1.15.2008

Second Sunday of Epiphany

Hebrew Bible: Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm: Psalm 40:1-11
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
New Testament: John 1:29-42

Do you ever worry that you’ll miss the boat? That the perfect opportunity will come along--the Thing you’ve hoped for--and you will be too afraid, too distracted or too vain to walk away from what you Have and Risk achieving What You Have Waited For? Or do you ever feel like you have all that you need, and in that Space of Satisfaction, do you think that you might have missed something that you should have seen?

Whether it is a vocation, a relationship, a house, a trip or an item on the clearance rack, you’ve probably passed up an opportunity without knowing or perhaps even considering the opportunity cost. Or maybe you boldly moved toward the unknown, not passing up the newly presented opportunity. But what did you leave behind? What might you miss?

This week Epiphany continues, and the readings shed more and more light on who this Jesus is and the possibilities he represents. Last week, Jesus was consecrated and set apart. This week, John testifies about the meaning of this consecration and Jesus begins to gather his disciples. We get to watch the disciples ask what it means to take a risk.

In the Isaiah passage, a first-person voice paints a picture of what God desires of a certain chosen servant. God’s charge is to do something bigger than merely save Israel: God says to Isaiah, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Wow. In the context of the early Christian church, that was probably read in light of the expansion of Christ’s teaching beyond Judaism toward Christianity; but in our context today, what does it mean to ponder God empowering a servant to shed light in dark corners so that salvation might reach the End of the Earth? There is a chance our own call is not all that different from Isaiah’s or Israel’s call.

The Psalmist reflects on a God that is steadfast. These words are obviously written by someone that was confident of God’s faithfulness. She (or he) was certain of his/her calling to be in relationship with God. Over time, God has proven faithfulness to the people. This is a God who has drawn the people out of one bad spot after another in spite of how they adhered to written laws and the observance of sacrifices and offerings. Psalms were the prayers and the hymns for Jews in Jesus’ day. As you stretch your mind around these words, think about Jesus learning from these same words in his community. How would that shape a teacher? A prophet? A leader?

The Epistle reading is the greeting from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. There is a lot packed into these few lines. Paul is reminding this community that they are “called” to be saints. He reminds them that grace has been given to them…not earned. He reminds them that God is faithful. While they wait, while they grow together, called into community because of their fellowship in Christ’s teachings, they cannot earn this love from God. It is faithfully offered to them with Grace.

It seems that encouraging someone to accept Grace is tantamount to asking them to risk that God’s Love and Forgiveness actually exist and might even trump one’s own guilt-driven flagellation. Trusting what God tells us is a difficult thing to live in to some times.

Two really important things happen in the gospel lesson this week. One is that John testifies to his own disciples that the spirit descended at Jesus’ baptism, revealing to John Jesus’ place as “the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” By naming Jesus the “Lamb of God,” John references the Passover lamb and makes a direct connection between Jesus’s coming and the deliverance of Israel. John believes that this Lamb of God has come to take away the “sin of the world.” He does not reference the sin of this person or that person or the sin of those who don’t follow the law or of those who trip and fall over some social expectation. No, this Jesus was sent to take away the sin of the world.

This raises an important question about what we might be missing today. In Brian McLaren’s book, The Secret Message of Jesus, he wonders with his readers if we have maybe been asking the wrong question for thousands of years. He marvels at the complexity of parables, wondering if they are puzzles that call us to struggle with words to find deeper meaning.

What if Jesus wasn’t here to save us individually, but to save us collectively, to take away the Sin of the World? Certainly John read the prophets and the Psalms and would have picked up on the visions of salvation that reaches the end of the earth or of a God that did not require burnt offerings or blind obedience to a law.

Another question brought up in this week’s reading is found in the movement of Peter and Andrew from being John’s disciples to being followers of Jesus. After John’s testimony, Andrew, who has been following John to this point, goes to find his brother. He nudges him, “Hey, this is The One. This is the Messiah.” Jesus now has his first two disciples--Peter and Andrew. It is a new beginning. They felt The Pull or The Drawing or The Calling inside of them so deeply that they knew they needed to attach their entire livelihood to Jesus (we will do more thinking about what it means to be a disciple another day).

But what if Andrew hadn’t quite grasped what John was saying? Were there those with John who heard him and looked the other way? In Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Ciaphas the High Priest comforts Judas by telling him he has “backed the right horse” by turning Jesus over to the Jewish authorities. How many heard John’s message and later Jesus’ message and didn’t “get” it. How many of us have read these same passages and “backed the wrong horse” intentionally or otherwise.

In Christian community, each of us in called into the fellowship of Jesus. Even if we don’t recognize the circumstances of the call, we choose daily in our choices and actions whether to heed that call. Without question, all of us occasionally back the wrong horse. And there is Grace when we make the wrong choices or move past a chance to shed Light in Dark Spaces. We get a chance tomorrow and the next day and the next. God is faithful and by Him, you were called into the fellowship of his Son.

+Where do you feel called?
+Do you sense that opportunities have passed you by? If so, what do you do differently because of that?
+Is it risky to accept Grace?
+What is the difference between your sin and the sin of the world?
+What is the difference between your love and the love of the world?

The eyes of my heart, O God,
are clouded over by daily cares and fears.
By the power of your Holy Spirit,
restore my sight.
Cause the scales to fall from my eyes,
through the study of your holy Scriptures,
that I may suffer no confusion
but walk forth in confidence,
with your word being a lamp to my feet
and a light to my pathway;
through Christ who is true light and vision. Amen.

Laurence Hull Stookey, This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer

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