Sunday, January 19, 2014

Privacy, Protection, and the Unguarded Kingdom

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. Preached @ SFH, 1.19.14

It’s a harmless question, really. Safe for use in casual conversation. “Where do you live?” A question intended to help two people discover how they share a city and/or certain social circles, favorite restaurants, etc. On the east to near-east side, I say. Over by Ella’s Deli. I mention the restaurant, with its carousel and circus-like atmosphere, because 1) it’s a well-known landmark and, truthfully, 2) I am eager to steer the subject away from the specifics of my living place. “Now that’s a fine deli!” the other person will say, and she’ll tell me some story about the time she took her nieces, and I’ll nod my head and smile and let the conversation drift elsewhere. For some reason, I don’t like the idea of strangers imagining my home. With friends, this is different, but with strangers asking a question that can only be described as banal conversational filler, I pause. My home is not filler. 

Rebekah thinks my reluctance to share our address is odd, but, then, she closes all the blinds at dusk. She says she does this because she knows how much she likes to peer into other people’s windows on evening walks; likes to see signs of life: the chandelier hanging majestically above the rich wood of the dining room table or the gentle, bluish flicker of the television’s light against a facing wall. It’s inviting, she says. So she closes the blinds. And I, with my carousel diversions, am like her. After all, mine is the reality TV generation. (You’re welcome for that.) I know the appeal of voyeuristic windows into the soul of another. No thanks. Post Edward Snowden, Americans are especially mindful of how illusory our privacy may in fact turn out to be. So I cling to my illusion with two hands, and I tuck my children in their beds and kiss their heads and believe the space of this moment belongs just to my family and me. Don’t get me wrong, we love and practice hospitality - our home is always open - but usually on our terms, hospitable as they are.

Jesus hears the footsteps, quickening, behind him. He turns and jumps back, wide-eyed and alarmed. Two thugs. He’s been followed. Jesus sizes them up. Two scruffy looking characters. Surprising, but not threatening. “What are you looking for?” he asks them. “Where are you staying?” they answer.

And Jesus doesn’t do what I might do. He doesn’t offer vague allusions to local landmarks. He doesn’t pretend he has some errands to run yet before he’s headed home. He doesn’t even lie and point to the house of a neighbor he doesn’t especially like. [This one time, after explaining to a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing in my doorway that I was a priest and their odds were long - that there might be better fishing down the stream - they asked me if I could recommend any neighboring parishioners to them. I shook my head, confused, and shut the door - why on earth would I do… Oh. Shoot. I missed my chance.]  No, Jesus doesn’t engage in prankish misdirection. He sees these two men, their faces caked with wearied hope, following with the innocence and expectation of children, and he smiles a broad smile and says, “Come and see.” 

Come and see. No blind-closing self-preservation here. No locking the doors of his life to the stranger. No appealing to self-protection or 4th amendment privacy rights. No invoking, either, of the social and secular distinction between public and private so familiar to religion (lest she lose her tax exemption). Come and see, and they follow. He shows them around, takes them to the guest room in which he’s staying, shows them his study, complete with the inspirational quotes he’s taped to his desk, just above his extensive vinyl collection. He shows them his host family’s living room, walls covered with artifacts important to someone. He shrugs. They play a game of something with the children in the garden. Then it’s time to pray and, rather than send them off, he has them join him. And this is how love works. Things we love shared with those we love. Ordinary spaces transformed by the daily rhythms that make these spaces inexplicably precious to us. Dwelling places are never casual places because they’re where life happens, where we are when we aren’t trying to separate, hide, or otherwise qualify the different and difficult parts of ourselves. Just you as you are, all one piece. And this is exactly what the Son of God is sharing with them. God’s self as God is, all one piece, in this man. And he’s laughing. The home and habitat of God made open to two socially inept, awkward young men who don’t know how to arrange a proper introduction. 

Come and see.

Afterwards, Andrew goes and tells his brother the remarkable news: the Messiah, the Son of God, invited them over and opened his life. “Oh, he did, did he?” Simon says. And it’s Andrew, this time, who smiles broadly and answers, “Come and see.”

Christ’s unexpected welcome begets another in Andrew; the Savior’s invitation gives mercy the courage to speak up in the heart of the one he had called. The vulnerability of God becomes Andrew’s own. Andrew tells Simon what he has seen.

I wonder, who first saw and told you? And I wonder, what have you seen about God that’s worth telling?

John the Baptist saw the Spirit poured out on Jesus in the river Jordan. He told Andrew, who stalked Jesus into an invitation. Andrew told his brother about the vinyl collection. Simon became the head of the Church; he gave the Church’s first sermon after the Spirit descended; he stood up and told what he’d seen, Christ crucified and risen, and how many thousands believed? The whole history of God’s People, God’s Church, of new life in Christ, one long chain of show and tell - none of them seeing more than they saw, each seeing something uniquely different, but all seeing Christ, telling Christ - right up to us, and not ending with us.

Come and see.

Come and see. God’s invitation - the Good News that God has opened God’s home to the world. That this world is not forgotten. Or an afterthought. Or needing to prove its worth. Or anonymous. That you are not forgotten, or an afterthought, or needing to prove your worth, or anonymous. But, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” See, you are seen, you are forgiven. God has opened God’s home to you.

You are loved, and God is your home. And the blinds in God’s home are open.

Long after this gospel reading - with John the Baptist, Andrew, Simon, and the days of “come and see” - Jesus will get up after dinner and wash the feet of his friends. He’ll look up at his disciples and remind them that their home is in God, and that he’s going to prepare their place. A place to live in God, just as he came to live with them. Everything the Father has given to Jesus, Jesus has given to them. And they’ll wonder if he can mean it. He’ll see the silent fear in their eyes and think back to the expressions on those faces at the very beginning - caked with wearied hope, following him with the innocence and expectation of children. His tender smile at the memory will trigger their own, and they’ll feel their whole lives given up to this man and the moment they decided to follow him always. “Come and see,” he had told them. Oh, the things they had seen. Yes! The things they will see.

And we, also, with them.


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