Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL A – “Entering the Story”

The podcast is available here.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Billy Graham says, “I was coming down on an elevator with some friends of mine and a man got on about the fifth floor and said, ‘I hear Billy Graham is on this elevator,’ and one of my friends pointed in my direction and said, ‘Yes, there he is.’”

Graham reports, “The man looked me up and down for about 30 seconds and he said, ‘My, what an anticlimax.’”

In today’s Gospel reading, we begin the story again.  Jesus has been baptized and now he is calling the disciples.  According to the Apostle John, John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  When two of John’s disciples heard this, they began following Jesus who then asked them “What are you looking for?”  They don’t exactly answer him: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”  So they did and ended up spending the afternoon with Jesus.  Later, one of the two disciples, Andrew, went and found his brother, Simon, and brought him to Jesus, who said Simon was to be called Peter.  This is the calling of Andrew and Peter.  Right.  But, who was the other disciple that followed Jesus that day?

The reading said, “One of the two who heard John [the Baptist] speak and followed [Jesus] was Andrew.”  “One of the two,” but nowhere is the second disciple named.  So who is this unnamed person?

Most scholars agree that it is actually John, the author of the Gospel, writing himself into the story without actually naming himself.  That would make sense and provide readers with an understanding as to how John could have known so much about the ministry of Jesus.  If in fact this is John, he’ll use this technique several more times.  On the night of Jesus’ arrest: “Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.”  “Simon Peter and another disciple… this disciple was known….”   At the Last Supper: “…the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.”  And on the Sunday of the Resurrection: “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter.”  All of these are details that not just anyone would know.  So, it can be reasonably argued that this is John speaking about his part in the story.

For us, that is an interesting theory/fact about the Gospel of John, but can it serve us in our understanding.  Is there a way that this unnamed Apostle can deepen our faith.  St. Ignatius of Loyola would say, “Yes.”  

One of the exercises that the aspirants for Holy Orders are practicing is what is known as Ignatian Contemplation.  It is a way of engaging our senses and imagination in the reading of Holy Scripture. Instead of reading the text in a two dimensional way, we enter into it.  Instead of simply seeing the words on the page, we let our imagination enter into our reading and then ask ourselves, what would I be seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, etc.  You don’t make things up or put words in the mouth of anyone, but you do put yourself there.  For example, I can read a sentence about someone walking on a beach, but in Ignatian Contemplation, I would enter into that: I would feel the warmth of the sand against my feet and how the sand gave way as I put my weight down, I would hear the waves crashing in and seagulls crying above me, I would smell the salt in the air, feel the sun.  I only read about someone walking on a beach, but then I allowed my self to experience that based on my knowledge of what walking on a beach is really like.

So, when it comes to the Gospel of John and his unnamed Apostle, instead of simply allowing my intellect to say, “Oh, that’s John writing himself into the story,” I can allow myself to enter the story and let the unnamed Apostle be me.  Take the one we just read about: “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter.”  From the rest of that passage, we can assume that Peter and John were somewhere hidden away in Jerusalem, when suddenly Mary Magdalene comes rushing in and tells them that the stone was rolled away and someone has taken the body of Jesus.  Upon hearing this, Peter and John take off, racing to the tomb.  Take that one little bit: early in the morning, before the city has come alive, you and Peter are racing through the streets of Jerusalem.  All you can hear is the fall of your own footsteps.  Peter is ahead of you, but you catch him and pass him, but in that moment when you are side-by-side, you catch each others’ eyes.  Neither of you speaks, but you don’t have to.  Question: you are that unnamed Apostle running along side Peter: what do you see, hear, feel, and even better, what are you thinking?  

Are you afraid that they really have stollen his body or is there something in the back of your mind, something Jesus said about rising on the third day.  

There is a way to read Holy Scripture and simply see the words on the page and there is a way to read Holy Scripture and enter into and ask, “What does this mean?” and “What does this mean for me?”

Now, all this may just sound like an interesting exercise to maybe try out sometime, but it is an exercise that is really quite necessary in order to fully grasp the implications of this week’s Gospel reading, because this week’s Gospel reading actually asks us to answer why we are here.  Why we gather.  Why we worship.  All of it.

So, enter into the story: you and Andrew have been disciples of John the Baptist for quite some time.  You have heard John speak often of this one who is to come, one whose sandals he is unworthy to untie.  One who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  You have heard him speak of this one as the Lamb of God, and then one day, as you are standing along the banks of the Jordan, a man walks by and John the Baptist points at him and says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  Is this really the one John has been speaking about all this time?  Could it be the Messiah?  The Savior?  The Son of God?  You and Andrew follow this man.  He hears you behind him, stops, turns and asks, “What are you looking for?”  

That is a fairly simple question: What are you looking for? but for you, when asked by Jesus, the answer really defines why you are here today.

It is not one of those questions that I can answer for you, but there is more than one answer or should I say, more than one level of answer.  For example: on one level, I think we are here for simple fellowship, community, a sense of belonging to something and belonging somewhere.  On another level, we come to engage with our faith: to learn more about God’s word, how to pray, about the work of the Church, which also brings in a level of service to others, reaching out.  Again, there are many different levels of answers and those answers are all correct and may change on a daily basis.  One week you may come with a desire to serve and minister with others, while other times, you may come in hopes of being ministered to and supported, but what is the ultimate cause, the first answer that everything else comes from?

Truthfully, you may not have an answer, but as we said earlier, this is the beginning of the Gospel, of the story and the disciples are just now meeting Jesus for the first time.  When Jesus asked them what they were looking for, they answered, “Teacher, where are you staying.”  They didn’t have an answer either, so to their question, Jesus said, “Come and see.”  To me, Jesus is saying, “Come and see and I will show you what you’ve been looking for all your life.  Come and see and I will show you life, purpose, joy, faith, hope, love.”  So, today, instead of trying to answer the question, What are you looking for?, let’s walk with him and see what he will show us.  Unlike the fellow who saw Billy Graham for the first time, I don’t think what Jesus will show us will be anticlimactic.  

Let us pray:
Grant us, O Lord our God,
minds to know you,
hearts to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.

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