Interruption. Attention. Intention.

Sunday 15 January

John 1.29-42

Second Sunday after Epiphany

                 ©Suzanne Grimmett

The Gospel today is a story of interruptions.

John the Baptist was a disturbing presence. He was a man who attended closely to the world and closely to the truth. He spoke his words of conviction against the uncompromising and exposing landscape of the desert, interrupting lives with words many did not want to hear. Those who did listen came and were baptised in the Jordan, turning again to God and setting a path for their lives in a new direction of holiness.

In this encounter we hear the life of the Baptist himself, interrupted.

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

John’s attention to the life of God within meant that he could perceive the presence of God without. Just as he had interrupted the lives of others with his clarion call to repentance, so Jesus would interrupt his ministry with an encounter and a presence that would generate new questions to shape his life. Later the imprisoned John would ask a question of his own, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt. 11:3). The presence of Jesus disturbs and upends our plans and expectations.

There are others interrupted in the tableaux presented in the Gospel. St Andrew, a Galilean fisherman and already a disciple of the Baptist, pays close attention to his teacher as John proclaims Jesus as “the Lamb of God”. This attention leads Andrew to a deeper and more penetrating interruption as Jesus turns and asks the direct, but beautiful question, “What are you looking for?”

The poet David Whyte has said, “A beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it, as it does by having it answered. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.”[1]

This question, “What are you looking for?” is one on the lips of Jesus the Christ, but it is one that the Spirit continues to ask, and one that our lives can be shaped by asking and answering in different ways. It is a question that is an interruption to our “business as usual” way of being in the world, but it is also a question that deserves our attention if we are to allow the Spirit to guide us into living toward an answer.

Interruption. Attention.

Sometimes we need to attend in order to recognise the urgency of a beautifully disruptive question forming.

“What are you looking for?” Andrew and his companion do not satisfy our curiosity these millennia later with a straight answer. (What were they looking for?) Instead, they respond with another question, “Where are you staying?”

When Jesus responds with “Come and see”, we begin to sense what kind of question the disciples were asking. This is not a “where are you putting up for the night” kind of question but the search for a new life direction as they choose to follow the way of Jesus and apprentice their lives to his.

Sometimes, something happens that breaks through our enclosed or habitual way of seeing the world. We are required by the force and surprise of this interruption to give it our full attention. This then leads us to ask new questions which shape new intentions and a new direction or way of being in the world.

Interruption. Attention. Intention.

Simon the fisherman is similarly interrupted by the urgency of his brother Andrew’s summoning and naming of Jesus as Messiah. This pattern is repeated now, but this time in Jesus, who we might imagine is teaching or resting and is interrupted by an eager Andrew presenting his brother. In Jesus’ attention to Simon, we see the naming of a new intention and beginning for the fisherman’s life- Simon is now to be called, Peter, the Rock. Jesus sees him. It is a beginning for Peter of a surrender to the Word of God revealed in Jesus, and a life which again and again will be humbled and undone by the grace of that presence.

Sometimes we are keen for swift answers to our big questions. We respond to the interruptions of pain or longing or life changes with all kinds of panaceas, many of which in our materialistic culture may be bought- holidays, new cars, makeovers or aids to spirituality of all kinds The mid-life crisis is a testimony to the way a consumerist culture answers spiritual questions. The most beautiful questions, though, are the ones which cannot be dismissed in such a way; ones we can spend a lifetime answering and which shape the intentionality of our lives. Nevertheless, the market continues for an easily accessed, feel-good spiritual experience. It is a kind of spiritual tourist mindset that would not ever consider the long-term commitment of any religion.  [2]

This needs to be contrasted with the slow work of attention and intention required as we offer ourselves to the way of Jesus the Christ. It needs what Eugene Petersen, drawing on Nietzsche, called “a long obedience in the same direction” and he adds with a touch of despair that he sees “little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” [2]

Simon Peter and Andrew would find this faltering pathway toward grace as they sought to follow the one for whom they were searching- Jesus, the Lamb of God. We too are invited to the same journey to grace and acceptance. But far from some personal quest for individual fulfilment and meaning, we journey with others on this road of long obedience in the same direction. Just like the call to “come and see” that drew those particular Galileans, we encounter Christ in the particularity of the gathered community of St Andrew’s Anglican Parish of Indooroopilly in the year 2023. The Christian journey is never conducted at a comfortable distance from the day-to-day encounters of a lived community, but with committed daily intention to share the same grace we have received with the real people whose lives touch our own. While solitude and silence form our attention and intention, holiness emerges in the crucible of community.

That word holiness is naturally alarming for many. I think one of the reasons it has been tainted, along with words like ‘virtue’, is that we have a distorted perception of that other word… sacrifice. But sacrifice is never a word we can dispense with; it lives too powerfully within our stories and our hopes. Sacrifice has become synonymous with practices that are self-negating or even self-harming and anything but life affirming. It prompts us to form our lives not around beautiful questions but around fear-filled ones. Our intentions for our lives become shaped not by possibilities but by the fear of never giving enough, never being enough. In religion, this is heightened by belief in a punitive and demanding God who sets expectations always beyond our reach and who place conditions on love and acceptance.

But this is not the God who interrupted the struggles of humanity to appear in solidarity amongst us, wrapped in the same human form. As the lamb sacrificed in the temple overcame the alienation of the people to God, so Jesus, the ultimate and final sacrifice overcomes the alienation of creation with the creator and restores communion with the source of all life, healing the world. Far from being a sacrifice to make us feel more guilty as sinners before an angry God, Jesus the forgiving victim moves toward us that we may know the divine love and grace always breaking through, interrupting our lives with mercy and forgiveness.

So may your lives be interrupted by the disruptive presence of the Christ we encounter in the everyday.

May you attend to the beautiful questions of your life. May you give your life with intention to living these questions and to the unchanging answer that you are accepted.  

Living in this grace, may we become that beloved community, travelling the long meandering road together in the same direction.


[1] David Whyte, On Being podcast: An interview with Krista Tippett

[2] Eugene Petersen, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, IVP Books USA, 2000.