The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:35-51 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.
Happy new year to all of you!
I hope you had a restful time during the holidays, perhaps with family, perhaps busy doing a bunch of fun things, or perhaps, especially, with the cold weather we’ve been having, just staying at home where it’s warm, where you can bundle up on the sofa in your pajamas with a hot cup of coffee or tea and read a book. Or call up friends. Or watch a few football (or soccer) games.
How many of you binge-watch TV? Come on now, let’s be honest. I’ll admit it. I do.
It started back when my son was in high school and college. This was before the time we had Netflix or Hulu or access through our Smart TV’s to endless seasons of the vast variety of shows we now can watch. It was the time when you waited each year for full set of DVD’s to come out of the last season of your favorite show--whatever that was! The first time we sat and binge-watched like that was with several seasons of “West Wing.” Do you remember that show? My son and I loved it! For nearly 6 days we watched episode after episode after episode. We’d take little breaks to get up, go outside and walk--to get a little exercise. And to eat. Then, we go back at it. We watched hours and hours of television in the days between Christmas and New Year’s. It probably doesn’t seem like fun, but it was. It was a time for us to be together, doing something we could enjoy together.
Now I still like to binge-watch, although not quite at that extreme level. Over the past couple of weeks, in the evenings, I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called, “The Ranch.” Have any of you seen it? The show takes place on the fictional Iron River Ranch in the fictitious small town of Garrison, Colorado. It details the life of the Bennetts, a family consisting of a rancher father, played by Sam Elliott; his divorced wife, played by Debra Winter, and their two sons, played by Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson.
I find it interesting because it reminds me so much of my own family and my upbringing on a ranch. It is the story of complex family relationships--the tug of war for attention that can take place in families, the unwillingness to bend or compromise, and, particularly, the inability to express feeling and emotion--how it’s so much easier to express judgment and criticism than love and pride. It’s the story of one family and their deeply-intertwined relationships, as they attempt to negotiate who they are in the midst of what seems to be constant turmoil and change.
It’s into a similar time that the Gospel of John was written. Historians believe that John was written much later than the synoptic Gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That it was written at the very end of the 1st century, soon after the destruction, for the second time, of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.
If you remember from our lessons last fall, the temple was the center of worship for all Israel from the days of King Solomon. It was first destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jewish people exiled. After they returned from that exile, the temple was built again. We call this the Second Temple period. Once again, the new temple in Jerusalem became the center of worship for all of the Jews. So you can imagine how devastating it would be to see, for a second time--to see this central spiritual place, this place where the Jews believed God was truly present, destroyed by Rome in the year 70.
By the time of Gospel of John, the Jewish community was in the process of reevaluating what Judaism looked like without the Temple. One response was to reject those who weren’t “Jewish” enough, such as the Jewish Christians. Those who we identify as the early disciples. Many of them found themselves cut off. From their synagogues. Even from their families. They were forced to form new communities and to begin to define themselves apart from Judaism as a minority within a hostile empire. To figure out new relationships. And to negotiate who they were in the midst of what seemed to be constant turmoil and change.
Relationships. In John, it is all about relationships. In John, faith is about relationship. About building new relationships. About strengthening old relationships. About winding a path through the complexity of relationships. In John, when you believe in God. When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God--the Word made flesh. Then, you enter into relationship with God.
This is what is happening in our lesson today. John the baptizer (except in the Gospel of John he’s not called “the baptizer;” instead, he’s called a “witness”)...In our lesson today, John knows that it is time for him to release his followers to Jesus. John knows that he is not the Promised One. John knows that he is called to witness to this Human One. And so, as Jesus walks by John and his followers, he testifies to them. “Look! Here is the “Lamb of God.”
For John’s disciples, these Jewish Christians, the phrase “Lamb of God” has great significance. What it instantly brings to mind for them is the Passover. The significant festival that celebrates God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. For them, the Passover signifies protection, lineage, deliverance. And, mostly, it represents God’s promise of relationship.
John’s disciples hear this in John’s words. It makes them curious. As a result, their attention is redirected away from John to Jesus. They begin to follow Jesus to learn more. Jesus sees them following, he turns and says, “What are you looking for?” This can also be translated as “What are you seeking?”
This is one thing about the Gospel of John. Words often have dual meanings. “What are you looking for?” can also be translated “What are you seeking?”
“What are you seeking?” Jesus asks them.
Their response? Not really an answer, but a question. “Where are you staying?” Which can be translated, “Where are you abiding?”
You see, the defining thing in John is not the where but the who. With whom are you abiding. Because abiding has duration. It isn’t short term. It’s not unneeded or unnecessary. Abiding is what meaningful relationship looks like. It is there where the disciples will find what they are looking for. Where they will discover the person, rather than the location. Where, as the relationship unfolds, all of their needs will be provided. Their fundamental bodily needs. But, mostly, their fundamental need for relationship.
Jesus invites them in. “Come and see.” Do you notice that there is no judgment? No demand for repentance? Jesus simply invites them into this relationship. Jesus finds people and invites them in. And, soon, the disciples will do the same. Following Jesus’ own actions. Inviting others to “come and see.”
Like the disciples, we, have a fundamental need for relationship. Jesus invites us in, too.
Come and see. Come into this relationship and see the divine become human. Come and see God being revealed. Gradually. Not in one chapter or in a few months. But over a lifetime. Over an abundant life time.
What are you looking for? What are you seeking? Come and see. Amen.
Preached Sunday, January 7, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Readings: Psalm 66:1-5, John 1:35-51