Sermon 22nd Jan 2006. John 1:43-51.

 

The Christmas season is decorated with colorful stories from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

 

The season easily becomes sentimental with its mixture of angels and shepherds and wise men and wandering stars and mangers and Mary and Joseph and domestic animals and wicked king Herod.

 

But of course Mark has none of this and neither has the gospel of John.

 

In Johns gospel we have the majestic prologue about the Word becoming flesh and John the Baptist insisting that he is not the Messiah.

 

The first we hear about Jesus is when John saw Jesus coming towards him and declaring “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

It is as if Jesus is beamed down from starship enterprise, he appears out of nowhere.

 

In Matthew and Luke there is much made of people coming to see Jesus, that is the what the shepherds do in Luke and the wise men do in Matthew.

 

In our reading from John this morning we have Philip saying to Nathaniel, “Come and seee”

 

In John the disciples are invited to come and see the man, and to our surprise, he knows us already.

 

As he knew Nathaniel before he was called he knows us.

 

So this is not like other meetings in which there is a mutual discovery of each other.

 

We may not know him, but, be assured, He knows us.

 

This is the knowing of God, who knew us in the womb, before we were born.

 

When we are called to follow in the way we are called to follow one who knows us, our relationship is already established from His side.

 

Our journey in discipleship is thus not one in which we call out to be noticed by Him, not one in which we must tell Him all about us.

 

Rather it is a matter of us drawing closer to Him so that we begin to know Him.

 

Again, as at Christmas, sentimentality is a danger.

 

We may tell our children in Sunday school that Jesus is our friend, and that is true.

 

But as we go along the way we realize that this friend is like no other friend that we have ever had.

 

For this friendship is no cozy arrangement, this friend bears the characteristics of God, He is an abyss into which we fall, He is a light that searches us out, He is a YES and a NO, He overshadows us and negates us only to give our lives back to us anew.

 

This Jesus, if he is any kind of a friend, is a dread friend who calls us out of the secure places we have created and casts us onto the world.

 

This Jesus is like the God that Job deals with:  For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.

 

This is the God who breaks out among the people around Mt Sinai and brings death and destruction.

 

This is the God before whom no man can stand and live.

 

If we take only a small portion of the biblical talk about God seriously any sentimental idea evaporates.

 

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer was fond of saying: “When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.”

 

But what should we do?

 

Once we have seen Jesus, once we understand how his presence changes the world, there is no turning back, we are caught like fish in a net and there is no escape.

 

The point of our lives is to answer the call “come and see”.

 

We see him as a baby for whom no room could be found, we see him as a traveling preacher, again homeless in this world, we see him teaching those who follow in the way, we see him setting his face towards Jerusalem, we see him submitting himself to a criminals death, we see him forgiving those who murder him.

 

To see him is to fall in love.

 

For discipleship is not about us deciding to be committed, deciding to be a member of the church because it seems like a good thing.

 

It is not about aligning our values with Jesus’ values or following him because he will teach us how to be good.

 

Discipleship is not a thing of our volition, it is a falling, an inescapable and inevitable progression.

 

It is a slippery surface down a hill.

 

This has nothing to do with our good intentions or our religious feeling.

 

It is not as if we take up being religious or being interested in spirituality in the hope that it will heal the turmoil in our lives in the same way we might take up psychotherapy or yoga or a new diet.

 

Christians engaged in conversation about their faith are often confronted with the assertion that "I'm religious but I don't go to church". The next time it happens to me I have decided that I am going to say "How interesting. I'm a follower of Jesus but I'm not interested in being religious."

 

The common thread that draws us to this place is not that we are religious, it is that we have seen Jesus and he has made being religious or being interested in spirituality irrelevant.

 

Indeed one of the great modern mistakes of the church has been to identify Christianity as a religion among the religions.

 

That mistake has made it easier for people to declare that they are not religious as if they are saying that they do not like fried liver.

 

But that is not the point, the point is, have you seen Jesus.

 

The point is, has this vision, this seeing, destroyed all of your presuppositions about what life is all about?

 

Has it removed the very solid ground that we thought was under our feet with the result that we are in free fall?

 

The common notion is that society is in danger of losing its values because of the failure of the church to win the hearts and minds of the people.

 

The common notion is that the function of religion is to furnish us with these values.

 

First of all we must say that Christianity is not a religion but the end of all religion.

 

Secondly we must say that Christianity does not seek to inculcate mere values.

 

It calls us to “come and see”.

 

Come and see the Word made flesh, come and see the delight of nations, come and see the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, come and see the only true man.

 

It is this vision that changes us and changes the world.

 

Living good lives is a secondary consequence that we really do not have to think much about.

 

We must be careful here that we do not put the cart before the horse, it is the beatific vision that is important, that we see Him, the rest follows.

 

What also follows is the church.

 

The unseen reality is that the Church is an alternative people who march by a different drum.

 

We are a subversive people who know that the powers of the world that are arrayed all around us have been defeated and placed under subjection to Christ.

 

We have a loyalty that puts love of nation and family and profession in their place.

 

We do not believe in endless progress or in enhancing our lifestyle or that competition is the greatest goal, or that market forces determine our lives.

 

Neither do we look to the state, or medicine, or science or the financial system to save us, for we know that we have only one savior, who has the power to put us to death and raise us up.

 

 Far from being the epitome of respectability we see through the kind of religion that is merely ethical and that supports the powers that be.

 

We are aliens living in a strange land.

 

This is what we fall into, the yeast that leavens the whole lump, the pearl of great price hidden in a field, nothing less than the germ of the kingdom of God.

 

Sure, we may look harmless enough, indeed the church may look just like another leisure activity, but we are potentially more dangerous to how the world is than the most dangerous revolutionaries.

 

We are called to discomforted and discomforting discipleship and a restlessness that is constantly looking at the horizon.

 

For we know how the present is unfulfilled and we find it impossible to settle for how things are.

 

We live at a remove from our lives.

 

Not for us the grand passions of the sporting life, social prestige, the power of money and influence, for we know that these things of the world are ephemeral.

 

Not for us either is an attempt to escape from the world, this world that God loves so much that he gave his only begotten Son.

 

So we remain at odds, awkward, distrustful of the passing parade.

 

And we catch ourselves wondering if it would not have been better for us not to have seen Him who has come to haunt our lives.

 

Perhaps we would have been better off if He had left us in our deep sleep.

 

But alas, once we have seen Him there is no going back, we can no longer be as others are.

 

We are left to come here each Sunday morning hoping to catch a further glimpse of Him, hoping for our lives to be healed.

 

We are left to come here each Sunday to participate in that odd, alternative, subversive people.

 

To witness in baptism the putting to death and the rising to a life transformed.

 

To participate in a meal that is free and open to all in direct contradiction to economic forces.

 

To share our money in common in our offering in contradiction to the imperative of accumulation.

 

All because we have seen Him.

 

Let us pray that he comes by us, sees us and knows us and calls us to see Him.

 

Let us pray that we arise and go and walk in the way.

 

Amen.