Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spending the Time: Reflections for Epiphany 2, Year A

This sermon, or something like it, preached 1/16/11 at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, Kansas City.

Those who know anything about me at all know that I love music – in eclectic, almost chaotic variety.  Most also know that I call myself “a noise person.”  I prefer not to work in silence, but to have something in the background.

So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I have music playing in the background while I work.  Usually, it’s from the web site Pandora, where I have several “channels.”  Usually, I’m not paying all that much attention.  But one day, not long ago, I heard this:

In a seedy karaoke bar by the banks of the mighty Bosphorus
There’s a Japanese man in a business suit singing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”


And the muscular cyborg German men dance with sexy French Canadians,
And the overweight Americans wear their patriotic jumpsuits.

Wow!  Now, if you’re at all a fan of the poets Bob Dylan or e. e. cummings, or even Walt Whitman, you have some sense of lyrics that can be put together just because the words feel right.  Still, I was intrigued.  I also realized that what I had heard was the last verse, the end.  I wanted to hear more.  So, I started to listen for the song.

Soon enough it came up again, and I listened with more care.  That’s how I caught the first verse.

In a wooden boat in the shipping lanes with the freighters towering over me,
I can hear the jets flying overhead, leaving trails across the darkening sky.
And as the sun is going down I can take a taxi into town,
And the waiter at the restaurant sets a table just for one.

Cool!  This was just as interesting an image as the last verse.  Of course, there was no obvious connection, except perhaps the reference to the Bosphorus, one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.  But, the song had me, and I wanted to know more.

Fortunately, from Pandora I had the name of the song and the name of the group: “Wheels” by the group Cake.  With that, then, I was able to go to that other online reference for contemporary culture, YouTube.   There I found the middle, the second verse that brought it together.

So I had a plane to take me to a place so far away from you,
Eventually we began to see that we could be completely free.
And I could get away from you, and you could get away from me,
And we could live each separately in our cities in the sun.

Now, with that the song made some sense.  It’s a song about the failure of a relationship, and looking for a “geographical solution:” running away.  Having run away, the first and last verses show us just how far the singer had run, both geographically and emotionally; and just how empty he had found the new life he had run to.

I came to like the song a lot, and to appreciate the poetry of it.  But if I hadn’t gone beyond my initial interest and taken the time to hear it out, I would never have put it all together.

There’s something like this going on in today’s Gospel lesson.  This is a short passage, but it speaks of events over several days.  It begins with John’s proclamation of who Jesus is, and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that John has been preaching.  “Here is the Lamb of God, here is the Son of God.  Here is one I’ve been talking about!”  And he’s not just saying this once.  The lesson says he said it from one day to the next.

Two of John’s disciples hear it, proclaimed aloud as Jesus passes: “Here is the Lamb of God.”  They take off after Jesus.  Clearly they’re intrigued.  Jesus notices, turns and says, “What are you looking for?”

They don’t really answer.  Perhaps they don’t know how to answer.  So, they say, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Jesus does answer, but his answer is not a location but an invitation: “Come and see.”

They are intrigued, and so they follow.  But, more important, they stay.  “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.”  That verse has intrigued me, because there are several possibilities of meaning here.  One is that from that point, from that day, they remained followers of Jesus, and never returned to John.  Another is a simple note of time: they stayed all day, or all that was left of it.

I found myself thinking about that reference to time: “It was about 4:00 o’clock;” or, in a more literal translation, “It was about the tenth hour.”  Did they join Jesus late in the day?  Or, did they follow Jesus earlier and stay with him into the late afternoon?  The sentence is really just dropped in there – a time reference with little context – without clear connection to the verse before.

Or, for that matter, to what comes  after.  Here is the next event: “ He [that is, Andrew] first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).”  First thing after Jesus invited them?  First thing when they decided to stay with Jesus?  First thing the next morning?  It’s not really clear.

What seems interesting to me in this is that time seems to be passing in all of this, however concisely it’s reported.  Andrew and another heard John, and followed Jesus, and then spent some time.  It was sometime late in the day or early the next morning – sometime after they’d first followed Jesus – that Andrew can say to Peter, “We have found the Messiah.”

And perhaps even more time passes.  Those scholars who want to harmonize John’s report with the report in Mark and Matthew suggest that Peter and Andrew, and also James and John, were prepared to leave their boats and follow because they had first met him well before, as reported by John.

What strikes me about all of this is that all our important relationships are like that.  They begin with a sense of excitement and curiosity, but it’s only with time that they become mature, and we discover who the other person is.  It’s certainly true of being in love.  There’s that first flush of infatuation, but it takes time to know and love the person as he or she is.  It’s true for us as parents.  We’re enchanted with that new child, but really loving the child comes as the child grows and changes and becomes a person. 

It’s also true of our relationship with Christ, and with his Body, the Church.  Like the first disciples we find something compelling about Jesus.  We hear for ourselves that invitation, “Come and see.”  And yet it takes time for us to grow in that relationship, to discover for ourselves what it means, and what it means for us, that Jesus is the Messiah.  It takes time for us to discover our various vocations, and to find our place in the Church. 

Perhaps that especially true for us in the Episcopal Church.  After all, when someone asks, “What it the Episcopal Church about,” our answer is, “Come and spend some time.  To see who we are, how we understand the Christian faith, come and worship with us for a while.”  Sure, we do put it into a book – but it’s a book to structure a life of prayer and worship, and not a set of theological propositions.

And if that’s true of our experience of the faith, that it’s not just about coming to Christ but also about growing in Christ, what does it say about how we bring others to Christ?  It is not enough for us to point to Christ, to say, “There is the Messiah.”  We are also called to show them Christ, to help them learn what we have learned, what Andrew learned so that he called Peter.  We need to be ourselves the light to the nations, reflecting God’s light so that those we encounter will not only come and see, but also want to come and stay.  That is about welcome, certainly; but it’s also about a profound hospitality of the kind that held Andrew on that day and in the days that followed, that led Andrew to invite others, beginning with his own brother.

Like Andrew, we find Christ compelling. And like Andrew, we need to spend some time with Christ so that we can learn what it really means to say, “We think we have found the Messiah.”  We are called to invite others, and to provide them the hospitality that encourages them to learn what we mean when we say, “We have found the Messiah.”  It isn’t enough for us to respond with someone says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” or for us to say that to another.  We need to commit ourselves, and to invite others to “Come and see; come and stay; come and grow!”

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