Today is the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. Epiphany is of course the day the Magi visited Jesus and Mary and Joseph. But epiphany has another meaning. The dictionary says it means “a moment of sudden revelation or insight.” When we suddenly see a solution to a problem or understand a mystery that has had us baffled, we have an epiphany. Picture the cartoon with a light bulb above the character's head. So in a way, today's gospel reading has its own epiphany story. We read of a different kind of star guiding followers to Jesus. John the Baptist helped guide his followers to Jesus when he says, “Look and follow.” We read, “'Look, here is the Lamb of God!' The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” They had an epiphany, a sudden realization that they had found one worth following.
Do you see what John and Andrew have in common? They were both conduits to others finding the Savior. They saw, they believed, they shared. And then others were able to have the epiphany, the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. John especially made it a point to direct attention away from himself and to Jesus. His attitude said, “It's not about me.” That's an attitude that I seek to remind myself to have every Sunday when I come up front here, “it's not about me.” I try, but I do often make it about me. So let's get it clear now, I am here to point the way to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior; the Lamb of God as John described him. Again and again, John the Baptist had to point people away from himself, and point him to Jesus. “I am not Elijah, I am not the Messiah, I am not even worthy to tie the sandals of the Messiah.” That was the humble attitude of John. Pastor and author William Willimon tells us, “Unlike Luke or Matthew, John gives us none of the Baptizer’s scathing sermons or dire warnings; his sole purpose is to bear testimony to the light.” That humble attitude doesn't really fit today, does it? In this age of endless selfies and slow motion selfies, it seems we are much more interested in pointing to ourselves than to Jesus. John and Andrew are our examples here.
You may notice I will be skipping around a bit today. There seem like lots of little issues that crop up in today's readings. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God. What does that mean? My first thought was that lambs were sacrificed for our sins, but did you know that a sin offering was not a lamb, but a young bull or a goat; or for the poor, two turtle doves or pigeons—that's what Mary and Joseph offered when they brought Jesus to the temple for anointing—and for the very poor, the sin offering was unscented flour... the kind you bake with. More than you needed to know, but my point is that the Lamb of God was not necessarily a sin offering. The male lamb was most often given as what was simply called a burnt offering, given to acknowledge our need of God and a way to worship God. So when John calls Jesus the lamb of God, he is not necessarily thinking sin offering, but that Jesus is of God. But then he adds the phrase, “who takes away the sin of the world.” For me, we find a distinction here between the blood sacrifice of the lamb and the full message of Jesus. Jesus calls us into relationship with himself and that relationship becomes an offering for forgiveness. In our communion liturgy, we pray that our sacrifice of praise is accepted. “Accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving as a living and holy offering of ourselves.” Our praise replaces the burnt offering of praise. So we celebrate, we praise, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, not just by dying for us, but by coming to earth and living with us, for us and among us. That is John's message, making clear in his own way the identity, the importance, the necessity of the life of Jesus. He is, in fact, even more than the Lamb of God; he is the Good Shepherd, he is the gate for the sheep, he is the bread of life, the light of the world. There is more to Jesus than can be projected in a simple phrase.
Back to seeing Jesus, we see the response of Andrew is more direct than John's. There is no symbolism, no metaphors for Andrew. “We have found the Messiah.” Simple and straightforward. To whom was he speaking? His brother Peter/Simon. We don't read what Peter's response was, but we know from the gospels that he not only became a follower of Jesus, he was renamed Peter, the Rock and was a leader among the apostles. If we'd continue reading, we'd read that the next day, Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me”. And he did. Then Philip found Nathanael and told him “we have found him about whom Moses... and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph.” We note that each of these earliest followers were not content to keep the good news to themselves, but they invited others to come and see the Messiah.
We see a theme here, don't we? It's about seeing Jesus. John sees Jesus walk by and tells his followers “Look.” Jesus tells them to “come and see.” We have here an invitation. Also a testimony. “Look, the Lamb of God.” “Come and see... we have found the Messiah.” If I take and go through this short passage, hear these words that deal with looking and seeing; “he saw, I saw, whom you see, I myself have seen (and testify), look, he saw them following, what are you looking for?, come and see, they came and saw.” So the call of the disciples was about seeing. We don't have that same option. Jesus isn't going to walk in here in the flesh this morning and say, “look and see, I am the Lamb of God.” No, we see by faith and not by sight. By faith we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. And then we do what those first disciples die, we follow. By faith we commit to lives of obedience. By faith, we join a fellowship of believers to put action to our faith. And by faith, this community of believers has elected people to be leaders in our congregation. Are they especially gifted, talented, brilliant, faithful? I like to think so, but I know that all of us are pretty much ordinary people who struggle to live faithfully. I am pastor here and my job is to point you to Jesus. Am I especially gifted for this? If you talk to people who have known me for years, you will hear that the answer is no. But somehow I find my way up to the pulpit and seek to show Jesus to you all.
We have elected people to lead us. Are they all specially qualified? And my answer is a phrase you have heard probably dozens of time in my almost 12 years here: God doesn't call the qualified, God qualifies the called! Do these people we are ordaining and installing today, do they have special gifts? Yes they do. I was privileged to preach at Presbytery training last weekend. Here's some of what I shared, “The apostle Paul gave a list of gifts given to church leaders with some examples; wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. Some of these we see evidence of...some we don't. But it appears Paul was not compiling an exhaustive list of gifts. He shares others in other passages...there is the gift of hospitality. There is the gift of listening. There is the gift of service. There is the gift of joy. There is the gift of presence. There is the gift of leadership. Serving as leaders is a gift you receive and that you share. Paul wrote of gifts, 'All these are activated by one and the same spirit, who allots to each one just as the spirit chooses.' Allotted to each one... that includes each of us here.” Each of us have gifts, different gifts but gifts given by the Holy Spirit; gifts we can use for the work of the church. As we ordain two deacons today, we will lay our hands upon them praying for God's Holy Spirit to fill each of them with the mind of Christ, and for grace to do the work they have been called to do. As we install all four officers, you will be asked to pray for them, to encourage them, to respect their decisions, and to follow as they guide us. We are all in this together. I am anticipating an interesting year with new people, new ideas, new gifts and talents.
From our gospel reading, “Come and see. They followed Jesus.” One question our leaders will be asked, that most of you have been asked and answered is, “will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ?” The very call of the very first disciples, come and see and then follow Jesus. May we all see and follow our Lord. May we answer with the words of our next hymn, “Here I am Lord...I will go Lord... if you lead me...” Go, follow, serve. Amen.
Here I Am, Lord 525 PH