Sermon preached by Revd Canon Lesley McCormack on Sunday 15th January 2017, at St Peter & St Paul, and St Michael and All Angels
‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see’.
Last Sunday, we heard again that story wonderfully rich in colour and imagery of the wise men, people travelling from afar, impelled to discover and explore what God was revealing to them. Here were people, ready to question in search of deepening their wisdom, travelling with minds and hearts open to new possibilities; people filled with expectation; people travelling ever onward, undaunted when things don’t go exactly as they had imagined. Remember? Their expectation was that a child born to be king would be found in Jerusalem. Willing to have their world view challenged, they go onwards to Bethlehem. In this relative backwater, and in the ordinariness, the particularities of family life, they recognise the extraordinary, the wonder and glory of God revealed in the vulnerability of a small child; they recognise all that they have been travelling towards, seeking, and so are compelled to worship and to offer their gifts. Wise to the manipulations of worldly power, they return home via another road. They had travelled a long and dangerous journey, had found what they were seeking and were changed by their experience – the return journey would never be the same as their outward. Long before, something had prompted them to ‘come and see’; they took an enormous risk and were rewarded by the revelation of God himself.
This morning, we hear the story of other men drawn to ‘come and see’. The story opens in Bethany with John the Baptist surrounded by people, some of them religious folk sent from Jerusalem. They had been questioning him, trying to pin him down as to who exactly he was. John gives them clues that they struggle to pick up. These men are not on their own journey, seeking understanding, but men sent to get straight answers to the questions of others. I sense frustration in John’s voice when he says: Look, this is what I have been doing, but standing among you there is someone who is so much greater than me and you don’t even know him!
The next day, out among the people once more, John suddenly sees Jesus coming towards him and announces to the crowd: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He goes on to tell them all that he has himself experienced and concludes: “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” I find myself wondering what range of emotions and feelings were experienced by that crowd drawn to listen to John for their many and varied reasons – curiosity certainly; wonder perhaps; incredulity, utter disbelief – and I suspect fear. For all too often we are driven to fear rather than wonder when faced with something, someone we don’t fully understand.
Later still, John is standing with two of his disciples and he says to them “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” As soon as the two heard this, they left John and followed Jesus. John had no illusions about the nature of his calling and its limitations. After all, later on in John’s Gospel we hear him say ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’. John the Baptist understood that he could only lead people so far on their journey seeking God and then let them go to be guided by another. God’s call to serve is costly.
The declaration of John will lead to an intimate conversation and the lives of two men will be utterly changed – Andrew and his unnamed companion – are the first to leave John and follow Jesus. They are taking a risk, walking away from what is known and familiar towards that which is unknown yet inviting, compelling. And so they walk, and in time Jesus turns, sees the two following him and asks ‘What are you looking for’ or as older translations record it ‘What do you seek’. Here perhaps the older translation is more helpful – I may look (as I regularly seem to do) for car keys that I know I left on the kitchen worktop! – but I seek meaning in my experiences of life and faith. Jesus looks at these two men and asks – ‘What are you seeking’.
I wonder – What would our response be if Jesus were to come in through those doors right now, look around at each of us and ask – ‘What are you looking for – what are you seeking’. What would our response be – as individuals and as a community? Are we seeking a safe life where everything is familiar and unchanging, or something more dynamic where our views and understandings of God and His world are challenged? In these early days of a new year, it bears considerable reflection on our part.
Caught on the hop, Andrew and his companion adopt the age-old trick of deflecting the question with a question of their own – ‘Where are you staying?’ Jesus answers – ‘Come and see’, an invitation to abide. And so the two follow, and remain in Jesus company for the rest of the day. Something happens to Andrew during this time – like the Wise Men he glimpses the extraordinary in the ordinariness of this particular human being drawing him in to a deeper relationship even when he doesn’t fully understand. But the experience impels him to go in search of his brother, Simon and tells him ‘We have found the Messiah!’ drawing Simon to ‘come and see’ for himself. God reveals and Andrew responds – just as the prophets and the Wise Men before him had done.
Jesus looked at Simon, called him by his name and added ‘you are to be called Peter. All too soon, Jesus will look at him again – this time in the courtyard of the High Priest, and Peter will break down in tears. For now Jesus calls him by his name, knows him as he is, but tells him things will change, he will become Peter, the Rock.
At our baptism, Jesus calls each one of us by name; He will continue to call, continue to reveal something of himself amidst the ordinary everyday of our lives; continue to invite us to come and see; should we choose to accept that invitation, we too will be changed, gradually becoming the person He calls us to be.
At an inner city church in the Elephant and Castle, South London, the Church Warden arrived early in the morning to open up only to find the side door swinging open. There had been robberies in the past although since the candlesticks were taken some time ago, there is little of value left to pinch. So, it was with caution that the Church Warden entered – and saw was all the candles alight – main altar, side altar, about 20 or so on the votive candle stand, the candle in front of Our Lady – in fact there wasn’t a candle that hadn’t be lit. And there, a few pews from the front, a solitary man sat, still. He hadn’t broken in to rob or to damage; he had broken in to pray and it appeared had been there half the night. He and the Warden chatted, he apologised for the door and then he left. Later in the day, as people gathered for Evening Prayer, it was agreed that there was much to admire in a man who had gone to such remarkable lengths simply to get in to a church to pray. Call the police?? Certainly not. Oh that more people were so keen to come to church, to pray. Someone asked whether he was ‘OK’. What was meant by that was not defined, but the priest took the person to be asking if he was a bit unstable. The priest deflected the question but then asked if any of us are truly’ OK’, and was that not the reason we seek the source of amazing grace and love who continues to call us, inviting us to come and see, to experience healing grace.
Life is full of opportunities to show that love which is the mark of Christ in the ordinary particularities of life – if we dare to follow and grasp the opportunities. A man on his own near a church in the South of London felt an overwhelming need to connect with the God who was calling him in the only way he knew how – to go inside a church and to pray. We may question the wisdom or the appropriateness of his action but the priest, who by the way is Giles Fraser, one time Canon of St. Pauls Cathedral, goes on to say he totally gets why someone might break into a church to find what he is seeking.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating that people should break in to churches. But when things do happen that challenge our world view, then we can choose how to respond. Sitting in the quiet of that South London church at night surrounded by the light of candles, and the companionship of God, perhaps the man saw something as if for the first time and God knows how that will impact upon his life, and what road he may travel. Clearly the people gathering for Evening Prayer, who also experienced a different way of seeing, did what the Wise Men and Andrew and Simon Peter did – they responded, taking a different path.
In a few moments, we will be encouraged once more to come and see, glimpse God’s glory in the simple everyday things of bread and wine, simple things transformed through the power of love. As we open our hands to receive, let us dare to pray that God will grant us a new vision of what it means to respond to the invitation – Come and See – not just within these walls but into our town and beyond.
An adventure awaits with the potential to change the world! AMEN