holy cross sermon for the second sunday after the epiphany, year a, january 19, 2014

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.  Its deeper significance is in that it is, in essence, the story of every disciple – the story of discipleship itself.  It shows the ineludible pattern of call and response that characterizes the vocation of every Christian who hears about Jesus, and then decides to follow him. 

The passage opens with the witness of John the Baptist.  We have heard a lot about John the Baptist in recent weeks.  He was the forerunner, the last of the Old Testament prophets.  With the ministry and witness of John, the time is fulfilled, and there is nothing left of God’s self-disclosure except for God himself to come among us, as he had promised.  The time of figures and typologies and symbols has come to a close, and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. 

A few chapters after today’s reading (Jn. 3), John attests to the fullness of time, and thus to the end of his own ministry in moving words of self-deprecation and witness to Jesus: “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 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 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 becomes unnecessary when dawn breaks.  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. 

This is the first spiritual lesson for us:  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.  It will be self-effacing in the face of Jesus. 

If you pay attention, if you have an open heart, and an open mind, if you are earnestly looking for the TRUTH, authentic Christianity will lead you 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 this testimony, who listen to him cry out “Behold the Lamb of God!” – they LEAVE John, 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 are awakened to the hunger for Truth, which exists in every human heart, and when we begin to search in earnest for God’s salvation, to follow behind Jesus, not knowing much yet:  Jesus turns.  He discloses himself to us.  He shows us his face (cf. Catena Aurea: Alcuin).  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:  as soon as we make a decision for God, to look for him earnestly, he comes to us – he himself closes the distance yet separating us from him (cf. the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son). 

Jesus asks the disciples running after him “What do you seek?”  The Lord is not looking for information:  he knows everything.  This is an invitation for the 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 doesn’t even 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. 

And notice 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 to Jesus.

….

The first thing you need to ask yourself is:  do you really want to know God?  Are you really looking for him, or are you just “going to church”?  If you DO really 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 follow Jesus.  And you disclose that decision to God in prayer.  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, and we take time to open our hearts to Jesus in prayer before we come to the him in the sacrament.  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 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 its good for you, because indeed it’s the BEST thing for you – 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.

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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