Sermon on John 1:29-42 for Epiphany +2, Jan 15, 2017, MLK Weekend
The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Sometimes the most important thing that can be said is not a statement, but a question. On a Rob Bell podcast I heard a story about a famous Rabbi who arrived at a castle as night fell, seeking entrance. A guard on the wall shouted down to him, “Who are you? Why are you here?” The Rabbi hesitated for a moment, then asked the guard, “How much are they paying you?” After the guard answered, the rabbi said, “I will double that amount if you will come to my house every day and asks me those two questions.”
“Who are you? Why are you here?” Sometimes the most important thing that can be said is not a statement, but a question.
Dr. Phil was famous for asking his TV counselees the question, “How is that working out for you?” Just asking that question often turns on a light bulb that makes you want to change your life.
What Are You Looking For?
In our Gospel reading we heard another powerful question. Jesus asks,
“What are you looking for?”
I read that the famous New Testament scholar of the past generation wrote,
“It is the first question which must be addressed to anyone who comes to Jesus, the first thing about which (s)he must be clear.”
(R. Bultmann, quoted by Beasley-Murray in John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 36, p. 25)
“What are you looking for?”
Clearly there are right things to come looking for and the opposite. Coming to Jesus for a rubber-stamped approval of ones own personal ambitions was clearly mistaken. The disciples had to learn that, when they asked to sit on Jesus’ right and left after he took power from Herod and the Romans.
I am constantly amazed at how often I hear people invoking Jesus to rubber stamp agendas which the historical Jesus would have abhorred. Power, glory, honor, wealth, or hatred, division, scapegoating; as if there was no record of what Jesus actually called people to, no sermon on the mount, no parables about good Samaritans or sheep and goats, no story of a person laying down his life, refusing the path of violence.
But the text we are looking at is one in which they get it right.
“What are you looking for?” They answer “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
They want to know because wherever he is, that is where they want to be. When they find out, that’s where they go. And that is where they remain.
Of all the things John could tell us about that moment, oddly he tells us the time of day it was when they finally left. Literally he says “the tenth hour” so our English bibles translate it “about four o’clock in the afternoon.” Why in the world would we need to know that? Because it gives John a chance to make a play on words and tell us that they “remained” all day.
The word “remain” is the same as “stay” when they asked Jesus where he was staying. So, it shows up three times in this little text “Where are you staying? … They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day.”
Staying with Jesus is going to become a key theme for John – it is the right answer to the question, “What are you looking for?” Looking for a way to stay, to remain, or in older version, “abide” with Jesus is what makes all the difference.
Later in John’s gospel we will hear about the vine and the branches and how fruitfulness depends on the branch staying, or remaining or abiding in the vine. We are the branches, Jesus is the vine. Our task is to stay, or abide, or remain, to draw our source from Jesus, and so to produce fruit.
Come and See
So how did those two disciples find out where Jesus was staying so that they could remain with him? Jesus invited them, saying,
“Come and see.”
It sounds so much like the Psalmist’s invitation, “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Come and see is an open invitation. It is not conditional. There is no prior requirement, no probationary period. It is immediate; come and see, right now.
This is the invitation we hear today. “Come and see.” Come and see where Jesus is, and what life looks like staying there, soaking up Jesus’ teaching, watching Jesus’ life, noticing who he talks to, what he considers important, how he responds to his world.
This is our quest – to come and see what the Jesus-shaped life looks like, and to stay connected enough to bear the fruit that vine produces.
It will be recognizable as the fruit of compassion, of inclusion, of forbearance and forgiveness, and the fruit of an open-hearted, trusting spirituality, nurtured by daily practices.
This way of life bears fruit personally, and also produces a community. A beloved community as Dr. King loved to say. A community that is as open and welcoming as the original Jesus-community was: open to women, open to Samaritans, open to lepers, open to Roman soldiers and Syro-Phoenicians.
In John’s gospel, Jesus knows his hour has finally come because Greeks come seeking Jesus (John 12). There are simply no barriers: racial, gender, class, status, orientation – none of them is relevant in the beloved community of Jesus.
Today, we celebrate the joy and beauty of belonging to a community that is living closer to the ideal of the truly beloved community than we have ever been in the past. What do people come and see when they come here? A community that has remained with Jesus long enough to bear the fruit of radical hospitality.
We celebrate the gifts of women. We are thankful for the people from the LGBTQ community who find God’s loving embrace here. We join with our African-American sisters and brothers in a common quest to ensure that there is justice and liberty for all.
We offer compassion to people in need. We respond to disasters, we help children succeed in school, we provide opportunities for children to develop their artistic and musical gifts.
We celebrate this good, God-given planet, and we find ways to heighten our awareness of the dangers of climate change and our role in it.
We are a long way from perfect, but we are on a quest to come and see Jesus, and to remain on the Jesus path together. So we come together in worship and praise of God who made this world and loves it, and who made every man, woman, boy and girl, and loves them.
This is our invitation to our community: Come and see. We hope all of us feel ready to extend that invitation to our friends and neighbors. Come and see. The Spirit is here. God is here.
Back to the Questions
So let us ask the question again: “What are we looking for?” We are looking for ways to remain with Jesus in our lives, in our community, in our world. We are looking for ways to bear fruit. We are willing to keep reviewing the question, why are we here? What do we want? We are willing to honestly examine present conditions asking, How is that working out for us, and for others?
We are willing to ask questions that are difficult: questions about race, questions about privilege, and questions about poverty. With hearts that are open to coming and seeing, we will open our eyes to everything the Spirit wants us to see. And we will respond.
We will remain, until the day when long moral arc of the universe that bends towards justice, as Dr. King said, has finally touched down and there is in fact liberty and justice for all. That is what we are looking for. Come and see.