Second Sunday of Epiphany
Introduction and Call to Worship
We gather together, as the faithful people gathered at the River Jordan, to bear witness to the Lamb of God revealed to us. Let us prepare ourselves to stand with him and to walk in the way of justice, peace and truth.
Today’s Bible Readings
First Reading Isaiah 49:1-7
The prophet Isaiah offers an insight into the nature of God’s calling – to bring the people back.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul greets the Church at Corinth and gives thanks and prays for their continued strength in answering God’s calling.
Gospel John 1:29-42
John the Baptist reveals the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world as Jesus calls the first of his disciples.
HOMILY “Come and see.” (John 1:39)
What makes a good leader? Who comes to mind when you think of really great leaders? Perhaps Mandela, leading a country out of apartheid; or the stoic Churchill getting everyone to pull together during the war; maybe it is the Richard Bransons of the world? What, I wonder, do they all have in common? In my day job I teach professional skills – including leadership and management – to university students. And the traits of successful leadership is a topic that comes up a lot. And any visit to a WH Smith, particularly at the airport, will show you a myriad of books all proclaiming to know the answer. I have another book in mind. One that gives us a glimpse at leadership that is currently a “hot topic”. The book is the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel. It sort of sounds like it was the after-thought, or the fourth film in what should have been a trilogy.
And you can see why. John’s Gospel is very different in style and substance to the others.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because of how much their content overlaps – the Triple Tradition as it is called. John is quite different. Think back to what we heard over Christmas. John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Such a powerful, captivating opening. Matthew on the other hand opens his with a detailed account of the genealogy of Christ. Luke refers to his investigative and rational prowess in his account. They wrote with different styles, different sources and probably different audiences in mind. John is theological: In the beginning was the Word. We don’t know much about the author of the fourth Gospel. However, we do know something about the circumstance in which he wrote. The Evangelist, as the author is known, would have been living in a Christian-Jewish community at around 100 AD. This community may have been undergoing pressures from those wanting to move away from the Jewish traditions, and those uncertain of this new Christianity it was embracing. And we see early on in John’s Gospel an explicit “them” and “us” emerging.
And this is why I find theology so fascinating. If you were to create a new religion today the first thing you’d do is get all your ducks in order. You’d write down your statement of belief, as we proclaim in the Creeds, and you’d authorise only the documentation that aligned wholly with your views. The early Christians did not have that luxury. The early church had so many different texts to work from, all with a different take on Jesus’s ministry. And we see that here with John. So today’s Gospel follows on from Matthew’s account of the Baptism of Christ that we heard last week. Tradition has it that Jesus and John the Baptist were related. A poll of my Facebook friends couldn’t decide if they were Second Cousins or Second Cousins Once Removed. According to the Gospels, John was the baby who leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visited. So given they were both related, at a time when family and lineage was central to Jewish communities, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus and John the Baptist knew each other. And certainly the family would have supported Mary, Joseph and Jesus as they returned from Egypt. So John and Jesus may well have played as children, gone fishing, attended synagogue, been educated together. So whilst John will have known Jesus, he would not have recognised him as Messiah. As we heard last week, in Matthew’s Gospel, the reluctant John baptises Jesus. And a voice from heaven addresses the crowd: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In John, the language is different. John the Baptist testifies to the people that Jesus is the Lamb of God. He witnesses the Spirit, a dove, descend and remain on Jesus. People often talk about having spiritual experiences. I can recall several occasions where I believe the Spirit was with me. That feeling was intense and transformational. It was also temporary. It passed.
And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” The word “remain” is important here. It differentiates John the Baptist and Jesus. John’s mission was as a witness, to make the way for Jesus as Messiah. The Spirit remains with Jesus. It is permanent. Jesus is unique, sent by the Father.
This was a time when people were craving Leadership, and I suspect there were many ready to take advantage of this for their own gain. John the Baptist, in his camel hair clothing and diet of locusts, seems an unlikely candidate. And yet crowds flocked to be baptised by him.
So, I opened by asking about the essential qualities for a Leader. My students will often answer in terms of vision, charisma, authority, intellect. What is certain is that a Leader must have followers. A Leader without followers is just somebody with an idea. Followers are people who not only buy into the vision but the individual and their role in supporting them. And yet it is actually the first couple of followers who are often the vital, forgotten part of the story. It is they that turn that “lone voice in the wilderness” into a movement. “John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples and, as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed: “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus.” And so here we see it.
Here. In John’s Gospel. The start. The start of the most exciting movement the world has ever seen. A movement that continues to this day. A movement that has inspired thinkers and artists alike for centuries. A movement inclusive of all. A movement that built this church and brought us all here today. As we read today’s Gospel we really do see the beginning of this movement. We see Andrew and another disciple spend the day with Jesus. And here we get a little insight into Jesus. He was obviously so incredibly charismatic, engaging and full of love, love personified, for Andrew to risk his reputation by persuading his brother, Simon Peter, to join them. And the next day they left Bethany, near Jerusalem, to walk the 150 miles to Galilee, several days’ trek on dangerous roads. Can you imagine doing that? Meeting somebody one day and literally the next morning undertaking a very long journey with them? And no, I’m not talking about a whirlwind romance. I’m talking about believing in something so wonderful, so incredible, that you’ll abandon everything to follow that belief. Andrew and Peter did just that.
And those first disciples were instrumental in spreading the Word beyond Christ’s death and resurrection. At this time of year we seem to move very quickly from the joy of Christmas to the sombre Lent seasons. Even the Christmas story, with the gift of myrrh, reminds us of his death.
And yet here we are today, reading that wonderful first witness at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. The short time he lived among us changed everything.
And we are invited, with Andrew, Simon Peter and John, to journey in our lives with Christ. The Spirit remained on Him, Rabbi, Messiah, Leader, embracing all of us who follow. Amen.