My friend was at the back of the pack of people, and I’ll quote from her email to tell you what happened next,

We were reconciling ourselves to trying to get pictures of the famous people by waving our camera in the air over our heads (which yielded a surprisingly awesome picture of JG) when a little door immediately behind us opened and a bodyguard-ish type person poked his head out.  We looked around in surprise, as we were the only people who noticed him, and he holds the door open and out sails MATT-freaking-DAMON.  Matt Damon.  Matt Damon saw the show the same night we did.  And of course, OF COURSE we didn’t take his picture/speak to him/tell him we loved him because we were too busy squealing at each other and yanking each other’s arms and squealing some more.  I am way too easily starstruck to be an actor. 

I tell this story, because I think her experience parallels the experience of those who followed Jesus in our Gospel reading today.  People had flocked to be baptized by John. They were fascinated by him, drawn by his message.  While they were excited to see him, they were also expecting to see him.  Seeing Jesus, however, was a huge surprise.  A few of the disciples start following him around, star struck in their own way.  He senses they are behind him, turns around and asks them, “What are you looking for?”

And they become completely flustered.  This was not just a movie star they were following, this was God.  Even if they did not realize that consciously, they sense there is something wonderful about Jesus.  They cannot pull themselves together, and instead ask the Messiah, “Um, uh, where are you staying?”

Jesus next issues the most important invitation these people will ever receive.  He invites them to “Come and see.”

Come and see.  Jesus does not give them a direct answer.  He does not lecture them.  He does not bombard them with theological arguments or grandiose pronouncements about himself.  He simply invites them to come and see for themselves. 

The experience of knowing Jesus can never be fully explained or taught.  In order to know Jesus, one has to encounter him. 

This invitation to come and see is repeated an additional three times in the Gospel of John.  Soon, after Jesus offers his invitation, Philip is talking to his friend Nathanel who asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip says, “Come and see”. Next, after Jesus engages with the woman at the well, she goes and tells her friends, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  Finally, when Jesus has come to visit a grieving Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus’s death, he asks where the tomb is, and they invite him to come and see.  Ironically, it is they who will really see and understand when Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for these star-struck followers of Jesus to be issued an invitation to come and see?  I can assure you, Matt Damon did not invite my friend to follow him around, and even if she had, I don’t know that she would have gotten much out of it. 

Following Jesus, however, is another matter.  To follow Jesus, to observe Jesus as he went about his daily business, was a chance to observe God.  To follow Jesus, was an opportunity to engage with the God who created all of us, to understand what his love means for us.  To follow Jesus was to learn about how to be fully human.

Thankfully, Jesus’ invitation to come and see is not limited to those encounters recorded in the Gospel of John.  We, too, are invited to come and see.  To come and see what happens when we begin to pray more regularly, or study scripture, or serve the poor.  We’re asked to come and see what Jesus was doing in Biblical days and what Jesus is doing today.

And while it may not feel like it, our annual meeting is another chance for us to come and see what Jesus is doing in our midst.  The administrative part of church life may not feel as uplifting or spiritual as the ritual or fellowship part of the church life, but Jesus works amidst those decisions, too. 

As we choose our leaders for the next year, and engage in conversations about issues relevant to our life together, we have the chance to discern where Jesus is working in this church and in the greater community. 

So, come to the annual meeting and listen very, very carefully.  You may hear Jesus invite you to come and see.