The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
I realised this week that I have once again missed a major cultural trend. And this one was quite surprising. I would have thought I, of all people, would have noticed. I was reading books to Meredith in the library when I realised that there has been a shift from the clean shaven Mr Brown in Paddington Bear or the dad in the Tiger who came to tea or even Alfie’s dad. Now all fathers in new picture books are hirsute men. Out with the clean shaven fathers and in with the bearded dads with typical Hipster whiskers. So maybe I look like I was on trend, but I was really ahead of trend, so much so I didn’t really notice the trend coming up and going straight past me to the point of being ‘mainstream’. It's amazing how much time and effort and money people now put into their beards; from trimming to oiling to waxing handlebar moustaches. But it was a personal endorsement from a friend which mean that I started considering oiling my own beard, when a friend commented that he oils his.
Word of mouth is such an important part of how we decide what is worth our time and our effort. Perhaps it’s a friend telling you you’d enjoy Game of Thrones (and I know I'm behind trend there already), or a maybe a trend on twitter about the musical Hamilton.
When I was first working in Bristol one of my colleagues started telling some of my friends about this new TV programme - Grand Designs. A group of us decided to see what it was like. It became, for our little tribe, a kind of passion our own trend. We would get together each Wednesday at somebody’s house for dinner and watch Grand Designs. Kevin McCloud, the host, became like a divine judge and the show started to shape our own dialect. ‘And what would Kevin say about that, Robin?’ was actually something one of my friends said to me when they saw what I was wearing on a night out. It became a kind of focus for our minds, a shared experience. We could talk for hours about our favourite episodes, Kevin’s best pronouncements on an ill fated development. It brought us together and cemented our friendship.
But then the beginnings of friendships are often like that, when you click with someone and just want to talk and to listen. As a teenager I remember, at summer camp, sitting on a log in the rain talking with friends deep into the night. Unwilling to go to bed, wanting to miss out on the opportunity to be together.
In today’s Gospel Andrew, and another of John the Baptist’s followers, hear him talking about Jesus’ baptism. And then he points to Jesus saying ‘Look, here is the lamb of God.’ They are convinced, they want to know more. So they follow after Jesus. When he asks them what they are looking for, they don’t say ‘the son of God’, or ‘salvation’, or ‘inward peace’. They don’t really know what they are looking for, but they want to see what it is John has seen in this Jesus. So they ask ‘where are you staying’ and Jesus simply answers ‘Come and see’.
And they do, they stay with him, and they start inviting others also to ‘come and see’. So starts both the proclamation of the good news and the idea of dwelling with Christ. Something which we continue to do by coming together here, by praying and by spending time with one another. It's easy to idolise monastic prayer as the only form of dwelling with Christ, but we must remember it is possible to dwell in God in our own lives and with other people.
It’s interesting how, when talking to friends, non-church-going friends, they ask loads of questions about this whole church business, not always quite convinced they know what I see in it. Like it’s some crazy little eccentricity of my personality. And every now and then I simply say, well come-and-see.
But then, the thing about coming and seeing is it doesn’t stop there - because staying with, dwelling in is not simply a passive watching, because we all have to make an effort to engage with one another.
I suppose it’s a bit like the refrain of a well crafted political speech, come-and-see. The speech is never end of the story - it might be a rallying call, but it’s what you do after that counts. This past week President Obama made his farewell speech and echoed his own refrain from his acceptance speech 8 years earlier. Trevor Noah, the US based comedian, described the speech as sounding like it was ‘a parent telling his kids how to behave while he was away on holiday’. A bit like that Baz Luhrmann song, ‘Wear Sunscreen’ Whatever happens in the coming days, and months and years, this is a reminder that earthly powers come and go, but God does not change.
That’s partly why the church is so slow to change, it relies on it’s traditions so that it doesn’t fall too far from the changelessness of God. So it can’t and shouldn’t simply change with a new administration at the top, however much we would sometimes like it to. But also because the Church is the body of Christ. That is, not the church as in the building, or the church as in the institution, but the church as in us. You and me. We are the church. We are the body of Christ, so the dwelling in, the coming and seeing, the staying with - is with each of us. It’s a reminder that we are called to see Christ in each other and be Christ to each other. We are the witnesses, like John the Baptist, we are called to witness good in the world, and point to it. To see the one who attracts us to God in one another. To show people what is good and say: ’Come and See’. To seek to be that person that changes the world, in what we do and how we are each day.
Because Presidents come and go. treaties come and go. Trends in facial hair are here one day and gone the next. But Christ is there before and he will be there after, and we are the ones who show Christ to the world, in the things we choose to do, to love one another, even when it’s hard. To care for those who in need, even when we don’t want to. To make the world a better place, even when it feels like we can’t make a difference. Because in Christ we can do more than we could ask or imagine.