Epiphany 2 ~ ‘Come and See’ (What a Mess we have in Jesus)
1 Samuel 3.1-10; Revelation 5.1-1; John 1.43-51“If you aren’t willing to wash the floor, you have no right to preach.” So said Archbishop John Sentamu this week, while washing the floor. Pertinent words today perhaps, although, as is patently obvious, here I am, having scrambled through to the pulpit, and neither I, nor anyone else has washed the floor! And that’s because - without wishing any disrespect to His Grace of York - washing the floor is currently pointless. The reason we are in disarray - and dirty - yes - is because the scaffolding was a bigger job than the men thought, and they return tomorrow to finish the job. Then we’ll wash the floor. So perhaps we should turn it on its head, and say that he who preaches ought to then wash the floor! And yes, some help on Thursday before Sybil’s funeral on Friday would be much appreciated!
We have certainly been turned upside down this week. And turning upside down has become the theme of the beginning of 2012 already. Not only is our church turned upside down, but only yesterday - a hundred years after the greatest shipping disaster in history - the sinking of the Titanic - another ship with thousands of passengers on board - the Costa Concordia - capsized off Italy, and while the scale of that disaster is nothing compared to a hundred years ago, they are sadly, still counting bodies and; looking for survivors. You’ve probably seen a picture of the ship lying on its side. It’s an image which poignantly reminded me of the famous Zebrugge Ferry which capsized in 1987 - The Herald of Free Enterprise it was called. You may remember.
And then there are our own turnings upside down, and sadly we have had a couple of significant ones these last two weeks. We were turned upside down by Mike Buck’s death on Boxing Day, and then soon after, Sybil passed away. And there have been others too. And so we are between funerals, as it were - in a strange limbo land, with unfinished grieving - and dare I say, unfinished thanksgivings to give. And of course the grieving continues after the big day: of course it does. The world never gets back to where it was, even years after someone has gone.
So, all in all we find ourselves sitting in a strange place, and the fact that we may literally find ourselves sitting in a strange place may disconcert us more, or it may be a little comforting. I hope the strangeness is comforting, because the fact that we are turned upside down now, has a real physical hope attached to it. And the upheaval in the building may yet reflect the upheavals of our hearts and souls.
Perhaps we too need a bit of spiritual scaffolding to prop us up at the moment. And we can sit here and know that all this scaffolding - all this mess and dirt, is a precursor of a greater things. One day - one day soon - before we celebrate resurrection joy at Easter - before then, we shall sit here again in a place that is the same but very different. Our house of prayer will become not a messed-up place of dirt and sadness, but of joy and celebration - and that is something to look forward to.
All this dust will be turned to joy. But first we must endure it and make the best of what we can - and in doing so we bear one another’s burdens. And I’m not just talking about the scaffolding, as you can imagine. Joy will come in the morning.
And then, then what shall we do?
Well, our readings this morning are remarkably apt. We have heard of the call of Samuel, and of the hope of heaven in Revelation. And then in our gospel - notice the reading of the gospel is the only part of the service which we can do in the usual way - in the constancy of the gospel we find the world turned upside down by this stranger called Jesus. Philip and Nathaniel have their worlds topsy-turvied by a new and remarkable call to a new life. And in doing so they draw out one of those lovely ironic comments from Jesus: “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” You just wait, mate. There’s far more than a bit of spiritual insight to come. Nothing less than the opening of heaven is coming.
But the key to it all, is found in what Philip says to a questioning Nathaniel: “Come and see” he says. And that is what we are all called to do, and to say to others.
As we make our church a building site, we might be less inclined to say, ‘Come and see’, but there is a good reason for doing so. “Come and see”, we might say, “Come and see what a disaster zone our church looks like - and guess what - we’re excited about it”. We are horrified and delighted at the same time. Horrified and delighted, because joy comes in the morning - this will pass, and what is revealed will emerge like a cocooned butterfly, to release to us the beauty of what we had and knew all along, but couldn’t see because of the dirt and grime of a hundred years of dust and ashes.
Our own restoration project is a parable of the gospel, and the gospel reflects our predicament and gives us hope and encouragement. And while we might now want to sing ‘What a mess we have in Jesus’…. soon we shall be singing ‘All our hope on God is founded’!
For in the end, one can talk about salvation and hope and love and joy till the cows come home, but in the end, there is nothing for it but to ‘come and see’. Just as we want folk to come and see our restoration, and ultimately to come and see it completed, so the only way to follow Christ is to ‘come and see’. And during and after this work is done, we will be saying both. For ultimately, the only reason we have wall paintings, and the only reason we have a church at all, is because we want people to come and see. To come and see Jesus - to meet him, to know him.
And we see, meet and know him, ironically, not so much in the paintings, or even in this building, but we meet and know him in each other. We meet and know him in the love that we share among ourselves. And we especially meet, know and share that, when we are in trouble, need or danger. We meet and know and share it when we grieve for and with one another.
And then, and then - here’s the miracle of it all - such meeting and knowing and loving and grieving, leads to celebration and thanksgiving. Only in faith is that possible, and only in faith does it happen.
That is why we are here. And that is what it means.
Some people say ‘church doesn’t do anything for me’. Well, so be it.
We’re not here because church does something for us. But we know that it does. And if that’s news to you, well: Come and see.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 15/01/12