If you are a regular listener of Sermon Brainwave, you have come to expect that my co-hosts and I are frequently “adders.” That is, we rightly question the parameters of the designated pericopes by the Revised Common Lectionary because inevitably, what comes before and after is critical to the interpretation of the assigned reading. Yes, Dear Working Preachers, I anticipate your response every time we suggest including additional verses — “really? I already have enough in front of me and you want me to consider more?” Yeah. We do. But, not for the sake of more is better, as you already know, but for the sake of the context in which the text stands and that which preachers should respect. Why this preamble for John’s version of the calling of the disciples?
Because, for John, you cannot preach on Jesus finding you before you recognize that the founding of disciples first starts with you. Andrew finds Simon before Jesus finds Philip. Why? Because he heard the confession of John, the Witness — “behold the Lamb of God!” Andrew hears and sees. And then Andrew follows and abides and finds. Only after Andrew’s action does Jesus find Philip and then Philip finds Nathanael. The sequence matters and therefore, should matter for how we imagine what it means to follow Jesus. You see, reciprocity in relationship is key.
I find it more than interesting that before Jesus says, “follow me” it is one of those two disciples who followed Jesus first, who finds “another sheep not of this fold” first (10:16). Because this is what following Jesus will look like — it will mean taking John 3:16 seriously. It will mean taking the witness of the woman at the well seriously. It will mean finding those who have been cast out of communities for their courage to confess their faith in Jesus (John 9:34). It will mean believing that the Spirit is indeed your very breath as Jesus sends you out into the world (John 20:21-22). It will mean being thrown out yourself (16:2), rejected for insisting that God’s love for the world and everyone in it — everyone — is actually true.
And, it means that your witness — your experience of abiding with Jesus (1:39), about what that relationship is like, about what it has done for you and how it has changed you — might be believed by someone else.
But I wonder how often we think that what we have to say is actually heard? Andrew hears the words of John and acts. Do those who hear us week after week do anything with what they’ve heard? Do we preach as if we believe they will? Do we tell them that their witness really can matter? Are we empowering them to find the lost, to look for those others overlook? Are we asking them whom they are willing to find? Where they are willing to go? Are they ready, are we ready, to go to far out and forgotten places like Sychar? Or are the perimeters of our proclamation merely minutes from the doors of our churches because we disbelieve in or distrust our own ability to say “behold” as boldly and bravely as we need to? Do people hear in our preaching a hesitancy that then turns into their own reluctance to act on what their call might mean for others?
This text is more than fitting for the season of Epiphany. Last week, I asked you to consider who are those persons in your life who have been epiphanies for you and when in your life you have been an epiphany for someone else. This week, John asks us to participate in God’s epiphanies in a different way; to trust that pointing out Jesus in our midst, saying “behold” — the very definition of Epiphany — will indeed make John 3:16 come true.
But I suspect we do not always believe that God could leave it up to us to fulfill God’s own promises. We tend to leave the finding to God, justifying our inaction with denominational obligations that worry about earning God’s grace. We only go so far in finding the spurned and scorned, because we might ourselves have to change. And we question whether or not our witness can be heard, or if we believe it ourselves.
Hearing, seeing, following, abiding, and finding is an epiphany way of life. We listen deeply to those who share their experiences of Jesus and we speak about our own. We watch for the presence of Jesus in our midst, looking in places we may have pre-determined as unworthy of the divine. We follow Jesus, that is first simply abiding in a relationship that reveals to us what real relationship should be. And we find those who have been precluded from a relationship with God by those things and those persons who in the end have decided that Jesus didn’t really mean, “for God so loved the world.”
Hearing, seeing, following, abiding, and finding. Let’s live out and preach about this Epiphany life together.