The Work of a Missionary Disciple

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
January 15, 2017
The Second Sunday after Epiphany – Year A

Isaiah 49: 1-7
Psalm 40: 1-12
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42

My Friends:

130919_fg_popefrancisliberal-crop-article568-largeLike many of you, I have been both fascinated and inspired these last four years by the world’s reaction to Pope Francis:  the bishop of Rome; the Roman Catholic Church’s leader; a genuine peacemaker; and an emissary of God’s mercy and pastoral concern for all humanity.  He has clearly created quite a stir among both the churched and the un-churched across the globe, including members of other Christian communions as well.  And it has been a very long time since—not one, but two—papal documents known as Apostolic Exhortations, an ordinarily obscure and unnoticed Vatican pronouncement, have achieved bestseller status and have been commented upon and debated by so many in the media.  They have even attracted commentary from political leaders at the highest level.  Our own clergy, wardens, and vestry here at Trinity have “read, marked, and inwardly digested” (BCP) this first Jesuit pope’s stirring exhortation to evangelism, entitled The Joy of the Gospel, and have been moved to enlarge our new parish’s mission statement to include the aspiration to become “contemplatives in action”: missionary disciples and evangelists for whom prayer leads us to action, and action leads us back to prayer.  We have multiple copies of The Joy of the Gospel in the parish office for any of you who may be curious—or even inspired—to explore for yourself the cause of the great fuss.


Whatever the final outcome of Francis’ papacy for the Roman Catholic Church—and beyond—may be in the years ahead, this worldwide fascination with the so-called people’s pope has exposed a very deep spiritual hunger and longing among so many in the ordinarily spiritually somnolent developed world.  And, in this respect, our time is really no different than any other time in human history, because the desire for true transcendence—for the “Magis” or the “More,” as Saint Ignatius of Loyola st-augustine-of-hippodescribed it—is a gift from the Creator embedded in the human spirit.  We in the positivistic, post-modern era of the digital revolution are just beginning to understand that meaning is a gift to be received; real knowledge and understanding result from right reason informed by faith; truth, especially in our relativistic and “factless” age, is perhaps the highest form of charity; and, most importantly, “faith,” according to Saint Paul, always “comes through hearing”!  Saint Augustine perhaps said it best and most succinctly in his Confessions“You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  It was true then, it’s true now, and it was certainly true at the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint John, we hear about a world expectantly awaiting the coming of the Messiah at any moment.  It’s a world just waiting for the heavens to be “torn open”—in the words of another of the canonical Gospels—and for God to intervene decisively in human history.  But who is this “Messiah,” this “Anointed One”?  In today’s Gospel, even John the Baptist is uncertain about Jesus’ vocation as “Son of Man” and “Son of God” until he sees the Holy Spirit descending and “remaining” upon Jesus of Nazareth.  Then, on the very next day, two of the Baptist’s followers are standing and watching with him, when John testifies again to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.  So immediately, “they followed him.”  And when these two disciples of John ask Jesus where he is staying, Jesus tells them to “Come and see.”  They do, and are apparently so awestruck by what they see and hear that the evangelist even notes the exact time of day—“four o’clock in the afternoon”—of their “conversion” or “about -turn.”  Finally Andrew, one of the two, then goes to his brother Simon Peter and tells him what he has seen and heard, exclaiming, “We have found the Messiah”!  Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, who looks at Peter; calls him by name; and sees his entire destiny, changing his name to “Cephas,” or the “Rock,” upon which Christ will build his Church.

philip-nathanael-1024x515

WAITING – WATCHING – SEEING – HEARING – STAYING or ABIDING – TESTIFYING or WITNESSING:

These are the repeated motifs and the means for spreading the “good news” that “We have found the Messiah” in this morning’s Gospel and in all of the New Testament’s Johannine writings.

The unavoidable message for us, then, this morning—a Christian communion of missionary disciples and evangelists in Newton Centre aspiring to be “contemplatives in action”—is quite plain and simple:  This is how we, the baptized, should also fulfill Christ’s command after the resurrection to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”   For in their own inchoate way, the people of our time and place are also watching and waiting for the tokens of salvation and redemption.  We know this for a certainty because they are telling us—constantly, if we have ears to hear—when they say that they are “spiritual, but not religious”; that they are searching for spirituality, ethics, and genuine community.  In a world where—as we are about to be reminded in five short days—Mammon is God; the market is king; and we are expected to be its dutiful and consuming slaves; people are thirsting for the “More” and searching for a horizon of gracious and loving “Mystery” larger and more profound than health, prosperity, and success.  And in this morning’s Gospel, we are given a blueprint for responsive and effective evangelism whose bottom line is that “Faith,” according to Saint Paul, “comes through hearing”!

great-commissionSo, first and foremost, we must be willing to ask people Jesus’ own question for the array of seekers in today’s Gospel“What are you looking for?”  Deep down in your heart of hearts, what do you really want?  Then, we must listen carefully as they unfold their joys and sorrows, their hopes and dreams until they cry—in their own unique way and in their own distinct terms—some version of “we want genuine transcendence”; “we want God.”  That’s the moment of conversion, of turning toward God by changing the direction from which we are seeking our happiness.  At this moment of “kairos,” of “graced crisis and opportunity,” we must be ready with the invitation to “Come and see.”  We Christians are very far from perfect, but we do have the “priceless pearl” of the Gospel; we do have a community with a sacramental and liturgical life worthy of such an invitation; and, in our faltering and imperfect way, we do our very best to practice a world-transforming ethics.  We can say with great assurance to our relatives, friends, and neighbors, in Newton Centre and beyond, that they will have a genuine encounter with the risen and living Christ in this church and as a member of this congregation.  And if they are willing to “stay” and “abide” through all of the vicissitudes of community life—with its inevitable joys and frustrations—they, like the Samaritan woman later in Saint John’s Gospel, will find “living water” here “welling up to eternal life.”  They in turn, will go to tell their relatives, friends, and neighbors—as she did, and as Andrew does in this morning’s Gospel:  “We have found the Messiah” at Trinity Parish of Newton Centre.

WAITING – WATCHING– SEEING – HEARING – ABIDING — WITNESSING:

this is the path of the seeker and the work of a missionary disciple and evangelist.

I would be willing to wager that every one of us here today has had an experience like John and Andrew and Simon Peter in today’s Gospel.  We probably all can—and, indeed, should—tell our own unique story embodying the sentiment of the psalmist this morning:

1

I waited patiently upon the LORD; *
he stooped to me and heard my cry.

2

He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; *
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.

3

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; *
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the LORD.

4

Happy are they who trust in the LORD! *
they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.

We too can probably remember both the time and the hour when this happened, the moment when, as my mother would say, “Light dawned on marble heads.”  To do this by sharing our personal story, however, we must be willing to make ourselves vulnerable, and that is no easy thing.  There will be those who are not yet willing to “Come and See” or, if they are, “to stay and to abide.”  They may not yet be in a place where, like Simon Peter, they are ready to be given a new name and to inhabit a new reality known only to Christ.  However, we have nothing to lose but our pride when we are willing to become “fools for Christ’s sake.”

filipus-dan-natanaelWhen I first came to the Parish of the Messiah as its rector almost five years ago, I wandered into our kitchenette for the first time and saw a bunch of magnets stuck on its refrigerator door.  Those magnets quote from this morning’s Gospel, “We have found the Messiah,” followed by the parish’s name, web address, and the time of our Sunday Mass.   You may also have noticed that the cover of Trinity Parish’s new brochure also cites words from today’s Gospel beneath our open door:  “Come and see.”  In the wake of our first anniversary as a new parish, I hope and pray that the “new” Trinity Parish of Newton Centre—with its blended congregation of the “former” Messiah and “old” Trinity folks, will experience a new birth as a Christian community of missionary disciples and evangelists and as contemplatives in action expressed by that old Messiah magnet and in our new Trinity brochure.  Nothing less than our future as a vital expression of the “Body of Christ” in Newton Centre depends upon it.  And, above all else, I pray that we will give ourselves over to this work with the unmatchable “joy of the Gospel” because that is the promise of our Baptismal Covenant and the reward of faithful discipleship.  At the outset of our second year together, may we leave here today with a determination—each in her and his own way—to make ourselves vulnerable and to testify and to witness by word and deed once more that “we have found the Messiah.” You can meet him too in the sacramental and the congregational life of Trinity Parish.  So, ‘Come and see’”!

AMEN.

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