There’s a part in every story when the hero is invited to do something ridiculous. Something beyond his comprehension or her ability to see. It’s usually something that, if they knew how it all would play out, they’d probably just say,
“You know what? I think I’ll pass.”
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany | John 1:29-42
Heroes are the heart of our stories. Rey or Luke Skywalker, Neo Anderson, Frodo Baggins. And each is invited to take a risk.
In the church, we speak of this as “being called by God”. But for us, it’s less like a phone call and more like a flash of inspiration. What we receive is an invitation; an offering, opportunity. This is it! Here’s our chance!
Is there any wonder these invitations come to the meager and the lowly? To a young orphan, a simple office worker, or a diminutive hobbit? Symbols of lower status and even lower consequence. The barest of lights in the darkness. The smallest of seeds.
And then it comes; a moment, an opportunity that comes like it was orchestrated like it was meant to be. An invitation to leave the comfort of their whole existence: the shelter of a sand-covered relic, the safety of a desk in an office, or the most exquisite example of comfort and safety, the indomitable Bag End in the placid community of The Shire.
Modest nothings. Unaware of the journey and the adventure that awaits them.
Who are we following?
These people don’t know where they’re going. They barely know what’s next. Is there a better example of our journey than that? We may have goals and dreams and expectations for the future, but we barely control the right now. The rumbling of our stomachs. The droopiness of our eyelids.
Our attention – what do I need to get from Kroger? Second breakfast? – Even now, we can’t know what will be said to us or what traffic will be like, we suspect and we move on, one step in front of another.
And when we get the chance to evaluate and consider where we are and what we are doing and where we are going, we have to ask ourselves
Who are we following?
Really. He invited us on this journey and we’re not sure exactly where we’re going, but this person is offering a truth I can’t get in safety; an understanding I can’t get sleeping through Netflix.
And in our gospel, there’s a fantastic moment in which people are awakened to a new reality. Because John has. He has seen it. He says
“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him…And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The Spirit coming upon Jesus. He’s seen it and he knows. This is the one. The anointed. Blessed by God. Son of God. Jesus is the one.
So the next day John points him out to his disciples. John does. And right then, they listen and they see and they go. John’s disciples leave him and go to Jesus.
Is John upset? Embarrassed? Losing his disciples to another prophet, a potential rival? I don’t think so. John has a different role to play in the story.
The Hero’s Guide
Heroes always have someone to help get them to where they need to be. And I mean that physically, mentally, emotionally. Luke has Yoda, Frodo has Gandalf, Neo has Morpheus, but sometimes guides can have much smaller roles. Like Maz for Rey. She gives Rey the invitation she never expected to receive.
John is a minor figure to the bigger story. A story in which a much more powerful person radiates star power. We often think of Jesus as our guide to God. That makes a lot of sense. But John serves as a guide for Andrew and another disciple. He shows them the Lamb of God. He names who is before them. Jesus isn’t just some dude.
“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
John guides them to Jesus. And then what happens?
They just start following him. And the scene is almost comical. They are literally following behind Jesus. And he turns and asks them a question. Now it’s not the question we’d ask. We’d ask What are you doing? or maybe Why are you following me? Seriously. You’re creeping me out.
Jesus’s question is more curious.
“What are you looking for?”
It may as well be what is your quest? What drives you to go on this journey? What’s the point?
These two follow Jesus to follow him. To go where the Son of God is going. And the clue that they aren’t fellow pilgrims is that they see Jesus as their rabbi. Their teacher whom they will follow and observe and serve to learn the faith he offers.
That’s how a disciple learns. By following the rabbi. Doing what they do. But you start with walking behind; following.
They have accepted John’s invitation to go on an epic journey: an immersive and transformative learning experience.
But the story gives us one more twist. It isn’t going to be just the two of them.
Invited to Invite
Andrew will invite his brother (Simon Peter). He’ll invite. He’ll be a guide. A guide to Jesus for someone else. Like he will again later with the boy who has a couple fish and some loaves of bread. This is what he does. Disciple and guide.
He’s following the one. He accepted the invitation. He’s there. And his first response is to share it. He wants his brother to know this feeling. This opportunity. So he goes and gets him and brings him to Jesus.
“We have found the Messiah”
Messiah means anointed. So he says that WE have found the anointed. The anointed one. Follow.
This season, this new year, offers us a chance to once again write a new story. To start over and begin again. And we began our year celebrating the Holy Name and the Epiphany and the Baptism. Jesus’s beginning.
And this isn’t just our remembering his beginning, but ours. Every time. A new beginning. Washed clean in the waters of baptism. A chance for a do-over.
And we get this invitation. Starting again, new. Invited to follow Jesus like it’s the first time. Follow where he leads us. Learn what he teaches us. Become what he transforms us into.
This is such a good deal. Every year it’s the same. Skip your Black Friday, this is the real sale.
And when we get the bug, we just want to share it. Share him. This life. This quest. This chance to leave the shire or the matrix or even the planet. This life as we know it. And we’ll need help so we might want to invite some friends to come along.