A sermon for the second Sunday after the Epiphany

So what are you doing here today, anyway? What are you looking for—as Jesus put it when he noticed two of John the Baptist’s people following him as he walked near where John had been baptizing.

What are you looking for?

I imagine the answer might be a little different for each one of us. Some of us made sure to be here because we have specific responsibilities this morning. Some might say that they enjoy the fellowship, or the singing. Deep down, we share a faith that’s best lived out in community, and this is an expression of that faith.

But sometimes we meet people in church who would have a hard time saying exactly why they came. They’re not sure exactly what they believe. They just felt some unexpected pull on their heart, and they responded.

And they’d be the ones who are most like the disciples in today’s Gospel. When Jesus sees Andrew and his comrade walking behind him, he turns and asks them what they’re looking for. We can imagine that ultimately they’re after some of the same things we seek here for ourselves: a connection with something bigger than themselves, something that will give their lives meaning.

But they don’t try to talk about that when Jesus asks them what they’re looking for. They respond to his question with a question of their own: “Where are you staying?”

“Come and see,” he says. And they do. And you could say that’s really the beginning of a long chain of events that have brought us here today.

Come and see, he says.

God doesn’t stay at a distance from us, but is constantly moving toward us. Constantly inviting us to come and see, to draw near to that mystery of love that’s bigger than anything. To draw near and to be transformed by love, and even more, to become a part of it. To become love. To become a manifestation of Christ’s love in the world.

The story in the Gospel begins with John making some statements about who Jesus is. He calls him the Lamb of God, and the Son of God, and I think those two disciples couldn’t possibly have understood what that meant. So I don’t think it was an intellectual thing that caused them to turn and follow Jesus. But something touched their hearts, and made them want to go after him. Made them want to get to know him. And later Andrew tells his brother Simon, “We have found the messiah.” That’s after one evening with him. Andrew knows in his heart, and he brings Simon to Jesus, and Jesus gives him a new name, the name Peter. Cephas. Rock. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And I think that a lot of us have found our way to church in a very similar way today. There’s this pattern that repeats itself: Someone tells you about Jesus—for me it was my family and my religious education teachers—and at some point you decide to accept that invitation to come and see. You decide that you want to get to know Jesus yourself. And eventually you go as Andrew did and you tell others what you’ve seen, and what you’ve experienced. That cycle is repeated not just by different Christians down through time since the first followers, but it’s repeated in ourselves, over and over again. Christian life is a constant process of getting to know Jesus more and more.

And church is a great place for that. A great place to come and spend time with Jesus. But I want to suggest that church is not the only place to go to meet Jesus, to encounter Jesus and get to know him.

It’s a great place, here in church, for comfort, security, for fellowship. It’s a great place to learn about Jesus. All of our prayers and our readings and the creed give us words and phrases that describe the things that we believe about Jesus. With our heads. We learn to say those words, and we learn to incorporate a little bit of what they mean, and of course we meet Jesus at the table, in the Eucharist.

But I want to suggest that if we really want to get to know Jesus, if we really want to sort of hang out with him, as Andrew and his companion did, what we have to do is leave church and go out into the world. Through the mystery of the Incarnation in action I think we experience God as most present where human beings are living their lives to the fullest. They’re living life in all of its different dimensions. Where there’s pain, where there’s hardship—but also where there’s joy and celebration—in some strange way I think that that’s where Christ is, that’s where we meet Christ in a very real way today.

So tomorrow we observe the civil holiday that honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about King’s concept of beloved community. I learned a little bit more about that back in the spring. I was traveling in the South and I visited the King Center in Atlanta, and there’s a lot there about Beloved Community. What King was trying to do wasn’t just to end racial segregation or racism. He really wanted to establish, to bring about this Beloved Community on earth. It was bigger than just ending segregation.

The Beloved Community was a vision of a world in which all people would share the wealth of the earth, a world where poverty, hunger and homelessness wouldn’t be tolerated because human decency just wouldn’t allow. Racism and all kinds of discrimination and prejudice would be replaced by a spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. International disputes would be resolved by peaceful conflict resolution rather than military action. Love and trust would triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice would prevail.[1]

Would that it would be so.

It sounds very idealistic. King actually thought it could be accomplished. To me it sounds a lot like the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about. The kingdom of God was an ideal, a future thing that was beginning now. It’s beginning now, and it begins with us.

As King described it, the Beloved Community sounds a lot like the kingdom of God, and it really is based—remember that he was a Christian minister—it really is based on seeing the image of Christ in every human face.

So each one of us is a manifestation to Christ to others, and they to us. That isn’t just about serving Christ in others, but also about getting to know him through others.

So the question I want to leave you with today is when you leave this church today, where will you meet Jesus, and what it will it mean to stay with him? What will it mean for you to come and see? Amen.

[1] “The King Philosophy,” the King Center. https://thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy/, accessed Jan. 18, 2020.