Sermons That Work

In Both Testament Lessons…, Epiphany 2 (A) – 2008

January 20, 2008

In both Testament lessons and in the gospel of this second Sunday in Epiphany we sense a strong line running through them, like a rope that pulls us up to the realization that God calls us. We surface to the light of Epiphany and pray that this light will assist us in understanding the meaning of our call.

In the Old Testament lesson, we sink ourselves into the stunning poetry and metaphors of Second Isaiah and the Second Servant Song. This part of Isaiah belongs to that critical time when the Babylonian exile was ending. The prophet is filled with hope for the redeemed Israel of God, the servant of the Holy One. He compares the nation that was unfaithful before the exile to the new nation that has learned its lesson and is redeemed by the grace of God and the faithfulness of God.

What is vividly manifest to us and to those who first heard these words is the conviction of the prophet that the ones who are called by God are known by him from the beginning of time. This is what the words “who has formed me in the womb to be his servant” mean. God, who knows no past or future, who lives in the eternal now, knows us before we are even formed and calls us to be his people. But even that is not enough, God reveals to the prophet. God calls his people to be more than servants – to be a light to the nations.

So, as we bask in the wonder of being chosen, being called, we are confronted with the enormous burden that comes with the call: to be a light to the nations, so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Even to the people of Israel, who thought that they only were the chosen nation, God makes it clear that salvation is not something to be hoarded selfishly but is given only that it may be shared with everyone.

St. Paul is more aware than anyone else of the glory and responsibility of being called by God. At the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians he uses forms of the verb “to call” in its many different versions in the Greek. He is convinced beyond any doubt that he is called to be an apostle – to bring the good news of God – to the gentiles. He tells his Corinthian children-in-the-Spirit that they are “called to be saints”; he says this to that troublesome, divisive congregation. He offers them his loving greetings because he knows that despite all their faults they are “sanctified” and joined with others as they call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the use of the verb is reversed: once we are called by God, we are given the right to call upon God through the Name of Jesus the Christ.

For Paul, the called of God receive the riches of the Spirit: speech, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. For Paul, this calling makes us blameless before God at the end of time, because we have been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ the Son of God. And once we are in fellowship, how can we become estranged?

How does this calling come about? The writer of John’s gospel gives us some vivid pictures of the call as it came to the first followers of Jesus.

We have been looking at John the Baptizer from various viewpoints throughout this season of the church, starting with Advent and continuing through Epiphany. John the fiery is also John the humble. It took huge humility for John – who was sure of his own calling – to recognize that he was not the one who would save the people of God. John’s call was to point to another. “I told you he was coming,” he says in effect to his disciples. “He ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” This is a consistent theme in the Gospel of John: that Jesus has existed with God from the beginning. The Baptist tells his disciples that this truth was revealed to him at the baptism of Jesus by the Holy Spirit; that the testimony about the role of Jesus came to him from God through the Spirit of God.

We have lovely pictures in this reading of John standing on a hill near the banks of the Jordan, flanked by his disciples and telling them, “See the one who is passing by? He is the one you should be following, because he is the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples don’t hesitate. They leave John and run after Jesus.

Jesus hears them and turns. “What are you looking for?” he asks. An interesting question. He already knows they are following him. But what are they looking for from him? They don’t know yet. They are attracted by what John has told them, by that redolent phrase, the Lamb of God, which reminds them of the Exodus and of Isaiah’s words of personal sacrifice. They show the desire to learn. So they ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus offers them the concise call to those who seek: “Come and see.” They must have spent hours asking questions, listening. “They remained with him that day,” the gospel writer tells us.

For one of them at least, Andrew the fisherman, the day resulted in a passion for sharing the good news. By four o’clock in the afternoon there was no question left in Andrew’s mind that “this is the Messiah, the Anointed of God.” He runs to his beloved brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. The called becomes the caller. He becomes the light leading his brother to the Light of the world. And Jesus immediately calls Simon by his new name, “Peter.” This is the meaning of being called: we are changed and afterward we cannot, we must not, keep the knowledge to ourselves. We must share it with others for the salvation of the world.

May the light of Epiphany lead us to the glory and the responsibility of being called by God.

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Christopher Sikkema


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