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Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
January 19, 2019 –Second Sunday After the Epiphany
We linger at the Jordan a second Sunday in a row this morning. Our liturgical colors have changed from white and gold to green because the season has changed from Christmastide to Ordinary Time.
The festival celebrating Christ’s birth has ended. The gifts have been opened and put away. The tree has been taken down. The lights have been stored. We have returned from our holiday visits or our company has gone back home. The Great Wheel has turned another year.
But we remember this Christmas and many Christmases ago, and we have a chance ponder the meaning of it all…throughout time…no matter how the wheel has turned.
It was a time of much activity and great excitement. Something of the season will be with us always.
Will we miss it or savor it? Is it over…a ‘one-off’? Or is it a seed of hope that will spring forth again and again as we walk through the many seasons that await us? What are we left with beside the bills…that are now due…for the joy we shared?
Isaiah, writing 2500 years ago captures the moment…this moment now…for us with an insight and understanding of the ages. “I have labored in vain,” he writes, “I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
But he does not stop there. His meditation does not end with asking what he has gotten out of it. He continues, “yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”
Days and years come and go. We are changed by what they bring us, and they are changed by what we do with them. Is the meaning we get out of them the sum total of what we got out of them…or is there something more?
Solomon wrote in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Everything that happens has happened before,
and all that will be has already been—God does everything over and over again.”
Are we getting somewhere, my friends, or are we just running laps on the racetrack of life? When we walk into the room…do we bring the memory of our suffering or do we bring the hope of faith?
Life on the Great Wheel is a series of choices and this is one of the most important choices …if not the most important choice …we can make. Is our glass half empty or half full? Is our life passing…or is it becoming?
How do we greet each day? This is a particularly appropriate question for us to ask ourselves as we move from a season of festival to a season of ordinary time.
We ‘reside’ here. Let us look at that word…‘reside.’ Do we just live and breathe in this world…or do we grow into this world? Are we just passing the hours…or are we becoming a new creation with each hour?
Does Jesus come speak to us from time to time, or does he abide with us? Have we given the Holy Spirit permission to become part of us?
Life shows us many ways to see. We thought we were just passing time in a far off quarrelsome world until our fleet was attacked at Pearl Harbor. We thought we were just setting a good example for all those ‘other people’ until the World Trade Towers fell on 9/11/2001.
Then we could see the meaning… the purpose…the hope…that each hour brings to us…and that each hour brings us to. And we…as Americans…were transformed by the events of the moment.
We had a rendezvous with destiny. Our understanding of our place and purpose in the world was transformed by what had just happened in an instant.
Back in 1776, it was the insensitivity of our royal neighbors in England who suspended our legislatures… told us we could not meet to debate the reasons we were being taxed… had no part in that discussion…that made us a nation of laws and not of men.
Freedom and self-determination were of ultimate importance…the right to worship God as we saw fit and not as we were told to see our God…that was what was at the core of it.
That brought the Israelites out of Egypt. That raised the prophets out of the people…to scold and awaken their people. We have been created not only to obey and get along…but also to decide… whether we will steer our ship with fear or hope.
Carl Sandburg, in his biography of Lincoln, writes that when Abraham Lincoln lost the U.S. Senate election of 1858 to Stephen Douglas, the state chairman of the Republican Party came to him and asked him to never run for public office again.
He could will the Republican nomination every time, but he had lost six general elections in a row and the party couldn’t handle much more of his kind of success. It was a sad moment and Lincoln’s prospects were low.
As he walked from his law office to his home that night the streets were muddy and Lincoln slipped and almost fell, but he caught himself. “Just a slip and not a fall,” he sighed.
He paused, then straightened up and said with confidence, “Just a slip and not a fall!”
In his first letter to the church he had planted at Corinth, Paul was writing to a church that had become divided. They had received the Good News of Jesus Christ from him, but as their conversations continued they argued about the little things, forgetting the big thing they had received.
Some were saying, “I belong to Paul” while others were saying, “I belong to Apollos” and still others were saying, “I belong to Cephas.”
That’s just the way people are. That’s what they do. No matter how good it is, we can find something to argue about…something that makes us special and everyone else ordinary.
No matter how good things are, once we look at them long enough, we quit seeing what is there and begin to see what isn’t there. It’s like me enjoying a mild winter with sunshine while I pray for more cold and snow.
The Great Wheel turns in the world…and it turns in our hearts.
But as he opens his letter, Paul begins by calling his Corinthian friends back into the one fellowship that brought them together.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some say po-tay-to and some say po-tah-to…some say to-may-to and some say to-mah-to, but if we eat one we all get the same nourishment…no matter how we say it. Is the dispute about how to pronounce their name worth more than the whole relationship? Is the difference between Apollos and Cephas so great that we cannot find ourselves one in Christ?
Don’t wallow in what you don’t have and forget the rest. Look at what you do have and use it for the best. Or as Abraham Lincoln put it, our lives are sometimes open to bad surprises that turn out to be “just a slip and not a fall.”
John the Baptist is the prophet who announced the arrival of the Promised One…in his very own time and place. “Here is the Lamb of God,” he cries,“who takes away the sin of the world!”
He recognizes him and he can understand all the good that is going to come out of it…for all people. He also understands what it will mean for Jesus to be The Lamb of God.
He is, of course, a devout Jew who knows his scriptures. He is living in the wilderness and he is preparing the way of the Lord. A little before where we take up our Gospel reading today he proclaimed, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!”
He is, of course, quoting Isaiah, and he is heralding the dawn of a new age, 500 years after Isaiah wrote. “What you have heard it told to you of old is now at hand!”
In Mark’s Gospel (1:14), after John the Baptist is arrested, Jesus comes to Galilee, taking up John’s mantle, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
But this is the Lamb of God, the one who will save the world, even though he has seen what has happened to John…and Jeremiah… and Isaiah…and Elijah…and all the prophets.
He, too, knows that it is written in Deuteronomy that on the night of the Passover, the people of Israel who were about to be saved from captivity and suffering under Pharaoh were instructed to take a lamb without blemish, slaughter it, and put some of its blood on the lintel and doorposts of their houses so that the plague sent by God to strike down all the firstborn of Egypt would pass over their house.
They would be saved from death. They would be spared from annihilation. They will be released from bondage…by the blood of the lamb they sacrificed…that very night…to God.
Now…this day…John sees God sending his sacrifice…to the banks of the Jordan. That is why we know our Lord and Savior as “The Lamb of God.” He is King…and God… and Sacrifice. The Great Wheel turns…in his sacred heart…too.
Today, he recounts the baptism he performed for the Lamb of God to his disciples when Jesus walks by. “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
John’s disciples follow after Jesus and ask him, “Rabbi [teacher], where are you staying?” The Lamb turns and invites them into the holy narrative…full of sorrow in the glory and full of glory in the sorrow … He offers them a place on the Great Wheel.
What does he say? Simply, “Come and see.” They follow him that day and when they have seen and heard his work of one day, they go and tell others who have also been watching and waiting, “We have found the Messiah.”
The Messiah is the Lamb of God? The Lamb of God is the Messiah? If you are good, good things happen to you, no? And if your are bad, bad things happen…no? Is there glory in suffering…In suffering (for righteousness’ sake) is there glory?
We can spend our money, and while we can only spend each dollar once, we can find a way…if need be…to earn another dollar…to produce another crop.
But once we spend our time, it is gone. If we think our money…our material comfort…is precious… then how much more precious is each of our days?
We have been gifted the glory of life. We have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch…and minds to explore… in our neighborhood… where things are so small we can only imagine them…in universe too great to fathom.
We have been blessed and we need to acknowledge that…again and again…and be grateful…over and over. We are here as witnesses to the hinge of time…now.
But what is it that we can give to show our thanks? What do we mortals have to offer the immortal?
“What can I give Him,” the song asks us, “Poor as I am?”
And the song leads us forward into our inquiry: “If I were a shepherd,
I would bring Him a Lamb.”
That’s all Isaiah has to tell us. Is it too light a thing God has asked of us that we should be a light shining in the darkness?...that God should give us…make us…God’s own… unblemished…lamb? You are called to be the offering of the Holy One? But…what more can we make of our lives…but to be God’s lamb?
We are not all shepherds, but the song knows that and is ready for us: “If I were a wise man,
I'd be sure to do my part…
So what can I give Him
I'll give Him my heart.”
A portion of what you have received is a worthy tithe, but how do we show our thanks to the people who have taught us and helped us to grow? How do we worship the Creator that has given us breath…and all that comes…and goes…with that?
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.