The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
My first Church History professor began each class with an excerpt from a book, Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand, true stories of frontier religion. Very few people on the frontier knew much about the Biblical story, including the players, places and even Jesus. One day while wandering the backwoods, a preacher thought he heard a fellow Methodist singing a hymn, only to discover as he came closer the man was singing a profane song. As the custom of frontier ministers, Rev. Freeborn Garrettson asked him about his religious convictions. “Do you know Jesus Christ?” “Sir, I do not know where the gentleman lives.” Thinking the fellow had misunderstood, the reverend tries again. “Sir,” the man innocently replied, “I do not know him. He must not live in these parts.”
In today’s gospel John the Baptist stands talking with two disciples. Jesus walks by. John exclaims: “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” John’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. In this story Jesus isn’t missing. He does live in “these parts.”
He’s been found out. Sensing he’s being followed, Jesus turns and asks, “What are you looking for?”
What would you say if Jesus today asked: “What are you looking for?” Why did you come to church today? Don’t get me wrong. I am glad you’re here. You could have slept late, had coffee at Starbucks, read the paper, or gone to breakfast. Some come out of habit. For others it’s the right start of the week. Someone might have invited you. Guests will happen in to try this church, and see if God might be here, we are friendly, and serious, but not fanatical, about Jesus. What are you looking for? A plaque mounted in many a Scottish pulpit reads: “Sir, we would see Jesus,” a reminder to the preacher as to why we’re here, to see Jesus.
We each have our own ideas about Jesus, and what we are looking for. We may not be real sure. When Jesus asks the two don’t sound too sure, either. They seem caught off-guard. They want to know where Jesus is staying – which seems like a lame question. Put on the spot we can freeze up and say something kind of dumb, to be regretted later. Not this time though – for Jesus says, “Come and see.” They stay with him through the afternoon. By evening Andrew was convinced enough to tell his brother Simon Peter, “We’ve found the Messiah.” Andrew brings Peter to see Jesus. Chances are likely that you are here, too, because sometime, somewhere someone pointed you toward Jesus, told you what they believe, and you wanted to see and decide for yourself.
How did John the Baptist know Jesus is the One? John earlier hears a voice telling him the Spirit will descend and stay on One God will send. That day John saw and heard enough to know Jesus is the One – “the Lamb of God.” We see Jesus because God reveals Jesus. We merely point others toward him, maybe even tell what we have seen.
John identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” a strange label. Lambs were sacrificed at the Temple as a sin offering from the human side. The lamb offered would restore what’s been broken in their relationship with God – in other words, sin. But now Jesus is the reconciling lamb God offers to restore us. God comes to do what we can’t. It’s already done – like saying, “You haven’t been able to get it. I’ll do this for you.” That’s how much God loves us. Entering the life of Jesus, aligning with him, staying with him changes death to life, darkness to light – changes even us, the longer we stay.
John only had a voice to instruct him of his role. He didn’t know Jesus – and it didn’t matter. He trusted. He kept looking and waiting. He hoped and expected. And one day Jesus comes looking for John and finds John faithfully waiting. Then John knows.
That John’s so close and still doesn’t know all about Jesus could be a helpful reminder to zealous Christians who believe they know all about Jesus and will tell you who he is with great certainty. They create their own version of Jesus – which we all are prone to do. I suspect Jesus might be better received if we who try to follow, would admit that Jesus is pretty elusive, hard to nail down. There’s a lot we are not able to see or know – but enough. Like John – we point others to Jesus. God does the rest.
In the novel Severina by Ignazio Silone, a former nun lies dying. A sister from her former convent has come, sits with her and takes her hand: “Severina, tell me you believe.” Severina says, “No…but I hope.” I like that. We hope in what we cannot fully know, and in hope and trust we begin to know. It’s called faith.
We have to go and see on our own. No one can do this for us. This is not a group decision. Parents or whomever can take us to church. We might think church is a good thing. Yet one day we must go see and stay with Jesus for a bit. Each of us decides what we see, who he is, and if we’ll stay. We won’t ever be doubt free, but we can hope and trust what we can’t know, like the former nun says. We won’t see Jesus from the sidelines, sitting in the stands or watching TV – only by committing yourself to look and follow. You’ll see enough. And we keep telling the stories of where we see Jesus, feasting and celebrating on bread and wine, inviting others. Come and see. That’s how we find Jesus. God sends us an unseen guide, something like the Spirit, maybe to help us get there. And when we arrive and find Jesus, we’ll see he’d already, long ago, found us.