Sermon for 2 Epiphany 2017

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

“Come and see.” This is the invitation Christ gives to his first disciples in today’s Gospel reading, and I suspect these disciples were surprised by his answer to their apparently banal question. It seems a rather dull, ordinary kind of question they ask: where are you staying? It’s the sort of question we might use to initiate a polite conversation. It’s a dull question to which we might expect an equally dull answer. Were I asked “where are you staying?” I’d have to respond “next door in the rectory” and we might have a brief, rather dull conversation about it, but that would probably be the end of it.

“Where are you staying” has a plain meaning, and this might have been the level on which Andrew and the Beloved Disciple were asking it. The question can also be taken to be asking something much more profound, though.
You see, the word translated as “staying” in the diciples’ question is found elsewhere in John’s Gospel, though our modern translations choose different English words at different points. Most relevant to the passage in question are two such verses in John.
First, John 14:10:

“Do you not believe,” Jesus asks his disciples, “that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells (stays) in me does his works.”

Whether Jesus dwells in his own home, or a friend’s place, or the Holiday Inn isn’t the point. The important thing is that Jesus dwells (stays) with his Father and the Father dwells in him.
Then, from earlier in the first chapter of John, a verse which will probably be familiar to you:

“And the Word became flesh and lived [or stayed, or dwelt] among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (1:14)

While Jesus, being the Eternal Word of God, lived on high he has come to stay among us. So, the question, “where are you staying?” in fact gets to the heart of Jesus’ identity. The question leaves an opening for Jesus to disclose the uniqueness of his relationship to God the Father, the union between God and humanity which were mysteriously held together in his very person through the hypostatic union.

Now, Jesus could have answered the disciples’ question with a theological treatise. “I am God from God,” he could have said, “Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father. Through me all things were made.” I suppose the first four centuries of church history, in which the Fathers endlessly debated how to define Jesus’ identity, would have been much simpler, if significantly duller, if Jesus had made it this plain.
This, however, was not his answer. Instead, he responded to the disciples’ question with an invitation: come and see. The theological reflection of the Church is very important, but the starting point is a great deal less cerebral. It is simply to keep one’s eyes open for the presence of God with us; to follow where he will lead us, and to behold his glory- “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”.

We must have eyes to see, as it were, but where is it that we—who do not have the benefit the disciples had of seeing Jesus during his earthly life—where do we look for the Son of the Most High? I go back to one of my favorite prayers for the answer. It’s a prayer that is traditionally said after the Eucharist, and it goes like this:

“Blessed, praised, worshipped, hallowed, and adored be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—on his throne of glory in heaven, in the most precious sacrament of the altar, and in the hearts of his faithful people.”

Christ has indeed ascended into heaven, and he has not yet returned. But he is still spiritually present in our hearts and he is still truly present in the Sacrifice of the Mass. So long as we have the eyes to see, so long as we are open to being in the presence of God, we may still see him in this Church, in ourselves, and in our brothers and sisters in Christ. And it is in moments when our perception of the presence of God with us is most clear, fleeting as these moments may be, that we gain strength and renewal and move toward maturity in the faith.

There’s a catch, though. When in the Gospels people “come and see”, when they get a glimpse of the God who had come among them, they cannot stay in God’s presence by themselves forever. Rather, they are sent out to make the same invitation Christ made to them. Andrew and the other disciple stayed with Jesus that day, the Gospel tells us, but then they left and Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus.

Later in the chapter, Jesus calls Philip to follow him and Philip goes straightaway to his friend Nathanael. Nathanael questions Philip’s wisdom in following this Jesus and shows a bit of xenophobia, asking “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip’s response is direct. “Come and see.” Likewise, in the fourth chapter of John, a woman that Jesus meets at a well is convinced that he is the Messiah, and she goes into a village and proclaims to all the people, “come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done!”

All of this is to suggest that the proper response to recognizing Jesus as Lord, to seeing him, is to go out and invite others into God’s presence. This doesn’t mean being overbearing or manipulative or obnoxious. It does, however, mean that we have an obligation to represent Christ to the world by our words and our deeds, and (when appropriate) to simply and lovingly extend the invitation to “come and see”. This is why one of the postcommunion prayers in the prayerbook asks God “to send us out to do the work [He has] given us to do, to love and serve [Him] as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” And whenever we are tired or perplexed or hungry for spiritual nourishment, we come back again into presence of God who dwells in the sacrament and in the assembly of His people that we may once again “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

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