Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mercy, Compassion, and Wisdom

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, Spirit of wisdom.

Jesus calls us into new relationships: new relationships with God, with self, with each other. He calls us out of the old painful relationships of pain, punishment and retribution.

This might seem odd: in today’s gospel, isn’t God calling Jesus the sacrificial goat? No. God offers to humankind his only Son, as Savior and as Lord. Jesus breaks the cycle of violence – he does not complete it.

Here he is walking by the river Jordan. He is not even calling his disciples: they are coming to him. And they come to him because John, the prophet, the one who baptizes for turning away from sin, points him out to them. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Passover Lamb is a sign; the people of Israel are remembering that the Lord set them free from bondage. (Exodus 12)

The Lord offers his Son as a gift: as a liberator from bondage, from slavery, from sin. This is the ‘epiphany’, the revelation of God’s Son, which we share in today.

“Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God!” (Psalm 40:5a)

You take no pleasure in sacrifice and offering – you have not required burnt offering or offering for sin, and so I say,

Behold, I come. I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep in my heart. I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly. I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; let your love and your fidelity keep me safe forever.

Jesus frees us from sin. He liberates us from our old oppressions, personal and moral, social and political – yes, even political. He calls us out into a larger world, away from the structures of the demonic obsession with guilt and death, into the realm of eternal Life.

And he calls us into service beside him. As he is the light of the world and we are the light of the world, he is the Lamb of God and we too are the Lamb of God. What are we called to do?

“It is too light a thing,” says the Lord to his Servant, “that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob.” There is more for you to do.

Isaiah goes on to say: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Of course he was not speaking to you and me – not at first. But we are not getting off the hook. First of all, these prophetic words came to the people Israel while they themselves were in bondage – in exile in the land between the waters, then Babylon: now Iraq.

Of all the people in all the places of the world, he had to walk into their lives – and tell them, not only that they themselves were to be set free, but that they were to be signs to the world.

And Jesus takes on this challenge: he embodies to the world the liberation of God, just as the Passover Lamb represented to the people of Israel their freedom from the land of Pharaoh: “Remember that your ancestors were slaves in Egypt.” They were slaves, strangers, sojourners – traveling through on their way, however windy and long, to the Holy Land.

Jesus is walking by the riverside; John points him out to his own disciples, and points out who he is: The Lamb of God. The two disciples hear this, and off they go: they go to meet Jesus, to see where he is living, and to – as it turns out – to follow him.

“Come and see,” Jesus invites them, innocently enough. As it is four o’clock in the afternoon, perhaps on the eve of the Sabbath, and the daylight is fading, they “remain with him that day.”

Oh, dear. That was a mistake. It was a mistake if they wanted to stay the way they were. For by morning, someone at least has heard the dime drop.

Andrew, the first disciple to be mentioned by name, goes to his brother Simon, and tells him: “We have found the Messiah, the anointed one: the one who is come to set his people free.”

Nothing could be clearer than that. And Simon trusts his brother – and he comes to Jesus, and lays – as it turns out – his life at Jesus’ feet.

“You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (Aramaic, for rock), that is, you are a rock. And on this rock – this embodiment of faithfulness, this human trust – Jesus builds his church.

But we still are not off the hook. From Isaiah’s Servant, perhaps one man, the prophet, perhaps the people of Israel, we have moved to Jesus – and to Peter.

In Greek, the naming of Peter is a play on words: petros, a rock; petra, rock en masse; bedrock.

We are the second: the people of God, the body of faithful people, the ones called to be the foundation stones of God’s Temple. A temple not built by hands: but made of them, and of feet, and eyes, and ears, and all the parts of the body, glorified and inglorious together.

We are the body of Christ, the people of God, and on this foundation God builds the new world. What is he looking for? What does God want from us?

Does he want sacrifice? Some ritual atonement, to make us even, to square us in his books for some past oversight? No, he wants to free us from that: and the Lamb of God is his sign to us that he is accomplishing that – in Jesus.

And he is accomplishing that in us, if we dwell with Christ; if we, like Andrew and the other disciple, go and see – go and see – where he is living, and abiding still, then we too will take part in the new work of God, the building of the temple.

The purpose of this temple is not to look beautiful, it is not to win a reward; it is to be a light to the nations, the peoples of the world, so that God’s salvation, his healing, his atonement, may make at one with God all the peoples of the world.

“Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers – that is, like Israel was at the time of the Babylonian Captivity, like Jesus was as a captive before Pilate, like we are if left to ourselves in the mire of sin and falsehood – thus says the Lord to them, to him, to us:

“’Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,’” because of – not because of us – “’because of the Lord, who is faithful,’” - who keeps faith and keeps his promise – “’the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you….’”:

Indeed he has chosen us. He walks by the lakeshore as of old, and he – the Messiah, the holy one of Israel – calls to us, by his very being. And we want to investigate, we want to go find out: who is he? Where is he living? Where can we abide with him?

God is faithful. He calls you into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. You are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place – and generation – call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. The grace of God has been given to us in Christ Jesus.

In every way we have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the witness of Christ has been made stronger among us – so that we lack no gift of the spirit as we wait for his coming.

He is coming; he is here now, and he has been here with us from the beginning. His new kingdom is being heralded, as he was heralded by John: the old dominion of sin and slavery and death and bondage is gone; new life and new hope is found in Jesus Christ.

We are called to share in Christ’s work of building the kingdom, of being the light of the world, the lamb of God.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Amen/let’s get started.


Epiphany2a, Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42.

Thanks to Tom Sine of Mustard Seed Associates for helpful insights and general encouragement.

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