Sunday, January 19, 2020

Year A 2nd Epiphany 2020 Two Questions & A Statement

Year A 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 19 January 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Two Questions & A Statement”

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:29-42
John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

A favorite group introduction game is called “Two Truths and a Lie.” When people are first getting to know one another they often have a hard time. Temperaments, personalities, awkwardness, all of it makes for a hard time. And finding out commonalities, differences, and quirks are a fun way to start the process of building trust. So the game is exactly what it is called, 2 truths, and a lie. The person says three things about themselves or what they have done. Two must be true. One must not. And then these strangers, or people who could know each other better, guess which is the lie. It is fun. It is often funny. We also see how peoples’ minds work. When I am guiding groups at an introductory level I often use it to break the ice.

Jesus was in a similar situation. Today and next week we see the origin stories of the key disciples as told in John, or their introduction to Jesus thus beginning the pivotal relationship for the rest of their lives. And we see how they have to build trust with this stranger. They had heard good things, and it had piqued their interest.

Today we are going to play instead of “2 Truths & A Lie,” we are going to see “2 Questions & A Statement.” From this we will see trust and rapport build, that slow and steady growth of giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

If you think about it, that is what relationships are. Giving one another the benefit of the doubt. Am I going to trust you and try and maintain your trust? Could be cursory. Could be a lifelong commitment. Just like driving down the highway, are you going to stay in your lane and properly operate your vehicle? Am I? We see here the dance of trust beginning.

So let’s start with the Statement: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John points his two disciples to this one who was coming toward them. Now from what you probably know, John the Baptizer was an intense guy. He called it like he saw it, and did not mince words. Not everyone could take it, and remember, he ended up losing his head after he, well, “lost his head.” [The king had married his former sister-in-law, eww.] So the folks who knew and followed John knew he did not joke around. When he said this was the King Who Was To Come, he meant it. He did not joke around; he was a serious guy. This statement was the precipitating event that started this chain of events. The Lamb of God, at least from John’s perspective, was there, and people who had been waiting for that day were intrigued. Could it be? Could it really be?

John uses his relationship with his disciples to transfer some of the trust they have in him to Jesus. I had a friend this week ask me to make introductions to someone he wanted to meet, and ask a favor from. I sent an email connecting the two. I, and the one asking for the favor, were trusting that my email would be opened, when his might not. That transfer of trust takes place all the time.

And so our curious two leave John behind, and start following after this one who had been pointed out to them.

Which leads us to our first question. “What are you looking for?”

Lots of ways to say that one. [Saying it with different inflections, tones, emphases]

I would like to think that Jesus was a bit more open, maybe a bit less confrontational. [Calm and polite] “What are you looking for?”

Now in situations where someone was following me, my phrase would be, “Hi. Can I help you?” But Jesus is walking down the path out in the middle of nowhere. What are you looking for? Could be simple. We are just heading the same way. Could be profound. We want to know if you are God’s Anointed.

In the first few months of working here, I was walking back from the breakfast crew after Wednesday morning’s Eucharist service. We always gather at Ashland Coffee and Tea. I had gotten a ride up, and would often walk back. And being new to town, I was an unknown. Now picture me. 6’5”. Big guy. All in black. It was cold, so I had on a leather coat. One of Ashland’s Finest (no facetiousness there) was sitting on the side of  Thompson Street (which becomes England St. at the tracks). He was sitting there as people headed to work to keep the speed down, and he saw me coming towards him. He was eyeing me pretty closely. As I got near the car, he actually rolled down the window. Getting near to him, I unzipped my jacket revealing my collar, leaned over, and said, “Good morning, officer!” He responded quickly, “Good morning, Father.” He was doing his job. Maintaining the trust. Keeping people doing 25 through there, and checking out large figures dressed all in black walking through a neighborhood early on a Wednesday. He could have asked me, before he saw the collar, “What are you looking for?”

And I would ask the same of us. You are here today, what brought you here? What are you looking for when you show up? Enlightenment? Encouragement? Challenge? Comfort? And most of us are looking for different things on different days. It is the nature of life.

There is no way anyone or anything can be all things to all people. Some of you think I am great. Some of you don’t. No one will please everyone. Look at Jesus. Some hailed him with palm branches. Some of them shouted, “Crucify!” If you want to please everyone all the time, sell ice cream.

What is it we are looking for in our faith? Do we really want to change? If we are not changing and growing, it is not faith. Faith is stepping out and not knowing if our footfall will land; it is taking a risk and not knowing the outcome; it is following someone and not knowing where this encounter will lead. It is trusting God and in God’s Way, even when all the evidence points to something else.

We live in divided times, when what people are looking for is often mutually exclusive. If I say I like X, there will be shouts for Y. If I say I like Y, I have discriminated Z.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things we see in this passage is the elaborate dance of learning to give one another the benefit of the doubt, the building of rapport and trust. We all do it. We see if we can trust people. Some people trust, and see if they are right. Some people distrust after experience has jaded them, and have to be [extensively] proven wrong. We all are wired differently and have different experiences. Trust is part of both of those.

But Jesus knew that these two were looking for something. They could not even put it into words. So we Jesus asked, “What is it you are looking for?” And so we come to the second question. The only response they had was, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

Did they really care? Did they want to put him up? Middle Eastern culture was, and still is, very hospitable. It could have been that.

Or it could have been an awkward filler. A favorite comedian talked about those awkward moments when people first meet. He said one time he was flirting with a young lady in his adolescence and asked her, “Do you like bread?” Sometimes some ridiculous things come out as we build trust with someone. That makes us vulnerable and we build trust.

Jesus knew that they were beginning the trust-building dance. And we see him doing something very wise. I just mentioned vulnerability. When asked where he was staying, he says, “Come and see.”
Think of how trusting that is. I am not threatened by you. I am a stranger here. Come and see where I am laying my head. I trust you, and you are welcome to come with me if you are actually interested in my lodging. And underlying all of this, you are welcome to come and see if you are actually interested in me.

Now we know a few things. One of these followers was Andrew, and after he went and saw for himself, the first thing he did was run and tell his brother what he had found, “the Messiah!” The number one reason people come to a church for the first time… Do you know what that is? For people not new to an area, the predominant answer is someone from the congregation asked them to come or told them about it. It is not rocket-science, folks. They know you trust the church as a whole and the clergy, or you would not go. And being enthusiastic about your church, like Andrew was with Simon, is a big way in bringing somebody in.

And it all comes back to God. We come here seeking a connection, that feeling of being connected, to God. Some get it in the prayers. Some get it in the singing. Some get in Passing of the Peace. I just pray you get it. I trust that you will, and I trust that you do. That is what we are about.

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

“What are you looking for?”

“Rabbi, where are you staying?”

“Come and see.”

We hold the same conversation. We get the same invitation. Thanks be to God. Amen

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Blessings, Rock