The first disciples

Epiphany 2, 15 Jan 2022, St James Colwall

Isaiah 49: 1-7; John 1: 29-42

To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:

In the parishes where I used to minister we had a local ministry team which met once a month. And before we got down to the business of the parishes, we would spend time catching up together. To focus our minds, I would ask people to think about where they had seen God at work in their lives or in the life of the community—or if that seemed a bit too difficult, then to ask themselves where they had seen good. From good it’s a short step to seeing God at work.

It's a part of the prayer known as the examen which many people use at the end of the day, or when they want to review a few days. In a prayerful frame of mind, you let the day’s events play back in your mind, giving you the opportunity to think, ‘Where have I seen God today? Where has the good been? What am I grateful for?’

When you begin to look at the events of what might otherwise have been an unremarkable day in that light—through God’s eyes, if you like—you begin to see that God has been at work in it in ways you may not have recognised.

It might have been in a smile, or act of kindness from a stranger, in the glint of raindrops on a spider’s web or the taste of a freshly picked apple. All those things which fill you with joy, peace, strength, hope, courage, freedom, creativity can be seen as signs of God at work in the world. It’s just a question of looking, and discerning, so that you see and recognise them.

That’s the thrust of this morning’s gospel: that it’s not so much what you look at, as how you see things which is important.

In the prologue to his gospel, John, the evangelist John, proclaims that the Word—the Word which was with God, and which was God—has come into the world to dwell amongst us. The Word has been made flesh.

Now, we meet John the Baptist, the first person called to witness to the light and life which we receive from Jesus, the Word made flesh.

John the Baptist has been baptising people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God. His preaching has set everyone on edge, even the scribes and Pharisees, looking for the Messiah.

And it’s John who first recognises Jesus as the one they are looking for. He was amongst the crowds who came out to the desert to be baptised. As Jesus comes up out of the waters of the River Jordan, John sees the sign which he has been promised: I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.

This, then must be the promised one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. So, when John sees Jesus coming towards him again, he recognises and proclaims Jesus as the one they are expecting.

It’s not so much what or who you look at, as how you see which is important.  

The next day he sees Jesus again. This time two of his disciples are standing with him and hear him declare: Look! Here is the one whose coming I have been preparing you for: The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John the Baptist had his own following of disciples. But he is always clear that his mission is to prepare the way for the Messiah; he is the forerunner who will point people to God’s anointed one so that they might see him for themselves. John’s words spark the curiosity of his two followers, and they leave John and begin to walk after Jesus.

Jesus turns and asks them: What are you looking for?

That puts them on the spot. Perhaps they could have said ‘John says you’re the Messiah – are you?’

Perhaps they’re not yet ready for such a big claim. Instead, they reply with a question of their own: Where are you staying? They want to see for themselves what it is that John sees in Jesus.

So, Come and see, says Jesus. And they go with him.

Wouldn’t you love to know what went on that afternoon, what was said, what was done?

It’s my guess the conversation flowed to and fro over a meal, with Andrew and his friend hanging on every word. Whatever happened they clearly found such magnetism in the person of Jesus, such a sense of the glory of God shining through him, that they came away knowing inner joy and peace, inspired by his words of love and hope, and confident that ‘- yes, John was right, - here was the anointed one of God whom they were expecting.

What happens next? Well, Andrew can’t contain himself until he has found his brother Simon. He can’t wait to share with his brother what he has seen in Jesus. We have found the Messiah – come and meet him! He drags Simon back to meet Jesus for himself.

It’s Jesus’ turn now to do the looking. He looks at Simon with eyes of love and sees Cephas, Peter, the rock on which he can build. Simon Peter is called to be the rock of faith and strength, on which Jesus will build his community of believers.

This season of Epiphany invites us to think beyond Christmas to how Jesus continues to be revealed in the world.

In the encounters we have read about today, it is first of all the recognition of his presence, and then the witness to that presence by others, which points people to Jesus.

John the Baptist met Jesus and recognised him as the Son of God and declared him as such to his followers. He was willing to point away from himself towards Jesus.

As a result, when Andrew spends time with Jesus, he can’t wait to bring his brother to meet him too. We have only to think about what we know of the rest of Peter’s life, to understand that Jesus’ loving insight was enough to make him Jesus’ fiercely loyal follower, and despite his failings, eventually to take on his God-appointed calling as the first leader of the church after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It always humbles me to remember that it’s only through the witness of John and the first disciples, and countless generations of disciples since, that we sit here today.

So, there are two things, I think, to take away from this:

The first is to open our eyes and see God at work in the world. In the midst of all that is broken in our world at the moment, if we have eyes to see and recognise it it, God reveals Godself over and over again in innumerable different ways: in courageous stands for truth and justice, in joyful creativity, in acts of self-giving love and compassion. Can we learn to recognise and name them?

And secondly, can we point out these things to others, as John did, as Andrew did, as our Christian forebears have, so that, as Isaiah says, God’s light and salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Let’s pray that by seeing God at work in the world and present in our lives, we might bear witness to the chosen one in the daily choices we make.