Epiphany: "Where To Go When You're Excluded"

The Revd Margaret Legg

One thing we are each given shortly after we are born is a name. It’s part of our identity; part of how we relate to one another – we prefer to be ‘properly introduced, by a 3rd party who can introduce us to each other by name, we find it embarrassing when we forget the name of the person to whom we’re speaking and perhaps worse still when we use the wrong name! When he first came to St John’s, the Vicar often called Brutus Deiniol, previous curate,  a cause of much amusement in the Parish Office. Our names have a meaning of their own too. Margaret, I’m delighted to say, means both a pearl and dependable; Robert and Robin ‘bright flame’, Pippa ‘lover of horses’, Sally ‘princess’, Nicholas ‘victory of the people’.

Jesus’ identity, John the Baptist, in our Gospel today, identifies Jesus with a mind shattering name. Jesus is, he says, the Lamb of God. Mind shattering because it is a completely new revelation of God, a name that changes and challenges the Jewish religious framework. Unblemished male lambs were sacrificed each year in the Temple at Jerusalem to commemorate the Passover, the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

So John was saying that Jesus was: Perfect, unblemished. That he would be killed in Jerusalem. That through his death the Jewish people would gain freedom. With this name he points to Jesus crucifixion, his once and for all death which ended the need for the current ongoing, constant sacrificial system. With this name Jesus became, I suggest, a marked man, before he had even begun his ministry.

No wonder John’s disciples want to know more. Intrigued they approached him; he invited them to come and see

Quite the opposite of an Evitation. Have you ever received an ‘Evite’? You are not invited to John and Autumn’s wedding. The recipient, writing in yesterday’s Telegraph Magazine, didn’t know whether to be relieved, offended, or paranoid! Apparently it’s a consequence of our over-sharing culture. Acquaintances follow what you’re up to on Facebook, Twitter or some other social network and Evites are a warning to the masses not to get too excited because they are not invited!! Nothing personal, it’s just that you don’t belong –you’re not invited

Jesus not only invites, something about him, about the Lamb of God, holds them. They remain with him that day. Remain is important – from the Greek verb menein to abide or rest. There is a sense that they felt at home with Jesus, they could be themselves. They felt they belonged. It’s as if they had found someone who spoke to their deepest needs – to be wanted, to be forgiven, to be loved.

The time with Jesus changed them. So much so that one of them gives Jesus another mind shattering name; the Messiah, the anointed king of Israel, the one who would establish God’s kingdom. So much so that they transfer their discipleship from John to Jesus; So much so that Jesus marks this change by giving Simon a new name, Cephas.

When we become followers of Jesus we have a new name too -our new name is ‘Christians'. And what does that mean? What difference does it make to the way we live, when we are Christians, followers of Jesus? As Andrew and Cephas found it, it is more than resting in Jesus company, enjoying good food and wine and conversation. It is not just, as Tom Wright put it once, a dining club. It is rather a business partnership, with a purpose: to address the sin and pain of the world with the love of God unveiled ultimately and on the cross. A business partnership in which we are the ones who now testify to Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Messiah. Who draw people to him by helping them feel they belong, they are loved, that Jesus is someone they want to get to know.

Recently talking to some friends – all parents with children in their 20’s and early 30’s now, recalling the days of the school run. We each had horror stories to share of occasions when the phone had rung and we had been summoned to see the headteacher: one child was caught stealing; another deliberately flouted the ‘no piercing of the skin’ rule by having her nose pierced in the lunchbreak; a third had kicked a vehicle parked outside school on the way home. Unfortunately it belonged to a member of staff, and other staff members had witnessed the incident. The 3 different schools had each, quite rightly we agreed, disciplined the pupils.This had included exclusion. The 3 families had also disciplined them but had never excluded them. The underlying principle was that home was where they would always belong, come what may, that love (albeit tough love sometimes) was the glue that held a home and family together, and that it was here that things could be sorted out.

As with families, so with Christians, Evites are not an option. Everyone belongs to God – everyone has a God shaped hole within them. Our work as followers, as Christians, is to invite, to say ‘come, see, and find rest ’