Each one of the four gospel writers had particular things that they wanted to get across early in their story about Jesus, and John’s message was that Jesus’ appearance on the scene was nothing less than God breaking into human history.
In the prologue to this gospel, John writes this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, as of a Father’s only Son.”
And as one reads through the Gospel of John, the author makes it clear that when this Word, this Son of God comes into the world he gives people the opportunity to experience God intimately. John does this in his writing through seven statements that Jesus makes throughout the gospel called “I Am” statements.
You know some of these: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall not hunger.” “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.”
These and four other statements are meant to give us a picture of God’s connection to us, and they tell us that God cares intimately about our lives, our world, and how we live.
In this introduction we are invited to come and see who the Son of God is. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples are standing with John one day when Jesus walks by. John says, “Look! There he is! It’s the Lamb of God!” Well, naturally, if you heard that statement, wouldn’t you want to find out more? John’s disciples did, and so they started trailing Jesus, and Jesus asked them what they were looking for. Isn’t that interesting— Jesus didn’t say, “Who are you,” or “what do you want,” he said, “What are you looking for?” And the two disciples answered with another interesting phrase, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Not “Hi, nice to meet you,” not “Hi my name is Andrew and this is my friend.” Not “Hey, is it a lot of pressure being God’s Son?” “Where are you staying?”
The Greek word ‘meno’ used for ‘staying’ in this question is the key to understanding it, because it means ‘abide’, and with it comes the idea of permanence. So the question really is, “Rabbi, where can we abide with you? Where can we always be with you?” And Jesus says, “Come and see.”
At the most fundamental level, that may be our only question for Jesus as well. Jesus, where can I be with you in my loneliness? Jesus, where can I be fed by you with the bread of life? Jesus, where can you shine the light into my dark places? Jesus, where can we be with you as the sheep who are protected by the shepherd? Jesus, where can we abide with you in this crazy world? Come and see, Jesus says.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s life and message was much the same. Over MLK weekend people all over the United States are celebrating his birth and his life. We celebrate Dr. King for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his courage to stand up in the face of injustice, but also because his vision of a different kind of society is so decidedly Christian. He pointed to the way the world should be, but is not. As prophets are wont to do, he called us to come and see what the world could be like when people of differing races and backgrounds and even opinions join together to become better. Come and see.
Way back in the early 90’s James Taylor put out an album which included a song called “Shed a Little Light.” It starts out like this:
“Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King /and recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth. /Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, That we are bound together in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong. /We are bound, we are bound.”
As James Taylor put it, Dr. King recognized that at a fundamental human level there are ties between us all, ties of hope and love. We are sisters and brothers. Those are Kingdom of God words. They are words that, in some form or another, we talk about every Sunday. And yes, because of who we say we are—followers of Jesus Christ—we are indeed bound. We cannot do anything about it. As the old saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you are stuck with your family. We are family, and the Christian life calls us to love each other as sisters and brothers. Come and see.
For Dr. King, that meant racial barriers had to come down, because those barriers kept people from acting like sisters and brothers. For Dr. King, this wasn’t just a principle to make us a better country, although that was certainly a possible result. It also was a call for people who were followers of Jesus to look closely at what following Jesus meant in daily life.
The language we use as Episcopalians is that of Baptismal Covenant, of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, of striving for justice and peace, and of respecting the dignity of every human being. We reaffirm that we will do that every time anyone is baptized. “I will, with God’s help,” we say. Following Jesus has consequences for the way we live. Come and see.
“Shed a little light” continues like this:
“There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist /There is a hunger in the center of the chest / Shed a little light, oh Lord, so that we can see, just a little light, oh Lord.”
The clinching of a fist, and the hunger in the center of the chest, are ways of describing what it feels like when we know that things can be better, when we have a vision of the way the world should be but is not. How we live matters.
Over the last year I have been describing church as an oasis where we come for rest and refreshment for strength on the journey. I like this metaphor because the world can often feel like a desert to us, dry and lonely, difficult to find our way.
So the consistency of coming to church to worship God, and be fed by scripture and the Body and Blood of Christ, is often the only thing that keeps us going from week to week. But I fear that the world is so fractious, so wrought with disagreement and pain, that it threatens to invade our oasis and poison it.
I know many of you cringe at the thought of anything that smells of politics being talked about in church, and in a sermon in July of 2018 I agreed with you. But even if we don’t like hearing political opinions from the pulpit we are still called as Christians to love one another. Loving one another as Christ loved us is not just being nice.
As Caroline has reminded us in Sunday School these last three weeks, it has something to do with being vulnerable, with being courageous enough to allow someone to see our failings and faults and warts and allow them to love us as we are. That includes our opinions and our understanding of the way the world should be. We are called to be sisters and brothers.
My task over the next year and a half, along with an amazing vestry and staff, is to help you prepare for your new rector. It seems appropriate that on a day when we celebrate the birthday of a man who gave us a vision of a better world, on a day when the scripture reminds us of Jesus’ call to “come and see” what life in him can be like, that I invite you to have deep conversations with one another.
These conversations are necessary, I think, to help prepare you to be as spiritually strong as possible when your new rector comes, but also because it is part of having the courage to be vulnerable as sisters and brothers in Christ.
On three Wednesdays in March (not including spring break week) and the first Wednesday in April, we will be offering a program called Civil Conversations. It is a call and a practice for people to talk to one another even when they disagree. It is meant to deepen our understanding of one another and help us be a strong church. It is not meant to take any kind of position. It is meant to shed a little light, so that we can see, so that we can truly see each other, and then see Jesus. So please, come to these programs and see.
It is not meant to be a political exercise, but a way to grow so that we can follow Christ together. Because when you look into the face of your sister or brother and see Christ, you are getting a glimpse of the way the world should be. So we can shed a little light. Come and see.