Message by Rev Jenny Carter
January 20, 2019
(Based on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 andJohn 1:43-51)
The gospel of John is an amazing bit of holy literature. It is teeming with life and Christological language about Jesus, and, as the author says in his own words, it “is written so you might believe.” It is brilliant – and very different from the other three gospels. While no gospel is an historical biography of Jesus and his first disciples, free from poetic license and selective story telling in order to make a point, John’s gospel is even more filled with beautiful words, written and organized in a certain way, so that our hearts might be moved, and we might come to believe that God has come to live among us – not just then, but now.
Like we need to do with all four gospel accounts, we need to let the gospel of John “stand on its own” and not try to reconcile how the author of John is telling the story, and how he is organizing the events of Jesus’ ministry, and ascribing significance to them, with the other three gospel accounts. John’s gospel is different. It is rich with metaphor and catch words that are helping us readers figure out who Jesus was, and is for us.
In seminary, in the Gospel of John class, the New Testament professor placed a bell in the classroom, and every time we were working through a biblical passage, he would have us listen for (what he called) loaded words, and ring the bell when we heard specific words. Some of the loaded words, or catchphrases, that we would be listening for, were words like, ”Word”, and “light, and children of light, and darkness, and lamb of God, Son of God, King of Israel, and the list goes on. There were times we couldn’t hear him lecture because of all the “dinging” going on.
If we had all had a bell handy as today’s passage was being read, all we would have heard is “ding, ding, ding, ding….”. John’s story of the call of the first disciples is packed with Christological language. The story is not just about John, Peter, Andrew, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael. It is first and foremost about Jesus. In this passage we catch glimpses of the fullness of Jesus’ identity in the bold speech of John, the fumbling words of new disciples, and the mysterious response of Jesus himself. In these few verses we hear Jesus described as Lamb of God, rabbi, messiah, “him about who Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote” son of Joseph from Nazareth, Son of God, King of Israel, and (just to round it out a bit, and let Jesus get into the game) Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man – promised in the book of Daniel – and the ladder between heaven and earth that we all remember reading about in the book of Genesis.
So, our passage, tucked in between the prologue, where we heard about how the “Word was with God, and the Word was God” – and the section of John’s gospel which describes all the signs and wonders that Jesus performs during his ministry, “so that we might believe” that he is who he has been described as being – is where we come into the story. We come into the story just at this spot where Christology meets discipleship.
Another way of putting what John is describing is, God is among us and calls us, invites us, into a new way of seeing absolutely everything. That there is no place where God is not. God was in the beginning and God is with us now, and God will be with us always. God was found in Jesus, and lives as the Christ among us. God, the holy, the divine, is in everything and in everyone. God is in you, and me, and God is in this place. And, we all have the capacity to see God in all of it. As we strive to follow the light, Christ, in our lives, we catch glimpses of God among us.
To be clear, John’s gospel is not inviting us to believe certain doctrines of the Christian church. John is inviting us to believe, or learn to see, God among and within us. When the first disciples ask Jesus where he is staying, he says, “Come and see.” When Nathanael, upon finding out where Jesus is from, throws the slur, “can anything good come from Nazareth”, Jesus responds, “Come and see.”
We are invited to come and see. To come and see where God is working light and life into the unfolding creation that we are as individuals, as a faith community, and as a world. Come and see. Come and see the signs and wonders of God that are constantly being unleashed, and are spilling out onto to all people everywhere.
During alternative worship on Wednesday we were talking about this passage and we were encouraging one another to name some of the places where we answered the call to “come and see” with actually “going and looking”. It was interesting that while most all of us could name a time where God surprised us by showing up – it was never due to our seeking out a glimpse of the divine. It just kind of happened. Which is not a criticism. I think most all of us, except perhaps the mystics among us, tend to just let ourselves be occasionally surprised by God, and so catch only periodic and fleeting glimpses of God among us. Which is perhaps what holy hindsight is about and why it is so helpful to periodically reflect on our past experiences using the light of holy expectation that God was a part of it all.
Yet Jesus’ invitation is rooted in the present tense. Come and see. Come and see how God, in and with and through everything, is working healing, restoration and wholeness of relationship into the very fabric of life. Come and see.
I have found in my own faith life, and in my faith life meeting my professional life, that so much of “coming and seeing” involves a lot of uncertain footsteps. It would be so helpful if the God among us would send written memos or a text, or at the very least, a musical sound track that could give us a few hints of whether or not we are moving in the right direction. But apparently God has been around since before paper and I phones. So what I have sought to do and, when I remember to do it, have found that it works perfectly, is to tune in to my heart. To listen to the place where love and light live in me, and see how it is responding to the world in which I move. Our parents might have taught us that this was our conscience, and it is I guess, but it is more than that as well.
It is that holy place inside all of us that knows what love feels like, what wholeness looks like, what reconciliation and forgiveness and second chances look like – even if we don’t know these things in our “heads” – we “know” them in our heart. When we let the divine spark in us be guided by the divine outside of us, we find that which we seek. It’s like the ultimate homing signal. We feel more open and alive when we move toward God things, and we feel more closed and shut down when we move away from God among and within us.
It’s all rather like a dance. Moving away from God, we are trying to dance all by ourselves; moving toward God we dance with the universe and all of life. The more we dance, the more we see of God.
Our community of faith here at First United is also invited to the divine dance, where we “come and see” God alive among us. We catch glimpses of God when we gather for worship, and when we share a meal on a Monday, or conversation on a Wednesday. We might not have labeled it that way, but that is what is happening.
Yet there is another way that we at First are joining the divine dance. We are opening up our life, our home, and our faith to those who do not typically come on a Sunday. Through our outreach initiative of GreenSpace, we are helping people do life-giving holy work in the wider community, by offering them (as groups and as individuals) a sense of community with and among us. I almost cannot put into words the glimpses of the holy that I see every single day that I, and others, do this ministry on your behalf. There is life in this work. Life for the groups, but also life for us. I am filled with such renewed hope and energy – while I don’t know what God might be going to do with all of this – I do know that we can all trust the unfolding of it. We can trust because it is all a part of the “come and see” of things. That place where Christ meets discipleship.
So, as you go from this time, follow your heart – follow where the divine spark inside of you meets the divine in others, and divine that is the One in all. For that is the place where heaven resides and where everything becomes fresh and new.