St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh
Epiphany 2, Year A, 2017
May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.
While I call Boone, North Carolina, my hometown, I actually spent the first 12 years of my life further south in Alabama. My classes went on the usual field trips: to the state capital in Montgomery and to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. I know I had fun and I’m sure I learned a lot of interesting things at the time, but I’m afraid I can’t recall them now. However, there is another trip that is imprinted in my memory, that remains with me to this day. You see, I grew up in Birmingham, and so it was only natural that the other field trip was to the recently opened Civil Rights Institute. We walked around the building, learning about the civil rights era and the particular events that took place in Birmingham. All of a sudden, we turned a corner and came face-to-face with what was left of a Greyhound Bus. To jog your memory, this was a replica of the bus the Freedom Riders had ridden in May of 1961 from D.C. on their way to New Orleans to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the signing of Brown vs. Board. On the way, they had been stopping in different southern cities, trying to bring attention to segregation by entering “whites-only” places on the interstates. The first incident happened in South Carolina when three of the Freedom Riders were attacked at a “whites-only” waiting area. Despite their injuries, they continued on their journey. Two days later, the Greyhound ended up in Anniston, Alabama, where they were met by a mob of 200 people. The bus driver kept going past their stop, but the mob followed, and when the tires eventually gave out, someone threw a bomb onto the bus. The riders made it off the bus, but were beaten as they escaped the flames. The freedom rides continued six days later with different people, and over the next few months, hundreds more joined the cause. In the fall, after mounting pressure both nationally and internationally, segregation in interstate transit terminals was finally prohibited.*
I had studied about the Civil Rights movement in school, but it wasn’t until I saw the blown-out windows and charred frame of the Greyhound that it became real, became more than just something that would show up later on a test. I had known that people could be mean to one another (I had siblings, after all) but this was the moment when I understood—when I became aware—that humans were capable of doing truly evil things.
Today’s gospel reading is filled with examples of seeing, looking, watching— of becoming aware. John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and recognizes for the first time that this man is not just his cousin, but the Son of God (John 1:29, 31, 34). I don’t know how much time they had spent together growing up, but according to Luke’s Gospel account Mary and Elizabeth seemed pretty close, so I imagine they met up at least once in a while (Luke 1:39-46). John has most likely seen Jesus countless times, has probably heard the stories of his and Jesus’ miraculous births, but it isn’t until he sees the Spirit “descending from heaven like a dove…and remain” on Jesus that he realizes Jesus is God’s Son (John 1:33-34).
What happens next is important. John doesn’t just notice and continue along as if nothing has changed. He tells others—his own followers, no less—that this is the one for whom he has been preparing the way. His life’s work has been to baptize and call for repentance, pointing toward someone greater than he. And now he is literally pointing to Jesus. Two of John’s disciples decide to follow Jesus after the second time that John testifies about him.
Jesus notices them following him and then we have this exchange: He asks them what they are seeking, what they are looking for, and they respond with another question, “where are you staying?” (v. 38). On the surface, it appears as if they are asking him his address. But it’s really more like they’re asking him “what are you about? Where do you pitch your tent? What’s your deal?” Jesus replies, “Come and see” (v. 39). And they do.
Out of this, Andrew becomes the first disciple, and he returns bringing his brother, Simon. Simon is renamed Peter (meaning rock, because he eventually becomes the spiritual head of the Church). The disciples not only come and see, but follow. Awareness leads to action. They don’t remain observers on the sidelines, but get involved, devoting their entire lives to following Jesus.
To follow Jesus is not an easy thing. Note that John refers to Jesus twice as the Lamb of God. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, dies on a cross for our sins, and all but one of his disciples end up being martyred just as he is.
To follow Jesus is costly. It is uncomfortable. The way of love and compassion requires us to step outside of ourselves, our family units, and our communities, and to take not only notice of the suffering of others, but to then do something about it. When we become aware of injustice, it is our duty as Christians to get involved.
After the 10 am service, you are invited to join in our fourth annual pack-a-thon, where we will be packing food for over 20,000 people worldwide. While this is going on, the youth group will be cooking for Church of the Advocate’s soup kitchen and then serving the meal tomorrow.
But our work doesn’t stop there. We can’t only be Christians on Sunday morning or during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. To follow Jesus means we have to be aware and get involved on a regular basis. To notice people in need and give up some of what we have so that others can have enough. To be aware of where we participate or are complicit in the mistreatment of others. Sometimes it may even mean standing up not just to people in power, but also to friends or family members. Like I said, it’s not easy to act on our faith.
It will take practice, and we’ll inevitably make mistakes. But the Good News is that despite our shortcomings, "God is faithful" (1 Cor 1:9). So come and see—and then follow—Jesus.
May 14, 1961 (Mother's Day)
Burning Greyhound bus that the Freedom Riders rode
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Model of the Greyhound bus
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*information on the Freedom Riders found here: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedom-rides.