January 19, 2014
We are now into the season of Epiphany, which brings us themes of light and mission. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John wrote in the opening chapter of his Gospel. Today’s texts immediately follow that passage (though Matthew, Mark and Luke all talk about Jesus’ baptism, John only speaks about what happened afterward). Jesus rises from the waters of baptism and John the Baptist has what we might call an epiphany—in that moment, he sees and recognizes how Jesus is named and claimed by the Holy Spirit. And after this truth dawns on him, he is so excited he can’t stop talking about it. At least twice in today’s passage he addresses other people by pointing to Jesus and saying, “See him? He’s the Lamb of God! I know it!”
It was a spectacular event, unlike anything John had experienced in his ministry before.
He tells and retells what happened at the baptism, explaining how he had known that eventually he’d meet the Messiah, but that when the time was really at hand, “I myself did not know him.” He isn’t saying that he didn’t know Jesus, exactly. After all, at least according to Luke’s account, they were cousins! They’d probably grown up sharing hand-me-down clothes and holiday meals at the kids table!
John was having an experience that’s common to a lot of us–he’d been looking at something (or in this case, someone) but not really seeing it. Even though it was right in front of his eyes. It happens. Sometimes we get numb to the people and things we look at regularly, and we stop really seeing them. We lose track of their radical natures until something jostles us into looking again. Like John the Baptist, sometimes we need an event to call our attention into focus. We need Epiphanies.
God has opted to use show and tell as the primary form of communication during this season after Epiphany. Just as Jesus was not where or who or what the Wise ones from the East expected him to be in our readings a few weeks ago, so he is not what John the Baptist expected either. In both cases, when those who have been waiting and hoping for the Messiah finally to see him and realize what they are seeing, the encounter is deeply important. It changes them.
How is encountering Jesus changing us and the way we see the world? This is the pivotal question for all disciples. You might remember that the Bible says that when the Magi left Jesus, it was, according to Matthew’s Gospel, “by a different way.” And now that we are three weeks into the season of epiphany, I’m wondering if you’ve seen God revealed in a surprising place or situation. I’m wondering if you are finding yourself directed “in a different way” because of how God has appeared to you recently. There are no rules about how God might do this. Revelation came to the wise foreigners by means of a star. Revelation came to John the Baptist with the vision of a descending dove and a voice from heaven. How is the season of light revealing Jesus to us? As we drink from a cup, eat a piece of bread, stand next to one another in prayer, feel a splash of water, how is God revealed among us? In ordinary elements on ordinary days, are we able to see now what we never saw before?
If right now you sense no difference from what you knew of God three weeks ago, if you feel like you are not really seeing any signs of God’s presence in this time and place, you may be comforted to know that all is not lost. Even the wisest ones, the most devoted prophets, needed a little time to thoroughly process the shocking truth that God is alive and at work in our world.
John the Baptist works out his confusion by talking about what he saw with his followers; in, they bring their questions to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t turn away from their confusion and inability to see. Instead, he engages them. “What are you looking for?” he asks. And this very well may be the question Jesus is asking us right now too. “What are you looking for?” What do you want to see?”
I don’t know if it’s an answer or not, but John’s disciples respond by asking Jesus, “Where are you staying?” Maybe they think that if they could understand where he came from, they would understand who he is, what he stands for. Often when people are getting acquainted, they ask each other, “Where are you from?” The idea is that if you can learn about someone’s high school or country of origin or neighborhood, you will know them better. “Ohhh! You’re a Southsider from Chicago!” carries with it connotations with it, like you are probably a White Sox fan and are used to terrible weather, just as “You were born Hawai’i?” suggests a person who loves the ocean and macadamia nuts.
But sometimes our preconceived notions obscure understanding instead of revealing the truth. Sometimes what we expect to see clouds our view from seeing the person standing in front of us. Remember the reactions of the crowd in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus begins to preach? They whisper to each other, “ Isn’t this carpenter Joseph and Mary’s son? Isn’t he from Nazareth? Can anything good come from that place?”
I don’t know what kind of information John’s disciples were really digging for when they asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?” but his response is revealing. “Come and see.” And they follow him. Jesus doesn’t take them to a specific town, or to a specific church, or to a particular community of people. He takes them on a journey. He embodies what Isaiah said of the Messiah: “It’s too light a thing that you should be my servant among the tribes of Jacob and survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the NATIONS, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth!” Where’s Jesus from? He’s from the whole world. If we ask Jesus, “Where are you staying? Where can we find you?” we should be prepared for the answer, “Come and see.”
Jesus stays among the Latino immigrants picking vegetables and fruit for slave wages in California. Jesus stays in the makeshift hospitals in AIDS-devastated villages in Africa. Jesus stays on the streets of Port-au-Prince and Paris and Papua New Guinea. Jesus stays under bridges and in mansions. He has skin of every color. He has dredlocks and plays steel drums. He has a long curly beard and a turban and serves babba ganoush and hummus with pita bread when he has company. He sails on Japanese whaling ships; he speaks Norwegian and Arabic and every tribal dialect. Where is Jesus staying? Come and see!
Just like Jesus, we are called to a life on the move. We are called to be on the journey, following Jesus from his baptism and our own to go where he goes. And Jesus does not stand still! John points Jesus out as he walks by, telling others that he is the Lamb of God. Others follow Jesus and listened to what he has to say. One of those people was Andrew. He tells Peter what he experienced. That’s how this Gospel life works. Once you’ve encountered Jesus, you don’t STAY anywhere. You go!
When we’ve seen and heard Jesus, we spend our lives echoing John’s testimony with our own: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” We model our behavior on Andrew’s, sharing our encounter with the Savior with our brothers and sisters. We invite others to meet him, to come and see. We talk about Jesus’ character and ministry. We walk with him, asking questions on the way, so that we can learn more.
Of course, following Jesus means going to places where he leads, even if they seem unlikely, and our guide is as wandering as a star. Following Jesus means a lifelong commitment to looking again and again at what we imagined we already knew and striving to see in a new way. Following Jesus means responding when he beckons to us, endeavoring to be truthful as we answer his question, “What are you looking for?” Following Jesus means being brave enough to step forward when he calls us to “Come and see!” Following Jesus means getting up from the baptismal waters where we have been named and claimed as God’s beloved children and moving on. Following Jesus means leaving behind the safety net of what is known, and going out into the unknown world to love and to serve.
It may sound daunting, but don’t be afraid. As St. Paul told the Corinthians when they were embarking on the same journey, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end. God is faithful. God is faithful. God is faithful .”
~Pastor Susan Schneider