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    Jan 19, 2020

    The 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

    Passage: John 1:29-42

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    Today is the Second Sunday after Epiphany. We just celebrated the Christmas Season where we are invited to soak in the amazing message of the incarnation. This wild Christian belief that the infinite God of the universe loves us so much that the infinite creator took on flesh and blood to enter into our messy world. The whole season declares, “You are not alone. God is with you!” As the famous prophesy from Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means God with us).” This message of God’s “with-us-ness” is not esoteric theology, but is radically practical. But the message is so stunning, it takes time to digest and metabolize it. For this awe inspiring good news to filter down into our hearts and lives. That is what the season of Epiphany is all about. If Christmas is the feast, Epiphany is here to help us soak it all in and allow the coins to drop. We are invited to soak in and absorb God’s with-us-ness.

    Really, on a practical level, our genuine awareness and experience of God’s presence with us changes everything. Do you remember as a kid your first time at the pool jumping off the diving board. It was excruciating. I tip toed up to the edge and would run back. I would get my courage up and say 1,2,3 and then not jump. What made the difference, what gave me the courage to finally take the leap was the fact that my dad was right there in the water. He was treading water in the deep end with arms up promising to catch me. And with that trust, even with the fear, I finally jumped.

    My dad’s “with-me-ness” changed everything. It gave me the courage to risk and leap and live. And although it was so scary, I remember climbing out of the water to the applause of everyone sitting around pool. I felt like Hercules. Now, as we get older, those scary opportunities don’t go away. We continue to stand on the edge of cliffs and look into the unknown beyond. Maybe it’s getting married or getting a divorce. Maybe it’s a new job or getting fired. Maybe its kid’s graduating and becoming an empty nester. Maybe it’s the cliff of retirement or even that moment our doctor tells us she has our test results and it’s not good. Over and over again in life we stand on the edge of the unknown. And many of us have fallen into the belief that we are there all alone. That growing up means facing all these situation’s on our own.

    Well, the Gospel tells us a very different story. The heart of the Gospel is God’s with-us-ness. Just like my dad treading water with arms up encouraging me to jump, God is truly, powerfully with us no matter what cliff we are standing on. The more we metabolize the reality of this, the more glorious and full and meaningful and impactful life is.

    And our reading invites us deep into this trust.

    The scene starts with John the Baptist. He declares that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

    The next day John is spending some time with some of his followers… Andrew is named and the other is most likely the apostle John… and Jesus walks by again. John tells says, “I saw the Spirit of God descend on him like a dove. He then said, “I baptize people with water but he baptizes people with the Holy Spirit.”

    Well, John and Andrew hear this and are more than a little interested. We know that these two are already spiritual seekers. They have left their normal lives to follow John the Baptist. But when John, their teacher, says, “Jesus can baptize with the HS” they are moved, intrigued, stirred. They jump up and start to follow him.

    And Jesus notices these two on his heels and turns and says, “What are you looking for?

    Even on the surface that’s an interesting question… He doesn’t say, “Why are you following me?” or “Can I help you?” He says - “What are you looking for?” Jesus calls them to a deeper self-awareness. What is motivating your seeking?

    And I absolutely love their response. They don’t answer his question. They do to Jesus what Jesus normally does to others… they answer his question with a question. They say, “Where are you staying?”

    And when Jesus hears their question, He doesn’t respond, “I am staying in a little room on the corner of Elm and Fisher.” He says, “Come and see.” He invites them into his space to spend the day with him. And we are told that after their day together, Andrew is so so excited that the first thing he does is find his brother Peter. “Peter, you won’t believe it man. We found the messiah!”

    Even on a surface level, there is so much going on in this passage. But there are so many layers to this strory. The Gospel of John is beautifully multi-layered. So let’s brush away the sediment and look a little deeper. When Jesus asks John and Andrew, “What are you looking for?” They respond, “Where are you staying?” The Greek word here is really significant. It is the word, “meno” which means abide, dwell, remain.

    All throughout the Gospel of John this term is used.

    Earlier in our reading John the Baptist said, “"I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained/dwelled (meno) on him.”

    John 6:56 “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide/dwell (meno) in me, and I in them.”

    John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you dwell/abide (meno) in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” In fact, this term abide, dwell is used 40 times in the Gospel of John!

    It is more than location. To abide means intimacy, trust, the very essence of life.

    So when Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” Their response is as profound as his question. When the disciples ask Jesus, “Where do you abide/remain/dwell (meno)?” they are asking a much deeper question than simple location.

    They are asking about his identity, his being, his purpose, his essence.

    And Jesus’ response must have made their hearts leap. He doesn’t give them a conceptual answer about being the lamb of God. He says, “Come and see.” Come and abide, come and dwell with me.

    He invited them into dynamic relationship. And this day spent abiding with Jesus it transformational. So powerful that Andrew runs out and tells his brother Peter that he’s found the messiah.

    Just like John and Andrew, we are invited to abide in God’s with-us-ness.

    To experience and abide God’s with-us-ness. The more you actually metabolize the reality that you are not alone, that you are immersed in divine presence, the more peace, and joy and fullness of life you experience. An important question then is what is the location of God? This is critical. Where is God to you?

    For many years I did not really believe that God was near. I had a theology that God was up in heaven and we’re down here. My prayers would rise up there and on occasion God would answer and intervene.

    With this belief I would enter each day like I was alone. Me in the big, unpredictable, chaotic world. It created a base line anxiety that became the norm for me. But one day during a time of meditation and centering prayer I had a profound experience.

    I realized that I had lived my whole life like God was far off… like that white bearded deity on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That God was up there and I was down here.

    But in that moment of meditation I experienced the presence of God all around like I was immersed in a cloud. And that God was not only all around but within me… closer than my breath. Just like you’re your in dense fog and breathe in, that cloud is breathed into your lungs. It was like I was breathing in the presence of God and we were one. There was no separation between me and God and there never could be. God is not far off. God is with us. God is the very presence and energy that sustains me and moves me.

    This is what St. Paul was talking about when he said that in God all people “live, and move and have their being” (Acts 17:28).

    Richard Rohr was on retreat and heard about a brother monk who lived as a hermit in the woods. As Richard was walking one day he saw the hermit walking through the wooded path so Richard stepped aside allowing him to pass in silence.

    The monk stopped in front of him and said, “You are famous and people listen to you. Please tell them that God is not out there, but God is in here on the inside.” And he kept walking. He had one message to share with the world and that was it… the location of God.

    God is with you right now, in that pew. God will be with you when you walk out those doors. When you’re driving home, when you’re watching Netflix and eating lunch. You can never be separate from the loving presence of God. And we are invited not just realize God is with us, but to abide, rest, unbrace, trust. But what does it mean in day to day life to abide? And I want to end by being incredibly practical.

    To abide means you hold your own agenda lightly and trust that you are genuinely held in God’s loving presence. Let me give you an example. For many years my wife Beth and I have dreamed about buying some land and building. Enough land to have a lot of natural beauty and space. With two boys out of the house and the other in high school we thought it was time.

    We did the insane work of getting our house ready for market. We lived there for 16 years and it was a lot of work. We finally got it all ready and put it on the market and we had a ton of appointments for walk throughs. We know our neighbors and would be in their house checking out the folks as they pulled up. With each one we wondered… is this the person? The couple? The family? I had the dream it would sell in a few days. It didn’t.

    Each day it was like… is this it?!? And then it wouldn’t happen. No offers. Would our house sell before Christmas? It created a lot of anxiety. Living in limbo.

    Now, Beth and I had some choices to make at this point. We both had the agenda to sell quickly for the price we wanted. We could choose to stew in anxiety. Yell at our realtor. Blame each other. Blame the dogTry to control things we can’t control… or we could choose to abide.

    I can tell you what this means for us. To abide means we trust that when it’s the right time to sell our house, it will sell. The right buyer will be there. And we can feel our disappointment and anxiety, but we choose to let that go in the belief that God is our provider. If it didn’t sell, then we trust that’s best for us. If it takes 6 months, OK. If we sell it tomorrow, great. We let go of our agenda to ultimately trust ourselves into the loving presence of God. To trust yourself, and your ultimate good, into God’s hands allows the seemingly impossible words of the mystic Julian of Norwich to ring true, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” This does not mean we don’t suffer, but we are invited to keep an open and trusting heart through the valleys and peaks. I have found that when I don’t abide, when I live like I am alone, I become anxious and cynical. But when I abide, like the branch connected to the vine, even the difficult times are full of joy.

    In fact, Beth and I have developed a short hand – As we encourage one another and ourselves to trust God’s presence and flow. We say, “well, let’s trust flow.” It is intentional work but it makes life a joy. It makes Beth my partner in the wildness of life.

    We do the work to trust God’s flow with our kids. With our jobs. With our friends. With our finances. With our church. This is God’s and we can abide in that loving presence.

    Author Daniel Moore asks, “What would be different in my life if I felt totally safe? Held? Loved? Or that life is trustworthy?” That is the invitation of Christ. We are invited to abide. To know you are safe. You are held and loved. Just like my dad treading water with his arms up ready to catch me… encouraging me to trust to jump to go for it… God is always with us encouraging us to jump and dream and live fully and freely. Let yourself abide in those loving arms. Amen.