Parish Communion - 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Thanks to Twitter the language of following and having followers is a preoccupation for organisations, including churches, as well as thousands of social media users around the world. Justin Bieber is ahead of Justin Welby; many high profile tweeters have millions of followers; the less well known fret if their count goes down. Have I caused offence? Am I less popular? Given followers are often strangers this is an unsettling barometer of assurance.
Links are shared, announcements are made and campaigns begun; lectures are commented on, conversations initiated, thought is provoked. The language of following has undoubtedly built up its own momentum. But there is a dark side to this virtual following: the noise of chatter, the aggression hiding behind pseudonyms and the vitriol and abuse of trolls.
As Priest from Lichfield put it (appropriately or ironically in a tweet): 'The darkness of "this twittering world", says Eliot in the Four Quartets. Can he mean us?'
Who and what we follow shapes us. It is a mark of our calling, our priorities, our vision.
Who and what we follow is about identity, purpose and hope. How, in this twittering world, can we make known God's heavenly glory in the renewal of lives?
John's Gospel opens with evocative, poetic and spiritually charged language which presents Jesus as God's eternal Word made flesh. The agent of creation communicates to humanity, bring light and life. Today's text is the 'prologue' part two. In story and dialogue the mystery of Jesus' identity is unfolded.
The opening verses of part one resonate with biblical and philosophical allusion: the Word dwelling with us, eternity is caught in a span. The opening verses of part two offers an equally rich tapestry of references from Exodus and Isaiah: the Lamb of God who bears the sins of his people; the one who brings freedom, who fulfills promise and restores hope. Here is a glimpse of glory: revealed in encounters with ordinary people. The Word became flesh; and dwelt among us.
The first to bear witness is John. His testimony is both deeply personal and also rooted in scripture. He is the one who has prepared the way - calling people to repentance and being alert to the signs of God's Kingdom. He makes space to be attentive - to speak and to call others to hear. He is spiritually perceptive - he recognises Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God. As the Spirit descends he knows that he is the one who will baptise in the same Spirit.
He does not cling on to his own followers - rather he speaks truthfully and consistently. He points beyond himself, fulfilling his calling. He bears witness. This is the Lamb of God. He will free people from their sins. This is the one. He does not tell how people to respond. He lets them make their own judgment. Yet that decision flows from the space John has created for response and discernment.
Andrew and at least one other take the initiative. He follows Jesus. Perhaps out of curiosity he decides to tag along; finding out more; sussing for himself the validity of John's word. He is seeking; taking the next step along the path prepared by John.
When did we start to follow? Who pointed the way? Jesus responds to these followers. What are you looking for?
Perhaps we find it hard to name our deepest longings. It can be hard to articulate the thing we are seeking; the gift, the acceptance, the forgiveness, the hope, the love that we know we need. We journey on. Restless.
The disciples can't articulate it either. Instead they ask: where are you staying?
They trust enough to invite themselves along; and the response is: Come and see.
Come: share in hospitality, take some time, enter into a different space. Follow.
See: you're welcome to explore for yourself, to ask questions, to listen and respond. Abide. Come and see.
Perhaps one of the most generous and open ended invitations we could hope to receive. They came and saw and remained. Then Andrew went. He had found the Messiah. He brought his brother. Simon came. Jesus looked at him; he really looked. And Jesus saw his gifts and potential; he called him by a new name.
We too are called to come and see; our discipleship is a response to that open invitation. We too are called to speak with assurance, excitement and conviction about what we find. We too are called to invite others. To see the potential and longing in them.
Come and see is the beginning. Who knows the consequences of inviting and responding? We hope and long for God's grace to renew us as we offer our lives. We don't necessarily know the end point. But we are called to commit to a journey.
You are committed to both growing as disciples of Jesus Christ and in turn growing new disciples. Your vision offers people in Leatherhead the opportunity to come and see. To make space for the beauty of quiet contemplation; to make space for contemporary celebrations.
You are inviting others to find out more; speaking to them about how Jesus Christ shapes your community and ministry.
You have a vision for what discipleship looks like: passionate worshipper, lifelong learner, fervent prayer, committed church family member, good citizen and willing witness.
The call to be with Jesus, to come and see, is at the heart of everything we do. We are to be open to the possibility of seeing God's glory in our lives and in the life of our parish; we are to see the potential in the ordinary - in each other.
That be challenging as it isn't always easy to see beyond the problems and pressures of parish life. There are things that discourage us or impede our ability to witness effectively. We worry about buildings and finance. We become weary, frustrated and annoying.
And yet there is hope. We are full of potential. We have a purpose.
Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians, as you would expect, with words of greeting. Yet, if we look a little more closely, we see that his greeting is full of thanksgiving. Often when we think of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we recall the powerful words in praise of love in chapter 13. However for Paul this was a tough letter to write. He had to address the divisions within the church - the social exclusivity and spiritual superiority of some members.
He begins with his own calling. He addresses them with the hope of their calling. Paul starts with God and his work amongst his people. God will transform him, them and us. For the riches of God's grace will transform our human weakness.
The language of call is central to Paul's theology. The Christian community of Corinth are called to be saints - they are united with all those who call upon the name of the Lord, which is an appropriate thought for us as we begin this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In a spirit of thanksgiving, Paul expresses gratitude for the Corinthian community. For God's grace - for gifts of speech and knowledge. Later on he teaches them how to use and interpret these spiritual gifts.
Paul injects a spirit of waiting into his greeting. The Corinthians might be well resourced and enthusiastic, but they also need to wait patiently on Jesus Christ. Trust in him is a source of strength.
The Corinthians aren't perfect. They are people, like us, who have responded to God. They are people who, like us, are on a journey. We, like them, are learning to pray and worship; to witness and contribute to society.
In the midst of all this God is faithful to us. His call to us is a call to fellowship with one another. Fellowship is part of our calling.
Every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded that we are bound together in Christ. As we receive the gifts of bread and wine we glimpse God's glory in ordinary things. We who a members together of the body of Christ receive that gift of Christ himself.
That effects how we see each other; and how we respond to each other. We are called by God. We are recipients of his grace in Christ. By the power of the Spirit we are built up in trust and mutual affection.
Discovering God's call is at the heart of your life here. Your values flow from your longing to grow as disciples; from your decision to place Jesus at the centre of what you do and how you live. You like Corinthians are called saints, we give thanks for you. You are attending to the questions of your community and saying 'come and see'; inviting others to find their place.
Your values reflect a commitment to worship and engagement; to nurturing discipleship and enabling people to contribute to ministry and leadership. Vitally all of that is rooted in God; in your prayers for God's help. May God richly bless you as you invite others to come and see.
As one of our colleagues Philip Plyming put it on Radio Surrey: Support your clergy and leaders; ask what you can do to make a difference. And pray.
Let us pray:
God of glory, you nourish us with your Word who is the bread of life:
Fill us with your Holy Spirit that through us the light of your glory may shine in all the world. Amen.
A PDF version of this sermon may be downloaded here