Have you ever had a moment, when, out of nowhere, you suddenly feel absolutely seen? Things are just going on as usual, you’re doing your ordinary thing, bumping around your ordinary life, and then suddenly someone looks into your eyes, except really into your soul,
someone says something that touches exactly on what you mean but couldn’t find words for,
or gives you just precisely the encouragement you needed, just exactly what you needed to hear, or gets you a gift that you didn’t even know you wanted but turns out to be astonishingly perfect for you?
Have you ever had someone sit with you in silence that was so profoundly right that for a moment you felt completely safe and utterly known?
Have you ever seen someone? Really seen them?
Suddenly the joking falls away, or the moment shifts and for a split second you are so aware of them, and they are so utterly beautiful in their themness, like no one else, unselfconsciously shining in their sheer self, with no clue of their magnificence, that your breath catches in your chest and your eyes unexpectedly well up? Have you had a moment when, for whatever reason, you know just exactly what someone else needed – a word, a touch, a favor- and then you even had the courage to give it?
Have you ever had that experience of intensely calm connection, awake and at peace all at once, like the universe peeled back the curtain for a moment – in a stranger’s blatant kindness, a bird’s gentle flight, resting on the wind, the sound of nearby children laughing in delight, an event of absolutely righteous justice – and you glimpse the harmony that was intended all along and pulses underneath the surface of all things?
Hold that feeling, for just a moment, inside you
Thank you, God.
I love this quirky story we have before us today.
Let’s just say that Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story of Jesus in a certain way: they tell about his birth, and then his baptism and then the calling of the disciples, very straightforward and sequential. They look back – at the prophets foretelling his coming, or his genealogy laid out for generations, and somehow, in their telling of it, it just makes sense. That’s kind of their point, isn’t it? Here’s how it all went down… they say. And the way they portray it, it’s not terribly hard to accept incarnated Creator walking around upon the earth alongside everyone.
But John tells it a little differently. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and the light shines in the darkness… and he came to what was his own but they did not know him… the whole cosmos which he had a hand in creating didn’t recognize Jesus at all. And even when it did, it didn’t, not really.
Contrary to Matthew’s tale of baptism that we heard last week, where God publicly declares, “This is my beloved!,” or Mark and Luke’s depictions where God speaks to Jesus personally, the baptism story in John is not actually the baptism of Jesus, it’s John the Baptist telling about what he experienced during the baptism of Jesus. Because that is what John does in the gospel of John (different John), he doesn’t actually baptize, he tells about it, that is, he is not “John the Baptist”, he’s “John the Witness,” the seer, the teller, the one who makes known, and who points always, in all things, to Jesus.
So John tells about how he didn’t know Jesus, and then suddenly he did.
But being his cousin and all, John surely knew who Jesus was, right? I mean they’d grown up together, right? Shared holiday meals, gone off to summer camp together, passed on their hand me downs?
But I myself did not know him!, he says. Twice.
I didn’t see! he cries. I talked about him and anticipated him and prepared the way for him but it wasn’t until I took his hand and lowered him into the waters, and the Spirit of God came upon him; it wasn’t until God literally pointed him out to me that I SAW who he really was!
I didn’t know, John says, I didn’t know!!
And now I do! Here is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! Here is the gift of God, the feast, the promise, the One that brings everything back into alignment – like we never even knew it could be.
He was among his own, and yet his own did not recognize him.
And we plunge deeper into Epiphany, or rather, epiphany plunges deeper into us.
So a couple of people are walking by, and they overhear John talking about Jesus as he is walking by, so they shadow Jesus. And this scene cracks me up. Because following someone without being invited to tag along is always, without exception, awkward.
I can see the scene. Turning corners when Jesus did, slowing down to keep the pace. Like groupies spotting a possible rock star, they trail along behind, whispering and surreptitiously pointing and trying to keep up, maybe hoping to catch him in the act of some vague greatness, intrigued enough by what John said to follow him, but with no real plan for what would happen if they happened to catch him.
Finally, I can imagine Jesus stopping, sighing and turning around. He sees them. They see him. They see him seeing them.
You. he says, “What are you looking for?”
That’s a question, right there, isn’t it?
What are you looking for? Really?
In all the world, what do you most wish to find?
When you are looking, which isn’t all the time, for most of us, it’s not even much of the time, but when it does happen that you are really looking, what is it you are hoping, truly longing, to see?
Well his question catches them short.
Perhaps they weren’t really sure what they were looking for.
They weren’t even really sure what they were looking at.
So, maybe just because they don’t know what else to say but they want the conversation to continue somehow, or maybe because the question grabs hold of them, and they desperately want to be asked to dinner (it was, after all, 4:00, the text points out), or to find some other way to extend this budding conversation, they ask him, “Teacher, where are you staying?”
And he answers, “Come and see.”
Come find out, he responds.
Not, “I’m just down the street at the Erickson’s house, or, you know that hotel on 34th and Elm?” He doesn’t answer their question, just like they didn’t answer his. Instead he says come and experience it for yourself. Come and see.
Like John did unexpectedly when he baptized his cousin, and like what is about to happen in the coming chapters to Philip, and Nathanial and the Samaritan woman at the well, and a whole bunch of other unsuspecting and own-business-minding people that come along as this story unfolds, who haven’t even really been looking but who end up seeing anyway.
Come and see. Experience for yourself. Peel back the curtain and have a gander. Let yourself be drawn in.
So they do. They spend the day with him; it says, they abide, they remain, they loiter with no agenda in particular. (Basically, sabbathing). Hanging out listening, talking, sharing food, and space alongside each other. Hearing and seeing, being heard and seen, (hospitality). Without knowing they were looking, and in absolutely ordinary, everyday human interaction, they find Jesus and they are found.
They go from anonymously following Jesus over there to personally witnessing Jesus right here, and the next day they tell a couple of others, we have seen; you should come and see too!
The light is in the world and the world does not know him, yet. He comes to his own and they don’t recognize him, yet. Until they hang out with him a little bit, and then they’re seen. Then they see. And then, the whole world changes view. The light that is in it illuminates it all. Illuminates them. Illumines you and me. It infiltrates us and grabs hold of our being in thrilling recognition, because if you suddenly, for whatever reason and in whatever small way, see that God is in the world, if you are seen by God in the world, can the world ever look the same?
Come and see! Come and loiter with the light of the world!
The Church is the community who sees. Sees the light in the world, in each other, in the dark places where it looks like light would not be. Sees, from time to time, the you and the me and the them in all our unconscious brilliance. Sees the hope, sees the promise, sees the way it is meant to be, even when (especially when?) it isn’t that way yet. Ses God right in the midst of it all, right here. We are the ones who see Jesus.
And not all of us see all the time; in fact, most of us don’t see much of the time. But we keep inviting each other, Come and see. We keep taking turns getting glimpses, which is why we need each other. By being in this together we go from anonymously following Jesus out there to personally witnessing Jesus right here.
So Come see! Hang out a while till you notice. Experience for yourself. What is it you are looking for, really looking for? we ask each other. I’ll help you look.
What is it I am looking for, really looking for? we ask ourselves.
Will you help me recognize?
And then we’ll tell each other about it. We’ll tell the world what we see.
In just a few minutes, we get to welcome new members. Once again, we will officially join our own journeys together with some more witnesses, more people whose souls scan the landscape, the nooks and crannies, for the light of the world. More people who have, from time to time, those fleeting awake moments, who recognize Jesus in places we might miss, who have their own abiding experiences quite different from each of ours, their own personal encounters with the Messiah who moves among us, leaking light and hearing the harmony in the fabric of all things.
And they bring their own vision, their own unique ways of noticing and witnessing to who God is and what God is doing. Their lives reflect the presence of God in ways yours might not and mine never could.
By coming together, our vision broadens, and the world’s startling beauty becomes clearer; we get new vistas, different lives and stories to see into, and we get new watchers in our own lives.
And so, side by side, we will practice looking, and taking it all in, and letting it take us in as well. And we will practice telling about it too, because that’s all we can really do, after all, is tell about what we experience. Tell about what we see when we can see it.
Because regardless of what we think we know, none of us really knows, until, unexpectedly, into our own ordinary and quirky stories the light of the world shines bright, and all of a sudden we see it for ourselves.