A sermon for 15 January 2017
A reading from the gospel of John 1:29-42. Listen for God’s word to us in this gospel text assigned to the second Sunday after Epiphany all three years of the lectionary cycle. Listen.
“The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
There’s a word in the English language. It starts with the same letter as Christ. It starts with the same letter as another word prominent in this reading from the first chapter of the gospel of John, which actually brings it all about. The word I have in mind names a process most of us admit that we don’t at all like. Though it’s strange really, that we would have such disdain for this word and for the process. Because even in our own bodies, it takes place daily – naturally without any effort on our part; and mostly without much notice. History has shown that organisms that resist the process named by the word do not last. We label them extinct and include them in museums not only for the enjoyment of future generations but also for the warning we need to learn from them. Resist the process at your own risk. Deny the word starting with the same letter as Christ at your own peril. Fight against it – when it’s upon you for your own benefit and the benefit of others – and you’ll find yourself in the next extinct exhibit. Can you guess the word I’m talking about? The word that’s almost so taboo among too many churches that it’s up there with topics like sex and politics and money – all the hot button topics very few want covered in Sunday sermons.
The word is: Change. Change. Why do so many of us dislike it?
The gospel of John has an interesting way of introducing Jesus. It starts with its very high view of his divinity: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Unlike the other three gospels, John launches then into John the Baptist’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. Instead of the real-time view of it taking place, John the Baptist just speaks out loud, not really to anyone, but just as he sees Jesus in passing one day. It’s as if the gospel of John means to say from the start that the testimony about this incarnate Word is even more important to those with ears to hear and eyes to see, than is the actual event taking place for that Word in flesh. . . . The text we heard this morning is crucial for the church – so much so that, like I already said, every year after Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, the lectionary gospel reading turns to the gospel of John for one week prior to delving into Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C.
It’s about change. The whole story of those who would heed the call to come is the unfolding adventure of their lives. As John points others to Jesus as the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world, Andrew and another curious disciple of John begin following Jesus. Their lives never again will be the same. . . . If we were to see this on the big movie screen, we’d see John hanging out with a few folks around him. Jesus might have been just strolling by on his way home from a carpentry job ready to relax for the night, when John raises his voice to say: “Look! The lamb of God!” . . . It’s enough for Andrew and another one to take off after him. Was it a crowded village street, Andrew and the other ducking behind carts and doors as they tailed Jesus that afternoon? Or were they bold enough to just start walking right behind him. Step after step until Jesus, aware of their presence, over his shoulder turns to ask: “What are you looking for?” . . . It might it have been as simple as: “why in the world are you shadowing me?” Or maybe from the start Jesus was confronting these seekers with the much deeper question of what really it is in you that longs to be fulfilled? What is it for which you seek? . . . There’s no satisfactory answer about why they wanted to know his address. Though it’s of interest that, according to the text, they want to know where he is staying. I’m pretty sure it’s foreshadowing that though this enfleshed Word of God has a place to stay that night, he’s soon to set out on a journey that will lead to not one of the faithful ever staying in one spot again. According to the text, they will remain with him that day (1:39), as will the Spirit of God with us according to the resurrected Christ’s promise. But staying – settling into one secure little spot, metaphorically and literally, never again to change, will NOT be an option for a faithful follower of Christ. . . . Come and see he says to those who want to lay eyes upon where he stays. . . . It’s an invitation to a journey. A road Christ calls them to walk, which will be filled with twists and turns and changes all along the way.
We know it intellectually, even if we resist it emotionally. The Christian life is all about change – leaving behind the vices that bind us as we daily grow in the virtues of Christ. Finding increased in us things like love and patience and wisdom and mercy. Can you even remember now what you were like before you started to follow? Who was in your life then and what was typical of how you spent your time? For many of us our lives have been shaped from the start by the call of Christ. By our commitment to being his disciple through childhood in the church, our teen years, young adult and even until now. For others of us, there was a moment. Something brought us onto the journey – whether a wife that told you you were coming because the kids were going to be raised in the church. Or a first service here or elsewhere that really resonated within when you were looking for some direction in your life. Maybe it was a mission project with a population that mattered greatly to you that perked your curiosity around the kind of folks that would care about such a thing too. . . . Can we recall where we started and how incredibly far we have come? We have changed. Every last one of us. We have become witnesses to the way of Christ by the way we live our lives. Our pursuits have changed. Our priorities have shifted. The way we spend our time has become patterned after the things that matter to God. The very nature of who we are, if we’re really following after Jesus, begins to change as we grow with him in God’s Spirit.
I’m sure I’ve shared a hymn with you included in the latest publication of the Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God. The song is entitled “The Summons.” And unlikely many hymns, the second phrase of all five stanzas of the song come back to the same words. They are: “and never be the same.” It’s a little annoying when you sing it and perhaps necessary in order to keep the rhyme with the end of each first phrase that goes: “if I but call your name.” Imagine what would happen in you with a regular singing of such a hymn. Here’s how the first two phrases of each stanza goes: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? . . . Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? . . . Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? . . . Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?” Then, in the fifth stanza, the singer finally addresses the One calling in the other four stanzas. “Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.” (Glory to God, Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013. Text John L. Bell and Graham Maule © 1987 WGRG; “Will You Come and Follow Me: The Summons,” #726). . . . May it be so.
In the name of the life giving-Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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