The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
Epiphany II, Year A
January 19, 2014
Listen while you read:
I love those off the wall, spontaneous conversations that happen in everyday life. I have found myself in some interesting situations in stores and restaurants. Folks will come up and say or ask the strangest things!
The past two weeks have been full of encounters, of meeting people and introducing myself to them, of beginning to learn who they are. I have already shared so many wonderful conversations with some of you. And, I have found that Gainesville is full of great people.
I met Frankie Luna when she gave our family her table at Avacado’s. That was gracious. I met two nice folks at Schlotzskys who, when I told them I was the new priest at Grace Church, said, “you are SO young!” I told them I looked good for 57. They didn’t believe me.
I met one man in the line at Publix who asked me “who do you belong to” when he saw my collar, an interesting question that I’m still pondering. I told him I was the new priest at Grace Episcopal. He said he knew of the church. Then, he leaned in and said, “Now, I don’t want to stir anything up, but can I ask you a question?” “Yes,” I told him as I purchased my bread and sliced chicken. I mentally prepared myself for whatever controversial topic he was sure to raise. “About this Downton Abbey…..” That was not what I expected him to say! So, we stood there and shared a few thoughts about the perils of Henry VIII’s decisions regarding the property of the Catholic Church in 16th century England! You just never know when you’ll have a chance to have an interesting encounter.
So, when we look at today’s Gospel text, we see this remarkable encounter between John the Baptizer and Jesus, and the respective folks who were following each of them around.
John’s disciples go and scope out Jesus, travelling with him a while to see what is going on. Jesus sees them in the mix and he asks him this amazing question: “What are you looking for?” And they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Notice what Jesus does at that point. He doesn’t just explain to them what he’s doing or simply give them his address. He invites them in: “Come and see” he tells them.
I should tell you that I took advantage of Jesus’ invitation these past two weeks, to invite people to Come and See. And, the vast majority of folks told me, “Well, we go to Bill Coat’s church!”
But it’s so important to see Jesus life as a pattern that we are called to live ourselves. We don’t just read about Jesus, and keep his story, his life, his teachings removed from us. We are called, as we were reminded last week in the Baptism, to “grow into the full stature of Christ.” That is what it means to practice our faith, to be disciples of Jesus in the world today, to live into the Spirit’s call for our individual lives and our life together as a community.
Faith is meant to be lived wholly. It is meant to be experienced and integrated into our every day lives. We are created in the image of God, and we are reminded by the mystics and saints that we are ever growing into the likeness of God. And, the church becomes a space in which we embody this as individuals and as a community…
And, as a church, as a spiritual community, we always look to Jesus and seek to emulate his life, to embody his Spirit within us. We see how Jesus interacts with John’s friends, people who were seeking a deeper understanding of God, people who were searching for deeper meaning in their lives, people who had questions, curiosities, wonders…
Jesus’ words speak to us today: “What are you looking for?” What do you seek? What are you searching for? What was that motivation within you that causes you to keep wondering, to ask questions of faith, to enter into conversations with one another?
And, we are invited to embody Jesus’ own words in our daily lives, in our encounters with others who we meet. With those at Good News at Noon, with our fellow youth we meet at school between classes, with those we meet to quilt with in the conference room, or those who gather to share their poetry with one another on Fridays. Or those who also have children and with whom we share a certain perspective of hair pulling and temper tantrums. Anyone we meet….all whom we meet…in our encounters. Each of these encounters becomes an opportunity for us to embody Jesus’ own witness.
What are you looking for?
And in those situations we find ourselves in, we can share a heartfelt invitation: “Come and See.”
Come and see a community at prayer, a community who wants to spend time together, getting to know one another better. Come and see a community who is seeking to listen to the Spirit’s Voice within its midst, giving graces to each person, gifts that can be shared among the whole. Come and see a community who loves to worship. Come and see a community who embodies compassion in the world around us, who sees the concerns of the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the immigrant and the suffering… Come and see…we can say to the world around us.
Come and see, come and share in this community of Grace. It won’t be perfect, but it can be prayerful.
Because people are seeking…people are searching…for substance, for a space that will let them ask the deep questions of life, for a space that will invite them into a deeper experience of that burning reality that we call God. The question, our invitation, is, how are we helping to create that space? To nurture that space, as a community?
Maybe the words of Rainer Maria Rilke can offer us some language as we listen for God’s voice:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows that I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.