The First Sunday after the Epiphany

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

 

I am sure most of us remember the story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus.  Two of Jesus’ followers are traveling to the village, and somberly reflecting on the events surrounding his crucifixion.  As they discuss these things the risen Christ begins to walk with them, and he asks them what they are talking about.  His followers fail to recognize him.

 

They are surprised he hasn’t heard of the harrowing events enveloping Jerusalem in the previous days.  They tell him that they had hoped Jesus was going to be the one to redeem Israel.  Jesus, whose identity remains hidden, responds “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”  Then, we read, he works through the entire corpus of scripture, from Moses to the prophets, and shows how they all point to himself.

 

I cannot think of any conversation in the history of the world I would rather listen to, than the one Jesus has on the road to Emmaus…when he reveals to his fellow travellers how all the scriptures point to his birth, death, and resurrection.  Alas, we do not have the transcript.

 

Our gospel passage this morning tells of another conversation between Jesus and his first disciples, that’s equally weighty and significant.  It’s a close second for conversations I would have loved to overhear.  It’s so significant that Jesus’ first followers are able to recall the exact time of day when they came to know who Jesus truly was, the tenth hour, which is four-o-clock in afternoon.

 

 

 

The conversation begins with Andrew—and a fellow follower of John the Baptist—calling out to Jesus, with the words “Rabbi, teacher, where are you staying,” and ends with Andrew seeking out his brother Peter, exclaiming “we have found the messiah, the anointed one, the Christ.”  A dramatic shift in thinking occurs during their time with Jesus.  In their eyes, Jesus rose from the status of teacher, to the anointed Christ.  We don’t know what was said, or if much was said, but it turned Andrew’s life upside down.

 

Andrew was with John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordon when Jesus first arrived.  He heard the “greatest of all men born of a woman” proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  John uses the most exalted language to describe Jesus, and his own followers take notice.

 

Andrew heard John say that his entire ministry was to proclaim the coming of this very man, who will set the world right, and drench his followers with the Holy Spirit.  So the next day when he heard John testify, yet again, that Jesus is the Lamb of God, he and another of John’s disciples decide to follow Jesus.

 

They trail him at a distance without saying a word, until Jesus turns and asks the penetrating question—we should all ask ourselves—“what seek ye? What are you looking for?”  They answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  They desire to know more about the man on whom the dove rested.

 

Their initial interaction reflects a deep Christian truth.  As soon as we take the first step towards following Christ, he will turn to us, and begin revealing himself more fully.  He will turn, with open arms, and say “come and see.”  As one writer puts it, “when the human mind begins to seek and the human heart begins to long, God comes to meet us far more than halfway.”  All we must do is take the first step.[1]

 

Jesus takes the initiative and invites his timid tagalongs to spend the day with him.  Again, we do not know the exact words he said, or if he said much at all.  Maybe, Jesus didn’t need to say much.  Maybe he cooked them fish on a charcoal fire.  I believe his messiahship, his divinity, would have been quite obvious to the truly hungry soul.

 

What we do know is they began the day addressing Jesus as a respected teacher, and ended the day exclaiming they had found the anointed one, the Christ.

 

The transition they undergo is profound, and serves to remind all of us that Jesus isn’t merely a teacher—someone who instructs us how live.  He is the anointed one who takes away the sin of the world, and opens the way to eternal life.  He is a teacher, but he is also the savior of the world.

 

Andrew initially calls out to Jesus desiring knowledge, wanting to be taught, but finds in him, something so much more, a deep joy that needs to be spread.  Andrew heard the exalted testimony of John at the Jordan, yet more was needed, he needed to move from the head to the heart, he needed to fall in love with Christ.  Only those who love will recognize Jesus as the Christ.  St. John will later write, “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

 

To know who God is, we must love God, with our whole, heart, soul, and mind.  This may seem obvious, another Christian platitude.  And we may assure ourselves that of course we love God.  How can a Christian not love God?

 

A couple of months after I met my wife Kate, she asked me this exact question: Graham, do you love God?  The question gave me pause.  If you have known Kate for any period of time, you will know how skillfully she drops profound questions on unsuspecting victims.

 

After I gathered myself, my first response was to say, well of course I love God, I am in the ordination process, I give all my time to learning more about God, I have committed myself to His purposes.  Initially I concluded it was not a question I needed to contend with.  But it didn’t go away, and every so often it would come to the forefront of my mind, and continues to.  Do I love God?  I eventually accepted that the question contained something I needed to work through.

 

I came to realize that although I honored God, respected God, praised God, and committed myself to his purposes, there was something lacking.  No doubt, honor, respect, and commitment are closely related to love, but they somehow don’t equal love.  My predicament was not unlike a knight who honors and respects his king, gives him praise and carries out his orders, but does so without true love for the king.

 

This may be an acceptable way to relate to God, if we weren’t commanded, above all else, to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.  Now, God doesn’t command this because He’s jealous, or dependent on our love, but because He is love, and we can only truly be with Him if we share in His love.

 

I challenge you with the same question: “do you love God?”  Is your relationship with God first and foremost, a relationship of love?

 

 

Fr. Nathan Carr recently gave a sermon where he said that the greatest thing we can do for our children, the best way to show them our love, is to give them our time.  The same is true for our relationship with God.  The best way to show love for God, and to grow in love for him, is by spending time with him.

 

A couple of years back I became friends with a Catholic priest who clearly evidenced a deep love for God, and he had a daily spiritual practice I greatly admired.  Every morning he would set aside an hour to “spend time with God.”  He wouldn’t read scripture; he wouldn’t petition God with prayers; he would simply spend time silently in his presence, as though responding to Christ’s invitation to “come and see.”

 

To grow in love for God, we must spend time with him.

 

With time, our eyes will be opened, and we will recognize him, and we will say with the disciples “were not our hearts burning within in us.”  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] William Barclay, John, 69.