The Question

Epiphany II – January 15, 2017

John 1: 29-42


The Question

A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.

Last week we heard, once again, about Jesus’ baptism by John. Today Jesus is meeting the first disciples. This week we are taking a slight detour from the Gospel according to Matthew, that is our emphasis this lectionary “Year A”, and dipping into John’s gospel to hear of Jesus’ first encounter with disciples. Next week we will hear a similar story, but it will be Matthew’s version, the more familiar story of Jesus, as he is walking by the Sea of Galilee, seeing the fishermen Andrew and Simon at work casting their nets into the water. In Matthew’s account Jesus calls out to the fishermen and says simply, “Follow me.” “Follow me” and I will make you fish for people.” For those of us who know this story well, there are some, I am sure, who still twitch at the translation that has changed the verse from “fishers of men” to “fishers of people.” The point is that, in Matthew, Jesus is extending a wide open invitation to Andrew and Simon that has no job description of what it will mean to follow Jesus. There is no plan, no syllabus, itinerary provided. The two don’t know what they have signed on to, and the certainly couldn’t have foreseen the movement that would build as Jesus and his followers headed south moving from place to place. They couldn’t have foreseen the mounting threat that Jesus’ ministry would become to the powers that be. In that moment of meeting they couldn’t possibly have had an inkling about the pain and grief that they would experience when Jesus gets put to death… let alone the incomprehensible possibility of resurrection. In Matthew’s account, in this story of the first encounter with Andrew and Simon, Jesus extends a simple invitation saying “follow me” and the fishermen set down their nets, their livelihoods, and everything else… to become the first disciples.

In the version we heard today from John, we are encountering two who, we are told, have been disciples of John the Baptist. In his last lesson as their teacher and mentor, John the Baptist points to Jesus and essentially says, look, over there, see for yourselves…“the Lamb of God.” “I have taught you all that I can. It is time for you to leave me and move on.” The two disciples get the message and they shift direction in their lives and head towards Jesus. At first Jesus doesn’t realize that he is being followed. When Jesus does notice, in this account from John, Jesus does not say “welcome” or “follow me.” He simply looks at them and into them and asks: “What are you looking for?” Jesus makes no assumptions about the reasons that the two have come to him. He doesn’t ask “what do you want me to do for you” or “what do you want me to be for you?” Jesus is asking the two about their deepest yearning, their most honest hunger. The two don’t give an answer. Maybe they didn’t know what they were looking for. Maybe they were simply following their gut instincts. Maybe they were being obedient to their previous teacher John by finding a new teacher. Their response to Jesus’ question “What are you looking for?” is to address Jesus as “Rabbi,” as “teacher.” They then ask him where he is staying. Jesus simply replies: “Come and see.” “Come and see…” … and they went with Jesus, they stayed… they remained… The two were with Jesus all that day. Andrew then goes and finds his brother Simon, announces that he has found the Messiah, and brings Simon to Jesus. Andrew is already at work as a disciple… bringing his own brother to come and meet Jesus for himself. Though we don’t know the answer to Jesus’ question to the disciples “What are you looking for?” it seems that they found an answer.

The question “What are you looking for?” is always before us. What are we looking for when we are drawn to come here on a Sunday morning? When we sit in prayer? When we live into our discipleship and into the baptismal vows we have made and become engaged and involved in a living out the promises to love God and our neighbor, to respect the dignity of all of God’s beloved, to see Christ in the poor and disenfranchised. Perhaps we are drawn to help, to join, to participate in the grand project of working build God’s great dream of peace and justice on earth… a powerful and fulfilling purpose. Maybe we simply want to feel that we belong, truly belong… because a basic human hunger is to be seen, and recognized and welcomed. Belonging is one of the most basic yearnings of the human soul.

On this day when we remember the life and legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we remember another faithful, dedicated disciple and servant of Jesus. To this day, when I Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech… tears come to my eyes. I believe that Dr. King has had a powerful influence on me, and on my faith, and growing commitment to follow Jesus. At a relatively young age Dr. King helped me to realize that, beyond my relatively protected and sheltered life, were larger issues of injustice in our world, issues that continue grieve the heart of God… and cause undue pain and suffering to God’s beloved… I continue to be challenged to deepen my roots of understanding and to encounter people and situations that would be easy enough to ignore. Growing in discipleship means continuing the work of waking up and of daring to dare to seek understanding by opening our ears, and our eyes, and our hearts to the multitude of real truths in our midst… especially the stories and experiences of others whose lives are very different from ours… I know the easy tendency to prejudge and come to quick conclusions about someone else’s “truth.” It is far easier to retreat into our own shelter of comfort. But that is not the work of discipleship. The work of faithful discipleship inherently continues to do its challenging work in us, it continues to change us.

Dr. King had gifts of courage, vision and voice, that called out to me as a child in the 1960’s. Dr. King’s passion touched my heart and opened my world to causes beyond myself and my family. His was a prophetic a call to repentance, and commitment and reconciliation… and was a powerful invitation to participate in working for a better and more just world. When Dr. King was killed on that sad April day in 1968, the world lost a powerful witness… yet the work continues… and it will continue until heaven and earth become one. That work, Jesus’ work, is our work… and it starts in the place where compassionate listening meets honest truth telling, on holy ground upon which we bring ourselves to stay with the basics of compassionate, generous, patient listening and honest heart felt truth telling. Our society is so caught up in looking down at our screens and yelling at one another in one form or another, that the notion of actually meeting in a holy space of vulnerability is sometime simply a quaint and easily dismissed notion.

I would like to share a story that has made a deep impression on me. It is from the life of The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman who was a mentor to Dr. King. In his book The Luminous Darkness, Thurman recalls;

When I was a boy I earned money in the fall of the year by raking leaves in the yard of a white family. I did this in the afternoon, after school. In this family there was a little girl about six or seven years old. She delighted in following me around the yard as I worked. One of her insistances was to scatter the piles of leaves in order to find a particular shape to show me. Each time it meant that I had to do my raking all over again. Despite my urging she refused to stop what she was doing. Finally I told her that I would report her to her father when he came home. This was a real threat to her because she stood in great fear of her father. She stopped, looked at me in anger, took a straight pin out of her pinafore, ran up to me and stuck me with the pin in the back of my hand. I pulled back my hand an exclaimed, “Ouch! Have you lost your mind?” Where-upon she said in utter astonishment, “That did not hurt you – you can’t feel.”

The heart of empathy and compassion is to try to feel, and understand… as closely as we can, what another is experiencing. Compassion is derived from the roots meanig “pain with.” This does not mean that we are to take on and bear the burden of another’s pain. It does mean that we can “be with” another who is hurting or in distress. The gift is our presence. This is not always easy to do, and it is the ongoing, lifelong work of discipleship to deepen and grow in compassion and to allow deepening compassion to shape our lives and our way of being in the world. To imagine that another person feels nothing, or to discount the truth of another’s experience is unconscionable. Sometimes our biases are subtle and we don’t even recognize them. Sometimes we are “called out” on our blindspots and biases. In all of this we are invited to bring the whole of our vulnerable selves to the work. The wide open invitation is to come and see…the larger story of which we are a part. The promise isn’t that there won’t experience discomfort and challenges. We are being called to participate in God’s holy not of tearing down, but of building up… and of doing so one relationship at a time.

“Come and see” is an invitation to be surprised, to have our minds and our hearts changed in ways that we cannot even imagine… to have our true identities shaped as beloved children of God… to find new meaning, new purpose and strength as we consent to participate in the building up God’s dream of peace and justice… that we may live no longer for ourselves alone… that we may see Christ in others… To be a disciple is to dare to move beyond our comfort zone into a broader community of belonging… and… as disciples… to be challenged in new and life giving ways… to live into the question “what do you want” and have our deepest desires grow and flourish and meld with God’s hopes and dreams for all of the beloved…

Jesus looks into us and asks…

  “What are you looking for?”

…and your response is….???