sermon for epiphany 2 / year a: discipleship and the call of christ

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw…

Today’s gospel lesson relates the calling of the Lord’s first disciples, one of them being the apostle Andrew. Like just about everything in the Scripture, there is a deeper significance to this story, which in lies, at least in part, in its being the story of every disciple – the story of discipleship itself. Today’s Gospel shows the invariable pattern of call and response that characterizes the vocation of every Christian who hears Jesus, and then decides to follow him.

The passage opens with the witness of John the Baptist. We’ve heard a lot about John the Baptist in recent weeks. He was the forerunner of the Messiah, the last of the Old Testament prophets. With the ministry and witness of John, the time is fulfilled, and there is nothing left for God to reveal, except for God himself. The time of figures and typologies and symbols has come to a close, the Old Covenant itself is about to be fulfilled, and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

A few chapters after today’s reading (Jn. 3), John attests to this fullness of time – and thus to the end of his own ministry – in moving words of self-deprecation and witness to Jesus. John says: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3.29-30). John is not the Savior. He is the Savior’s friend. He bears witness to the Savior and to his salvation. Indeed John understands this witness to be the very heart of his own ministry. It was therefore a part of the completeness of his joy when some of his own disciples leave him to follow Jesus.

“John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”

John is the bright torch whose light is unnecessary in the brightness of the dawn. Yet he is so given to his provisional role in God’s plan – his eyes and his expectation are so firmly fixed on Jesus, that the end of his own vocation is inconsequential – and indeed the advent of Jesus will mean the end of John’s ministry. But that is why John was sent. He is the friend of the Bridegroom.

And here is the first great, spiritual lesson for us this morning: that authentic, life-giving teaching will ALWAYS point to Jesus. It will not point to itself or to anything else. It will show Jesus – it will SEEK to show Jesus, to glorify him. It will be self-effacing in the face of Jesus. Always and only Jesus.

Anyone who pays attention, anyone with an open heart, and an open mind, anyone earnestly looking for the TRUTH will find authentic teaching leading him to follow Jesus. And that’s exactly what happens in today’s reading. John was a true teacher, a GREAT teacher – a prophet, and the greatest of prophets. And precisely for this reason, his disciples, who stand and hear his teaching and listen to his testimony, they hear him cry out, “Behold the Lamb of God!” – and they LEAVE HIM, and they follow Jesus.

John saw Jesus and cried out “Behold the Lamb of God!” and “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”

Authentic Christian teaching bears witness to Jesus, and leads us to follow after Jesus. And notice what happens next: The disciples followed Jesus, and the first two words of the very next sentence in the reading: “Jesus turned…” When we wake up to our hunger for the Truth, a hunger which exists in every human heart, and when we begin to search earnestly for God’s salvation, to follow behind Jesus, not knowing much yet: Jesus turns. He discloses himself to us. He shows us his face. As the great scholar of the 8th century, Alcuin of York, puts it: “The disciples followed behind [Jesus’] back in order to see Him, [but they] did not see His face. So He turns round, and, as it were, lowers His majesty, that they might be enabled to behold His face.” And not only does he show us his face, but he SPEAKS to us. WE had been questing after HIM, and yet he initiates the conversation:

“Jesus turned and saw them following him, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’”

This should remind us of a general principle about God: when we make a decision to seek God, to look for him earnestly, he comes to us – he himself closes the distance yet separating us from him. As in the parable of the Prodigal Son: as soon as the errant son decides to return to his Father and to ask for forgiveness, it says, “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him,” (Luke 15.20).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples running after him “What do you seek?” The Lord is not looking for information: he knows everything. So this question serves two purposes. Firstly, is an opportunity for the disciples to ask themselves what they seek, what it is they want. Sometimes pious people can get so caught up in trying to “do God’s will” that they forget what it is that THEY want. And this is often God’s question to us: “What do you really want? What do you seek?” Scripture says that God will “give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37.4). But first we have to figure out what those desires are. And this, like much else in the spiritual life, is the work of prayer and meditation.

“Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’” Secondly, the Lord’s question is an invitation for his disciples to approach him, to come closer. He WANTS to speak with us; he wants to commune with us. He wants to give himself to us.

“What do you seek?” And they said to him “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And he said to them “Come and see.”

When we seek God, out of an open heart, out of an earnest desire to know him, then he will reveal himself to us, he will turn to us, he will invite us to speak with him, and he does not stop there: he invites us to his own home. “Teacher, where are you staying?” And he said to them “Come and see.” And they came and saw, and they stayed with him.

Where does Jesus dwell? If he invites to the place where he dwells, where is that place? The great teachers of Christianity have said repeatedly: he dwells in our hearts. St. Augustine of Hippo pointed out that this whole process could not even be undertaken to begin with, were Jesus not already with us. It takes God’s help even to call out to him for help. The Lord’s invitation to “come and see” is an invitation to discover that he is closer to us than we are to ourselves – that he has been with us all along.

And what is the last thing they do? The very end of today’s Gospel lesson: they go and tell others. Andrew goes and finds his brother, Simon, and says to him “We have found the Messiah.” They know that they are not the only ones who yearn for God to reveal himself. They have friends and relatives who share their longing for God. So they go and become witnesses [in Greek: martyrs].

….

The first thing I must ask myself is: do I really want to know God? W.H. Auden pointed out that much of the time, mankind frets itself, “dreading to find its Father lest it find / the Goodness it has dreaded is not good.” Often in the early stages of earnest seeking, we develop a feeling of unworthiness, a sense of our own culpability. But we must guard against the conclusion that therefore God is uninterested in us. The good news is that although we are indeed unworthy, that God loves us anyway, that he thirsts for us, that he was willing to suffer and die in order to be with us.

If you really do want to know God, if you are yearning for him to reveal himself to you, then what do you do? You listen to the authentic testimony of those who bear witness to Jesus. You make a conscious decision: I want to see Jesus. And you disclose that decision to God in prayer: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Prayer is absolutely essential. Prayer is how we run after Jesus. We begin to call out to him, every day, in our hearts. We begin to seek after him in the Bible. We go to the places he has promised to be: we have recourse to the blessed sacrament, where with the eyes of faith we “behold the lamb of God, behold him that takes away the sins of the world.” And we take time to open our hearts to him in prayerful humility. We focus our attention. We ask the Lord to show himself to us.

I firmly believe that when our hearts are ready, when we have come to a place of earnest and open desire for the Truth of God’s revelation, and then when we call out to God in prayer from that place of that earnest and open desire, then he will answer us. He will turn towards us, he will himself close the distance yet separating us from him, and he will speak to us in our hearts.

Lastly: what do you do if you take an honest look into your own heart, and you don’t find that earnest and open desire for God’s truth. And sometimes, for some of us, if we’re honest, that desire just isn’t there. What do you do? If you would like to have that desire, if you know you SHOULD have it, because it is a good thing, because indeed it’s the BEST thing – then ask God to give it to you. He always gives good gifts. So ask him to open your heart, and to give you and earnest desire for him. And he will give it to you.

Jesus “said to them, ‘Come and see.’ [And] They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him…”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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