Sermon given by Jeff Lowndes at Gordon Chapel on 15 Jan 17
Sermon: Come and See John 1:29-42
It doesn’t happen often, but today there’s one theme in all our readings – it’s the notion of being called, set apart by God. In John’s gospel we hear what is usually known as “The Call of the First Disciples.” John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, decide to check out Jesus, and end up leaving John and going off with Jesus instead. It’s this call that will help us to understand what it’s usually like to be called by God.
It’s easy to get confused about what is known as ‘being called’, we worry about it – is it imagination – are we up to it? We tend to equate being called in terms of the language and context in Scripture.
That is, being told by God to do something specific, usually a major thing, such as Abraham leading a new nation, Moses leading the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land and even Paul called to evangelise and die.
We talk of being called to ordination, or being called to a special form of service, usually full-time and professional – almost always in, or linked to the church.
And that’s about all most of us do about it. Most of us can listen to the story of the call of the disciples and separate what happened to them, from what’s going on to us. After all, they were special and so were called – but we’re just ordinary folks – so we’re safe from all that being called business. It’s about someone else isn’t it – but no – it isn’t.
This whole way of looking at a call from God as a call to a specific job, task or role misses the main point. Of course, there may well be that kind of call but it’s both rare and easily misunderstood. And I don’t think that it’s what’s really going on in the gospel we just heard.
Being ordained, or being a missionary or a monk or something like that, is secondary to the real, central call we all have from God.
Those two followers of John the Baptist who Jesus asked to “come and see” were called exactly as we are called – called to be disciples in their time and place for the sake of their generation – just as we are called to be disciples in ours.
The first thing to notice is that Jesus did not call them to do anything in particular. Their call, and ours, is not initially a call to a task or job of work.
It’s an invitation to relationship. Jesus doesn’t say, “Do this”; he simply says, “Come and see.” Only later does he indicate where this might lead. There’s a big difference between a call to do something practical, and an invitation to relationship.
To respond to a call for relationship, is very different from signing up to do a job – in the same way that falling in love is very different from being employed. To set out to do a job requires knowledge about what’s involved, it’s negotiable, it has its limits, you know something of what the job will be and when it may end.
To be called into relationship – to be called in love, and to love – is an invitation to enter a mystery; to move into uncharted waters. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is calling us first to himself – to personal intimacy and a shared life. That’s what matters and that’s what is primary.
If we look at Jesus’ call from the perspective of what we leave behind, it’s a call to repent, to change. But if we see that same call from the perspective of what comes next, then it’s a call to seek him first, to know him better and to move toward, making that relationship the central focus of our lives.
When we are called, and make no mistake, we are called, each and every one of us – it’s primarily a call to be held by Jesus for a while, and not to go anywhere, not to do anything – for in time this will lead us somewhere. But we won’t know where at first, and maybe not for a long time, even well into our maturity – so for most of us here it’s not too late – we are on standby!
This is why a sense of call – which may come and go many times – can often be both frightening and frustrating. We know something is going on – but we may misunderstand and go in the wrong direction – we start looking for what we are called to do – is it this or is it that. Sadly, we live in a society that insists that for something to be important, it has to produce and have an end product.
But instead of all that, we are, especially at the beginning, simply asked to get to know God and Jesus a little better. It’s a call to listen, and to wait. But – to be careful not to miss that still small voice.
Those first disciples stayed close to Jesus for a while. They learned what they could and came to know him a little. Then, perhaps before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them things to do. For some, those tasks were dramatic, for others they were quiet and almost invisible.
The call to Jesus will always, in some way, involve ministry and mission. But the call comes first. There can be no real, abiding and sustaining ministry without a relationship with Christ.
We are called to be disciples. Each of us. It’s a call to relationship that wont let us go. It may grow stronger and weaker and stronger again. It may seem to go away, but always comes back.
Because it’s our Lord calling us to himself. It’s his call to share in a full life, to joy and to peace – to find hope in this troubled world. It’s a call to all of us – and it is a call we are to share with others. We may not always recognize it, but in a way, we are all called to evangelise.
However, before you all rush out of the door to stand on street corners with a bible and loudspeaker and tell people they are doomed to hell unless they repent – that is not the kind of evangelism I am talking about. It’s more about introducing people to Christ through the way that we live our lives, and in today’s Gospel John has something to say about it.
John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Messiah and then one day – Jesus walks past John and his followers – John says “Look – it’s him – the Lamb of God” and so two of John’s disciples follow Jesus. I wonder why – curiosity – or something more? When Jesus saw them following him he asks “what are you looking for?”
Which begs the question, what are we all looking for? We may not know – but in our heart of hearts, we are all searching for God. St Augustine expressed it thus “our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee”.
And so Jesus is asking us – ‘What are you looking for ?” – are we seeking words of hope and comfort, the promise that someone really loves us, are we looking for joy, forgiveness, understanding, a friend, a Saviour?
When we come to church what we are looking for – something to do, love, fellowship, acceptance, guidance? To join in ministry and mission – why? – do you feel called – do you want to follow Christ? If so our Gospel reading tells us Christ’s approach to potential disciples.
Note the second thing Jesus says to the two who follow him – he says “Come and see”. Come and see – it is such a non-threatening invitation. Not like some of those street corner or American TV evangelists! No – Jesus doesn’t force anyone to follow him – he simply asks that we come and see and check things out for ourselves.
And as we think about introducing others to Jesus, we need to understand that what others see – is us – we who call ourselves Christians show others in our words and actions something of what Jesus is like. But before others look at Jesus, they will probably take a good look at us. So we need guidance – and Jesus, the Light of the World will help us.
For our call is to be a light to others, not to hide within these walls and keep our faith secret and low key, but to serve beyond the walls of the church, bringing light to those not yet part of the family of faith.
William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury for just 2 years before his untimely death in 1944 once said ‘The church is the only institution on earth which exists for the sake of its non-members’. When did we last bring a non- member into the church?
We are to follow the call of God to be a light to the nations but how do we do that. Perhaps we start in a small way, in our own community. We do it by being kind and sensitive, we show hospitality and care for others, and we do it with humility. As Jesus shows us – the best approach for sharing our faith is to simply invite others to ‘come and see’.
Martin Luther King would often close his sermons with the words of an old slave prayer which went “O lord, I ain’t what I ought to be, and I ain’t what I’m gonna’ be, but thanks to you, I ain’t what I used to be”.
Having that kind of attitude can go a long way in our being a light to the world and to help others to ‘come and see’ so that they will no longer be what they used to be!
Let us pray – John the Baptist said to his disciples “Look, the Lamb of God’. Lord, we don’t always recognize you when you come to us. There are so many things in our busy lives that distract us from you. . Today we wait on you, ready to listen and to obey. Help us to really know you