A Life-Changing Experience of the Divine John 1:29-42
I remember as a child reading one of those Readers’ Digest short and funny anecdotes about a family that was on holidays in America. Claiming to be a true story, the writer was at the Grand Canyon marvelling at its beauty and wonderful features. A car pulled up beside him to disgorge a large family. The father, with a string of cameras around his neck, took photos of the vista before him in quick succession on each one. His youngest child in the meantime was struggling to see over the safety fence.
Having taken his photos, Dad ordered everyone back in the car. “But I didn’t see it!’ complained the smallest child. “You can see it when we get home”, said Dad. “Now get in the car.”
It is a funny story, but one that could be said to reflect our modern world. How often do we eschew the real thing for an image or electronic version? Is it more important to be seen to have been somewhere, than to immerse ourselves in the real experience?
One of the phenomena that has grown from our social media world is the ‘selfie’. Everywhere you go of any significance you see the phones pulled out and held above the head facing the owner whose back is generally turned towards the action or attraction behind. The real message is clear: “I was there!”
The question is how fully present are such people? Are they engaging with the historical or geographical or artistic attraction, are they learning about it, immersing themselves in its story, allowing themselves to be consumed by the spirit of history, or the earth or the artists, or are they more influenced by the excitement of being a tourist who could say “I was there”?
How often do we allow ourselves to be caught up in special moments where we can be touched and transformed? Do we take the time to engage with something outside of ourselves in a deep and meaningful way? Do we allow our soul the time to transform as we move through life at a hectic pace?
There is something very significant about this passage today which takes the trouble to emphasise that the disciples accepted Jesus’ invitation to ‘come and see’ and to also ‘stay awhile’ with Jesus. In today’s world if we happened upon Jesus, how many of us would you have our phones out and our backs to the man himself? How many of us would be putting a status update on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram with a caption something like “Look who I saw today!”? Would we spend time checking how many Likes and Retweets we got for our selfie with a famous person rather than absorbing the actual encounter? Would such an experience really be an experience in the presence of Jesus?
How many epiphanies have most of us had lately? When was the last time any of us recognised God at work in our lives or in the world around us and looked to connect with the divine in our lives? How often do we miss an invitation from Jesus to ‘come and see’?
I fear that too often we are oblivious to our surroundings and to the presence of the divine. We ignore all the invitations around us to ‘come and see’ – to come and see God at work in the everyday life, to find the sacred moments and to become aware of the thin places and “God-sightings” all around us, if only we could train ourselves to notice them.
Come and see, says Jesus. The truth is before you. It is made visible in the God who is invisible and yet who took on our skin and became present and active and fully present with us. Come and see God at work in the life of the people of our congregation. Come and see God among us in our communities and in creation. Stay a while and absorb this amazingness and let it begin to transform you. Relish the real experience and not snapshots of it.
Take time to listen for God in the songs of the universe. Join with the psalmist and sing a new song of praise each day. Read the old, old familiar story that should still be new every morning. Taste and see that the Lord is good in bread and wine. Experience the grace of God as it is given expression in communities where relationships are forged and tended. Join the divine in a transformative process by living out the story of God’s people across time and space.
And be present. The disciples “stayed awhile”. Their experience of Jesus and the divine was made possible because the interaction was not a fleeting, manufactured moment but an experience that lasted long enough for it to touch and begin to transform their lives. If we had the chance today of such an experience, what would we hope to see if an invitation was extended to us to ‘come and see’?
When the church extends an invitation to ‘come’, what do you think those invited would be hoping to see? Have we relegated spiritual experience in our churches to a passive worship event once a week, with all the trappings of tradition but little of a shared intimacy with God? Perhaps one of our challenges is how we might transform our worship and gathered style to create more opportunities for people to linger and “stay awhile” in the presence of God, long enough to be touched and perhaps transformed.
As John tells the story, there is enthusiasm and excitement in those meeting Jesus for the first time. How can we as a church help people meet Jesus in this kind of way? Whilst John’s announcement “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is understood by him and his audience, as it stems from the old traditions of the sacrifice of lambs being used as atonement of sin, it may fail to engage those outside of the tradition. Perhaps one thing we should take from this is descriptions, titles, and references to Jesus are one thing, but the key in this passage is the “presence of Jesus”, his invitation to ‘come and see’ and the effect it has on people who move from their place of security and truly encounter him.
We know also that this invitation to ‘come and see’ isn’t the end of the story. The men in the story went on to become disciples who followed Jesus in his ministry. As we encounter Christ, it is important that we continue look and listen for the call to follow him into the world.
As we go from this sacred space of worship, we should also leave our comfortable and secure zones, mentally and physically, and go to places where we can invite people to ‘come and see’ from the ordinary-yet-sacred spaces of life. We can tell everyone what God has done and is doing in the world. We can allow the moments, relationships, thin places and glorious vistas to touch and transform us as we sit mindfully within them.
Give us the courage, God,
to invite others to join us
in the journey of faith,
to come and see for themselves
the difference that your love makes,
the joy that your grace makes possible,
the hope that trusting in you unfolds.
May others see in us something that touches them.
That makes them think we have seen something they have not,
And desire to know what that something might be. Amen.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine