Listen, God is calling

Sunday, January 19
Second Sunday after Epiphany

Weekly Theme
Listen, God is calling

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.

Focus Scripture
John 1:29-42

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
Psalm 40:1-11
I Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Focus Questions

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”?

Reflection by Kate Huey

Testimony. Witness. Evangelism. Many of us in mainline churches admit to a measure of discomfort with such words. And yet we’ve entered the season of the Epiphany, which is all about manifestation and revelation, and the powerful, authentic experience of revelation of God’s love and God’s deeds naturally leads us to want to share it with others. Isn’t that sharing what evangelism, witness, and testimony are all about? Our reading from the Gospel of John describes revelation, and testimony, in a way that’s very different from last week’s text from Matthew about the Baptism of Jesus. Last week, the sky opened, the Spirit descended, and the voice of God testified about who this Jesus is. This week, we move from divine words to human testimony, the “fragile and vulnerable testimony” of John the Baptist, who admits that he didn’t even know who Jesus was at first; Charles Campbell has written 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 the talk” 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 changed, how can we not talk about it?

When John identifies Jesus, he calls him “the Lamb of God,” which many have interpreted as a sacrifice for sin; however, Gail R. O’Day and Susan E. Hylen have pointed out that lambs weren’t used for sin sacrifices but only for the Passover sacrifice, which remembers the liberation and deliverance of the people by God: “As the Passover Lamb, Jesus liberates the world from slavery to sin by bringing the world into new and fresh contact with the presence of God, so that human alienation from God can end.” How this liberation and deliverance from alienation happen is the story of the Gospels and the heart of the gospel message.

If you read a Gospel straight through, from beginning to end, you get a much better sense of the cluelessness of the disciples, which can be amusing at times. 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, and he continues with a beautiful reflection on what it means to seek and follow Jesus, and how 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 are 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. 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 truths, but just three simple (and familiar) words that could provide a theme for our best evangelism efforts: “Come and see.” Campbell writes a similarly beautiful reflection on Jesus’ response, which is both invitation and promise of what they can experience if they will, as Jesus promises in the other Gospels, “Follow me.” But Campbell’s insight about the order of the three little words is also moving: 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 knows that being in that relationship will transform their lives. Along the way, we slowly come to understand better who Jesus is and what it means to be faithful to him. And the more we understand and see and live in faith, the more we’ll want to witness in our turn, Charles Campbell claims: “In the power of the Spirit, which Jesus has breathed upon us, we offer our fragile and vulnerable testimony to Jesus, 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, and thinking of our life together in the church as one way that God is continuing to reveal God’s love for the world may be something new to us. (Someone once said that “Revelation is an ongoing event.”) The United Church of Christ says that God is still speaking words of hope, compassion and justice, 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. However, revelation is not something we cause or control, Charles Cousar writes, but “a sheer gift of grace.”

It seems that people are often looking for the sky to open and listening for the voice of God to provide dramatic and clear instruction, but maybe we’re missing the myriad ways that God is still speaking around us. This passage, when the crowds listened to John’s “fragile and vulnerable” yet powerful testimony, illustrates the call of the followers of Jesus 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 a model for evangelists–and disciples–in every age, including today. In this reading from the Gospel of John, 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 discipleship is not to lose sight of the true center and focus of our ministry: Jesus. Especially in the life of the church, it’s easy for “it” to become “all about us”Öor all about the building, or all about the program, etc. Above all, it is not about loss, right? We want to grow, to gain, to expand. And yet, we hear, and feel, that discipleship costs. What losses are we willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel? 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?

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. Many folks today, however, especially in mainline churches, are uncomfortable with following the example of Andrew, who went out and found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. Are you comfortable with inviting those who ask questions about your church to come and visit? If they do visit, what will they “come and see”: what will they experience when they get there, and will it change their lives? (It would be good to give this question a little time, and try to answer from the point of view of a visitor rather than an “insider.”) John’s two disciples were clearly seekers. How do we respond to the persistence and enthusiasm–or pain–of those who are seeking a new church home? Who might be out there, waiting for an invitation?

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 sensational 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 in that moment? 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?

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.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 20th century
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Annie Dillard, 21st century
“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”

Stephen King
“If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?”

Brennan Manning, 21st century
“Everybody has a vocation to some form of life-work. However, behind that call (and deeper than any call), everybody has a vocation to be a person to be fully and deeply human in Christ Jesus.”

“God doesn’t call the qualified; God qualifies the called.”

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