Recognizing Jesus

Sermon preached by Rob Barber
on Sunday 19th January (Second Sunday of Epiphany)
Isaiah 49.1–7; Psalm 40.1–12; 1 Corinthians 1.1–9; John 1.29–42

This is the second week where we have seen an account of Jesus’ baptism; last week from Matthew’s gospel, and the one we’ve just heard from the gospel of John. While both show the significance of this event with the image of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and both highlight the importance of John the Baptist, this morning’s account concentrates on strangers being recognised and named.

I’m sure we all know that feeling of seeing someone we recognise, but can’t quite put our finger on who it is. I remember once passing someone in the street who I recognised and smiled and said hello as we passed. He smiled politely and said hello back. It was only some time later that I realised that didn’t know this person at all, but was actually a well known television personality. There’s also the story of how the Queen was one day walking through the village near her home in Balmoral wearing her everyday casual clothes – headscarf and wellies, we’ve all seen pictures of her like that. A woman visiting the village stopped her and said “excuse me, but you look just like the queen”. Her majesty apparently replied “how very reassuring” before continuing on her way.

In this morning’s gospel, first we see John recognise Jesus as the Son of God, declaring “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. Then Andrew recognises him, naming him as Messiah and Rabbi, finally Jesus meets Simon where the tables are turned somewhat where he recognises him as Cephas – the “rock”.

We can speculate whether Jesus already knew Andrew and Simon a little – after all, the gospels don’t show us every minute detail of Jesus’ life, but even of their paths had crossed previously, it doesn’t weaken the importance of this encounter and let’s not forget that John, a relative of Jesus, had acknowledged that he hadn’t previously recognised him for who he was.

Through these encounters we need to look at what is going on under the surface. What prompted Jesus to ask “What is it you are looking for?” Although we don’t know the tone of voice in which this was said, it still comes across as a very direct question – almost rude even. When the disciples responded by asking “where are you staying?” Jesus sad simply “come and see”. He wasn’t telling them his address where he was staying, he was saying “come and see. Come and follow me and you will find what you are looking for.”

This is the question we need to ask ourselves – what are we looking for? Do we recognise Jesus?

Although we see John, Andrew and Simon Peter recognising Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, it’s worth considering how many others saw him for who he was. To all the people jostling at the banks of the Jordan, he could have been just another man seeking baptism from John. In the verses immediately preceding the passage we heard this morning, John tells the crowd “among you stands one who you do not know”. The crowd flocking to John still, at this stage, didn’t recognise Jesus and as such, didn’t really know what they were looking for.

I was once leading a youth group and asked if any of us would recognise Jesus if he was around today. One of them (who happened to be the son of the curate) said “probably not, we’d just think he was one of those people hanging around outside the station shouting at the passers by”. Although he probably had a point there, I wonder if it’s as simple as that. If Jesus was walking the earth today, would he be standing on the streets preaching or would be be quietly getting on with the business of helping out at the local foodbank or volunteering in a nursing home?

So how do we recognise Jesus? Well, the simple answer is that if we look, we see him in everything and everyone. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the passage in Matthew’s gospel where he says “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me”. That means everybody. Whenever you help someone you like, you do it for Jesus, but that can only work if we extend that to those who make us uncomfortable – the homeless person, the drug addict, the person who looks and acts a bit different from the rest of us and yes, the person who stands outside the station shouting at passers by.

At the moment, I’m working through daily readings on the Rule of St Benedict. One of the rules of the Benedictines is that of hospitality where they are told “Let all those who arrive be received like Christ”. That is a rule we could all take on board, because that is how we come to recognise Christ in our lives.

In a few minutes, we will meet Christ in the holy sacrament at the altar where we recognise him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but we can only truly receive him if we recognise him in one another and in those behind the four walls of this church building.

So as we welcome Christ into our lives through word and sacrament and also though our actions towards others, we ask ourselves, as Jesus asked those first disciples, what are we looking for? To find that answer we listen for those words of Jesus: “Come and see”.

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