How did you come to meet Jesus and have a relationship with him?
Who introduced you to him? And what attracted you to him?
For me, I always thought that God was just there, but I grew up in a Christian household and was surrounded by people of faith from the moment I took my first breath.
My dad was my example of a faithful priest who studied Scripture, preached the Gospel, and loved his community, not only the church but the wider community as well.
My mum also was a model of Christian hospitality and inclusion and working together with the family they created environments where the Christian life was simply a thing which everyone around them engaged with.
Growing up in an environment of prayer, hospitality and where the Word of God was a measure of life, I just knew about the life of Jesus.
It didn’t work for all my family, I had a sister who early on had what seemed a real faith, but it never took so to speak, and I have two brothers who probably believe in God, but whose faith is nominal at best.
Why is this? Why do some people seem to get it and some don’t and what can we do about it if anything? Well the truth is we can do something, but in the end, it is the work of God, not us which makes a difference, we are God’s agents in the world, so God works through us and uses us, but it is the Holy Spirit who reveals and confirms in the hearts of people.
In today’s Gospel, we see this unfolding in many ways. But before we go there we need to stop and think about the word Epiphany, because it is a very relevant idea in all of this. The reason we are thinking like this is that we are at present in the season of Epiphany.
The word means
1. a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi.
2. an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity or God. We believe that Jesus himself is an epiphany in the world.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience. For example, I had an epiphany when I realised that my washing won’t get clean unless I put it in the machine and turn it on. Adapted from Dictionary .com
So, for me, in my early Christian life, the major epiphany was that God is love, and that love is manifested in all of creation, in myself, and that most of all, God through Jesus revealed his love for me and that if I looked truly, I could find God’s love everywhere.
Since then, I have also realised that sin is the opposite to love and it can and does counter love at times, but that Jesus’ example of sacrificial love is always more powerful than anything that exists within our world of flesh.
Now with the idea of epiphany in our heads and perhaps thinking about the epiphanies you and I may have had, let’s begin to look at today’s Gospel story from John.
Here we see Jesus coming onto the scene, John the Baptist has already baptised him and recognised that he is the ‘Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world’, because the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and stayed there when he was baptised. This was John’s great moment of epiphany which he lived for.
The story makes it clear that although John was first on the scene in time, he was not first in terms of significance, John’s roll was to prepare the way for Jesus.
So, we begin our part of the story, the day after Jesus is baptised and John knows who he is. Jesus just happens to be walking by and John points to him and says- He’s [the lamb of God], the one who is to take away the sin of the world. Referring to Jesus as the Passover Lamb, who was sacrificed on the night the great plaque came to Egypt to protect God’s people from the plague of death. Jesus is the one whose blood is given for us, in order that we may be freed from sin and eternal death, and liberated to know that fullness of life with God, which is with us the moment we allow Jesus into our hearts and lives, and was intended from the beginning, and is eternal.
Two of John’s disciples, who have clearly been listening to John, go to follow Jesus, and Jesus turned to them and asked ‘what do you want?’. Respectfully they answer ‘Rabbi, where do you live?’ A some-what strange response. They might have asked, ’John says you are the one, what do you say about that?’. Or, ‘what does being the lamb of God mean’? Or they might have said, ‘can you tell us about God’ or something else more intelligent than ‘where do you live?’.
The question of ‘where do you live?’, might really be deeper than you’d think. It might mean I want to know you and have a relationship with you. When you go into a person’s home you cross a boundary into their personal space and see them in their natural environment. Then Jesus’ response, ‘come and see’ is an invitation into his space, it is an invitation to come and see who he is, to begin to know him and have a real relationship with him.
The story goes on and makes it clear it is in the afternoon and these two disciples spend the rest of the day with Jesus [abiding with him is the Greek]. That means listening and learning and being in his presence.
Next, they went home and Andrew, one of the two who had spent the afternoon with Jesus, told his brother Simon about Jesus, so the two then went to Jesus. Jesus names Simon, Cephas, the rock, or Peter, and we know that he became one of the great Apostles and disciples of Jesus.
What we see in all of this is how God is revealed in people’s lives and it is clear it takes both human interaction and the work of the Spirit. And it starts with God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as we said last week.
John had an epiphany of God in and with Jesus, when Jesus came to be baptised. John had clearly taught his disciples, that he personally was not the Messiah, but he was preparing the way for him. So, when John recognised who Jesus was, he pointed him out to his disciples who followed Jesus- so we moved from the witness of God to the witness of a man who had seen and experienced God, to Jesus, whom the believers of John’s witness then followed. They in their belief witnessed to others who also came to Jesus and so the movement began.
When we speak of witnessing we are not talking about giving a technical explanation of our faith. We are talking about being open about our personal Christian experience and belief.
Being able to answer someone who questions you, ‘why do you bother to go to church?’. ‘Because I love God/ or/ because God has been good to me, /or/ because I am a sinner and need the forgiveness of God to be able to live. /or/ Because without Jesus’ sacrificial death I couldn’t forgive myself or others. /or/ Because it helps me to live better, because when I worship God I know a peace and joy that I don’t have without it.’ Or… what would your answer be…. Pause.
You can be honest and say something like;’ when life is difficult it can be hard, but I find that going to church helps me somehow’
There are all kinds of answers and everyone’s story is different. But at the end of the day, you can ask the other, ‘what do you want?’ and follow it with an invitation, ‘Come and see’.
These are natural witnessing moments which happen in everyday conversations when we are open about our faith and are prepared to say what we believe and why.
Christian faith is not something which just happens in people, the Scripture says that first and fore most it begins with God, who is revealed through Jesus, but we have an important part to play, to point to him ‘there he is, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ and to even invite others to ‘come and see’.
This year as a parish we are beginning the hard work of putting together a new mission action plan.
Yes, we have had plans in the past, they have been plans which I have put together in consultation with a few people and had the support of vestry and the wardens. Although we learnt a great deal from what we did, many of you didn’t accept it or work with it, [no judgement here, the reasons are many] so consequently it fell by the way.
Now we are beginning a new process of development where, I may take some leadership in guiding you in the process, but I plan to stand back and allow the leaders of this church community to be the ones to put it together. It is quite an involved process and will involve times of consultation with all in the church, to ensure you are comfortable with the plan as it unfolds.
It will include ideas like; how we see ourselves as a church and how we’d like to see the church unfold. Internal community relationships will be important in this, along with managing property, money and human resources, along with how we as a church would like point to Christ within the world and within the wider community, to play our part in making him known.
Several parishioners, nearly 20 [including the wardens and PC], are meeting with the Archdeacon next Saturday to kick this whole thing off. It is an important moment in the life of our church, so I encourage you to pray for the whole parish, as we begin the work of developing our parish mission action plan.
As individuals, we are called to witness to our faith, but we are also as a church meant to be a witness to the faith we hold. Part of that is thinking about the idea of when we say ‘come and see,’ what will people see here at Christ Church. Will they see Jesus or what? I hope you will take this to heart personally and pray for those who are going to do the work on the plan on your behalf, as well.
Let us pray,
Lord we are glad you are part of our lives and we are thankful for knowing you. Help all of us to be faithful witnesses to your love in the world. Pointing to you with our lives and inviting people to come and see. We pray for our church as it seeks to discern your will and purpose for the way we witness to you as a community, we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.