Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Sculptor, The Nun and the Invitation - A Sermon for Epiphany 2 - John 1:29-42

It doesn't matter whether you visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park; Barbara Hepworth's house or Kew Gardens. In fact, it doesn't matter where you see sculpture outdoors - the landscape and context shape how we encounter the art, and the art can shape how we enjoy the context and landscape. Whether it's Hepworth's almost organic forms set in the beauty and simplicity of her garden or Damien Hirst's towering The Virgin Mother blurring the lines between internal and external landscapes and the beauty of both. At its best, it should make you want to go, 'Look!'

As children, we're taught that pointing at a person is rude. Pointing someone out like that is a means of highlighting difference - usually negatively. My sister (when she was little) when I accused her of something, '... You did such and such…', went on to tell me that my one accusatory finger pointing at her, masked three others pointing back at me. She knew (or at least hoped) that what I was probably accusing her of, was possibly a means of covering my own tracks!

John the Evangelist and gospel writer has drawn the extraordinary claim of Christmas - that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe comes among us - into sharp focus in the early verses of this opening chapter of his Gospel. And then his namesake, John the Baptist, provides some clarity when asked, as to who he is and who he isn't in the verses preceding this morning's section. To ram his point home, the next day, John points Jesus out. What is striking for me about this section is the number of times variants of the verb to see or to look are used. Both seeing someone or looking for someone, are an invitation into a relationship of both depth and discovery.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” 

Sister Mary-Elizabeth was taken by the Prioress to meet friar Robert who was visiting the Convent, to see whether he wanted anything to eat. The Prioress was called away for a phone call. Sister Mary-Elizabeth sat with Robert as he ate. As she came with him to the door of the Convent to let him out, she brushed his sleeve. At that moment, they saw each other and the future differently. About a week later she received a message from Robert, asking whether she would leave her Carmelite order, and marry him. It’s not been an easy journey for either of them but what they have learned is by coming into that room on that day has led each of them into a relationship of depth and discovery with the other.

In the years I’ve served as your vicar I’ve rarely talked about evangelism but I have talked about mission. Maybe the word evangelism conjures up various images and preconceptions in your mind. I have talked often about invitation and building a culture of welcome. Friends as we rebuild as a church post-COVID and look to God for our life and growth going forward, I will need us all to play a part in evangelism through invitation and building a culture of welcome. A touch of love, an invitation to a service, building friendship with others here, is one of the simplest and most profound invitations into a relationship of depth and discovery you can make to someone. Asking someone to join you at church one week allows them to search themselves for the answer to the profoundest question in life - what are you looking for? And then inviting them to find the answer to all our life’s hopes in a life following Jesus. It sounds so easy. And it is. I am also aware it is also so hard, especially if you are feeling in any way unsure about your own faith but, there’s something upcoming that will hopefully give you some confidence.

Between 2-9 April this year I’d like to invite you personally to Walk with Jesus. Mark the dates in your diary now. Commit to joining us as a church family over the course of that week. Hear again part of the story of the life of Christ. Meet people. Build confidence and grow in faith. And then walk with Jesus. It will be good Please do make every effort to join us.

Friends,  it was good to see so many local folks with us in worship over Christmas. But as Richard Rohr says, ‘Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk-free; following Jesus changes everything. We will only grow as churches if God sends people to us or more realistically if we each invite them and welcome them when they come. 

’...  What are you looking for…?’, asked Jesus, ‘...Come and see…’

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