Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sermon for Epiphany 2A, 19th January 2020 at Coventry Cathedral

Why are you here?
No, I'm not indulging in a little existential angst on a Sunday morning.
I genuinely wonder why you are HERE.
I wonder, when you first came to church, what brought you through the doors.
Perhaps Sunday worship was part of family life from your earliest years, or perhaps you found yourself walking in almost by accident, one day in adult life.
Perhaps today is your first day.
If it is, do PLEASE come and chat to one of the clergy afterwards.
We’d love the chance to meet you and hear your story.
Whatever your original impetus, of course we’re delighted you hav got here.

I suspect though, that once you’d arrived you might not have kept on returning for long if you hadn’t had your own personal moment of epiphany, a glimpse of truth as everything fell into place, - however briefly – and you could say to  yourself
“Ah hah! Eureka! I’ve got it!”...or, as John the Baptist put it
“HERE is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

John, of course, was on the look-out.
He was alert for signs of God’s kingdom from the word go, and quick to share when they were revealed  “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God”
He’d known all along that he wasn’t the one for whom Israel was waiting and, though he did acquire his own disciples, he wasn’t intent on keeping them.
He understood his own role as a sign-post so when the moment came he didn’t hesitate
“Look, here is the lamb of God”

I’m hoping you have had a moment or two when suddenly everything made sense but if not don’t panic.The search really matters.
John’s two disciples had been looking for a while, following the Baptist, listening to his words, they were fired up by his proclamation
"Here is the Lamb of God !"
Imagine yourself hearing those words for the first time...not in the expected formality of Sunday liturgy but as breaking news.
He’s here.
Yes. HERE.

Wouldn’t you want to find out more?
So those disciples set off...lacking the confidence to approach Jesus directly, walking behind him in a face-saving game of follow-my-leader that turned lamb of God into shepherd…Sooner or later, he spotted them, turned, held their gaze.
They were stopped in their tracks as he asks
“What are you looking for?"
I imagine them shuffling, looking at each other, looking at the ground, embarrassed, til they come up with what could only be an interim answer, presented to fill an awkward silence
“Where are you staying?”

They DID  need to know where they could find him – of course they did – but the question he asked has many many answers
What WERE they looking for? What are you looking for? Are you hungy for healing? for justice? For change? for acceptance? for love?
Some of the many motivations that continue to drive humanity to seek something beyond ourselves.
We may not know which is uppermost at any given moment, but we know that we’re not at peace in the world….
This is the discomfort that Augustine noted when he wrote
“God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”
But to know that is to be at a different stage of the journey...and sometimes God seems intent on playing hide and seek with us, even as we set out determined to engage.

Where are you staying indeed, Lord?
There are many today who would say that Jesus cannot, must not, be staying in the Church. If you’ve been watching Panorama this week, you may be among those wondering how the institution can claim to be the Body of Christ when so much that is flawed, broken, even toxic, has been allowed to hide at the heart of the institution’s life.

And yet – and yet – Jesus has never kept the best of company. He is gloriously indiscriminate in his choice of friends, finding room in his heart for us all. Tax collectors and sinners, faint-hearted followers and penitent thieves and maybe even rogue bishops. While in the here and now we need a huge work of uncovering, of naming and accepting the harm we have done, and offering heartfelt contrition, I remain thankful that the final judgement does not rest with us, that by the grace of God eternity may offer a different perspective.
The celestial banquet is not, I think, going to be black tie and silver service but a glorious mess of love and laughter, tears and forgiveness, with Jesus always at the centre, the host with open arms.

But in the meantime, where ARE you staying, Lord?
Where can we find you today?

Jesus’ answer is a simple but wonderful invitation.
“Come and see!”
So – let’s go, let’s set out together and expect to find him round and about our city, remembering his bias to the poor, his fondness for the outcast…
Let's expect to discover him amid our brothers and sisters of other denominations as together we dare to dream of a Church united and made whole.
Perhaps he might even surprise us right here and right now, if we invite him to join us.

Some of you will have heard me share the experience of praying with this passage many years ago, on my very first retreat,
In my imagination, I found myself accompanying the disciples along the river bank , never letting Jesus out of my sight.
Like them I blushed and stuttered as he turned and spoke to me directly…and like them I was unable to resist the invitation to “Come and see”
And that day, as I imagined a small dark room in a sugar cube house (based in my mind’s eye entirely on the line drawings that illustrated the Good News Bible), Jesus invited me to spend the day with him…and at lunch time he took bread, broke it and placed some in my hand.

And then I realised that I had found what I was looking for, that the place where he was staying was right there…right here…Jesus in you…Jesus in me…Jesus in bread and wine….

Come and see.

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