This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and was focused upon John 1:29-46. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.
Our story begins with declarations. Proclamations. We might even say, exclamations.
For some time now, John the Baptist has been out in the wilderness. People were coming from Jerusalem and all of Judea – droves of people — to be baptized by him in Jordan River. John had started quite a movement.
I admire that movement and appreciate so much of what John has to say in our sacred texts, but when it comes to his demeanor, I admit, he is precisely the kind of religious person I might avoid altogether. John was intense, fiery, and eccentric. He definitely looked different than most, and he had some intriguing habits too: John dressed himself daily in camel’s hair and ate delicious dinners of locusts and wild honey.
He may have been quirky and strange, but John was on to something. More importantly, he was called. He was called into the wilderness, outside of the center of power where he spoke truth to power. He was called to life-changing work, and he issued life-changing invitations.
And in the end, that work changed him. That work invited him. In the midst of it all, John encountered Jesus in those waters of baptism, and he recognized Jesus for who he was.
John, as strange as he was — intense, fiery, eccentric, and quirky – pointed to Jesus and identified him. While he was with two of his disciples, John made declarations. Proclamations. We might even say, exclamations. “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” he said.
And that initiated a swirl of questions.
Those disciples began to follow Jesus quite suddenly on foot. I imagine there were a lot of silent questions, swirling about in their minds, like, “Who is this? What does it mean to say he is the Lamb of God? Where is he going? What is he doing? What is this all about?”
Those swirling questions may have remained silent in their own minds, but even with their feet, these disciples asked questions because they were curious. The word ‘disciple’ literally means ‘learner.’ Somehow, perhaps even beyond what they could understand, they were drawn to learn about this Jesus. There must have been so many questions.
But before they could begin to formulate any of their questions into words, Jesus asked a question of his own. Jesus turned and saw them following, and he asked, “What are you looking for?”
What are you looking for?
That’s an intriguing question. If fact, these are the very first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John. What are you looking for?
In some ways, it’s a bit funny to imagine these disciples following behind Jesus, curious, yet attempting to be stealthy, never announcing their presence or saying anything. Jesus is the first to speak to them. Quite suddenly, he asks such an important question. Maybe they were surprised or startled by his words. I wonder if they stammered a bit in response. Whatever they felt in that moment, these disciples answered with an intriguing question of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
On one hand, that seems like a simple, surface question. “Where are you staying?” Where are you living right now? But in the original language of this text, that question asks, “Teacher, where are you dwelling?” Where are you abiding? Their curiosity is getting at something deeper.
So Jesus responds with a simple yet life-changing invitation:
“Come and see.”
Come and see.
Come and see where I am dwelling. . . where I am abiding. Come and be a part of this life-changing work. Come and respond to this life-changing invitation. Come and see.
The Gospel of John is of known for its opening text – its beautiful prologue. Maybe you remember it. It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These words describe Jesus in mysterious and mystical ways. Then, that same prologue says this: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
I love how Eugene Peterson translates those words in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”
Rabbi, where are you staying?” those disciples asked. Where are you dwelling? Where are you abiding?
The answer is, with us.
With us in the human neighborhood.
Jesus says, “Come and see.”
Come and see how I am with you.
Come and see how I call you to a purpose larger than you can begin to imagine.
Come and see how I will initiate the Kingdom of God and invite your participation in it.
Come and see how I will speak truth to power and greed – how I will flip tables and express anger when religious institutions use power and greed to exploit the people.
Come and see how I will include all of the outsiders – those who are oppressed and marginalized.
Come and see, not only how I will include them, but how I will lift them up – how I will empower them and send them forward to live a life of resurrection.
Come and see.
These words are a prologue too – a beginning point and a life-changing invitation. They are God’s declaration to us. God’s proclamation. We might even say, God’s exclamation.
I love what happens next. . .
After saying these words to these disciples – “Come and see” – many more are invited in. They ask questions of their own and begin to answer that invitation. Andrew talks to Simon Peter, his brother. Jesus talks to Phillip. Phillip goes and finds Nathaniel with a declaration of his own: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
To that, Nathaniel asks a pointed question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I love the honesty of that question. Like Nathaniel, there are times when we wonder if anything good is coming. . . and if any of this makes much of a difference.
Phillip doesn’t chastise Nathaniel for asking that question or even raising a bit of cynicism. He just answers with the very same invitation, “Come and see.”
So, I wonder, where does this find us this morning?
Maybe we have entered this sanctuary and time of community with declarations of our own – deep convictions about who God is and how God loves. Those deep convictions remind us that we are called to live our lives in response to that love.
Maybe some of us have entered this sanctuary and this time of community with questions: Who is God? This Jesus? This way of the Spirit? What’s it all for?
Or maybe today, we’re in a place of asking a set of pointed questions: Does any of this matter? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of the Church? We might ask our questions from a place of skepticism or cynicism. Or perhaps we ask out of pain.
Well, wherever we are, the invitation continues voice itself.
Come and see.
Come and see how God loves.
Come and see how Jesus lives.
Come and see how our lives can be transformed and empowered to follow in that very direction.
We’ve come to a place of beginnings and transitions.
- We are in a new year. Today is only the 15th day of 2017. This new year may bring a sense of new hopes or new challenges.
- We are a few days away from the inauguration of our 45th President. Some are rejoicing in that shift, but we also know many people in our nation are afraid — afraid of what this means and afraid of what will happen.
- We live in a moment where wealth inequality is stark and greed is running rampant without much accountability. We are concerned how this reality is leaving some behind.
Maybe we feel all of these things.
Maybe we bring them into the sanctuary and this time of community.
Yet the midst of them, we hear the same invitation.
Come and see.
And there is nothing passive about that invitation. It’s not —
Wait and See.
It is active in every way.
Come and see.
We are invited to come and participate where Jesus is dwelling – with humanity —
sharing our meals,
sharing from what we have,
sharing from who we are.
marching for justice.
Together, in this active invitation, we begin to walk toward this great vision, and with God’s empowerment, we participate in it coming into being.
So, let’s go to the place where Jesus dwells —
God with us;
with humanity —
Come and see.