Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2020
19th Jan 2020
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany
“They said to him “Rabbi” (which translated means teacher), “Where are you staying?” He said to them “Come and see”. John 1.39
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus beckons us find God in The Church both in its worship and in its company. The life of the Church is the embrace of a spiritual journey and a shared destiny. This is the Christian adventure upon which we are all embarked, and which remains for the making of our lives. The tone of this morning’s Gospel is breathless and exciting and involves two encounters between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. The pace of the narrative continually quickens itself, and makes the action appear something like a dance, in which the persons involved appear and disappear and then reappear, and in which they meet and then leave one another. But the mood of the piece is excited and joyous. The encounter with John the Baptist and Jesus is significant because it provides a marker for the end of one whole era and the beginning of another. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. It is as though he is saying. ‘Prophecy has now completed its task'. 'The true and vital end of our prophecy is now with us. The Messiah, this Jesus, is the completion of our prophetic utterance’. Now things can move forward in a new way.
The Christian Faith, unlike the old faith, is now one lived in mutual and shared witness. The faith of Christ is now lived in the here and the now of our shared existence. It is to be conveyed to others and to the world by the company we have always called ‘the faithful’. It is a sharing and a communication of that same Good News which gladdened the heart of John and his followers and which now gladdens us. They follow Jesus from a little distance and then ask him where he is staying? He answers them by not answering them. He doesn’t in fact tell them where he will stay, but instead invites them to “come and see”. This word ‘stay’ is used in its most profound context, as meaning not only staying for a while in a house, but ’staying’ as pertaining to the whole of one’s existence. The place where I remain, the place where my roots lie, the place of stillness and strength. It is in this vein that the poet TS Eliot’s prayer goes like this – “Teach us to love one another and to sit still”. Again, the word ‘sit’ like the word ‘say’ has a much deeper meaning. In the same way my father, a Cornishman, would often remark that if a picture or something was not hung quite right it was ‘out of truth’.
O strength and stay upholding all creation,
who ever dost thyself unmoved abide,
yet day by day the light in due gradation
from hour to hour through all its changes guide;
Grant to life's day a calm unclouded ending,
an eve untouched by shadows of decay,
the brightness of a holy death-bed blending
with dawning glories of the eternal day.
Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
through Jesus Christ thy co-eternal Word,
who with the Holy Ghost by all things living
now and to endless ages art adored.
“Where are you staying, my Lord?” What is your life like?” For John, the writer of this Gospel, the response “Come and See” is the same one which the Church of the first century offered to those who would come to Christian Faith. It is not the one which finds itself lost in explanation and fine religious detail. It is not one which is lost in exclamation and misplaced ecstasy. No, it is the one offering the invitation to find Christ in the Church, the Body of Christ, and to embark upon the Christian faith in a spirit of adventure and anticipation. “Come and see” - find yourself in one another; find what in your heart of hearts you are looking for; find something in the deeper channels of your knowing mind. I still find myself saying “come and see” to the many who wonder at this Church and make their own faint enquiries. I know I can’t describe the real Holy Cross Church as well as I can describe its history and architecture. But the invitation to “come and see” is as full of promise today here in this place as it was all those hundreds of years ago when Jesus beckoned his enquirers.
Some years ago now, this Church saw in mid-January the funeral rites of two very different characters, Elsie and John. Elsie, was a staunch believer in the Church and John, a complex character but no less staunch and no less colourful. The one service for Elsie, a Catholic Requiem Mass with all the music and liturgical grandeur we could muster, and then John’s very simple service. Elsie’s service with its traditional style and mellifluous music, and John’s Quaker hymn ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple’ and going out to Gene Kelly and ‘I’m Singin’ in the Rain’. Two quite different persons, but both loving the Church, and both giving and receiving from the Church’s treasure house, which is the faithful witnesses and the one commitment that made them what they were. Of the sense of belonging to a community of incomplete persons. Both Elsie and John had this in common : they had both, in their own unique ways, come to God and to what they both saw in the Church, as incarnate glory, as shared witness, as Christian companionship along the way, as walking along the road to their own freedom and in the company of the church as a cloud of witnesses – call it what you will. But on this day theirs had been the response to the reply that Jesus makes to us now “Come and See”. “Come and See” and what you will see and what you will know will be for your life’s sustenance and its true meaning and worth.
The love of God remains one which never coerces, it invites and beckons us to see what is already there and to reveal it to us as we are given the eyes to see.
TS Eliot from his poem ‘Ash Wednesday’ – “Teach us to love one another and to sit (remain) still”.