Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 15, 2017

2017.01.15 “- Matthew 1: 29 – 42

Central United Methodist Church
A Question, An Invitation, A Conversation
Pastor David Haley
Matthew 1:  29 – 42
January 15th, 2017

chicagolakeshorewinter

The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ I knew nothing about who he was — only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”

John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”

The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

The two disciples heard him and went after Jesus. Jesus looked over his shoulder and said to them, “What are you after?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

He replied, “Come along and see for yourself.”

They came, saw where he was living, and ended up staying with him for the day. It was late afternoon when this happened.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing he did after finding where Jesus lived was find his own brother, Simon, telling him, “We’ve found the Messiah” (that is, “Christ”). He immediately led him to Jesus.

Jesus took one look up and said, “You’re John’s son, Simon? From now on your name is Cephas” (or Peter, which means “Rock”). – John 1: 29 – 42, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

With all that we have before us this time of year – not least wishing we were somewhere warm and sunny – do we really have time to wander around a river bank with Jesus?

And what’s with this, anyway? Here we are in Chicago in January, still traumatized from 2016, concerned about 2017 – about things like whether we’re going to lose our health insurance – and we spend three weeks in the Gospel (last Sunday, today, and next Sunday) wandering around river beds and lake shores? Don’t we have more important things to do? Don’t we have our own Chicago River and Lake Michigan shore we could wander around? But at this time of year, who wants to do that?

Whether we want to do it or not or have the time or not, that is where today’s Gospel takes us: same place we were last Sunday – except from a different Gospel – back out to the banks of the River Jordan where John is preaching and baptizing. While there, Jesus asks us a question and gives us an invitation, both of which are more important than we can imagine in the beginning of a new year.

If you’ve read the Gospel of John, you know that the Fourth Gospel, as it is called, is quite different than the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  John was the last Gospel written, around the end of the first century, and thus it has a deeper, more reflective, and symbolic perspective. Someone once said that the Gospel of John is a stream in which a child can wade, and an elephant can drown. In other words, it is both simple and profound, as we find with the question and invitation Jesus issues to us today.

I don’t know if Jesus was trying to be inconspicuous, but if he was, in John’s Gospel his cover is quickly blown. Seeing Jesus, pointing at him, John yells: “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb, who forgives the sins of the world!” It reminds me – an introvert – of my first seminary roommate, from South Carolina, an extrovert. If he was in the cafeteria, whenever I would walk in, no matter where he was sitting, he would yell in the loudest voice imaginable: “Hey, Dave, come sit over here!” If John was like this, something tells me you wouldn’t want to walk in late for one of John’s sermons.

The next day, it happens again. John is with two of his disciples, and Jesus walks by. Again, John yells: “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

Frankly, I’m not sure somebody called the “Lamb” would be somebody we’d want to follow. Most of us know how we use “lamb”:  “There he goes, like a lamb to the slaughter,” we say. Does that sound like somebody you’d want to follow?

But curiosity impels them, so follow him they do. Walking away, Jesus looked over his shoulder and says, in various translations, “What are you after?” or “What are you looking for? It could also be translated, “What are you seeking?” or “What do you hope to find?” Might we even expand it to: “What do you need? What do you long for? What do you hope for?”

This is a great question, one we don’t ask ourselves nearly often enough. Which is too bad, because our consumer culture asks it all the time; not so much as a question, but as an answer. Here’s what you need: a new pair of running shoes, a new car, the newest Apple (or other gadget), whiter teeth, to lose 10 lbs.  All of which can be had for a price.

Yes, we are all tempted, all the time; but deep down, we know better. Deep down we know that both our true need and our true wealth is not found in things money can buy. What better way to start off a new year by asking ourselves this question Jesus asks his soon-to-be disciples: “What do we need, long for, and hope for?

This is a simple question, but it can be difficult to answer. Some of our answers will be different, others will be the same. Reflective silence in a noisy world? Authentic relationships in a divisive society and often lonely world? Meaning in a world which often makes no sense? Fulfilling ventures of service in a “me first, for profit” world? Hope and courage when the headlines threaten fear and despair? The fulfillment of a life well lived? We would all do well to ask ourselves this question from time to time, as our situation changes in life: “What do I need, long for, and hope for?”

A follow-up question might be this: For the things that we seek in common, how might our congregation provide them? We can’t be everything to everyone, but what deep need might we meet, what purpose might we organize our efforts around, what hallmark might we lift up, which meets people’s needs? After all – even though we sometimes forget – in the church we are not in the business of selling widgets, nor even entertainment; we are about meeting people’s deepest needs: their need for meaning, relationship, community, spirituality, service, deep connections to God and others. That’s what I want; isn’t that what you want too? It is what Jesus’ followers have found in him, from that day to this.

Don’t you find their answer interesting? They didn’t answer, rather, what they said was this: “Where are you staying?” The translation suggests what they are asking is where Jesus was dwelling, abiding, remaining, hanging out? In other words, they wanted to know where they could hang out with Jesus. Which leads to his invitation: “Come and see.”

It’s revealing that in John’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t offer an answer but an invitation, which is not informational, but relational. Might it be that when people ask questions, particularly questions about faith, they are less interested in answers or information, than in relationship? Which is a good thing, because the Lord knows we don’t have all the answers, even though we have sometimes had the pretense that we do. Instead we should be ready to offer ourselves, our time and our commitment to them, regardless of where the conversation may lead.

Right now, in a time when we are all tempted to live in our own bubbles, we need to do more of this than ever: liberals need to talk with conservatives, whites need to talk with blacks, religious people need to talk with other kinds of religious people, including those who are not religious. Let’s commit ourselves to breaking out of our bubbles in 2017, by taking the time to talk to others, by “hanging out” with them, especially those different than us and “our people.”

In John’s Gospel, Jesus invitation is both simple and profound: “Come and see.” It’s clear, it’s non-threatening, it’s relationship, something any of us could offer. For most of us, evangelism is a scary word, recalling images of being accosted by wild-eyed preachers on street corners. But really, evangelism is this: offering a simple and relational invitation to people seeking more than the culture can offer: “Come and see.” David Lose – on whose commentary I’m drawing upon for this sermon – says that the decline of our church traditions will stop the day we (1) know why we value participation in church and (2) can share that with others.

In other words, we invite people to name what they are seeking and longing for, determine to be a congregation that meets those deeper needs, and offer a simple, three-word invitation: “Come and See.” The point is not to fill our pews and balance our budget, it is to invite people into the life we experience in Christ. In the end, it is not even about us: it is God in Christ inviting all of us to a more fulfilling and abundant life than we can buy in any store.

The amazing thing is, God continues to do this even when we settle for cheap substitutes we think we can purchase. Even when we struggle to name or understand or speak of our faith to others. Even when we wonder if we have any faith at all. Even then, Jesus remains, asking us what we are looking for, still inviting us to come and see, never giving up on us.

In this week’s commentary on this text on the United Methodist Board of Discipleship website, the Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser, the Director of Preaching Ministries (and a former clergy member of the Northern IL Conference), shared a story which will be familiar not only to many clergy, but many parents. She says that while her twenty-one-year-old son was home for a visit, he asked her, “Why are you a Christian, mom? And why are you a Methodist?” Of these questions, Dawn wrote:

“I have to admit that at first I was taken aback. How could he not know the answer? I mean, this is a young man who for the first eighteen years of his life spent every Sunday morning in church listening to me preach, and whose entire circle of support came from relationships he made through church, and whose mother and grandfather are both United Methodist ministers! Besides, he might have been on vacation, but for me it was a work day, and I was busy trying to write sermon notes. I didn’t have time for a conversation about faith.

But I made time. I stopped what I was doing, and for the first time, I talked to my son about my faith in a deeply personal way. We talked about faith for a couple of hours that day. I told him that, in part, I was a Christian and a Methodist because of the family I was born into. But at some point in my life, it became more than that, and I made a personal decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I told him I loved Jesus. I told him I believed that in Jesus we see the very nature and person of God. I told him about an experience I had when I was working as a chaplain in which I felt deep in my heart that I had come face to face with the living Lord. I told him that this encounter had changed my life. I told him that for me, there was nothing more important I could do with my life than follow Jesus. My faith in Christ is the center of my being. It is who I am. I then explained in great detail why I found The United Methodist Church to be the best context for me to practice my discipleship.

As we talked over the next two hours, I answered his questions as honestly as I could. I know that he has stopped going to church and for all practical purposes has joined the ranks of the “nones” at this point in his life. I didn’t tell him his eternal life was in danger. I didn’t try to convince him that my way should be his way. I didn’t tell him he should go back to church, or be a Methodist, or even be a Christian. I simply shared my own faith with him as honestly and authentically as I possibly could, because he asked.” (Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser, “Come and See – Preaching Notes, January 15, 2017, www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/come-and-see-preaching-notes )

A question, an invitation, a conversation: sometimes that is all that it takes. Let’s give it a try. Amen.

[As many weeks, I acknowledge my gratitude in this sermon to David Lose for his insightful commentary upon this text (Epiphany 2A: A Question, An Invitation, A Promise,” posted January 9th on his website, “In the Meantime,” www.davidlose.net ]

 

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