Saturday June 30th, Bovey Tracey
Reading – John 1:35-42
I recently carried out a funeral visit to a lady I knew slightly already. The first thing she said to me as I sat down was “Don’t use any long words!” I’m not quite sure what prompted that remark. Maybe I have a bit of a reputation. Or maybe she’d come across Christians who spoke in a kind of foreign language which didn’t make any sense. After all, the popular image of vicars is of rather woolly-minded people speaking about obscure subjects which no-one listening can hope to understand – and sadly there are vicars who live up to that image, perhaps even including myself.
But then I turn to the gospels and I look at the kind of language Jesus used. That question he asked Andrew and John down by the river Jordan could hardly be simpler, “What do you want?” His first words He spoke to them did not contain any abstract theological propositions or apologetic arguments. Indeed they weren’t even a statement about Himself or what He believed. It was just a question, “What do you want?”
However although Jesus asked a question which was simple, it was not simplistic. Indeed that question “What do you want?” is probably the most important question Jesus ask any one of us. As we come to our away day this morning it’s worth stopping for a moment and asking ourselves what we want for our churches as we begin to think about mission. A warm, friendly church without the nuisance of outsiders upsetting the balance? A church full of praise where we command God’s blessing upon us and every service is a celebration? Or a church involved in the messy, awkward business of reaching the lost, working out what it means to be obedient in a broken and sinful world without hope and without God? Let’s be clear – if our desire is for mission, then we need to know what we are letting ourselves in for.
And perhaps before we can answer that question of our church, we need to ask it of ourselves. What is the greatest desire in my life, in your life? To have a happy and contented family? To get a well-paid job with a good pension? To run a nice home full of good things? None of these things are of course wrong in themselves. But have we really grasped what it means to seek first the kingdom of God? Is our first desire to know and to love Jesus?
Of course we may not be able to answer Jesus’ question directly. Andrew and John certainly couldn’t. All they knew was that they wanted to get to know this Jesus better, to spend some time with Him. And so they asked “Rabbi … where are you staying?” And Jesus, as always so full of grace and love, replies Come …and you will see.
I would love to know how Andrew and John spent that day with Jesus, what they talked about, whether anyone else was there, what exactly they did together. But John doesn’t record these details. In fact they are completely unimportant to the fact that they learnt to spend time with Him.
Because, firstly, the time spent with Jesus completely changed the focus of their life. Up until now they had been disciples of John the Baptist. They had been spending time with him on the banks of the Jordan. They had taken on board his teaching about the law and the prophets. It was John the Baptist who influenced and shaped their own relationship with the Lord. But now Jesus becomes the focus of their life. From now on it is his teaching, his example, his lifestyle which becomes their pattern.
And secondly the time spent with Jesus also changed the relationship between Andrew and his fellow fisherman John. Although they could not have known it at the time, they became the first members of the worldwide movement later known as the church. Yes, they had been in business together. Yes, they had both followed John the Baptist. But now they had a new and stronger bond between them based on their relationship with Jesus. And as they came to realise Jesus was not just a teacher, but their Saviour and their Redeemer, so that bond grew ever deeper. In that first encounter here in this reading we may almost say we see the body of Christ for the first time begin to take shape.
But of course two people on their own – even with the presence of Jesus – would not change the world. And Andrew and John saw no reason why they should not share their discovery with others. So quite naturally and spontaneously (sorry, that’s a long word), Andrew goes off to find his brother Simon. John tells us quite clearly: The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah”.
Because as believers in the Lord we have good news worth sharing. Let’s remind ourselves – our reason for mission is not because we are worried about falling numbers, or we want to prove to the diocese we are viable. Our reason for mission is that we have someone to talk about. And it’s interesting the first thing Andrew did was not to accost a total stranger, or hand out a tract, but to talk to someone he already knew and loved – his brother Simon.
Now I guess if we said to a loved one, “We have found the Messiah” we might not get the same kind of reaction as Andrew did. We have to realise that talking about the Messiah was something Simon was used to. Every Jewish person was arguing about the Messiah at that time. And so Andrew spoke to Peter in terms which Peter could naturally understand. It seems to me that if we are to be effective in mission, we need to learn the language other people are using. Not change our message, or water down who Jesus is, but find ways of really connecting. I’m not claiming I have all the answers, but I hope that today we will start to see ways of doing this.
So Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Of that encounter William Temple wrote, “Perhaps it is as great a service to the Church as ever any man did”. Because Jesus looked at Simon and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). And I think we will all know what Peter became.
But for now I want to stop and reflect on the process which takes place in this reading. John the Baptist directs Andrew and John to Jesus. Andrew and John spend time with Jesus, and with each other. Andrew brings Simon to Jesus. Simon spends times with Jesus and receives a new identity and a new calling. He is joined to the band of disciples. And then others join.
We have here in essence the heart of our mission statement. I hope you realise by now that three principles of our mission action plan aren’t just three separate ideas which kind of fit together. They describe an organic whole, which is why there’s also this picture of a tree behind it. Mission, you see, starts with being with Jesus, both on our own day by day and in our worship Sunday by Sunday. It spreads out into being with other believers, both inside the church and beyond. And then as we engage with the wider world, we aim to spread the presence of Jesus both through our physical location in the area and in the places where we spend our time by time.
But being in the wider world is not the end of the process. Because our aim is to make disciples who themselves learn to be Jesus, and so begin this same cycle all over again. Andrew reached out to Peter who himself learnt to follow Jesus. Peter stood up at Pentecost and led thousands to the Lord. These thousands became followers of Jesus who formed the early church. From these thousands the gospel spread out into the Ancient Near-East. And over the centuries the gospel came down to us.
So as in a moment we look at the three principles of our mission statement, let’s remember they are each part of whole process of applying the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour to ourselves, to each other and to the world. And let’s pray that as we talk and listen together we might discern how God by His Holy Spirit is calling us to pass on the faith to the next generation.