One of the things I`m often privileged to do is to speak with some of those people who for a range of often fascinating reasons have a sense that the Lord might be calling them to serve in the Ordained Ministry… and to perhaps become a Vicar. This is always a very rewarding and often stretching thing to do. But right at the beginning I always say to these folks, very simply, “What would you like to tell me about Jesus?”.
I want this morning to ask how YOU would respond to that invitation? Not because there might be some expectation that you would like to start wearing a strange collar or indeed funny frocks….! But because it has always seemed to me that this is just one of those fundamental questions and the answer we give tells us a great deal about whether we really `get it` as far as faith is concerned.
It might be easiest to begin with some basic factual stuff like, “Well, he was born in Bethlehem” or “He died on Good Friday” and so on. But what might be far more interesting (and what I would actually be looking for) is what you have discovered about him? What you have come to know about him from your everyday experience? Your everyday interaction with him? In other words… “What`s he LIKE?”
Now, let me say at the outset, I`m not really very comfortable with that phrase which is often bandied about where people talk of having quote, “A personal relationship” with Jesus. Not because there isn`t some truth in it. but because it seems a bit too buttoned-down; a bit too neat and tidy for my liking. I mean, I have `personal` relationships with a lot of people but even the most intimate of them have a distinct sense of space about them; a sense of “There`s much more to discover here”.
But having said that there`s I don`t think we can avoid the fact that the Gospel writers (and especially St. John) regard the Christian faith as somehow being drawn into what we might call “friendship” with Jesus. I want to suggest that this is how the stories about Jesus and his disciples tend to `work` for us. On the one hand the disciples act as a model for us to follow… and on the other their encounters with Jesus and the accounts of what it was like being in his company are there to help us spot the signs of his presence with us in the here and now.
This I think, is why the Gospel reading we`ve just heard is so important and helpful. (John 1.29-42) Today we heard about John the Baptist. John, of course knows the correct theology…. He calls Jesus, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”…. He can tell you ABOUT Jesus….
But notice, things get really interesting when he starts to describe in some detail how that theological truth was fleshed out; how it was all brought home to him as he actually met up with Jesus. It`s quite a simple point really. He moves from the theory to the personal and this I`m suggesting is the journey we all have to make.
One way of getting hold of this is to use your imagination a little. You see I sense that quite candidly, a lot depends on how far we`ve allowed our imagination to be switched off or whether we will allow ourselves to be drawn into `Bible moments` like these.
Think of that moment where …. `Jesus turns and looks at these young men following him and he says: “What are you looking for?” SO much depends on whether we`re willing to allow questions like that (and there are SO many of them in the Gospels!) to as it were leap off the page and speak directly to US. If we would just take a moment to register what happens (inside) when you imagine yourself as it were `trolling` along after him and he turns and says to you ….. “What are you looking for?”
Like the first disciples you say, “Where are you staying?” or “How can I find you?” But what then does it do to your understanding of faith when you find yourself mixed up with a God who says, “Well, come and See”? In other words, “I have so much more to show you….”
What does it feel like to live with a God who`s permanent demeanour is one of `invitation`; invitation into his company- invitation into the fullness of life? Because THIS I would suggest is what we find in Jesus. That`s what this Gospel passage teaches us about authentic faith.
The snag, I would humbly suggest, is that this often DOESN`T happen for us because we`ve been poorly taught or again, because our imagination has been switched off. The upshot is that a lot of us are effectively what we call `Theists` rather than `Christians`. What I mean by that is that we might assent to the idea of `God` but when you unpack that what you mostly discover is a certain distance; a working assumption that I just have to get on with it and maybe I can call on divine assistance when required…. A sort of heavenly version of the AA! (Other roadside assistance companies are available)
So what you end up with is a life tinged with a sort of `tentative` optimism that as so many folk say, “I just hope there`s someone looking down on me”. An outlook which for the Christian, is just plain wrong on so many levels. I mean as a description of faith it barely gets past the starting blocks.
And it`s fundamentally wrong because essentially we haven`t allowed ourselves to be overtaken by the sheer wonder and excitement in John the Baptist`s voice…. We`re told, “He exclaimed, `Look, here is the lamb of God!`” John the Baptist does his job… He points us to Jesus…
Again, switch on your imagination….. This Gospel passage invites us to see OURSELVES as those two disciples who “Heard him say this… and followed Jesus”. Then to see OURSELVES as those who have had him ask us about our true desires; and as those who are being invited to keep company with him.
That`s it isn`t it…? Just reflect for a moment on that delightful little scene. “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon”. (John 1.39) Afternoon tea with Jesus…..!
For those young men, it was of course, just a beginning… They would follow him all the way to the cross and beyond….. But it`s a beginning (it`s a journey) we ALL need to make. It begins when you move from vague theism to encounter with the God who is `with us` in Christ Jesus.
So, “What would you tell me about Jesus?” What have you learned in all these years from keeping company with him? Pray with that today.
The thing to remember is that this isn`t a question designed to induce guilt over what you haven`t discovered… It`s an invitation to discover more. An invitation to let faith begin in the right place… with Jesus; and then each day keep company with him… to the Cross and beyond.