Sermon for Sunday, January 15, 2017 || Epiphany 2A || John 1:29-42
A week ago, we began an Epiphany sermon series in which we are imagining our way into God’s eyes and trying to see ourselves as God sees us. What is God’s point of view? What does God see, name, and celebrate about us? And how can we incorporate that divine point of view into how we interact with God’s creation?
Last week we began with Belovedness. God sees and names us as God’s Beloved. When we enter this reality, we see, name, and celebrate that each person we meet is the Beloved of God. Living in this reality means affirming in word and deed the dignity and value of all people. Claiming belovedness is the best way to stoke our own reserves of compassion for those on the margins, who we’d rather ignore to make our own lives a little more pleasant. Being God’s Beloved does not allow for such a heartless option, for they are God’s Beloved, too.
Thus, imagining how God sees us is not an entirely pleasant exercise. Being beloved is at once comforting and conflicting. We rest in God’s love, and we feel the pinch in our souls that so many out there feel no love at all. And so we decide to do something about that. This decision leads us back to God’s point of view. God befriends us, calling us into mission alongside God, not as subjects or employees, but as partners, friends. And this friendship leads us to create strong relationships of our own, often befriending the unlikeliest of people.
Today’s Gospel passage comes from John’s account, and we’ll get back to the lesson I just read in a few minutes, but first let me skip forward. During the last supper before his arrest, Jesus says this to his disciples: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15)
I have called you friends. This is God’s point of view, revealed through God’s Son Jesus Christ. How could the Creator-of-All-That-Is stoop so low as to desire the friendship of measly little humans like us? Well, framing the question like this dooms us to failure. You see, God is the starting point, the steady ground upon which all things are built. So there’s no way for God to stoop low at all. God’s already at the bottom, the foundation. And built into the framework of Creation is the wonder of relationship – God with God, God with us. Sometimes the Biblical witness calls God’s people children, sometimes a spouse, sometimes brothers and sisters. And here in John’s Gospel, friends.
Growing up, I had trouble making friends. My family moved so often that I really didn’t see the point. I’d just have to say goodbye in a year or two. (This was before social media, by the way. Facebook didn’t come along until my last year of college.) When we moved to Alabama in the middle of my sixth grade year, I expected more of the same, though my parents had promised to stay put at least until I finished high school. (They kept that promise, but I didn’t know that at the time.) The pattern was set in my mind. I would go to school, have some acquaintances, get to know the guys on my baseball team, and then we’d move again.
Then Dr. Cain intervened. He was the principal at my middle school, one of those educators who always went the extra mile. Before I even started school, he introduced me to Kyle. We hit it off immediately, bonding over LEGOs specifically. My birthday was a few days after the semester started, so I didn’t know anyone else. But Kyle came to my birthday party. It was just Kyle, me, and my parents bowling. And it was perfect.
Over the course of middle school we drifted apart, but then in high school, our friendship solidified. It was as if I still expected another move, so I was protecting myself. When I realized my parents were serious about their promise to stay in Alabama, I jumped into friendship with both feet. Kyle and I were inseparable throughout high school: he was always at my house playing video games, shooting silly movies, writing songs, leaving half-finished cans of Sunkist orange soda all over the place. He had a key to our house and was welcome anytime, even late at night when his own home was less than welcoming.
We’ve been friends ever since. We were groomsmen in each other’s weddings. We’re now both pastors. For a kid who never expected to have a friendship last more than a year or so, I feel so blessed that Kyle and I are twenty-two years in and still going. I honestly could not tell you what my life would be like without his friendship. Our stories are too entwined.
Thus it is from God’s point of view, from God’s friendship with us. Our stories are too entwined with God’s story to easily disentangle. This entwining is another word for intimacy. There is intimacy in true friendship, including God’s friendship with us. When Jesus meets Simon in today’s Gospel passage, he gives Simon a nickname – “Cephas” which means “Peter” which means “Rock.” This nicknaming signals the start of their friendship.
Indeed, naming signals a desire for relationship, a desire to be known. How many of us felt the flood of joy when we discovered our high school crush actually knew our names? Before the twins were born, Leah and I called them “Alpha” and “Bravo.” It wasn’t until we saw their faces and held their tiny little hands in ours, until that new level of embodied intimacy, that we named them Amelia and Charles. On the other end of the spectrum, removing names severs connections and fosters dangerous anonymity; how else could the Nazis have killed so many innocent people if they first had not replaced their names with tattooed numbers?
But Jesus is not a savior who trucks in anonymity. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3b). He speaks Mary Magdalene’s name in the garden, which allows her to recognize his risen self. And he nicknames Simon, giving the newly christened Peter a mission contained in a name.
Imagine yourself into God’s point of view. Hear God calling you by name, calling you into friendship, entwining God’s story with your own. With this model of intimacy placed firmly in your heart, seek out new friendships in your life. Look in unlikely places. Introduce yourself. Make a friend with a person who is different from you in one way or another or in many ways. Then see how your own perspective expands. You’re one step closer to God’s point of view, for God befriends all, which means God’s point of view is as expansive as possible.
If you’re like me, such brazen forwardness is not in your skill set. It’s no matter. Next week we continue our series on God’s point of view, discussing how God sees and names us as “gifted.” Striking up friendship might not be your gift, but other gifts rise to fill that void. In the meantime, listen for God calling you into intimate friendship. Listen for God speaking your name.
*The picture was taken during a college break. Note that I am wearing my high school Latin Club shirt. Oh yes. (Also, Kyle isn’t actually taller than me.)