Rev. Jennifer Adams – January 19, 2020 – Epiphany 2, Year A
Epiphany 2, Year A: Isaiah 49:1-7, John 1:29-42
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— he says, “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.”
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I 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.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When 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?” He 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He 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).
What absolutely beautiful readings we’ve been given this morning, the Second Sunday after Epiphany! They’re invitational readings. Hopeful readings. And we’ll take it. In particular, I want us to focus in on the Isaiah and gospel passages. They work well together – so let’s dive in and see how.
“You shall be a light to the nations!” God says. And this is actually God upping it a bit from what we’ll say were “previous understandings of calling.” The assumption was that this people would be the ones who were to essentially bring their own nation back together. They were called to a reunion of sorts where those had been scattered would be brought back together once and for all.
But what we hear in this passage is far more than that. “You will be a light for the whole world!” God told them. You will gather not only yourselves, but others too. “ You as a people will lead,” God said to the prophet, “and you, Israel, will give this world what it desperately needs, what it deeply hungers for you will offer to this world something of God’s dream as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would say. This is not just any family reunion, the is the pulling together of God’s family – finding each other, reaching across divisions – participating in reconciliation which is a few steps beyond reunion, right? It’s a related but different calling. Through Isaiah, the people were called to be light, grace not only for themselves but for the whole world.
Now note who it is whom God is saying this to. God is not speaking to the one who is perennially the victor or the biggest or the strongest or the fastest. It’s not the most powerful who were called to make this happen. God is speaking here to the one who is “abhorred” and “despised,” the one who was historically and repeatedly powerless, beat up, and on more than one occasion, lost. God is speaking to the one who had taken tons of hits, because of the horrible tendency to need someone to hit. So what’s happening in this passage and many others too is that the kid who is always bullied is called to be a light to the nations. The people who are enslaved are told they will shine. The smallest, weakest, slowest will lead us, according to the prophet Isaiah. And they are to do it with mercy, forgiveness, and love. And God will help it happen.
It’s a flip on its head of how we envision power, leadership, even light. And so when Jesus came on the scene he was tied into this dream of God, he had came to fulfill this promise of God, this dream of God who had dreamt and still dreams reconciliation writ-large. And in Christ, God invited all people into this light-filled mission and the hope it inspired. The author of the Gospel of John is clear from his opening chapter that Jesus is the light of the world, the one who has come to shine in a way the world so desperately needs.
And so today we hear about these two encounters with John the Baptist, which took place just shortly after Jesus baptism which we heard about last week. In the first encounter, John saw Jesus walking toward him and proclaimed him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John then said a little more about how he had come to know this to be, how he, John had seen the Spirit descending on Jesus at baptism and went on a bit about how this is the guy for whom they have been waiting. John is like this huge, living arrow pointing to Jesus as THE ONE. THE LIGHT. THE LAMB OF GOD. THE SON OF GOD. There was nothing subtle about John the Baptist.
So then came the second encounter in which John ran into Jesus again, so presumably these guys were just wandering around town every day and “happened to bump” into each other. This second time John was with two of his followers. John again proclaimed Jesus to be Lamb of God, and in that moment his followers quickly shifted their attention from John to Jesus.
And Jesus did sort of an amazing thing. He didn’t exactly pick up where John left off. Given that there was this arrow-shaped-camel-hair-dressed- prophet shouting about how he, Jesus was LIGHT and LAMB and SON of GOD, Jesus could have run with that. Sort of filled himself up and risen to the occasion of the spotlight as perhaps many expected him to.
Instead, Jesus in that moment showed them how this light would shine, how this light would lead, how this light would reconcile and heal this world. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked them. These were the first words he spoke to his disciples. Not “Sign up now!” or “Jump on the bandwagon of this hugely popular thing that will be great or mighty!”
Instead, Jesus opened with a question, an invitation really, a genuinely kind beginning for the disciples. And through this question they were given the privilege and also the responsibility to name their own searchings, their own seekings, their own hurtings and hungers. “What are you looking for?” is a big question, if we let it be. It’s a kind one too, an empathetic one, a loving one.
It’s a question that we can ask ourselves and allow to sink in in order to know how God is leading us. What are you looking for, individually and as Grace Church too – what are your/our searchings, seekings, hurtings, healings? Jesus then followed up with the phrase, “come and see.
“What are you looking for?” followed by “Come and see” was the flow. Those were the only two things Jesus said in this entire passage until the renaming of Simon. And so those phrases are linked and probably should be for us too. In those two phrases Jesus invited the now his disciples to an encounter, an encounter that would unfold over the next several chapters, for the rest of Jesus life including resurrection, and the rest of their lives too.
Perhaps this is the invitation at the heart of it all, the heart of the gospel anyway and perhaps the heart of reconciliation too. I’d go so far to say that it’s at the heart of evangelism done well, lovingly well. “What are you looking for?” is an offering of sorts. It’s an “I am willing to listen to you,” question. An “I am willing to listen with you,” question. And it was offered by the LAMB OF GOD, SON OF GOD, LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
So this whole evolving encounter – God with the world in Christ and then Christ in the world with all – was like one big open door through which light could shine, through which a profound mercy could flow, mercy that had the power to literally, miraculously transform not only the lives of the disciples, but the world too. Come and see! He said.
Martin Luther King Jr, whose memory and ministry we celebrate as a nation officially tomorrow knew well the words of the prophet Isaiah and spoke of light in darkness as he fought the injustice of racism as he invited us all into a vision that went beyond reunion into the life-giving grace of reconciliation. As he invited us all into the calling of the prophets the calling of the Body of Christ, “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” King said first in a sermon in 1957. A sermon on loving your enemies. “ Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Into which King wove in the vision of the prophet Isaiah, a vision of reconciliation writ large, a vision that took on darkness head on and called this nation to a more just, merciful way. Called us all to a more just, merciful way.
Now I believe that there are moments in which such transformations takes hold in remarkable and noticeable ways – we’ll hear soon from the gospel of John about being born again – about personal transformation that take place in the blink of an eye. But for most of us this is a life-long experience of “come and see,” of allowing the question of What are you looking for to sink in over and over again, and to listening deeply for how others in this world answer this question, how other children of God answer this question. The work is not done. The calling has not been fully lived into by the Body. I can share data and stories and images but you already know we are not yet there. This is not the promised land. Because there are so many ways in which the question in this gospel is still being answered: I’m looking for…Freedom. Equality. Kindness. Shelter. Wisdom. Breakfast. Supper. Forgiveness. Friends. Community. Courage. Understanding…sometimes even the deeply honest, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”
And so this takes time, all of it, but the question will hold us and guide us if we’ll let it, because the light of the world has us too. And them too. The invitation never goes away – come and see! This light never goes away. Darkness cannot over come it. We can’t extinguish it but we can help it shine. We can participate in helping create and recreate that which God would have us come and see. The work is in ourselves, here at Grace and out in the world too. The light of the world merciful, powerful, here and now, AND eternal.
So allow it to speak to us. This light has a voice! We hear it occasionally through prophets given this world as they help us hear what those who are other are looking for. We can hear it in each other too, and in ourselves if we’re willing to listen. Allow the question in this gospel to enter your hearts and the heart of Grace too. Invite others to come and see and know that Christ is calling us through open doors that lead us to that which we need, that which we seek. There is light and healing for all.