January 15th 2017: Epiphany 2 Isaiah 49.1- 7 Corinthians 1.1-9 John 1.29-42
It’s always a delight when we have a reading from St. John’s gospel – and especially at this time of the year, when his visionary and inspirational writing serves to lift us all above and beyond the mundane and into the mystery of God. Twice St. John the Baptist tells us of Jesus, I myself did not know him. On the face of it, that seems a little strange, because we know that John and Jesus were cousins. It’s inconceivable that they didn’t know each other. Quite apart form anything else, think of all those works of art showing the infant cousins playing at the feet of Mary and Elizabeth!
What John is telling us is that he didn’t recognise Jesus as the Messiah until that point at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descends like a dove to fulfil the words given to John himself, He on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit. So however John had known him before, he sees him now in this full light, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, walking among his people as a human being and yet one who was in the beginning with God: After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me – because he was before me. So John’s faith is vindicated, his trust in God’s promises has been rewarded as he sees all that he was asked to prophecy coming true.
Having seen Jesus as the Lamb of God, John the prophet doesn’t keep it to himself. He calls two of his disciples, Look, here is the Lamb of God. And as the disciples follow Jesus, he turns to them to ask: What are you looking for? Teacher, where are you staying? they answer. And they are told, Come and see. Here is Jesus’ invitation to us all, to come and see where he is, to enter into a conversation that is lifelong, just as those first two disciples, Andrew and our own St Philip, did.
The question What are you looking for? is designed to make us all think about what it is we really want, what is true in our lives. And the response of the disciples is hugely significant. Recognising Jesus as a teacher, they want to know where he lives. They may not have been able to say exactly what it was they were searching for, but there’s something about Jesus which makes them want to be where he is, the one proclaimed by John as the Lamb of God. We’re not told the nature of their conversation but we do know it is life-changing. One of the disciples, Andrew, immediately seeks out his brother Simon and tells him in no uncertain terms We have seen the Messiah. This is not a term that John the Baptist has used; this is Andrew’s own insight.
In this simple account of that first meeting, we are given a glimpse of our own discipleship. Christ asks us all, What are you looking for? Very often, what we are looking for isn’t what we need; sometimes what we think we want is actually what we think the rest of the world should be: Why aren’t people more like me? Why do other people behave so badly? Why is the world in such a state? – and so on. And yet if we really think about what we are looking for, whether we can put it into words or not, we know that we will find it in Christ Jesus. We have deep within us a universal longing, a longing which is met in the Christ we are encouraged to Come and see. As we turn to Christ, as those two disciples did, we open ourselves to be enlightened by his teaching and embraced by his love.
In our Collect his morning we pray that God might transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of his grace. Andrew is open to the transforming power of Christ to such an extent that the first thing he does is to bring his brother along who is straightaway given a name change to reflect the steadfastness which Christ sees in him, a steadfastness which is to change Simon’s outlook on life for ever, and which ultimately will influence the whole world.
It is that transforming power which St. Paul sees in his church in Corinth. We have just heard the opening of his first letter in which he gives thanks for the flourishing of the Spirit among the Corinthians: in every way you have been enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind. They don’t appear to be lacking in any spiritual gift. (As we get further in to this letter, however, we might come to appreciate the irony of his words as he takes them to task on all manner of things!)
But it’s one thing to be aware of spiritual gifts and quite another to work out how we use these gifts. For the disciples of John, echoing their master, the excitement of meeting Christ bubbles up – having come and seen, they can’t wait to bring others to Christ. And that, of course, is the second major plank in our mission as followers of Christ. Having been strengthened by God’s grace, we are charged with spreading the word – our Collect asks that in the renewal of our lives we may make known your heavenly glory. And that can seem very daunting in a world which often appears hostile, unsympathetic, or at best indifferent. And yet as St Paul reminds the Corinthians in an echo of the words of Isaiah, God is faithful: he calls us all into the fellowship of Christ and that faithfulness never fails. He will never abandon his own.
As we celebrate our Eucharist this morning, we are responding to Christ’s question What are you looking for? Here, in broken bread and wine, is where Christ is, the real presence here for us all to meet. We are in communion with God and with each other, tapping into that everlasting conversation, eating and drinking as Christ himself commanded us to do. And as we come to this altar, we are opening ourselves to his transforming power, knowing that all things are possible through God’s grace, whose Son Jesus Christ died that we might share his risen life. Unlike those first disciples, we do know how the conversation went on. Andrew and Simon, inspired by John’s witness, saw the promises of a faithful God beginning to be worked out and they were prepared to enter into that conversation in faith and in trust. And as we are renewed in our faith by this Eucharist, so we are empowered to go out into God’s world, sent out to encourage others to come and see.
And God will always enable us to do this, perhaps in unexpected and surprising ways, a chance encounter, a change of direction, a helping hand from unexpected quarters. I’m sure that when Simon decided to go along with his brother to see for himself he wasn’t expecting the hear Our Lord changing his name. And yet that change of name was vital in that it gave to Simon a new identity. Suddenly, he knew himself as he had never known himself before – in much the same way as John the Baptist saw Jesus in a new light. Being referred to as the Rock stressed the quality which Simon Peter was going to need in order to become the apostle we know today. And despite all his failings, his blustering protests, his confusion and his ultimate denial of Christ, yet God remained faithful to him – and no-one did more to proclaim the glory of God, to stand up and proclaim the Risen Christ, than Peter did in those early days of the Church.
We might be in a very different place indeed had Simon taken umbrage at his name-change and gone off in a huff. Well, thanks be to God that he saw the bigger picture; he responded to Christ’s call faithfully and willingly accepted his role as the rock on which Christ’s church is built.
Please God we may have the strength to respond to that question What are you looking for? and to be open to the transforming power of the Spirit as we enter into a relationship with Christ Jesus himself, that we might joyfully take on the exciting task of inviting everyone to Come and see. Amen