January 19, 2020
Deacon Alexandra Benson
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the one who calls us to “come and see” Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One of my favorite classes at Concordia College was creative writing. One of the lessons our professor hammered into us again and again was “Good writers show. They don’t tell.” In other words, “Don’t tell me what the character feels,” he would say. “Show me.” Don’t just tell me that the girl was excited: let me hear how she speaks so quickly that it’s like she can’t get the words out fast enough or help me see how her eyes light up at the sight of a dear friend. Don’t give me facts about the city: describe the details of the shops that line the streets and the way people hustle through the crosswalk. Don’t just say that the tree was big: describe how one could get lost in its branches or how its trunk serves as the perfect back rest as you recline against it with a good book.
I’ve heard it said that a writer’s most important job is to pay attention to the world around them, to notice the details others might miss. And good writing can be a beautiful escape – but eventually it should help us land back in our own bodies and our own lives with deeper intention.
After all, what makes life both so beautiful and so painful is that we live in our bodies and take in this world through our senses. We aren’t blobs of ideas floating in space, but creatures made of skin and bones – with noses that smell the fresh scent of springtime rain and ears that hear the sharp crack of thunder, with eyes that see the pastels of winter sunsets, with hands that feel the sharp sting after a really good high five, with tastebuds that get to experience the delight of a juicy peach or a square of rich dark chocolate.
We feel things in our bodies too; we carry joy and trauma and confidence and fear. We cry out when our bodies hurt; we push our bodies to the limit and rejoice when we find new strength or abilities; we lament when our bodies become weaker and can’t do the things they once did. Many of us take our bodies for granted. Some of us are painfully aware of them all the time.
We are embodied creatures. And I believe that to pay attention to our bodies is a holy act.
So, our gospel lesson this morning comes from the Gospel of John. I think John is particularly interesting because on one hand it is a big idea gospel. It is a gospel of abstraction, a gospel of the cosmos. John wants to make sure we understand how this whole God thing fits together, how Jesus is of God and from God and is God but also lived and dwelled on this earth and because of that draws us into God’s own existence. It’s beautiful, but sometimes John makes my brain hurt.
But John is also a story of details – it is a Gospel of the senses. It is a book that take seriously what it means to have a body and what it means for God to have a body and how crazy that all is. When we push past some of the theological abstraction, John helps me fine tune my senses to wonder where God is at work in the ordinary things around me. John beckons me to notice where Jesus might be calling me to pay attention, to show up, to follow him into this world, to recognize the holy moments happening all around me.
So, along the line of ordinary-ish seeming moments, today’s Gospel text might not really seem like anything too special. Perhaps if anything it’s just a bit odd. The first two disciples start to follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them, asks them what they are looking for, and instead of really answering him they blurt out another question. “Where are you staying?” they ask. On first glance, it kind of seems like a pretty shallow question to ask the Lamb of God. Like “Which hotel are you at? Can we come hang out?”
But a closer look at the original Greek maybe offers a bit of a deeper take. The word we translate as “staying” is the Greek word “meno.” Meno doesn’t so much to refer to a place you are hanging out temporarily or the address where you are currently living. A better translation might be the word “abide” or “dwell.” It’s a hard word to define but I think it gets to a deeper way of being, perhaps more permanent, more restful, more steady. A better translation of the disciples’ question then might be “How can we be with you? How can we rest in your presence? How can we keep ourselves from being separated from you? Where can we go that we know you will be?”
A quick theological aside: One more thing that is helpful to understand about John is that John defines sin as separation from God. Sin is what happens when you are far away from God’s love or when you forget that you are a child of God. Sin for John is not about how good or bad you are as a person but whether or not you are in God’s presence. So, God taking on flesh and coming to earth to hang out and be with people is a pretty big deal. It is God’s way of addressing the problem of sin and of assuring the people cannot be separate from God any longer. When we know the larger context, we discover that the disciples’ question, “Where are you staying?” might really be getting at the issue of sin and separation. They, like many of us, want to know that they can be safely in the presence of God.
I don’t know that Jesus ever took a writing class, but I think his response to this question is brilliant. When those disciples asked him how to be with him, he didn’t give a theological exposition or a list of rules. He didn’t just tell about God or try to explain God. He didn’t even give an address of where God lives. Instead, like a good writing student, he simply says, “Come and see.”
Come and experience. Come and live. I can’t just tell you about who God is and where God dwells — let me show you.
Thus begins a long and winding tale of God in the flesh let loose in this crazy world. It takes us to a wild wedding party, to the temple courts, to a well in the desert, to the shores of the sea of Galilee. We are invited to follow Jesus to the Mount of Olives, to the tomb of a dead man, to the upper room, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the foot of a cross.
And we discover the important characters – people who are sick. People who are poor. People who society despises. People who have taken advantage of others and are in need of a fresh start. People who are outcasts, whose reputation is questionable, those who no one else seems to take seriously. These are the people who take center stage. These are the people Jesus beckons us to come and see.
We are told a beautiful and impossible tale of radical inclusion, healing power, extravagant love, unexpected grace, and life beyond death – seemingly abstract concepts lived out in real time, in real bodies, in real lives of real people.
It’s all in the details. In the finest wine served at the most unexpected time. It’s the dirty feet lovingly washed by the teacher. It’s the costly perfume poured out in abundance. It’s the smell of the dead man now alive and joining his family for a meal. It’s the basket of bread that fed thousands. It’s the shocked expressions when the tomb was empty.
One of the things that continually fascinates me about Scripture is how it can speak across time and space. This invitation of Jesus offered to those disciples two thousand years ago still speaks to us today. We are invited not only to dig into Scripture with eyes and hearts wide open, but to then show up in our world with that same openness. Part of the miracle of God in a body is that it blurs all of our lines about what is ordinary and what is holy, about what is worldly and what is heavenly. God dwells not just in some other divine realm but in this world too. Part of our call as Christians then is to point to the sacredness all around us. To remind each other of Christ’s call to “come and see” and to continually wonder what God is up to here and now.
Discerning where Christ is dwelling in the world can seem like a daunting task. But we can begin by asking, Where do you see love? Compassion? Forgiveness? Mercy? Where have you been given a second chance when you don’t think you deserve one? Where do unlikely people gather together for the sake of community or love or belonging? Where are people being generous? Where are people sacrificing their time or energy to serve other or the planets? Where do you see beauty? Simplicity? Stillness? Courage?
And where are the lonely, the sick, the suffering?
In all these places, Christ is there. In all these places, Christ is beckoning us to “Come and see.” And when we catch a glimpse of God among us, I think it becomes our responsibility to point the way like John the Baptist. “Look! Over there! Could that be God at work?”
Maybe it’s here at YCC. Maybe it’s in the food pantry at Ministry on the Margins. Maybe it’s in our work, in school, around the dinner table. In the quiet, simple moments, as well as the loud and extravagant ones. Christ is being revealed here and now, again and again.
Come and see, beloved ones.