As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, What are you looking for? Come and see, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 15 January, 2017. The Reading was John 1:35-42.
Famous First Words
I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase, Famous Last Words. However, have you heard of any famous first words? You might be able to remember your own kids first words, but so often these are either not remembered or of little importance that they are not noteworthy for those who go on to become famous. However, when you look at fictional characters, it’s easy to work out what their first words were. Sometimes, these first words are able to reveal to us some valuable information about that character.
For example, in the TV show the Simpsons, Marge Simpson’s first words are “Ooh, careful, Homer”. To which Homer responds with his first words, “There’s no time to be careful.” It explains a bit about these two characters.
In the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins’ first words are “What’s this? A ring!” Again, revealing an important part about this character, his discovery, and later obsession with this ring.
Of course, at other times, a character’s first lines just serve the plot. For example, Juliet’s first words in Romeo and Juliet is “How now, who calls?
What are you seeking?
In today’s reading, John introduces us to Jesus for the first time. Of course, every gospel is written slightly differently, with a different theological aspect, so that will influence their first words.
In Mark, Jesus’ first words are “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15).
In Matthew, his first words are “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15).
In Luke, we hear the only words of Jesus when he was a boy, when he says “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
Each of these can be used to highlight some of the different aspects of the three synoptic gospels. Mark gets right into it – it’s short and sweet, and there is an urgency in it to get the good news out to everyone. In Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, seeks to confirm the proper way to do things, and the importance of righteousness. In Luke, most likely writing for a more gentile audience, seeks to highlight Jesus’ relationship with God from the very beginning, to show that he and God were in constant communication all of Jesus’ life.
And when we come to John’s gospel, we get this interesting account of two of John’s disciples coming to follow Jesus. They follow him, and when Jesus sees them, he asks them a question, “What are you looking for?”
Now John is brilliant at these sorts of passages. All through this, we are getting two stories. We get the literal, physical, worldly story, which keeps the plot moving, but at the same time, Jesus is probing about other things. Jesus’ question is one that remains as a focus for the whole of John’s gospel – that is, when people come to Jesus, what is it that they are looking for?
Nicodemus comes to Jesus, seeking understanding about difficult teachings. The woman from Samaria didn’t seek out Jesus, but when meeting him, sought out redemption. Others, such as the Royal Official (John 4:46-54), sought out healing for a family member, others sought healing for themselves .Some sought him out thinking that he would be the Messiah , others thought he would be the one to overthrow the Romans, and still others thought him to be a false teacher , and sought to find opportunities to catch him out.
The question remains today:
When you come to Jesus, what is it that you are looking for?
Are you looking for understanding? For redemption? For healing? For salvation? For something else? What is it that you are looking for?
Jesus’ invitation to come and see
The disciples response is again one that works on two levels. There is the literal meaning – we want to see where you are staying. However, the Greek word which is translated as “to stay” is used often throughout John’s gospel to assert that the relationship of the Trinity amongst one another’s and with believers is permanent, not sporadic.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples is again one that works on a literal level, but is also one that invites further theological thought. Jesus tells the disciples to come and see – that is, to come and see where it is that he is staying. However, there is also a sense that Jesus is inviting them to see what it is that he is doing. If it was just a physical thing, he could say “I am heading to Galilee to stay with my family.” And that would have been the end of it. Instead, Jesus offers to the disciples to come and see. It reminds me of Isaiah 43:19, where The Lord, through the prophet says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Jesus is doing a new thing in Israel. But instead of just telling these two disciples of John, he invites them to join with him, so that they can discover the truth themselves, and see with the eyes of faith (John 1:46; 6:36; 9:35-41; 14:9).
It’s the same with our faith.
Jesus doesn’t just come and tell us what he is doing, he invites us to come and see. He invites us to come and take part.
There’s a passage by the Chinese philosopher Xun Kuang in his collection of writings titled Xunzi which says “Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.”
You may have heard this simplified and falsely attributed as either a Native American proverb, or a quote by Benjamin Franklin, which says “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”
Jesus doesn’t just tell us about our faith. He doesn’t just teach us about God. He invites us to come and to be involved, to take part, so that we may understand.
Completing our story
The story of these two disciples doesn’t finish there, however. We read on, and we discover that one of the two was Andrew, son of John. He goes and find his brother and tells him that he has found the Messiah, or the Christ.
And he brings Simon to Jesus, who just by looking at him, tells him his name, and tells him that he is to be called Cephas.
And that is the beginning of Peter’s story, who would later be the one that it is said that Jesus will build his church upon this rock, that is, Peter (Mt 16:18)
But I don’t want to talk about Peter’s story. You see, this passage is the completion of the Disciple’s heeding of Jesus’ invitation.
The invitation isn’t just to come and see what Jesus is doing. It isn’t just come and look. It is come and see, so that you will understand, and when you understand you will go and tell others, and invite them to come and see, so that they might understand.
When we accept Jesus’ invitation to come and see, the only logical conclusion is that we will go and tell others, and will invite others to come and see about this Jesus fellow, the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.
Call to Action
When we come to Jesus, we’re seeking something. Jesus takes what we are seeking, and invites us to come and see what he is doing. But it’s not just to see – it is to be involved with, so that we can understand. And through that understanding, we go and share Jesus with everyone that we meet.
So what is it that you are seeking in Christ today?
Will you take up Jesus’ invitation to come and see?
Are you ready to go and tell others, confident in your understanding of Christ’s message?
We’re going to listen to a song as we contemplate these questions. The chorus of this song says “Come and see, come and see what God has done, Come and see, come and see what love has won. IN this place, hearts and lives are waking up to the light of the world.” As we listen to this, and you can sing along if you wish, you’re invited to come and spend some time in prayer. Maybe you would like to tell Christ what you are seeking? To tell Jesus your answer to what it is that you’re looking for.
Or maybe you would like to come and to take up Christ’s invitation to come and see – maybe for the first time, maybe a renewing of your previous acceptance. But you might like to come and to pray to Jesus, telling him that you will follow, and see what he is doing.
Or maybe, having followed Christ, you’re ready to go and tell others, to invite others to come and see what God is doing here, in this place.
As we listen to this song, you might even be directed to pray about other things – this time is yours. Let’s see what God is doing, and what love is winning, in this place.