(A Note! As often happens, sermon themes began to develop far beyond the actual preaching event. Again and again I was challenged to consider the invitation “come and see” not only made by God to me but also my readiness and comfort to make the invitation to God! Accessibility & Transparency – we expect this of our leaders in any arena especially church and state; how accessible and transparent dare I be in relation to God? Alan)
Below is the audio of the sermon preached at 8am (at 10am I found myself distracted by conversations deep within!) and below the audio is the sermon text.
Sermon Preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI. Sunday January 15 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale “So, can I drop by… now?”
Before the sermon –
As your priest and pastor, I believe it is right to make reference to the most significant event that takes place this coming Friday, January 20th – the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. To omit reference would be to risk devaluing a most profound occasion and yet to make reference is to risk accusation of partisanship – such is the sorry state of our divided nation and our currently risible political converse.
Like each of you, I have views about the personal qualities and political aspirations of our, yes our, President-elect. If I were to articulate them now, some of you would applaud and others would disapprove. So here disagreement is inevitable but what I share with each of you is a prayerful and constant hope that our President-elect will do that which is good, safe and healthy for this country whether we proudly own it as citizen by birth or by choice.
We agree to make this simple prayer – God bless America. Amen. So be it!
The Gospel for today (John 1:29-42) is packed with the energetic, contagious and transformative impact of meeting Jesus. Twice John Baptist experiences the majestic Lord and cannot but urge his attending disciples, “Look, look, look who it is!” Because of John’s testimony they are compelled to spend time with Jesus and then, because of their testimony, a brother is drawn to “come and see” – and that brother is Peter!
Friends, this is evangelism at its very best – not the sharing of theological truth, not the hard-won argument of philosophical debate, not the beating down of another’s belief but rather the enthusiastic, simple, electric encouragement to “Come and See.”
“I was blind but now I can see.”
“I was guilty but now I am free.”
“Once alone but now in company.”
“Come and see.”
John 1:39 “They came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day.” Over the past couple of days I have opened dusty tomes of Biblical commentaries, I have done my best to mine the depths of internet scholarship but I have achieved very little to understand the geographical details of this verse. So, where was he staying? A few suggest somewhere in Capernaum, less few somewhere in Nazareth. But then I realized that the verse speaks not of location but rather of accessibility and of transparency.
“Oh, we must have lunch sometime” – synonyms: “We should catch up”; “Let’s grab a drink soon.” In the name of civility, politeness and social intercourse sometimes invitations are offered and, as politely, are declined. But not with Jesus – there is an existential, dramatic, authentic invitation that means “let’s do it now.”
A close friendship was formed in Philadelphia with a man that once I related to with difficulty and where possible with evasion. It began when one day he stopped me in Rittenhouse Square and told me that his wife (alongside him) had suffered from an arm fracture for a long time. He asked, “Will you pray for her?” I said I would and went to move on… “No, will you pray for her now!” I did. A similar event took place yesterday.
Jesus is accessible… at any time, in any place, whatever our condition.
From “Decoding Homes and Houses” by Julienne Hanson (1998, C.U.P.)
“Frequently working-class families live in severely overcrowded conditions (but) there is likely to be one special room, the front room on the ground floor, which does not form part of the everyday living accommodation. Although the parents ‘have not got room’ for married children, they still reserve a separate space… for the best furniture piano, family photographs, plaster ducks and company clock. The room is hardly ever used. It is only opened on formal occasions, to entertain the vicar or to lay out the dead.”
No “front room containment policy” when we stay with Jesus; I wonder if we return the compliment?
“They came… and remained with him that day” – astonishing, attractive, alternative accessibility.
This “open door” policy is enshrined within the very heart of God; it offers me and you respect, attention and acceptance… however, wherever and whenever… this is the Grace of God at work.
We limit accessibility to our peril though often due to our experience; is this how we view God?
“They came and SAW where he was staying and they remained…”
As Andrew and his friend entered the place where Jesus was staying and remained awhile, they encountered a transparency on the part of Jesus. They saw the context in which he was comfortable, they heard the conversations in which he engaged and they noted the comrades whom he was pleased to call his friends, his hosts.
It is often said, “We are as sick as our secrets” – well in this regard Jesus was really rather healthy; there was a transparency, an integrity, an authenticity about Jesus that was disarming and yet enabling.
Doubtless they knew of majestic titles that were cast around this Galilean (Lamb of God, Messiah) but, though these designations were opaque to humble fisherman, a glorious transparency was afforded each of them as they met Jesus and “saw where he was staying.”
It is our task as Christians and as Church to do all we can to make Jesus accessible and transparent to all people. Beware theological gobbledygook, liturgical fripperies, unspoken rules of conduct.
It is our vulnerable delight to be accessible and transparent to those with whom we live and work and love.
It is our expectation in church and state, that those who take up majestic offices and weighty titles will be to us as servants – humble, accessible and transparent.
No easy road, no easy task but the road, the task of the One who said, “I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.”