Sermons That Work

A Witness for the Lamb of God, Epiphany 2 (A) – 2002

January 20, 2002


Last Sunday we commemorated the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel how John the Baptist saw God’s Spirit alight upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven identify him as “my Son, the Beloved.” Today our lesson comes from the Gospel of St. John and the scenario of Christ’s baptism is advanced. We are told that the Baptist bears witness to Christ by proclaiming the following words to his disciples: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NRSV) Like John the Baptist, today we may wish to use today’s Gospel as a personal and corporate call to become a witness for the Lamb of God.

Christ as Lamb of God is a familiar title to us. In the Eucharist, at “the breaking of the bread” (the fraction) or at the “fraction anthem,” we proclaim what the Baptist said in word or song. Our traditional fraction anthem is the Agnus Dei – O Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace (Book of Common Prayer, pp.337/407). These words are more than something said or sung. In them we give expression to our deepest understanding of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ as our Lamb and Lord. By his life of love and sacrifice, we believe and affirm that he is the one who came and continues to come into a broken world to take our sins upon himself.

We should always give thanks for Holy Scripture, because it continuously points us to a gracious encounter with God. It is through this spiritual encounter that we learn to trust and love God. In Scripture as in life, God always comes to us as a loving, life-sustaining experience. Furthermore, God’s encounter with us is a gift to be shared. Through this grace-filled experience we are also called to be partners and emissaries, empowered to enrich the world with an example and expression of God’s justice and peace. It’s all a matter of answering God’s call and, then, responding by faith through our witness.

Like the missionary call of the servant in Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1-3) and “those called to be saints” in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth (1Corinthians 2:ff), we are informed that God’s call is trustworthy and true. Therefore we can believe from the depth of our hearts that our God is faithful. And our faithful response to God is to rebuild broken lives, reconciling them to God’s love and justice through Christ Jesus our Lamb and Lord.

Through baptism into the Body of Christ we are empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit to build up the oppressed. Through the love of Christ, we are called to better the lot, improving the broken spirit of all who have been exiled from the possibility of hope, exiled from God’s righteousness, burdened by the yoke of spiritual, social, economic, and political dislocation. In other words, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are called to empower the human spirit with a sense of identity and purpose. We are called to connect or re-connect human lives to the ultimate reality, the ground of being, which is God who creates and sustains life, who is active in the affairs of the world.

The aftermath of 9/11 continues to be instructive today. In that horrific event we saw God active in the world as well as God abused by the world. The tragedy opened our eyes to an aspect of God’s encounter with humanity. This is to say that God is not to be limited to a personal package, a personal perspective or point of view.

We must be mindful that history will reveal a powerful God who speaks to whomever God will and in whatever manifestation God so chooses. In the painful event of that day, we observed how some people wrongly and abusively used the name of God for religious vendettas and revenge. We heard people, wrenched by heartache and disbelief question God’s very existence. But we also saw people come together around the world. We saw people from many faith perspectives respond to that urgent crisis with expressions of God’s love through prayer, service to others, and by wonderful acts of generosity toward those injured, those grieving over the death of loved ones and those displaced by the loss of employment, personal income, and resources. Whatever the pathway to faith or religious tradition, God was there alive and active. God always shines through genuine acts of love and service to human need

The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, once said in a video-taped conversation, “If Jesus is lifted up as Lord, you don’t have to pretend to be.” How insightful are Bishop Curry’s words as a matter of our humble service to Jesus Christ our loving Lord, God’s marvelous epiphany and gift to us. Too often in our enthusiasm for the Lord, we may unintentionally attempt to be the lord instead of daily seeking to follow the Lord. We raise pointing fingers of scorn at others unlike ourselves rather than extending a helping hand to people in need. Our call is to bear witness to him, to follow him, to testify to his goodness, and to pattern our lives after his. Therefore, if we truly claim Jesus as our loving and liberating Lord, we need no other.

As we go about our particular work for God in Christ, our witness to others should be respectful of the fact that God has made other pathways of encounter and self-revelation. Whether the pathway of encounter finds expression in a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Buddhist, we must not constrain the work of our God into a neatly wrapped box. We serve a God who has made many incursions into our world. Therefore let us create space for God to speak love to truth, justice, mercy and forgiveness through the voices of cultures and faith traditions other than our own.

Our call for Christian discipleship and witness may well begin to flower and flourish when we ask ourselves the following questions: Who first pointed Jesus out to me? What nurtured and nourished me in the faith? When did I begin to witness for him, to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and the Lord of my life? And, like brother Andrew in today’s Gospel, when was the last time I said to someone, I have found Jesus! He has made my life worth living and he will do the same for you if you chose to follow him?

Today’s Gospel reminds us that being a disciple of Jesus means that we grow by faith to become witnesses for him. And witnessing for Christ is an active, not passive, lifetime enterprise. One cannot be a disciple of Jesus at a distance any more than one can be a distant lover. To love Christ is to be drawn close to him, and to know Christ is to inspire others to want to know him. To help Christ is to share the Good News about him with others.

There’s a story about a professor who hated the Lord Jesus Christ. So great was his resentment that he sharply criticized a young student for reading the New Testament. The young man responded by giving the professor a copy of the New Testament, asking him to read it for himself. That night, the professor, alone in his room, stayed up until the morning reading about the Nazarene who claimed to be the Messiah. By sunrise, the Holy Spirit had guided him to a new level and light of revelation. He confessed, “I have found more than 200 passages of the New Testament that prove beyond a doubt that Jesus is truly the Messiah.”

There is wonder-working power in the Word of God! There is also miraculous power in sharing Christ’s message of love, hope and promise with others. What we do for ourselves means nothing, when compared with what we can do for others. It can make all the difference in the world. Through it the Holy Spirit brings light where darkness settled, love on the road where hate once traveled, and hope to the house where hopelessness once dwelled.

Blessed are we when we bring to others the gift of love, peace, justice, tolerance, and mercy. Blessed are we when we do so by becoming a witness for the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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