Homily: Listen, God is Calling

Testimony. Witness. Evangelism. Many of us in mainline churches admit to a measure of discomfort with such words. And yet we’ve experienced tje revelation of God’s love and God’s deeds, and this naturally leads us to want to share it with others. Isn’t that sharing what evangelism, witness, and testimony are all about?

Our reading from the Gospel of John describes revelation and testimony in a way that’s very different from last week’s text from Matthew about the Baptism of Jesus. Last week, the sky opened, the Spirit descended, and the voice of God testified about who this Jesus is. This week, we move from divine words to human testimony, the “fragile and vulnerable testimony” of John the Baptist, who admits that he didn’t even know who Jesus was at first; he certainly knew him, but he never looked at him quite that way before.

That’s the way with testimony. It’s always a risky venture. It can offer no ‘proofs’ beyond what the witness has seen and heard. Now the testimony will be lives lived in faithfulness to Jesus, not just two thousand years ago but just as much today. When people look for those who “walk the walk and the talk” and not just “talk the talk,” they’re looking for authentic witness and testimony, rooted in truth and lived out each day. What good is a truth that doesn’t change our lives? And if our lives are changed, how can we not talk about it?

If you read a Gospel straight through, from beginning to end, you get a much better sense of the cluelessness of the disciples, which can be amusing at times. Today’s conversation with Jesus is an example: when Jesus asks the two seekers what they’re looking for, they ask him where he lives. “Asked a momentous, life-challenging question by the one proclaimed as the Son of God, the followers reply by asking for Jesus’ address,”Where do you live?” They say.

The disciples may not have missed the mark after all, whether they realized it or not. Rather than losing themselves in endless disputes of fine theological points or complex and abstract questions, they are seeking a person, Jesus himself, “to be with him, to know him, and to follow him….Their simple question challenges the church today to examine what we are seeking–Jesus or something else. When we sit quietly and think about our deepest longing, or right in the midst of a long sermon or a long church meeting, we might ask ourselves what, and whom, we’re really seeking, what we’re really hoping for. As much as Christianity is about a person, Jesus Christ, we have mostly turned it into those complex, abstract theological questions and overloaded it with burdensome moral restrictions.

The answer Jesus gives is no long-winded sermon full of obscure theological truths, but just three simple (and familiar) words that could provide a theme for our best evangelism efforts: “Come and see.” It’s both an invitation and a promise of what they can experience if they will, as Jesus promises in the other Gospels, “Follow me.”

But, the order of these three little words is important. First, ‘Come’; and then, ‘See’. Rather than first understanding who Jesus is (we might call this “having it all together”), and then setting out to follow him, Jesus’ tender invitation brings seekers close to him, in relationship, to ‘where he lives,’ and knows that being in that relationship will transform their lives, will bring them to ‘see’.

Along the way, we slowly come to understand better who Jesus is and what it means to be faithful to him. And the more we understand and see and live in faith, the more we’ll want to witness in our turn, In the power of the Spirit, which Jesus has breathed upon us, we offer our fragile and vulnerable testimony to Jesus, backed up by the faithfulness and integrity of our life together. At a time when the church is tempted to become just another appealing commodity for middle-class consumers, Jesus’ call in John’s Gospel, “Come land see”, poses a significant challenge to our communities of faith. Do our words and deeds bear witness to Jesus? And when we invite people to ‘come,’ will they be able to ‘see’ Jesus in our congregations?”

Revelation isn’t simple

Revelation, then, is no simple matter. It happens in many different ways, in many different settings. and so, thinking of our life together in the church is one way that God is continuing to reveal God’s love for the world. But revelation is not something we cause or control, It is a sheer gift of grace.

It seems that people are often looking for the sky to open and listening for the voice of God to provide dramatic and clear instruction, but maybe we’re missing the myriad ways that God is still speaking around us. This passage, when the crowds listened to John’s fragile and vulnerable, yet powerful, testimony, illustrates the call of the followers of Jesus to listen carefully, live faithfully, and tell the story of what God has done in the midst of their own transformed lives.

Counting loss as gain

Most of us would have to admit that one of the challenges of discipleship is not to lose sight of the true center and focus of our ministry: Jesus. Especially in the life of the church, it’s easy for ‘it’ to become ‘all about us’ or all about the building, or all about the program, etc.  When John says more than once that he did not himself know Jesus, does it remind you of times that you and I have missed Jesus, missed God, missed the point?

Jesus says to his new disciples, “Come and see”. Sometimes, it’s hard to describe just how wonderful your church is, and you want a person to “come and see” what words can’t describe. Many today, however, especially in mainline churches, are uncomfortable with following the example of Andrew, who went out and found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. Are you comfortable with inviting those who ask questions about your church to come and visit? If they do visit, what will they “come and see”: what will they experience when they get there, and will it change their lives?

John’s two disciples were clearly seekers. How do we respond to the persistence and enthusiasm—or pain–of those who are seeking a new church home? Who might be out there, waiting for an invitation?

On the other hand, we could put ourselves in Simon’s place. How would you feel if you were Simon and your brother came to “drag” you to hear this sensational new preacher? What about this preacher would have intrigued you? How would you then feel if this preacher/prophet healer gave you a new name? What do you think God would be saying to you in that moment? Do you feel that you have been given a new name as a Christian and a disciple? Does it affect your everyday life, or the “big picture” of your life? And if not, why not?    (Kathryn Matthews Huey)

 

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