Sermons

Come and See; Rev. Dee Ledger, January 19, 2020

What are your names and how are you known?  These may seem like the same question, but they are not exactly.  Our given name may or may not reflect how we are known.  In addition to our given names, we may be known by our nick names, terms of endearment, or other names that might point to a characteristic, a vocation, or even a beloved quirk.  We can be Jake, Jay-Jay, brother, Coach, Junior, or the Jokester. We can be Penelope, Penny, sis, Doctor, hon, Princess or Precious.

We gather names, some consciously chosen and some unchosen.  When Martin Luther King, Jr, was born, his birth name was actually Michael King, Jr., named after his father.  The story goes that when the elder Michael returned from a pivotal trip to both the Holy Land and ending up at a religious conference in Berlin, he became profoundly affected by his visit to Germany and the history of Martin Luther, the German monk and theologian who nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg castle church.  Later that year, in 1934, the senior King changed both his name and his son’s name.[1]

Perhaps you, too, have had a name change or changes that marked a pivotal moment in your lifetime.  Or maybe you have avoided changing your name for significant reasons known only to yourself.   Our names and naming often carry meanings and perspectives far beyond our own, or our control.  When I married, I had insisted on keeping my last name.  But I reconsidered that choice after our children were born because I suddenly felt like an outsider with 3 males in the household sharing the same last name.  “Too late; you had your chance, my husband somewhat bluntly said.

In our scripture, name changes are prominent.  Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai become Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Nathan becomes Jedidiah, and Saul becomes Paul, each name-change pointing to a significant moment, epiphany, or watershed experience.  Likewise, our Jesus will also bear different names; the gospel passage from John today reveals some of the names that have followed Jesus through the ages: “Lamb of God,” “Rabbi,” and “Messiah.”  And in this passage, too, Simon—the son of John—will be called, “Cephas,” which is translated “Peter.”

While some of our names we are called–or were called– can actually hurt when given in a teasing, provoking manner, some of our names, both chosen and unchosen, can reveal our relationships, intimacies, and even protracted distance with others.  Jesus being called the “Lamb of God” points to sacrificial acts chosen on behalf of others, but also links the name of Messiah, with a Passover image that is different from the royal majesty typically associated with the coming of a Messiah.[2]  Some of our names for Jesus specifically and historically reject and provide counterpoint to the reign of Caesar, Roman oppressive power, and to Caesar’s public demand to be worshipped as “Lord” and “Savior.”

In providing multiple names for Jesus, John’s gospel speaks to us of Jesus’ identity, but it also speaks to us of our own identity in Christ.  By what names are we called?  How are we known?  Are the ways in which we are known bear any relationship to the qualities of Jesus himself?  Those of us who bear the name of Christian might consciously consider how taking that name confers a kind of identity that is contiguous not only with his identity as a historical Jewish teacher and reformer, but also as a living reformer and teacher in the present, and in you.

In considering Christian identity in this season of Epiphany, John’s passage issues an invitation.  When Jesus turns and sees two disciples of John the Baptizer following him, he asks them, “What are you looking for?”  They, in turn, ask him, “Where are you staying?”  We might note that this interaction among relative strangers provokes curiosity and curiosity is essential to understand anyone and anything more deeply and with any kind of respect.  “Come and see,” Jesus invites them and they do.  And then they remain with him the rest of the day, which implies several hours at least.  Why is this detail important?  We. who would learn from others both within and beyond our generation, need to remain long enough in the company of others to go beyond our assumptions, our stereotypes, or whatever first impressions that we *think* we know about people or places.

In a fascinating new book recently published, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters, the journalist Kate Murphy argues that authentic listening “requires, more than anything, curiosity.” [3] The author and historian, Studs Terkel, would have also agreed.  As Murphy explains, before Turkel died at age 96, he collected interviews of people from all segments of society—“from garbage collectors and gravediggers to surgeons and industrial designers.”  He demonstrated that we have something to learn from everybody admitting that, despite using his using a tape recorder much of his life, “his real tool [was] curiosity.” (39).

Murphy explains the difference between the kinds of rote and rapid-fire questions that we might ask of our children or our spouse or someone we just met.  Questions like “What do you do for a living?”, “Did you bring home your lunchbox?” and “How was work?” can sound caring but can be more like running down a checklist, than real conversation.  They are practical questions.  She writes, “when those are the only kinds of questions you ask, the relationship suffers.  Open, honest, and exploratory questioning and the genuine curiosity and careful listening it presupposes can not only bring about greater clarity of what’s on someone’s mind but is also the very basis of intimacy…the more you know about and understand where someone is coming from, the closer you feel to them whether they are loved ones or strangers.” [4]

As our country remembers and celebrates Dr. King, we might consider how we listen to the “others” in our life, whether they are strangers, newcomers in the workplace, or members of our own family, church, or friendship circles.  When Jesus approaches the disciples with the question, “What are you looking for?” it is an invitation to intimacy.  When he responds to their asking, “Where are you staying?” with “Come and see,” it is an invitation to relationship, to intimacy, and to discovery.  That they remain with him for the rest of the day is notable in this day and age given our relatively short attention spans.  Murphy notes, “As machines have increasingly competed for our attention over the past century, the average amount of time people have devoted to listening to one another during their waking hours has gone down almost by half, from 42 percent to 24 percent.” [5]

How can we demonstrate curiosity about Jesus, about God, and about the stranger, when we aren’t able to nurture our curiosity about our own family and friends by devoting adequate time to our relationships and to deep conversation?

Perhaps our interest in others can blossom when we are able to ask, like Jesus, “what are you looking for?” and not expect a 30-second soundbite, a tweet, or a text in response.  Perhaps instead of asking, “Where do you live?”, we need to ask the metaphorical question, “Where are you staying?” to grow a broader understanding of people’s experiences that is not superficially separate from their home-life, their workplace, and their search for a name or nomenclature that truly resonates with their experience of themselves and the Holy. Perhaps when we can do this, we will be better able to appreciate the many and varied experiences of both humankind and God, not simply for diversity’s sake, but because of the invitation they provoke to “come, see, and stay.”

 

 

 

 

[1] Antonia Blumberg, “How Martin Luther King Jr. Got His Name,” HuffPost, 01/17/2015 08:29 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2015. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/martin-luther-king-jr-name_n_6481554

[2] Jack Miles, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God (New York: Random House, 2001), 210 and passim.

[3] Kate Murphy, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters (New York: Celadon Books, 2019) 38.

[4] Ibid, 149-150.

[5] Ibid, 175.