Sermon for Epiphany 2A – 15th January 2023

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinth 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 

The other day I came across this short aphorism: “The door to happiness opens outward” On digging around a bit, I concluded that it’s probably a paraphrase of a quote from the Danish theologian, philosopher, poet and social critic Soren Kierkegaard: 

Alas, fortune’s door does not open inward so that one can push it open by rushing at it; but it opens outward, and therefore one can do nothing about it.

Soren Kierkegaard “Either/Or” vol 1

When you came to Church this morning what did you expect to happen here? Really, what were you/are you expecting? To meet up with the usual crowd – not a bad thing at all. To have a good sing – medical science apparently says that singing is really good for you both physically and emotionally. To hear an inspirational sermon, not really sure about that one. Or was it perhaps to have an encounter with God?

If the experience of two young men Andrew and Simon Peter (and later James and John) is anything to go by, messing about with God is something not to be undertaken lightly. Encounters with God, rarely leave those who have them unchanged – take Moses and the burning bush for example, or Jacob trying to get some sleep, the woman at the well, the boy Samuel, the Wise Men, the Shepherds, the list is virtually endless. These encounters with God were very powerful experiences.

A writer who I turn to from time to time, to challenge me is Annie Dillard. In a book entitled ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’ she writes: 

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” 

Annie Dillard “Teaching a Stone to Talk”

Annie clearly sees the encounter with God as something potentially very powerful indeed, something to be taken very seriously. Perhaps we need signs like we get on the Dornoch Bridge occasionally ‘Warning – Bridge closed to high-sided vehicles’. And maybe there should signs on ourdoors saying ‘Warning – Don’t enter unless you want to be changed forever’.

In John’s Gospel this morning, Jesus’ first words take the form of a question, a seemingly very ordinary question but one with extraordinary significance: “What are you looking for?”. English translations obscure the meaning of the Greek, which is better translated, “What are you seeking?” Jesus’ ministry begins not with a mighty command to silence a demon, as in Mark; nor with a sermon to the crowds who’ve gathered on a mountain, as in Matthew; and not with a quotation from Isaiah to proclaim his anointing for the year of God’s favour, as in Luke, but with a question: “What are you seeking?” “What are you looking for?” “What is it that you want?” A serious and deep question worth wrestling with – as individuals, as congregations and as communities.

Although on the face of it, a simple query about the reason for their interest in Jesus (a bit like my question about what you expected of coming to church this morning) but it has deeper implications. Sooner or later, when we start to scratch away at the surface of our faith, we face the same question – “what do we really want with Him or from Him?” The answers to that question could have a significant bearing on what we find as well as on the journey we take to get there.

C. S. Lewis, expresses this in his own inimitable style: 

An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband–that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us!”.

C S Lewis “Miracles”

It is of course God finding us that Kierkegaard is pointing at when he suggests that fortune finds us rather than the other way round. The encounter with God happens when we are least expecting it, in fact when we aren’t looking for God at all.

In John’s Gospel, people are looking for Jesus, but for very different reasons. The crowds are seeking to be filled with bread and to have their friends and relatives healed, while the religious authorities are seeking Him to kill Him, to get Him out of their hair: one group seeking life, the other death. The two disciples (Andrew and Simon Peter), on the other hand were not seeking Him at all, but once Jesus has found them, they want something different to either the crowds or the authorities. They want simply to be with Jesus, to follow where He leads, to learn from Him, to see the Father of whom He speaks and to follow His example.

Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German philosopher offered this challenge to Christians: 

Show me your redeemed life and I’ll be inclined to believe in your Redeemer”.

Heinrich Heine

The great Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren said, 

The world takes its notions of God, most of all, from the people who say that they belong to God’s family. They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible. They see us; but they only hear about Jesus Christ”.

Alexander MacLaren

The foundation of evangelism, of being the people of God in the world, is not so much what we say, but what we do. As is often said ‘actions speak louder than words’.

Jesus put it this way: 

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Amen

One thought on “Sermon for Epiphany 2A – 15th January 2023

  1. Thanks for your the refreshing angle you explore here. I find myself challenged especially as I read Sat7 update from the Middle East.   Blessings        Rosie 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

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