First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7
1Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
2He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
3And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”
5And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Psalm: Psalm 40:1-11
1I waited patiently upon the Lord,
who stooped to me and | heard my cry.
2The Lord lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the miry clay,
and set my feet upon a high cliff, making my footing sure.
3The Lord put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
4Happy are they who trust in the Lord!
They do not turn to enemies or to those who follow lies.
5Great are the wonders you have done, O Lord my God! In your plans for us, none can be compared with you! Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! But they are more than I can count.
6Sacrifice and offering you do not desire; you have opened my ears: burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required.
7And so I said, “Here I am; I come.
In the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8‘I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep within me.’ ”
9I proclaimed righteousness in the great assembly;
I have not restrained my lips, O Lord, you know.
10I have not hidden your righteousness in my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and truth from the great assembly.
11You are the Lord; do not withhold your compassion from me;
may your steadfast love and your truth continually keep me safe.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Gospel: John 1:29-42
29[John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).
Children’s Sermon: In the childhood story of Little Red Riding Hood what causes her to question if it is really her grandmother in the bed?
Do you have a question for this year as you look at the babe in the manger, the man baptized and declared the Son of God, something that raises questions about Jesus’ identity?
Let us pray: Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, My Rock and My Redeemer.
Little Red Riding Hood goes through the woods to Grandmother’s house to take her goodies because Grandma is sick. Something is wrong when she gets there, though. The “person” in bed is wearing her grandmother’s clothes but Red Riding Hood comments: Grandmother your eyes are so big! Grandmother your ears are so long! Grandmother your teeth are so big! It is not her Grandmother but the evil wolf wanting to eat Little Red Riding Hood. Epiphany is a journey where we look at the babe of Christmas who just does not look like a savior as we think a savior should look and we ask questions about his identity. Is Jesus really the Son of God as affirmed at his baptism?
Last week we opened the seven weeks of Epiphany to be reminded again that our God incarnated. We watched him be baptized with other people. He identified with us but then a dove descended from heaven and a voice spoke. Matthew reports God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The Gospel text from John expands the report by sharing that John the Baptist heard a voice too, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ John the Baptist calls him, “Son of God.” As we look around our world in chaos, we with many might ask if Jesus is a wolf disguising himself as Savior or is he who those witnesses old say he was?
The text presents four titles for Jesus that clarify the identity of this person standing before us and two questions that drive even us today as we come to church. Jesus asks, “Who are you seeking?” The disciples of John the Baptist counter, “Where are you staying?” that is “Where can we find you?” Like them we ask, who are we seeking today and where can we find him?
“Who are you seeking?”
As 2023 opens, let us ask ourselves whom we are seeking. The call process certainly throws that question into our face and demands an answer. We tell the call committee that we want a pastor – someone to shepherd us (for that is the definition of pastor), or perhaps a leader and administrator for the person will deal with the Day Care and the Garden and the Church, or then again we want someone who will be compassionate with our aging population and who can speak words of comfort into our deminishing strength. When we come to church, maybe we are looking for an inspiring sermon that helps us get through the week. Not only the text but also the call process challenges us today to ponder these questions. Beneath the surface of the questions is our thirst for God. Let’s ponder what kind of God are we seeking.
John the Baptist first gives Jesus the title, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” When we hear the title “lamb” we might first think of the Passover Lamb. In Exodus 12:1-21 we read that the people of God had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God sent Moses to deliver them. 10 plagues are visited on Egypt til Pharoah “lets God’s people go.” The tenth plague is the threat that the Angel of Death is coming. People are given instructions to prepare a lamb to be slaughtered and its blood was smeared over the door frame of the home. Homes marked by the blood of the lamb were spared by the Angel of Death. They did not perish. Those people made the journey to the Promised Land. Many theologians see this as symbolic of the faith journey.
Later, Abraham is told to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but the Lord provides a ram and rescues Isaac. This took place on Mt. Moriah that later became known as Golgatha. Jesus dies on Calvary, on Golgatha, as the Lamb of God. His blood covers our lives and protects us from perishing and eternal death. As Christians we believe our death is our release to enter the Promised Land or Eternity with God. That is a statement of faith that the resurrection speaks to. But let me not get ahead of myself. John the Baptist first identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, the deliverer from death.
Like Little Red Riding Hood, we don’t understand if we are facing a wolf or a friend as the promise and title are sitting on a man who seems to be human and in-fact is human. Also, to seek a savior, we must admit we are sinners that need saving. Accusations of being a sinner feels like a wolf seeking to devour us. We don’t want to admit we need help. So perhaps we must ask ourselves if as we are seeking in the call process a messenger who leads us to the Lamb of God and if we are seeking the Lamb of God today to deal with our short-comings, our sins.
John the Baptist concludes his testimony, “He is the Son of God.” Do you note that John does not identify Jesus as a messenger like an angel, not as a prophet like of old, not as a saint who lived a good life, and not a sage who is wise like Solomon. He describes Jesus as God incarnate, not an agent of God but God himself. We are still looking at a person who is obviously human but whom people are declaring is God. Faith requires us to enter into a mystery that starts with acknowledging our need for a savior and embracing him as able to incarnate human.
Who are we seeking this year? Do we want someone who makes our lives easier and more comfortable or someone who leads us to a God who walks through death with us? There is a difference between talking about Jesus and meeting with Jesus in church through the elements of worship, the music, the sacraments, the word, an fellowship. My prayer for Bethany this year is that we meet the Lamb of God, the Son of God and not a cheap imitation.
“Where are you staying?”
John the Baptist’s disciples hear John describe Jesus as the “Son of God” and see Jesus walk by. It would seem they wanted to check Jesus out for themselves. Hearing someone else’s testimony of faith, while inspiring, does not necessarily make you “own it” for yourself. It may only make you impressed. Jesus asks these men what they are looking for and they answer with a question, “Where are you staying?” That can mean “Where can we find you?” Like how Little Red Riding Hood realizes there is something wrong with this picture and asks questions to check out reality, the disciples want to go and check out Jesus. Can a man be THE Son of God? They do not address him as Son of God but as “Rabbi,” teacher, someone appointed by the religious establishment.
Many of us struggle too with trying to figure out how to find Jesus. We are willing to admit he was a great teacher and master of the law, an amazing rabbi, but going deeper, past appearances requires accepting Jesus’ response, “Come and see.” For some of us that may mean a “face to face” with Jesus through a vision or dream but for most of us faith means going deeper through prayer, through Scripture, through music, through Bible studies, in worship and through those hard life experiences when we realize God is with us. For most the truth is that faith is a journey from believing Jesus is a great teacher like Confucius or Mohammed to understanding he is the “Son of God.” That is the journey of Epiphany we are entering. Jesus is more than a sacrifice for our sins like human sacrifices given to gods around the world. Jesus is more than a great teacher like others in history. Jesus is the Son of God. He is God.
John’s disciples went and stayed with Jesus all day. Faith is not just a mountain-top experience when the “light dawns” or when we have a personal encounter. Faith is not an intellectual assent to a doctrine. It is more than the experience of baptism or communion. It is a journey in relationship. It is a journey of going and seeing. Like the ideal marriage, faith is a togetherness through the good days and the ugly days, through riches and poverty, plenty and war, through applaud and persecution. We return to our first question, who and what are we seeking this year?
One of the two disciples that followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon who becomes known as Cephas or Peter, the Rock. Andrew returns and tells Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).” Andrew takes Simon to meet Jesus for himself. Messiah means “anointed” and deliverer. Many religions look for a Messiah, a savior, a deliverer from the hardships being experienced. Many, I suspect, come to Jesus because they want deliverance by someone anointed, chosen by God, who can help them deal with the guilt, with the pain, with the disappointments of life and they want a special person to shepherd them through the sacred times of life like birth, confirmation, marriage, death, or baptism. We want Jesus to be our lamb and sacrifice for all we’ve done wrong. We want Jesus to be our teacher, our rabbi, because we know we don’t know it all. We want Jesus to be our Messiah, our deliverer from the hard times in life to lead us to the happier-ever-after.
We are challenged by these four titles. During Epiphany, like Little Red Riding Hood, we will look at the babe born in Bethlehem, baptized and identifying with us, and we will ask questions about his title, “Son of God.” Who are we seeking today and where are we looking in 2023? I pray we will grow in our faith that Jesus who was baptized is indeed the Son of God who delivers us from sin and evil and teaches and guides us as we grow deeper in faith. Jesus invites each one of us to “Come and See!”
Let the people of God say, Open our eyes to see you, Lord, in 2023!