What is your experience of God? Do you experience a relationship with God that is close and accessible – intimate even? Or do you experience God as being distant – inaccessible – judgmental – even fearful.
The fact is that for many it is the latter – for many God is remote and inaccessible. For many God is a judge ready to exact dreadful retribution for our sins – defined as breaking a series of personal behavior rules.
I think this is the common experience of many. God the creator of heaven and earth, experienced as distant and remote down through the ages. Even Jacob it seems experienced God/Yahweh in this way. Running away after betraying his brother and father, after behaving in a really despicable way he seems to be on his guard expecting violent retribution to seek him out.
But exhaustion finally gets the better of him and he finds a place he feels is safe and secure and falls into a deep sleep. And he dreams – in fact, he has a fantastic dream. He sees a stairway connecting earth and heaven and upon the stairway are a number of angels or messengers ascending and descending. And then Yahweh himself speaks – Uh Oh – look out! Here it comes! Words of judgment, condemnation? No – rather, Yahweh restates and reminds Jacob of both the promises and the calling that Yahweh had expressed to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham back in chapter 12 – 1. I will provide for you - and your descendants will be as numerous as the stars; 2. I will be with you no matter what 3. So that – you might be a blessing to the nations! Yahweh speaks words of Promise and Calling!
This dream and Yahweh’s words teach Jacob and us something really important and about God – God is involved with God’s creation – God is involved with God’s beloved people – God is involved in the lives of God’s beloved People – God is involved in your lives.
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt (tented) among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
John proclaims the very same message. God is involved – God participates – God has entered into our lives and communities – God is tenting among us – God has moved into the neighborhood and God desires to establish a relationship with us.
I wonder what kind of experience of God the disciples had. Perhaps they too had a distant and remote experience of God. But John the Baptizer begins pointing in a different direction – in fact, in the Gospel of John, John the Baptizer is actually John the Witness because he points: “The one who comes after me is before me.” The one who comes after me is God in the flesh – the one who comes after me is inviting you all into a relationship with God and offering you the same Promise/Calling God/Yahweh made to Abraham and Jacob so long ago.
And so the two disciples with John follow Jesus and Jesus invites them to come and see – and to remain or abide with him – that is to enter into a relationship with him and with God.
And then two more disciples –Philip and Nathaniel – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Asks Nathaniel? Drop your assumptions and prejudices – they will stand in the way of relationship – open your mind and open your heart and come and see, replies Philip. And they too enter into a relationship and remain or abide with Jesus. And Jesus promises them that they will see the “angels – the messengers of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
The message is the same is it was for Jacob – God is involved with human beings – God is involved with you – God is tenting in our midst – and the promise is for you: God will provide and God will be present with us THROUGH Jesus.
But the calling is for you, and for us as well. For all of us who are called to follow are given both the promise and the calling. I will provide, I will be present with you SO THAT you can fulfill your calling to be a blessing to the nations. You who abide in a relationship with God are called to reach out and allow God through Jesus to reach out through you to bless all those whom we encounter.
At this point in the story the disciples do not yet understand what the relationship with God through Jesus will require of them – they do not understand that as Jesus’ disciples they, themselves are to be the incarnation of God’s presence and grace and love in the midst of the world. That this is what it means to Abide – to remain! That being in a relationship with God through Jesus is not only blessing but also calling and that like John, the Baptizer, the Witness we too are called to point through our actions, through our openness and love and acceptance and gracefulness towards others – towards ALL others!
Ultimately, it seems to me we must recognize that the words of Yahweh/God to Abraham and Jacob – through Jesus to us are both words of promise and words of calling. We like to hear the words of promise. But the words of calling? Not so much, maybe. But this is what it means to be in relationship with God through Jesus. This is what it means to Abide. This is what we are all invited to “Come and See.”