January 19, 2014 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Last week Mark told the story from Matthew’s gospel about the baptism of Jesus. The writer of Matthew’s gospel perches us on the banks of the Jordan River watching it happen: watching John and Jesus in the river, seeing the heavens open and the dove descend. Hearing the voice say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Today we stand with the writer of the gospel of John. But in John’s gospel, we don’t get to see the baptism. Instead we hear John the Baptist’s testimony–his witness–about the baptism of Jesus.
So, listen now for the word of God: John 1.29-42
Seeing Jesus come toward him, John the Baptist gives witness to Jesus’ identity. Jesus, says John, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Hearing John call Jesus the Lamb of God, a first century Jew listening to this story would likely recollect the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Do you remember the story? The Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt–in bondage to Pharaoh. Part of their liberation included God’s instruction that they put the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorposts of their houses. Houses so marked would be “passed over” by God and their inhabitants would be spared from death. This rescuing by God then became an annual remembrance–the Passover–giving thanks that God freed the Hebrew people from their slavery under Pharaoh.
The writer of John’s gospel, then, seems to be saying that Jesus is the new Passover lamb and there is a second Exodus story here.1 In the gospel the rescue is not from slavery in Egypt but slavery in sin—all that keeps us separated from God, separated from one another, alienated, estranged.
John proclaims that Jesus–the Lamb of God–breaks the power of sin. “In the place of bondage, rejection and disenfranchisement, Jesus brings freedom, acceptance and belonging.”2
The rescue is not for individual sins but for the whole world. Earlier in John 1 the writer says, “To all who received the Living Word of God [that is, Jesus Christ]…the Living Word of God gave power to become children of God.” No longer is the freedom from bondage and slavery only for the Hebrew people. Now that freedom is for everyone.
Okay, now go with me over to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul writes to the church about their identity. Here’s who you are, says Paul: You are called by God, made holy in Christ, not lacking in any spiritual gift, given grace in Christ, strengthened so you may be what and who you are called to be, called to be part of Christ’s body.
We hear Paul speaking to the Corinthian church and we can hear him speaking to us. We find our identity in Christ—called into the community—to be part of the body of Christ.
And back in John’s gospel, we see that community starting to form. “Here is the Lamb of God” John the Baptist announces again. And two of John’s disciples turn and follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them and asks them, “What are you looking for?”
And they answer with a question. “Teacher, where are you staying?” Which might sound to our ears like an odd response. As if they are asking him what motel he’s in or which relative’s guest room he’s occupying.
This word “staying” (where are you staying?) in Greek is an ordinary word. It can also mean “remain” and we see it multiple times in John’s Gospel in rather ordinary ways. Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them. (4.40) Or Jesus went to Galilee and remained there. (7.9)
But this word also means “abide” and that word gets used in John’s gospel to describe the relationship between Jesus and God and between Jesus and his disciples. We hear it most in chapter 15. Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you…Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept [God’s] commandments and abide in [God’s] love.”
The writer of John’s gospel loves to use words that have multiple meanings–words that we can hear in different ways. So we might hear the disciples question to Jesus, “Where are you staying?” as just about a physical location but I suspect their question is also about what it means to follow him; to become his disciples. “Where are you staying?” they ask. “What will life be like if we remain with you? If we abide with you? Who will we be if we abide with you?”
And then Jesus ascends into the pulpit and tells them the four spiritual laws, recites the ten commandments, expounds on his philosophy of successful living and gives them a book list to read before next week’s class.
No, not really!
Jesus says, “Come and see.”
Come and see.
Three simple words of invitation.
Which could also be: Abide with me.
And the two disciples go and see where Jesus was staying, and they remained with him that day.
Come and see. Abide with me. Stay with me. Remain with me.
It’s an invitation to an experience. To a relationship. To a connection.
A life with Jesus–being a disciple–is not just about knowing or believing things. It’s not just about analysis and intellect. It’s about abiding, remaining, staying. Connecting, experiencing. Certainly a life with Jesus includes intellect and belief but sometimes we Presbyterians spend so much time in our minds, that we forget to experience what it is we think about. Sometimes we function in the world as if our intellect is the most important characteristic in life.
An acquaintance of mine who is a pastor in a congregation on the edge of an internationally known university says, “We Presbyterians are brains on sticks.”
Now I’m not knocking intellectual pursuits. I like to think about things and ponder in my brain and consider all the possibilities and perspectives and implications. But that’s only one part of a human life.
It seems to me in this passage from John, the invitation is to come off the sidelines. To move out of the safety zone where we watch life go by without having to get dirty or involved.
“Come and see” Jesus invites those who are curious about following him. There isn’t a textbook with answers at the back. There isn’t a formula or rulebook. But there is a way of life. A companion and a community. Come and see. Abide with me.
Come and see a way of life undergirded by prayer and shaped by the way of love. Come and see a way of life supported by all the spiritual gifts we need and illuminated by the Light of the World.
And what will we see? We will see the dominating powers of the world that work to keep people broken and alienated, oppressed and powerless, fearful and compliant, marginalized and shamed—we will see those powers challenged and challenged and challenged again. And ultimately, those powers will be broken by the power of love.
On this weekend we give particular thanks for the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King in a sermon in 1957, said, “We must discover the power of love…the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world.”3
Come and see, Jesus said. And Dr. King saw a world of love and liberation where all people can live to the fullest the life God has given us to live.
Dr. King and many others–including some of you–put their lives on the line as they followed Jesus and the way of love.
Our own Ann Downs stood with courage and led with love as the first African American principal at Greenwood Elementary School in south Louisville during busing in the 1970s. As the National Guard was on the ground and circling overhead in helicopters, Ann got on the school bus with African American children to bring them comfort and lead them to safety when they were surrounded by angry, white adults.
Come and see, Dr. King and Ann Downs and many individuals and communities heard. And they followed Jesus into a life of love; a life of freedom for all people.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was given by President Jimmy Carter to Dr. King nine years after his death. In that award, President Carter said, Dr. King “gazed on the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down.”4 Unlike the Berlin Wall that actually was taken down, the wall of segregation still stands—not wholly intact, but far too much of it remains. There is still work to do.
Come and see, Jesus says.
Dr. King is an easy person to remember and to lift up on this weekend where we have a holiday in his honor. As I look around this sanctuary, I’m pretty sure none of us are going to have a federal holiday named after us.
The rest of us will probably live ordinary, relatively unknown lives. But the call of Jesus to live a life of love is for all of us. Come and see.
* * *
1 Tom Wright, John for Everyone, pt 1, p10.
2 Texts for Preaching, Year A, John 1.29-42.
3 http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_loving_your_enemies/, accessed 18 January 2014.