January 19, 2020, The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

     From John’s Gospel, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and see.’” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

     One of the things that amazes me about the Season of the Epiphany is that just as we grasp one truth about what it means to be and live as people of God, our lessons push us to look that much more deeply at what it means to be followers of Christ today.

     Last week, with the story of Jesus’ baptism as told by Matthew, we were challenged to see the Spirit of God at work in our everyday lives; to realize that God’s Spirit is more common and active in and through us than we might think. And in today’s gospel reading we hear that same story from John’s own perspective. John says that he, too, saw the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus. This was a life-changing moment for John. So much so, he is now convinced that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the promised Lamb of God whom the prophets proclaimed would take away not just Israel’s sin, but the sins of the whole world. (Isaiah 53:7) And in John’s story, we realize that God’s mission in this world is always more than we imagine.

     Now, when I first read today’s lessons and in particular, Jesus’ words, “Come and See” I thought “What a great time to talk about evangelism!” Now, don’t panic: that is not the real focus of today’s sermon. As Episcopalians, we tend to cringe at that word and probably for good reason. Like me, I think many here have seen someone on a street corner screaming “Repent” or have encountered an over-eager relative or co-worker who truly has our best interest in mind, but tends to badger us with questions like, “Have you found Jesus? “Have you been saved?” “Do you know for sure where you are going when you die?” I’ve heard them all and I know many of you have, too. And such interactions are so often steeped in judgment and condemnation that they sour our understanding of evangelism. But as today’s lessons unfolded in my studies and prayers, another message emerged: one that has nothing to do with standing on street corners or telling others how to live, but rather, seeking to be the people God calls us to be. (And guess what? That is real evangelism. That is why evangelism means “good news.”) So, let’s look more closely at today’s scripture lessons.

     The Prophet Isaiah shares that he was called to ministry while still in his mother’s womb. His mission is to bring not just his village, but an entire country to repentance and a return to faith so life-transforming they will gladly exercise God’s justice and mercy in all things.

But God tells Isaiah mission and ministry is always more than we can imagine. God says, “It is too light a thing” – in other words - “it is too easy” for you to serve Israel and only work towards her restoration. God says I’ve called you to something greater: “I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God’s mission is always and forever expanding. Isaiah tells us that God’s plans surpass our wildest dreams; that ministry in this world never ends. What God was doing in the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah was not simply for their own benefit, but rather, so that this work of God would be seen and embraced by all nations. God calls people of faith to understand ministry is never limited to just me or you. God’s call goes far beyond our own selves, beyond our own communities. We are called to be a light to the entire world.

     St. Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, says that the Church does not exist for her own benefit. She has received gifts and abilities not so we can feel good about ourselves, but rather, as our Catechism says, to further God’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Paul, like Isaiah, says God’s people are to be a light to the nations, to invite, to welcome and encourage all to seek God; that the best witness to the transforming power of God is found not in what we say with our lips, but rather, how we live our lives.

     In today’s Gospel reading, we discover that twice in two days John has called Jesus “the Lamb of God,” the one sent from God to save humanity from itself, save us from sin and death. The second time John said it two of his disciples left and began to follow Jesus. What followed was a rather interesting conversation with Jesus about hunting and locating things; “What are you looking for?”  “Where are you staying?”  “Come and see.”

Now John is careful to note that it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. In other words, the Sabbath was about to begin and no one traveled on the Sabbath. So, these two men spent an evening and the following day – about 24 hours with Jesus – and look what happened. Their encounter with the divine was so much greater than themselves, they just had to share what they had found. They immediately went and found Andrew’s brother Simon and another conversation about hunting and locating ensued: John tells us, Andrew “first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated ‘Anointed’). He brought Simon to Jesus” and in encountering the holy, encountering the Christ, Simon is changed as signified by the changing of his name from Simon (which means “he has heard”) to the Aramaic “Cephas” or the Greek “Petros” or the English “Rock”. And here is the amazing thing about this story: the evangelism in this story: in meeting Jesus, Simon found his true self.

     There is a plaque on a wall in our home that reads “That which you are seeking is seeking you.” I thought of that plaque while reading this story from John’s gospel. See, Theologian N.T. Wright, in his book “John for Everyone” notes, “What Andrew and Simon Peter thought they were doing was looking for the Messiah. What they didn’t realize was that the Messiah was looking for them.” (p. 14) And that which was true for Andrew and Simon is also true for us, our neighbors, our community and nation because God’s mission in this world is always greater than ourselves, it is forever reaching out saying “Come and see.”

     Friends, the world is full of seekers. “The pursuit of happiness” is a part of our cultural DNA. People are seeking – scrambling actually – after that which will bring meaning to their lives. As Saint Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in thee.” But what many don’t realize as they go looking for that which will fill that hole in their heart, the thing that they seek, that we seek, is actively seeking us all. But they won’t know it, they won’t know where to find it, unless they see that Spirit of God at work in and through us.

     See, the grace and wonder contained in our lessons this morning is that when we find and are found by that which we are seeking, we are changed, transformed, renamed in recognition of the fact that our true nature has been revealed – not only to us but to the whole world. As my colleague the Rev. Delmer Chilton says about this encounter with the Christ, “Our name is unlikely to be Cephas or Petros or Rock: it is more likely that it will be something like Beloved, Forgiven, Full of Grace, Full of Joy, Child of God.” The question and the challenge for us is: is that the name our lives demonstrate to our neighbors?

     Like Andrew and Simon Peter, we are invited to come and meet Jesus Christ every day and then arise from every encounter with him not only with our names changed, but our priorities, our values, everything about us changed, and then go forth to be the people God calls us to be: lights to the whole world, lights that through who we are and how we choose to live point to Jesus Christ, the Light and Redeemer of the whole World. That’s the kind of evangelism that changes lives; evangelism that proclaims good news. It is the kind of evangelism that invites others to encounter that same Spirit of God that continues to transform and dwell within us; That Spirit of God that seeks, invites, and welcomes all people.

     Beloved, that is our mission. That is our ministry: To simply live a transformed life. And like Isaiah and St. Paul, and Andrew and Simon Peter, and that Great Communion of Saints, that is who all God’s people are called to be. And the amazing thing is that when we choose to live into that calling we become true evangelists: A simple community of faith who, by God’s grace and in all humility shows forth in our lives the Spirit of God, the Christ, at work in us and who invites the whole world to “Come and see” not just today, but always. May God grant us the courage so to live, and so to be Amen.