Sunday, January 16
Second Sunday after Epiphany
All That We Are
Steadfast God, you have enriched and enlightened us by the revelation of your eternal Christ. Comfort us in our mortality and strengthen us to walk the path of your desire, so that by word and deed we may manifest the gracious. Amen.
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards 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).
All readings for this week
Isaiah 49:1-7 with Psalm 40:1-11 and
I Corinthians 1:1-9 and
1. Do you think most Christians are seeking Jesus, or something else?
2. Where, in your experience, does Jesus "live"?
3. What losses are we willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel?
4. What do you believe Jesus is "about"?
5. What is your own story of "meeting Jesus"?
by Kate Huey
Testimony. Witness. Evangelism. Many of us in the mainline churches are at least a little bit uncomfortable with such words. But here we are, in the season of Epiphany, the season of "manifestation"--of God's love, and God's wonderful deeds. Seeing such wonders naturally leads us to want to share what we have seen with others. Today's reading "sees" the baptism of Jesus from the perspective of John the Baptist, who tells the story of his own eye-opening experience. John says that he saw the Spirit descending and heard the voice of God, telling him who this Jesus was. He admits that he didn't even know who Jesus was, but testifies about what he saw, a "fragile and vulnerable testimony," says Charles Campbell, who writes movingly about the fragility and vulnerability of witnessing: "That's the way of testimony. It is always a risky venture, which can offer no 'proofs' beyond what the witness has seen and heard." Now the testimony will be lives lived in faithfulness to Jesus, not just two thousand years ago but just as much today. When people look for those who "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk," they're looking for authentic witness and testimony, rooted in truth and lived out each day. What good is a truth that doesn't change our lives? And if our lives are transformed, how can we not talk about it?
If you read a Gospel straight through, from beginning to end, you get a much better sense of the sometimes amusing cluelessness of the disciples. Today's conversation with Jesus is an example: when Jesus asks the two seekers what they're looking for, they ask him where he lives. "Asked a momentous, life-challenging question by the one proclaimed as the Son of God, the followers reply by asking for Jesus' address," Campbell writes. But then he says that the disciples may not have missed the mark after all, whether they realized it or not. Rather than losing themselves in endless disputes of fine theological points or complex and abstract questions, they're seeking a person, Jesus himself..."to be with him, to know him, and to follow him...Their simple question," Campbell writes, "challenges the church today to examine what we are seeking--Jesus or something else." When we sit quietly and think about our deepest longing, or right in the midst of a long church meeting, we might ask ourselves what, and whom, we're really seeking, what we're really hoping for: Jesus, or something else? As much as Christianity is about a person, Jesus Christ, we have mostly turned it into those complex, abstract theological questions and overloaded it with burdensome moral restrictions.
The answer Jesus gives is no long-winded sermon full of obscure theological claims, but just three simple words perfect for evangelism ministry: "Come and see." Campbell finds the order of the three little words significant: rather than first understanding who Jesus is (we might call this "having it all together"), and then setting out to follow him, Jesus' tender invitation brings these seekers close to him, in relationship, to "where he lives," and he knows that being in that relationship will transform their lives. Along our own, sometimes stumbling, sometimes uncertain (clueless?) way, we slowly come to understand better who Jesus is and what it means to be faithful to him. And in turn, we want to witness, too: "In the power of the Spirit, which Jesus has breathed upon us, we offer our fragile and vulnerable testimony to Jesus," Campbell continues, "backed up by the faithfulness and integrity of our life together. At a time when the church is tempted to become just another appealing commodity for middle-class consumers, the text from John poses a significant challenge to our communities of faith. Do our words and deeds bear witness to Jesus? And when we invite people to 'come', will they be able to 'see' Jesus in our congregations?"
Revelation isn't simple
Revelation, then, is no simple matter. It happens in many different ways, in many different settings, including our life together in the church. That may be surprising to us, that God is still speaking through us and our life together. (Who was it who said that "Revelation is an ongoing event"?) One might say that God is still speaking words of hope, still revealing God's justice and compassion, through the shared life of our congregations. That's how we witness to what we are experiencing in the transformation of our lives. It's not something we cause or control, Charles Cousar tells us: "Whether as a steady progress of illumination like the dawn scattering the shadows of the night or an instantaneous flash like the lightning bolt, [revelation] occurs to bring recognition and witness. However and whenever revelation 'happens', it results not from the perceptive powers of the human mind nor from the ability some people have to be in touch with reality nor from a keen intuition. It is a sheer gift of grace."
It seems that we're looking for the sky to open, and listening for the voice of God, but maybe we're missing the myriad ways that God is still speaking around us. Today's passage from John, when the crowds listened to John's "fragile and vulnerable" yet powerful testimony, illustrates the call of the followers of Jesus in every age to listen carefully, live faithfully, and tell the story of what God has done in the midst of their own transformed lives.
Counting loss as gain
John the Baptist is one model for evangelists today. He points toward the One who is salvation rather than drawing attention to himself. He even watches two of his own disciples leave him and follow Jesus! Most of us would have to admit that one of the challenges of ministry is not to lose sight of its true center and focus: Jesus. Especially in the life of the church, it's easy for "it" to become "all about us"...or all about the building, or all about the program, etc. Above all, it is not about losing. We want to grow, to gain, to expand. And yet, we hear, and feel, that discipleship costs. How willing are we to forego recognition and popularity when we so easily enjoy both in the life of the church? When John says more than once that he did not himself know Jesus, does it remind you of times that you have missed Jesus, missed God, missed the point? How has revelation come to you?
Often, a new member of the church will say that they finally visited after being asked repeatedly by a friend to "Come and see" their church. Sometimes, it's hard to describe just how wonderful your church is, and you want the person to "come and see" what words can't describe. How comfortable are you with following the example of Andrew, who talked his brother Simon into meeting Jesus? Do you invite those who ask questions about your church to come and visit? If they do visit, what will they "see"--what will they experience when they get there, and will it change their lives? John's two disciples were clearly seekers. How well does the church today respond to the persistence--and pain--of those seeking a church home?
On the other hand, we could put ourselves in Simon's place. How would you feel if you were Simon and your brother came to "drag" you to hear this new preacher? What about this preacher would have intrigued you? How would you then feel if this preacher/prophet/healer gave you a new name? What do you think God would be saying to you? Do you feel that you have been given a new name as a Christian and a disciple? Does it affect your everyday life, or the "big picture" of your life?
In these Epiphany texts, the identity of Jesus as God's revelation is emphasized. What kind of God does this Jesus reveal? How "accessible" is this God?
For further reflection
Madeleine L'Engle, 20th century
We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, 20th century
Faith walks simply, childlike, between the darkness of human life and the hope of what is to come.
We're thinking about what it means to be a confessing church, a community of spiritual practice that witnesses to God's dream of a just and peaceful society.
God doesn't call the qualified; God qualifies the called.
About Weekly Seeds
Weekly Seeds is a source for Bible study based on the readings of the "Lectionary," a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.
You're welcome to reprint this resource and use in your congregation's Bible-study groups.
Weekly Seeds is a service of the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The Revised Common Lectionary is © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts. Used by permission.