This week, there will be a change of leadership in this country, as President Barack Obama leaves office and Donald Trump will be inaugurated. And, of course, as there is with any change, there are expectations; expectations that somehow this will be a new start, that things get done that haven’t gotten done before, and that somehow things will get better for the people. And as we all know, many in this country are very skeptical that the latter will be the case. But then only time will show what kind of president Donald Trump will be.
We have to wait and see. But see we will, because the position of the president of the United States is a very public one and under particular scrutiny. As president, you are out there in the spotlight, and in this age of media coverage more than ever. As he should be, after all, the president is the first servant to his people. And may our prayer be that Donald Trump will turn out to be a president who leads this country with humility and the interest of all citizens in mind – and heart.
In today’s gospel, we have a change of leadership of some sorts. We hear about John, the Baptist, the one who prepares the way of the Lord, and how he points out the one who is to come after him to his followers: Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John, who has made a name for himself and has gained authority among the people through is actions and his legacy, now authorizes Jesus by testifying that he is the one everyone has been waiting for, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Now that’s a huge claim, and though it may not convince people right off the bat, it gets some interested in Jesus. We hear that there are two of John’s disciples who start following Jesus. And the gospel story actually is a little creepy here, maybe even comical. It sounds like those two are following Jesus from a distance, maybe a little unsure, maybe whispering to each other as they walk along, checking this guy out. Okay, John may say he’s the one, but how can we be sure? This guy doesn’t look like a Messiah. Kinda ordinary.
And Jesus notices at some point that there are those two guys following him, and he seems a little annoyed with them, as probably most of us would be if we realized that we are trailed by someone. What are you looking for?
What are you looking for? Jesus, the one who is being checked out, turns the tables on those two men and makes them the object of scrutiny: so, what is your agenda here? Why are you following me? Why a ARE you following me?
The two, caught in the act, so to speak, don’t really have an answer. Which, if you think about it, actually is a good thing; it shows that they are open to experience what this man has to teach them and to offer them. They don’t say: well, we expected a king, a mighty warrior, a guerilla fighter against the Romans. Those two seekers instead ask a simple question: Rabbi, teacher, where are you staying?
Now this may sound kind of odd to our modern ears, but what it means is: may be join you? May we spend time with you? May we learn more about you and from you? And Jesus extends the invitation: come and see!
Come and see – check it out. Experience for yourselves. Jesus does not expect folks to follow him just because they heard he might be the one. Jesus doesn’t expect folks to follow him just because he got endorsed by John. Jesus doesn’t expect folks to follow him blindly, but wants them to see and come to their own conclusions. And see they will. After spending the day with Jesus, after listening to him, after learning more about him and from him, one of them, who is now identified as Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, is convinced: he’s the one. And so Andrew spreads the word and gets his brother, Simon, on board as well. And now it is time for Simon to see and experience.
Epiphany is the season of the revelation of the divine nature of Jesus Christ, a season during which we hear a lot about the light, from the star of Bethlehem to the bright appearance of Jesus on the mountaintop during the transfiguration. If you will, there is this spotlight on Jesus Christ during this season. And, unlike many powers that are in this world today, Jesus wants to be seen, Jesus wants to be experienced – there is no reason to hide. Jesus wants to make clear who he is and what he is for the world. Come and see!
Jesus calls us into the very active participation in this process. Just as he encouraged his potential disciples back in the day to employ use their senses – and their sense – so of course we are encouraged today to use our senses and our sense as we figure out who Jesus Christ is for us today.
Now this shouldn’t be news to us as Lutherans. The father of the church we call Lutheran, Martin Luther, was a great proponent of a faith that is not blind, but a faith that wrestles with God, with ourselves, and with what we think we know. Luther endorsed critical thinking, and that’s why he pushed for public education for all, rich and poor, boys and girls, men and women. Luther wanted people to come and see, mainly by reading the Holy Scriptures for themselves– and not just follow the church authorities or their teachings blindly. Luther also pushed the idea of us having a conscience, and to follow it as we ask ourselves the following question: would I be comfortable doing or saying whatever I am about to do or say before God?
This is a living faith, a very active faith, a faith that is not done once and for all or stagnant, but a faith that is ever moving, like waves in an ocean. The ocean never changes, and yet there is movement. We are invited to come and see, and then come and see again, for we might have a different perspective on things, or forgot to look at a certain aspect the last time around. And so we may experience Christ in ways he haven’t really experienced him before. And what this Christ means for us as we live our lives in this world today.
At the same time Jesus’ invitation to us to ‘come and see’ is also an urgent appeal to stay alert in this world today. Just as God doesn’t expect us to follow him blindly, but urges us to see for ourselves, so God urges us to keep our eyes open and not to follow any leader or ideology too quickly and too trustingly and with eyes wide shut; to use our senses – and our sense – and come to our own conclusions instead of trusting some endorsement or propaganda – or sentiment we might have about things.
God urges us to keep our eyes open and see what is happening in this world, and to look at things in the light of what Jesus has taught us by his example: to love our neighbor. To pray for our enemies. To hold others accountable if they mess up at the same time that we love them. To feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and welcome the stranger. To share what has been entrusted to us. To care for the weak. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To counter hate with love. To have mercy.
How is the world doing in the light of all these things? How are our leaders doing in the light of the teachings of Jesus Christ, in the light of God? How are we doing in the light of all this? For in the end, it all comes back to us and how we life our faith faithfully.
Come and see. Stay alert. Witness to what you experience. And live your life in the light of God’s love.
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