A Sermon for Second Sunday after Epiphany
The Rev. Patricia Gillespie
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
This week again, we hear about Jesus' baptism.
Baptism, our Prayer Book informs us, is when we are adopted as God's children and become members of the church (Book of Common Prayer, p. 858). Baptism is about identity and inclusion. At our baptism we are named as God's beloved, unique child: We find out who we are. At our baptism we are included in the Body of Christ, the Church: We find out where we belong.
Sometimes one wonders, as we heard John the Baptist do last week, why Jesus needed to be baptized. It seems that at Jesus' baptism answers to those same questions were given: "Who am I?" and "Where do I belong?"
At baptism Jesus gets an identity announcement from heaven: that he is God's beloved Son with whom God is well pleased. And John clarifies that baptismal moment of identity, adding "Lamb of God" and the one who takes away the world's sin and baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
And with his baptism Jesus makes it clear where he belongs -- with us. When Jesus is baptized by John he includes himself in the human race. He is truly one of us. It balances the voice from heaven announcing his true godliness with his true humanity. Jesus' baptism is a coming out story. His godliness and his humanity are no longer hidden, but made public. His baptism is his confirmation of who he is and where he belongs. And it was done properly in community.
Others, following Jesus, have made their secret identity public in their communities. Stanley White of Valdosta, Georgia, a third-generation preacher in a Pentecostal church, discovered that he was, as we say, a closet Episcopalian.
Henry Louitt, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Georgia, helped him through the process of confirmation and the like. When he informed his congregation, they decided to come with him.
Several bishops assembled and the whole congregation received confirmation. They insisted that Stanley serve them while he was going through his process to become a priest. Stanley introduced the liturgical year and our form of worship. They celebrated Advent with a wreath and Advent hymns, and they had a big Christmas Eve service.
Stanley tells the story of one lady leaving Christmas Eve saying, "I found Advent so helpful and Christmas has been so grand, I can't wait until we get to Epifanny."
Well "Epifanny" is here. Its the time when we look for "epiphanies" -- for the ways God shows us who God is. God may do that for Pentecostals through the liturgy. God may do that by sending a dove and a heavenly voice to the River Jordan. God may do that for John the Baptist's followers when Jesus turns and asks them a question.
"What are you looking for?" Like most epiphanies, it was probably a shock. Imagine their surprise. First their teacher tells them there's something special about his cousin. So they join the folks following him, hoping to find out what all the fuss is about, hoping perhaps to be inconspicuous. And then out of nowhere, the teacher turns and confronts them with a question.
Dare they admit they are curiosity seekers, or hoping to see another bird land on this wandering teacher, or even that they have lots of questions themselves? They are saved by being good Jews, just as Jesus is. And they do what Jewish teachers and students do so well: They answer a question with another question.
Jesus asks: "What are you looking for?" And they reply: "Where are you staying?" Do you suppose they're looking for a motel room and figure this guy from the country must have found one?
Jesus, being a gifted teacher, instead of giving a lecture, says simply: "Come and see." He's going to show them. And I don't think he then took them to look at the local Econolodge.
The word translated for us as "staying" in "Where are you staying?" is a favorite in this Gospel. In fact, John has just used the same word in describing what the Holy Spirit did when it "remained"or "stayed" on Jesus.
In Greek they are forms of the verb "meno"meaning "remain," "stay," "abide," "dwell," "be present"; even "continue" or "endure." It's the word Jesus uses later in John's gospel, for saying mystical things like "The Father who dwells in me" (14:10) or "abide in me and I in you" (15:4) or "You shall abide in my love" (15:10).
This is something more than a place to get a good night's rest. John's disciples might have meant by their question, not "Where are you staying?" but "Where do you stand?" Just as we might ask the new teacher in town, a teacher known for somewhat radical teaching -- "Where do you stand on this?"
But in the context of John's Gospel, we hear something more. Perhaps echoing the Holy Spirit "remaining on" Jesus, we are meant to hear that Jesus remains with us. Perhaps, by asking "Where are you staying?" the disciples have inadvertently answered Jesus question: "What are you looking for?"
The disciples are looking for Presence to remain with them. To call him "Beloved Son," or "Lamb of God" or "Rabbi" or "The Messiah" is wonderful. But others have been called by those names before and they did not stay. They were temporary "epiphanies," perhaps a glimpse of God. Or they were not the Real Thing at all.
"What are you looking for?" Jesus has come to be one of us. He has shared our human identity and included himself in our community. This is indeed the Lord, who has chosen us and who remains faithful. We don't know what epiphany Andrew and his friend saw that day. But we are told that when they came saw where he was "staying" they "remained"(same word) with Jesus.
The same thing happens that John writes about later: "Abide in me and I in you." And there's no question in Andrew's heart anymore about what he's looking for. He goes straight to his brother Peter and tells him simply, "We have found the Messiah."
Andrew and his friend remain with Jesus. They've found what they were looking for. And they go out to invite others to "Come and see." But the question lingers for us here today.
So, today we're going to have another test on the sermon at announcement time. Not to worry. This isn't going to happen every Sunday. And there won't be any grades and there are no wrong answers here. So it won't matter if you didn't hear the sermon.
Perhaps you can guess the question for today. I borrowed it from my favorite rabbi. When you come to church, following Jesus, imagine that Jesus turns and asks you, "What are you looking for?"
There are lots of possible answers to what we look for when we come to church: We may be here looking for approval -- "Because my mom makes me." Or to impress the neighbors. We may come for the music or to relax and take a nap. Maybe we came looking for a free meal or a friend or God. Write down at least three answers that are true for you. Perhaps it will help us figure out a better way to tell others, "Come and see." Maybe it will appear in a later sermon or as part of our Via Media discussions. You don't have to put your name on it, so you could even write the truth. Then put it in the offering plate.
Maybe this is not be the moment for you to admit publicly that you are a closet sermon napper just because Stanley White admitted he was a closet Episcopalian who celebrated "Epifanny." But it is the time to recognize God's presence remaining with us. It is time to come out about our baptism, to stop being closet Christians and to be epiphanies ourselves, showing God's presence to the world.
"Come and see." Jesus says: Come and see where I am staying. Come and see where I remain. The epiphany is when you see that Jesus abides in you.