Fr. John Allison
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
January 15, 2023
Christ Church, Hudson
"What are you looking for?”
That's the question Jesus poses to John's two disciples as they begin to follow him, and I think it's an appropriate question for us all. Maybe not just an appropriate question but an essential question.
Imagine yourself walking toward the door of the church this morning and someone stopping you and asking, "What are you looking for?"
On a purely literal level you could answer, “Christ Church. I'm going to church."
Well, okay. That's your destination, but what are you looking for? What do you seek? What do you want? What do you hope to get here that you can’t get somewhere else on a Sunday morning? Why are you following Jesus?"
I'm asking this only somewhat rhetorically, but only somewhat, because I hope it's a question on which you might reflect. What are YOU seeking? Why are YOU following Jesus?
We're here on this Second Sunday after the Epiphany and the scene from our Gospel today tells of two key moment's in Jesus' life: his baptism and the calling of the first disciples.
Last week, we heard Matthew's account of the baptism and next week we'll hear Matthew's account of the call to discipleship. And for the next several Sunday's, for the next 6, I think, our readings will point especially to the fact that God is manifest, that's Epiphany, in the human being named Jesus, that's Incarnation.
I point this out partly because both of these terms have some bearing on how we might answer our question of "What do you seek?" But also because both terms have over time taken on secular meanings and common usage that soften their impact. And soft they are not. Common they are not.
Most specifically, I want to talk about Epiphany as a way of seeing, as recognizing God's incarnate love here among us in a broken world where love is not always so easy to see. In this season we are reminded again and again of God's presence among us, reminded that as disciples, as followers, we are called to see God's image in the world around us and in one another. Just last week, in our Renewal of Baptismal Vows we affirmed that we would "seek and serve Christ in all persons." And we said, yes, with God's help. I will. But how? What gets in our way? It's certainly not always easy.
The early followers of Jesus in Corinth to whom Paul is writing in our epistle today didn’t find it easy either. You see, the church in Corinth was quite troubled, which we’ll hear more about over the next few weeks as we read more from the epistle, but mostly it had to do with disputes over doctrine and how people treated one another—problems not entirely unfamiliar to our churches today.
We hear only the introduction of Paul’s letter today, and he doesn’t focus on any of the problems but, rather, he reminds the Corinthians who they are: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints . . . I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind . . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In spite of all the problems the church is having, in spite of the short-comings of the many individuals, he recognizes them as saints.
It’s important to point out that he’s not using the word “saint” as we commonly understand it today, as a kind of spiritual superstar who has been canonized by the Church. In fact, it’s just the opposite. As I said, the Corinthian church is a church in great conflict made up of regular people who more often than not fall short when it comes to the Christian ideal. They are not saints because they are perfect or because of any great deeds they have done; they are saints because God has called them and sanctified them. Their identity as saints doesn’t have so much to do with any particular achievements of their own but with God’s action in calling them. The same is true for us, and Paul says as much: “together with those in every place [and time, I might add] who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We may create trouble; we may cause pain; we may fail in efforts to love one another; we may fail in our pledge to seek and serve Christ in all persons, but in God’s sanctifying call we are saints and that’s what Paul reminds us. Our identities are not in our failures but in the knowledge that we are creatures made in God’s image and called to embody God’s love. That’s who were are. The trouble, for the Corinthians and for us, is that we forget who we are.
We help one another remember when we come together each week for worship. Of course, there are other times outside of church but there is a sacramental character to our worship together that reminds us who were are. When you look at the person next to you or in front of you or across the aisle you, if you squint just right, you can see Christ. It may be hard at first because we’ve been conditioned by the world to see in a very literal way but, deep down, beyond the layers of familiarity, Christ is there. We encounter Christ in and through one another.
That’s what John saw in Jesus before anyone else: “He saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” The next day, when John was with two of his followers, he said it again and it was then that the disciples began to see with new eyes. They followed Jesus, and it was then that he asked the all-important question: What are you looking for? Indeed, what are YOU looking for?
The two disciples never really answer Jesus except to ask him where he is staying, or as some translations say, where (or with whom) do you dwell, the implication being that Jesus dwells with the Spirit of God. Then, as they spend the afternoon with Jesus, they too find rest in the Spirit; this experience of theirs with Jesus is the basis for their claim that they have found the Messiah.
As I’ve reflected on Jesus’ question for myself this week, (what do I seek), I’ve made lists of what I might be seeking but when it comes down to it, I think what I seek is something that is not so easily expressed in words on a list. I want peace; I want grace; I want healing and wholeness, but underlying all those words is something much more elusive that is not easily captured in language. The best I can say is that I want to participate in something larger than myself, larger than the obvious needs of the human self.
For those earliest disciples of Jesus I like to imagine that it might have been a similar feeling, a feeling not so easily named but nonetheless persistent. Their answer then was not so much in words but in Jesus himself, in his presence with them. It had nothing to do with any particular spiritual qualities the disciples possessed but in Jesus’ simple invitation: “Come and see.” With that, they are called into an entirely new way of being. They are called to participate in a story they could have never imagined. They were called to participate in a story that continues to this day—a story in which we all are called to participate.
Like the Corinthians we are imperfect Christians living in a world where idolatry and violence and alienation are regular aspects of our lives. But Christ is with us. “Here is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” As disciples we are called to continue the work begun in Christ—to stand against tyranny and oppression and racism and violence (the sin of the world) with Christ’s loving witness. That’s the basis for our baptismal covenant, and we do not do it alone.
Our collect for today, which we prayed at the beginning of the service, asks that we be illumined by God’s word and sacraments so that we may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. When we gather and share in the sacraments we each grow a little brighter. We are better able to see one another as Christ’s gathered body in the world. God's grace makes us radiant with the light of Christ, radiant so that we might as Isaiah says, be a light to the nations—radiant so that we might see the path before us, so that we might see clearly that which we seek. That’s our true epiphany and it begins to be revealed in answering Jesus’ question: what are you looking for?