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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Come and see

You know, I don't know about you, but usually when I think about the calling of the disciples, I think about the scene by the See of Galilee, with James, John, Simon Peter and Andrew all mending their nets after a hard days' fishing – or, perhaps, them out in the lake still and Jesus pointing out to them a shoal of fish that he could see and they couldn't. And Simon Peter falling on his knees before Jesus, and Jesus telling them that if they followed him, he would teach them to fish for people. That's what I think of, anyway.

So this story in St John's gospel comes a little strange. In this passage, Andrew is already one of John the Baptist's disciples, and, at John's suggestion, goes after Jesus, and then comes and gets his brother, Simon Peter, and introduces him. Not a fish or fish-net in sight! You wonder, sometimes, when the stories were being collected, who told what to whom, and who was trying to make who look good!

Not that it matters, of course; truth and historical accuracy weren't the same thing in Bible days, and don't need to be today. So for now we'll stick with John's story, since it was our reading for today.

And today's story introduces us to a very important person – Andrew. At least, Andrew is very important in John's gospel. We don't often think of Andrew, do we? He's Peter's younger brother, but it's Peter, James and John who go with Jesus when he is transfigured; it's Peter, James and John who accompany Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. Andrew gets left out. Andrew stays back with the other disciples.

But here, according to John's version of events, Andrew was with John the Baptist, and when they encountered Jesus, he and his friend went off after him. “What do you want?” asked Jesus.

“Where do you live?” asks Andrew, in return. And Jesus says, “Come and see!”

We're all so used to the idea that “Foxes have dens and birds have their nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” that it might strike us a bit odd – but, of course, when Jesus hadn't yet started his ministry, he was not yet itinerant, and presumably still lived with his mother and brothers in Nazareth. Although, in fact, the story says that they were in Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising, and later on they leave to go home to Galilee, so presumably he was staying with friends somewhere. This wasn't the same Bethany where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived, though, so he wouldn't have been staying with them. This Bethany is sometimes called Betharaba, to distinguish it.

I did read that the questions have a deeper meaning – I don't know enough Greek to be sure, but apparently they can be interpreted as Jesus asking Andrew what he is really looking for, Andrew asking Jesus who he is at the deepest level, and Jesus inviting Andrew to come and find out. But whatever happens, Andrew and his companion spend some time with Jesus, and the first thing that Andrew does afterwards is go and find his brother Simon Peter, and introduce him to Jesus.

Andrew does this a lot in John's Gospel. He introduces people to Jesus. First of all he introduces Simon Peter – to become Peter, that great Rock on whom Jesus was to build his church. And Simon Peter becomes one of Jesus' closest friends and supporters, far closer than Andrew himself did.

Then a bit later on, Andrew introduces some Greek travellers to Jesus; the travellers speak to Philip, and he goes to Andrew, and then both of them take the travellers to see Jesus. We aren't told what happened next; John goes off into one of Jesus' discourses. But it was Andrew who introduced them.

And in John's version of the story of the feeding of the Five Thousand, it is Andrew who brings the boy to Jesus, that nameless youth who had five barley loaves and two fishes, and who was prepared to share them with Jesus. Andrew brought the boy to Jesus.

Yes, well. I've heard, and I'm sure you have too, lots of sermons on St Andrew where they tell you that you ought to be like him and introduce people to Jesus. Which is all very well, and all very true, but it's not quite as simple as that, is it?

First off, when preachers say things like that, the congregation – well, if I'm any representative of it – go all hot and wriggly and feel they must be terrible Christians because it's so long since they last introduced anybody to Jesus. And the ones who are apt to feel the hottest and wriggliest are those who really do more than anybody else to introduce people to Jesus.

And anyway, Andrew only introduces people to Jesus when they want to be introduced. Simon Peter, his brother, was probably already following John the Baptist, and was anxious to meet the Messiah. He may, of course, have thought that the Messiah, the Anointed One, would rebel against the occupying power, an earthly leader, but, of course, he soon learnt differently. The Greeks in chapter 12 of John's Gospel had asked for an introduction. The boy with five loaves and two fish was anxious to share his lunch with Jesus, but couldn't get past the security cordon of the disciples.

And when our friends want to be introduced to Jesus, that's when we need to imitate Andrew. If they don't want to know him yet, and we keep trying, we'll just end up being utterly boring and probably lose their friendship! It's probably better to just pray for our friends, and hold them up to Jesus that way – if and when they are ready for more, they will let you know. There is, as the Preacher tells us, a time for everything!

King's Acre, as a church, does a great deal to make Jesus known in the community, what with the youth club, Girls' Brigade, Pop-In and the Tuesday toddler group. We are giving people the opportunity – they know what a church stands for, and if they don't, they can always ask. We may never know how much we've done for people, how much our example has led them to want to find Jesus for themselves, to question the easy, unthinking atheism popularised by Richard Dawkins and his ilk. That's as it should be – our job is to be ourselves, to be Jesus' people, as we have committed ourselves to being.

So what sort of people are we going to be being? I think Jesus gives a very good picture of what his people are like in that collection of his teachings we call the Sermon on the Mount: poor in spirit – not thinking more of themselves than they ought; mourning, perhaps for the ungodly world in which we live; meek, which means slow to anger and gentle with others; hungry and thirsty for righteousness; merciful; pure in heart; peacemakers and so on.  They love everyone, even those who hate them; they refrain from condemning anyone, or even from being angry with them in a destructive way; they don’t hold grudges or take revenge, value or use people just for their bodies, or end their marriages lightly. Their very words are trustworthy. In short, they treat everyone with the greatest respect no matter what that person’s race, creed, sex or social class. They also treat themselves with similar respect, looking after themselves properly and not abusing themselves any more than they abuse others.

We don't, of course, have to force ourselves to become like that in our own strength – we'd make a pretty rotten job of it! We do have to give God permission to change us, though, to “let go and let God”. We have to be willing to allow God to work in us, gradually transforming us into the people we were created to be.

And as we do so, we will be able to have a response when our friends ask what Church is all about, or who Jesus is.

And people are asking, aren't they? Like Andrew, they want to know where Jesus is. Where is Jesus in these dreadful floods in Queensland? Where is Jesus in that shooting in Arizona? Where is Jesus in the riots in Tunisia and the Ivory Coast? Where is Jesus in Haiti, where a year after the earthquake people are still living in tents – and they are the lucky ones? Where is Jesus in Pakistan?

Jesus answers us, as he answered Andrew: Come, and see. And the answer, of course, is that he is there in the middle of it all, as he always is. “Behold the Lamb of God,” said John, “Who takes away the sins of the world.”

There are always dreadful things happening in our world. There always have been – even back in Jesus' day, you remember, the disciples asked what had gone wrong when a tower collapsed, killing rather a lot of people. Look at the book of Job, or at some of the Psalms, trying to come to terms with why bad things happen, and so often to people who really didn't deserve it. And there are no easy answers; all we can do is to trust and to believe that God is there in the middle of it. “Come and see,” said Jesus, and they went and saw. And we are invited to stay with him exactly where he is: in the middle of it all. Amen.

With thanks to Joelle Hanson for the 2nd half!

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