35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” (Read the whole passage)
John the Baptist just won’t go away. He showed up for a couple weeks in Advent, took a break over Christmas and then showed back up today. John is again pointing to Jesus, and proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.
Now this story about John pointing out Jesus to his disciples might sound a little unusual today, because it is the day of the Baptism of Our Lord. We are hearing it because in Interlake Shared Ministry congregations we are beginning the use of the Narrative Lectionary for 3 months as way of doing something together that is a little different and that will remind us when we gather for worship that we gather not to ourselves, but together as a unified ministry across the Interlake.
Now the focus of the Narrative Lectionary for this three month period is the gospel of John… and John’s gospel has a quirk when it comes to the baptism of Jesus – John omit’s it.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all treat it a little differently, but they all tell the story. However, John tells all the little stories around the story. He talks about John the Baptist preaching at the river, he tells of the crowds coming to hear. He talks about the interactions between John and his disciples, who would eventually become Jesus’ disciples.
But there is no actual baptism… the writer of John’s gospel was writing for the early church community who was in a debate with the followers of John the Baptist about who truly was the Messiah, John or Jesus. The fact that John baptized Jesus was a little inconvenient to that conversation.
Never the less, the first readers of John’s gospel would know the story of Jesus’ baptism, and hearing these side stories, they would immediately bring that well known story of the spirit descending on Jesus and a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my son the beloved, with him I am well pleased.”
And yet, these side stories of the gospel in many ways still tell the story of baptism. They tell a story of call and transformation.
The story picks from where we left if off in Advent. John was talking with the pharisees and temple authorities about who he was, Messiah, Elijah or the prophet.
The next day John is back at the river again and Jesus walks by John and John’s disciples, John reminds all who can hear, that this is the Lamb of God, the Messiah. And so John’s two disciples decide to follow Jesus, presumably they are looking to see what this Jesus guys is all about. It isn’t long beforeJesus notices their interest. He stops, turns and asks them “What are you looking for?”. It is an open ended question.
Maybe these two disciples simply want to know what all the fuss is about or to see a show in case Jesus decides to perform a miracle. Or maybe this question has deeper meaning. “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we should consider the asker. Jesus, the one who John has proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Lamb of God is asking. Jesus, the one who we believe to be God, the second person of the Trinity is asking. And where one person is, so the other two are also. The God and King of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is asking, “What are you looking for?” So, what would is there to answer? Happiness and Wealth? Love and family? A Long life? Peace in a violent and sinful world? Food for starving children? Cures for cancer, AIDS, Leprosy, yellow fever and heart disease? An upgrade on your room in heaven?
The disciples don’t have any better answers than we might have… but they know they should say smoothing, something to respond, to spark the conversation. So they respond with a safe question of their own, “Where are you staying?”
We know what these two must feel like… We have just been through the season of Christmas, when most churches have at least a few visitors or strangers pass through their doors. And when those unfamiliar faces come to us, we are pretty good at asking the safe question. “So where are you from?”
It is easy, the answer is non-threatening, there is low-risk to offending someone. But it rarely has to do with coming to church.
What if we were more like Jesus the next time we see a visitor? “What are you looking for?”
Now that is a scary question to ask. That is a question with a dangerous answer. We don’t know what kind of thing a visitor might say, I am here with my relatives, I am just visiting, I am looking for a church. But they might say scary things like, I need help, I am looking for a community to belong to, I am looking for Jesus.
Even those of us who come to church every week, and sometimes even pastors, find talking to people about what they want, about what they are looking for at church a bit scary. We can be just as confused as those disciples on the riverside.
All Advent we waited for Messiah. At Christmas we rejoiced at Messiah’s coming. In Epiphany the Messiah, the Christ, God in flesh was revealed to us. But now that Messiah is here, we don’t really know what to do with him. Like the disciples, we find it hard to grasp the magnitude of the Messiah, of Christ being with us, here and now. It is one thing to wait and for guest of honour to arrive, but is another to know what to do once the dinner party is over and the guest is still hanging around.
Even more so, it hard for us to know what to do with God in our lives. Hard to know what this faith business means on Monday morning to Saturday night. What does that mean for us? What do we say? Where do we go? How do we respond?
If John the Baptist had heard the disciples answer to Jesus’ question he might have shamed them not getting it. But that is not Jesus’ way. Instead of correcting or condemning, Jesus gives a simple answer. “Come and See”.
Come and See.
Jesus gives an invitation that is more than invitation. Jesus grabs us and brings us close. Jesus pulls us into the story of Messiah, Jesus opens our eyes to the new thing that God is doing in our world, in our lives.
Jesus knows what we the disciples looking for. Jesus knows that they are not really wondering where he is staying, but are wondering about the Messiah.
And so Jesus calls them, Come and see.
And then Jesus gives them a new name, sure only Simon Peter’s is mentioned, but he is representative of the group. When he speaks, they all speak. And when he is renamed, they are all renamed.
Jesus sees them, calls them, names them and brings them to his home.
Sounds a lot like something we do for new people as they join us.
Sounds a lot like baptism.
In the waters of baptism our graciously heavenly Fathers claims us as his daughters and sons, gives us new name and welcomes us home.
Sure, we might be confused about what do to or say with people when they come to us. But the Church, the Body of Christ, God working through us, using us God’s hands and feet….
Well the church has always been good at asking new people that question that Jesus asks the disciples today, “What are you looking for?”
We ask it of those coming to the waters of baptism, and then we watch as God washes us clean – clean so that we can be seen.
And God calls us – calls us to new life out of the water.
And God names us – names us with the name Christian, one who has been washed.
And God welcomes us home – grants us a place in the Body of Christ.
Come and See.
Jesus’ words are baptismal words. John’s story is a baptismal story.
It is just this time, we don’t hear the story of Jesus’ baptism, we hear the story of our own. We hear the story of how Jesus calls the disciples, calls us, and that call changes us a the core of our being, transforming us into new people.
“What are you looking for?” Jesus already knows our answers, even if we don’t.
And Jesus has already been looking for us.
So, Come and See.