Sara Martin
(John 1: 29-42)

Pray with me. Speak to us, Living God, as you have spoken to our ancestors: through the voices of your prophets, the breath of your Spirit, the life of your Son, so that we may live according to your Word. Amen.

Last year, I was invited to preach on the Baptism of the Lord Sunday, and in my preparations, I was delighted to learn that Epiphany, one of my favorite days in the liturgical year, Epiphany is not just one day in the church year, but that it’s a season of the church, that it runs from Epiphany on January 6 up to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in some places. With Epiphany we celebrate the revelation of God in Jesus Christ to the larger world. At his birth, the incarnation was a “local” event in the Jewish community. With the arrival of the magi, the wise ones from the East, the good news of Jesus Christ, of the Incarnation of God in human flesh, is revealed to the world. The “good news of great joy” that was announced by the angels to the shepherds is revealed and made known to the larger world; it truly has become “good news of great joy for all the people.” So, during the season of Epiphany, we are invited to see how God is revealed in the life of Jesus Christ and in the world around us. The Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, and the Transfiguration, when Jesus and a few of the disciples climbed to a mountaintop and the glory of the Lord transformed Jesus’ appearance as brilliant as the sun and God declared again that “this is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”[1] These revelatory moments are embedded in the season of Epiphany, a time of wonder, insight, illumination, where the ordinary is revealed as extraordinary.

Last Sunday we heard what Matthew had to say about Jesus’ baptism. We heard the words of a narrator telling us what happened. This week’s scripture comes from the Gospel according to John, which often diverges from the other three Gospels. John the Evangelist, or Gospel-writer, tells the story in a different way, from the perspective of John, who we know as John the Baptist. But in the Gospel according to John, he isn’t called John the Baptist. If we look closely at the text, it never tells us that John baptized Jesus. In this Gospel, John’s primary role isn’t that of Baptist but that of first witness.[2] What John, for clarity, we’ll call him the Baptist, what John the Baptist declares is that he saw the Spirit descend as a dove and remained on Jesus, which was the sign that God had told him to watch for. He testifies, bears witness, proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one who was coming that was greater than he, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirt, the Son of God! God revealed this to John, and John reveals it to us.

The next day, the Gospel tells us, John again saw Jesus and pointed him out to the two disciples who were with him – “Look! Here is the Lamb of God!” The one I’ve been talking about and preparing for!

Let’s step into the scene for a minute, and you and I are the two disciples that John the Baptist was talking to. We’ve heard John say that he was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”[3] John told us that he baptizes with water, but that someone greater than he was coming. Just yesterday, John declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” We looked to where he was pointing, but only saw a man among others; we weren’t really sure which person John was indicating. Then John told us that he saw the Spirit descend as a dove upon the man and remained on him, which is just what God had told him would happen. And then! Then John said that this was the Son of God! We were astounded! We hadn’t seen anyone who could fit the description, “Lamb of God” or “Son of God.” So today, we approached John to find out more – who was he talking about? What does it mean? But before we could ask our questions, John exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Today we could determine who John was talking about, but he was so ordinary. We decided to follow after him to see what we could learn about him, where he was staying, who his people were, what made him greater than John. So, we followed. We thought we were being inconspicuous, just two people out walking. But before we could react, Jesus turned and saw us! He asked us “what are you looking for?” Umm, what could we say? “Uh where, Rabbi, where are you staying?” At this, you gave me a look that said “what kind of question was that?” And, in the way of unspoken conversation, I replied with a look that suggested that you could have spoken up instead. This man, who we later learned was called Jesus, just said, “Come and see.” Well, we couldn’t really turn back now – we’d already been caught spying on him, and I did ask a “where” question. So, we accompanied Jesus to where he was staying. He invited us to stay and chat. And we did.

Now, this is just my take on what might have happened. You may read this passage and hear the disciples and Jesus in a completely different way, if you’re open to the possibilities. But as I was reading and contemplating this passage, the disciples’ question, “where are you staying,” seemed out of place. Is that really what they wanted to know? So, I wondered if it might have been a reaction to being “caught” following Jesus. That maybe they were caught unprepared, not quite ready to talk to Jesus – which is likely just my personality shining through – but maybe they were just wanting to learn more about this ordinary extraordinary man.

 In response to the disciples’ unusual question, “where are you staying,” Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer; he doesn’t teach them anything even though they acknowledged him as Rabbi, teacher. Instead, Jesus offered an invitation, “Come and see,” an invitation to come and discover for themselves, an invitation into curiosity. And the disciples accepted the invitation, after which Andrew found his brother Simon and declared, “we have found the Messiah!” John’s testimony sparked their curiosity, but it was after spending time with Jesus that Andrew proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the one promised to the people of Israel, the one to come and save them. The disciples were curious. They were open to the possibilities, open to seeking new answers, open to following new paths. Curiosity allowed the disciples to grow in faith, to declare that Jesus is the Messiah.

When my children were small, we experienced what we called “chatter torture,” the constant monologue and dialogue about anything and everything. My younger son told me more than I ever wanted to know about Power Rangers and Pokemon. My older son, Micah, he was a questioner. He was always asking how or why or what if. What if I don’t wear a seatbelt? Well, you could get hurt if we were in an accident. What if I get hurt? And on and on until the only answer left was “you die,” which I was trying really hard not to say to my inquisitive four-year-old. Micah recently told me that my dad would sometimes turn off his hearing aids to avoid the chatter torture. I’m not sure if that’s true or if that’s just what Grandpa wanted to do, as we so often wished we could. Chatter torture.

Stop!

Let’s reframe this: my children, and maybe yours too, were so excited and so engaged in their lives that they wanted, willingly and openly, to share it with us, to invite us into their world, a world of wonder, sometimes concern and worry, a world where so much was still unknown. They were curious and alive to possibility. Herein lies the gift of curiosity, unbridled, unrestrained curiosity. I think this is one of the many reasons that Jesus said, “Let the children come to me,” which is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.[4] Children, in general, tend to be far more open to possibilities and wonder – so much is still new. As we grow, we tend to forget how much we still don’t know in the face of all that we do know. Curiosity inherently involves acknowledging and accepting our “unknowing.”

And yet, as a parent, this “gift” can also be confounding, frustrating, and uncomfortable, as with my son’s what if questions. Bruce Reyes-Chow, pastor and theologian, says this about curiosity, “this yearning to see what may be just ahead or to understand why something is the way it is can be disruptive to the surrounding community.” He goes on to say, “with every person who chooses to follow Jesus, from the first moments to today, there are larger communities that look upon this curiosity as a disruptive annoyance.”[5] When we baptize people, infants, children, and adults, we, the church, agree to make room for them in our midst, to scooch over so there’s room in the pew and at the Table. In welcoming them into God’s family, we welcome all that makes them unique, all that God loves about God’s beloved child, which includes their questions and ideas. As the church, are we open to their curiosity? Do we consider their questions of “why do we do what we do in the ways that we do it?” or their suggestions of “maybe we could…” Because maybe, this is the Holy Spirit moving and working among us, encouraging us to be as we claim to be, “reformed and always being reformed by the Word of God” through the Holy Spirit. And maybe, this is an invitation to us to be curious, to experience an epiphany, to wonder and search for God’s work in the world and the new things that God is doing in our midst. Maybe this is an invitation to be curious, to grow in faith as the disciples did, and to hear the good news anew. Come and see, my friends. Come and see!

In the name of the One ever for us, the One ever with us, and the One ever through us. Amen.

 

 * Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 

[1] Matthew 17:5.

[2] Gail R. O’Day in “The Gospel of John” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 528-529; and Gerard S. Sloyan in John, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988), 22.

[3] John 1:23.

[4] Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16.

[5] Bruce Reyes-Chow in “Epiphany Series: Gifts that Keep on Giving” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Volume 2 – Thematic Plans for Years A, B, & C, compiled by Jessica Miller Kelley (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), Kindle.