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Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 19, 2014

Several months ago a friend told me about a new event that was going on at her church. Every last Sunday of the month, they were having a Celtic Communion service at 6:00 in the evening. She told me how inspiring she found it and invited me to go along with her. I did, and I agreed with her. I gave up a meeting I attend on Sundays at 6:00 to go to this service. My friend noticed the inspiring nature of the service, she shared it with me, and she invited me to go along. Noticing, sharing and inviting – David Lose says these are the key elements of witnessing.

In John’s gospel, John the Baptist is not portrayed as a fiery preacher telling all and sundry to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He is presented as a witness. From the prologue we hear that he himself was not the light, but he was sent to bear witness to the light that was coming into the world. When the priests and Levites came out from Jerusalem to ask him who he was, he did not chastise them for being hypocrites, but identified himself as a voice crying in the wilderness, one who was telling about the Lord. Even John’s baptizing gets only a mention, and that was because it was needed to reveal who Jesus was to Israel. It was through the baptism of Jesus that John recognized him because the Holy Spirit came from heaven like a dove and rested on him. He identified this event as the one God had told him to expect. He noticed what God had given him to notice.

John shares his news with his disciples. One day he sees Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and the Son of God. The next day he calls Jesus the Lamb of God once again. John has always maintained that Jesus is much greater than he is, so this is the implied invitation for his disciples to detach themselves from him and go to Jesus. John notices, shares and invites.

So the two disciples follow after Jesus. Jesus notices and asks them what they are looking for. Given how John has identified Jesus to them, they are looking for the power of God. First they are looking for the power of God in forgiveness. They are looking for testimony to the mercy of God. Lamb of God suggests sacrifice to a people who sacrifice two sheep every day. Jesus will offer forgiveness of sins by sacrificing himself for the world. His power will be made manifest in his weakness. His crucifixion will be the means by which he reconciles the world to God. But the lamb also is associated with images of strength in Jewish writings (Greg Garrett). The lamb is mighty and will reign in heaven. He will bring judgment on the wicked and secure salvation for the righteous. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension accomplish this purpose.

The disciples are looking for the power of God in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They do not really know what that means, but they know that it was God’s Spirit who rested on

the prophets when they were called to preach to the people. Jesus is different. John said he was to notice the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and remaining on Jesus. This means that Jesus will be empowered by the Holy Spirit at all times to be preaching God’s word to the people. The disciples are looking for some kind of empowerment by God, even if they don’t understand it.

The disciples are also looking for divinity. John’s identification of Jesus as Son of God hearkens back to the beginning of John, which we read at Christmas. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. John’s gospel has the greatest emphasis on the divinity of Christ of any of the gospels, and he spells this out in his sharing of what has been revealed to him with the disciples.

The disciples want to know about all of these things, so in answer to Jesus’ question, they address him as Rabbi, or teacher, and want to know where he is staying. This is not so much a question about where he is living physically, but who he is spiritually, what he takes a stand on, what his message is for them and for the world. Jesus notices and now he gives them an invitation to come and see. They do, and they stay with Jesus for most of the day, as he shares with them his message of eternal life in this world and the next for all who believe in him. He shares what God has inspired him to share, and the disciples leave, converted. Jesus witnesses in a little different order. He notices, he invites and he shares, but he also invites again, this time to belief.

One of the disciples is Andrew, Simon’s brother, and he takes what he has noticed and goes to Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah.” All of the things that John has witnessed to about Jesus, and all of the teachings they have heard as they spent time with him have led them to believe that he is the one God has sent to save the Israelites from oppression. They could have been saying Jesus is the hero from David’s line, who will save Israel from its enemies and bring peace and prosperity. Other concepts at the time they might have been working from were either a messiah descended from Aaron who would interpret the law and enlighten the people, or a supernatural, otherworldly figure that came from God’s right hand, to break into history to destroy sinners and save the righteous, something that humans could not do (Gareth L. Jones). Andrew notices, he shares and he brings his brother to Jesus. And there is the beginning of the church – two fisherman and one unidentified disciple who were invited into Jesus’ world and believed in him enough to become his disciples.

We notice, share and invite all the time. We tell our friends about a great restaurant, we offer people in trouble a chance to talk it out, we share our stories about a great school teacher whom other parents may want to have for their children. But it is hard for us to notice, share and invite about our faith. We are afraid of being labeled “pushy” or a “religious nut” by co-workers, neighbors and friends. We are afraid what we say will mean nothing to them, and we will be rejected. But Christianity is a faith that requires witnessing. It is not something that can be picked up out of our heads or found in nature. Someone must witness to us – to notice what Jesus has done for them, to share it and to invite others into the experience (William Willimon). 

As it was for Andrew and the unnamed disciple, so it is for us. We need to be clear about what we are looking for from Jesus and whether we are getting it. I spoke with a person last week who did not know what he wanted from Jesus or from anything else. He was at a transition point in his life about many things, including faith, and I suggested he keep a journal in which he wrote letters to God about his wonderings and then meditated, waiting for answers. I suggest that to you too. If you want to be clearer about the Jesus you are witnessing to, take some time and find out who he is to you so you can share your story with others. Your expectations and your witness will be different based on your circumstances in life. You might want a forgiver, an empowerer or a divine presence that surrounds you with love and enlightens you. You might want a messiah to liberate you from an oppressive situation. You might want a way to enjoy God now and trust in God’s promises for the future.

John the Baptist was a witness for Jesus. He noticed, shared and invited. We are all empowered to do that too. Do not be afraid because God is with you. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say and bless your efforts. Share your faith and build the church.

AMEN.

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited:
David Lose, Craft of Preaching: Dear Working Preacher, “Notice, Share, Invite” blog post January 12, 2014
Greg Garrett, Feasting on the Word, vol. 1, Year A, Homiletical Perspective (Louisville,WestminsterJohn Knox Press, 2009), p. 263.
Gareth L. Jones, Tuesday Morning, Vol. 16, No. 1, January-March, 2014
William H. Willimon, “Living by the Word”, for Sunday January 19, 2014, blog post on Christian Century website