Will you pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN.
Of all of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ encounter with his soon to be disciples, I like this one from the Gospel of John, the best. I like it the best, because I think it is so “us”.
Let me explain. Just before our passage today, Scripture tells us of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.
Jesus comes down to the River amidst a great crowd of people who have been streaming out of Jerusalem and the surrounding area to the wilderness of the Jordan to be baptized by a camel hair-clad, locus-eating Prophet named John. John is calling out:
I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
John baptizes Jesus and when he does the Spirit descends from heaven like a dove and remains on Jesus as a voice from heaven says “this is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
What a scene that must have been! What an impression that must have made on all gathered. Cannot you just imagine the crowd standing there slack jawed as Jesus emerges from the river, droplets of water dripping from him and glistening in the rays of the sun as the voice of Heaven booms out? Though we do not read it in the texts, I bet that even the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the creatures of the land all paused for a moment to take in this revelation .
There was nothing ambiguous about what happened there at the Jordan. It is one of only two moments in the Gospel accounts (this and the Transfiguration) where the identity of Jesus could not be clearer – where Jesus’ identity is proclaimed from heaven itself.
After such a revelation, what happens next and where our scripture today picks up, would be baffling if it were not so predictable, really. For just like in the Transfiguration when the disciples come off that mountain and tell no one what they have just seen and heard, the crowds in this baptismal scene seem nonplused by all that has just transpired. They do not do not rush to line up behind Jesus at all. Instead, everybody seems forget about it and go their way and Jesus fades back into being just this anonymous guy from Galilee.
The scene kinds of reminds me of one of those flash mobs. Did you see the one in Grand Central station at rush hour when all the sudden the Hallelujah chorus breaks out and the rush of commuters stand still in amazement? Then just as suddenly as it started, it is over. The singers disappear into the crowd as the crowd picks up where they left of and move on as if nothing ever happened.
We can relate to this too can’t we? Close to three hundred of us gathered in this place a couple of weeks ago to take in the spectacle, the miracle of Jesus birth. But when it was over, didn’t we too return to whatever it is was we were doing? It was beautiful and moving and we may have been grateful to have been a part of it. But ultimately don’t we too just move on. After all, how are we to relate to it? Does any of it have anything to do with us and how we are to live our lives now that Bethlehem is behind us?
There was one in the crowd that day that believed it did. It was John the Baptist and as our Scripture opens this morning he is nudging his disciples not just to return to what was but instead to enter in to what is before them.
But what I love about this passage from the Gospel of John, is that it shows us how we may enter in to that revelation in a way that may be more relatable for us. Unlike the other Gospel accounts where the soon to be disciples throw down their nets and set off following Jesus with an emphatic “yes!” here the disciples are taking it slow. They are more cautious than convicted and in them perhaps we too can find our way in and make this great revelation our own as well.
Having just come off spending much of the Christmas break with extended family, I find myself really relating to those disciples. I find myself recognizing in them something that was quite evident in our familial interactions this week. With my Scandinavian kin, there is a way being and speaking that is marked by a well-honed indirectness, a kind of studied indifference. One is never really to say exactly what one wants or needs. Instead one is to move around the edge of it. Often one does this by answering a question with a question. For example, here is an oft repeated interaction I had.
Me holding out a pot of coffee to a relative “Can I refresh you coffee?”
Relative: “You looking to get rid of it?”
Relative: “You ever bring your dogs down this way?”
Me: Not usually, but would you like me to? Happy to bring them for a visit?
Relative: “I’ll have no objections, if that is what you want to do”
These are the non-committal conversations of my people. It is not that we don’t have strong opinions (trust me we certainly do), we just tend to hang back and not put ourselves out there. I think it must be a way of being self-protective, but this kind of indirect speech, if truth be told, drives me nuts.
But it does not seem to bother Jesus at all. In the passage from John this morning, those Galileans could very well be Norwegians for how noncommittal and indirect they are. Jesus, sensing he is being followed turns around and in his open hearted and generous way asks them “What are you looking for?” Only to have them quickly shift the focus away from themselves and placing the attention wholly on Jesus by asking “Where are you staying?” Jesus, sensing their skittishness, replies with an invitation “Come and see.” And they do!
And what happens next is really what it is all about. What happens next is really a microcosm of the entirety of the ensuing Gospel story. And that is in coming to see, and experiencing and spending time with Jesus, these skittish, reluctant, not so sure ‘tag-alongers’ cease to be so. When they ‘come and see’ for themselves, when they enter in and stay with Jesus and converse with him, not as spectators to something spectacular but in quiet conversation and perhaps a meal shared, they find something that changes their life. We know this because in the next heart beat they are rushing out to find those closest to them so that those too can “come and see”. If we take a close look at the text in a few verses we find the word “found” repeated five times. This is the biblical parlance equivalent to a flashing neon light!
We may not really know what exactly we are to do with the miracle of Christmas or Easter for that matter. We may not know what we are looking for. We may have more questions than convictions, but I think we do know something about what it is to be found. Being found and finding is very much, I think, what being church is all about. And I would say that in knowing that we actually do know more about what it is to follow Jesus than perhaps we realize.
As buffeted and aimless as we may feel upon the winds of misfortune throughout the week, walk into those doors on Sunday morning, get a bulletin from Tom, an embrace from Judy and a smile and hug if you want from just about everyone else and we know again what it is to be found.
In a few minutes we will open our hearts to each other and to God in prayer and whether you speak a word, I trust that you will feel held by a power of love that finds you just where you are.
In a few more minutes we will come to this table that is not a table really at all but is a meeting place with the one came to find you so that you would know what it is to be loved completely and who gave his life so that we would have the courage to do likewise finding those who are waiting to know love as well.
Our Gospel passage this morning ends with this really tender interaction between Nathanial and Jesus. Philips runs out and finds Nathanial but Nathanial is not so fast to follow Philips’ lead. We do not know what Nathanial’s back story is but he is not quick to trust. If the others were taking it slow, Nathanial is taking it slower still.
Then Nathanial meets Jesus and Jesus tells Nathanial that he has seen him. With that Nathanial is undone. Why? Is it because he has not been seen before? Is it because he has become so accustomed to being invisible?
We may be a church built on what it is to be found but I think we are challenged still to see the Nathanials out there (and in here too) who do not yet know what it is to be seen and do not yet know what it is to be found. There are many. We may identify them in many ways – the elderly or infirm. Single people, immigrants, trans-people, the poor, it goes on and on but what is important is not the labels but the knowledge that each person you meet may be Nathanial who is waiting to be seen. Can you, will you see them? Will you offer to them the hospitality, the love, the homecoming of being found?
Jesus, with his brown eyes shinning does so for Nathanial and says, do you think it is wonderful that I simply see you? There is so much more in store for you? You have the capacity for such great and wonderful things and I am going to help you to know all that you are and can be.
As you know, we are on the cusp of launching our capital campaign. Many of your fellow congregants are working hard behind the scenes to get us ready to do what may seem like an impossibility. We are working to get us ready to raise at least $650,000. Why? Not because we need a new roof. Not because our classrooms and internet needs updating. We are getting ready to launch this campaign because we want to continue to be a place where people are seen and found. Where people are welcomed in and find who the really are and what they are to be. This is who we are and who we are to be about.
And all of it begins, not with the specatuclar and with and heart felt conviction but with an invitation, “come and see.” See what it is to be found. See what it is to be seen. See what it is to be loved and let that begin it all!
Thanks be to God!