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Epiphany 2A Sermon
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9,
John 1: 29-42

January 15, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

This might come as a surprise to you, but on my recent two week trip to Brazil, I did more than eat wonderful Brazilian cuisine, drink caipirinhas, visit world-renowned spots and bask on Copacabana and Ipenema beaches in 90 degree weather. During the many hours of travel to and from Brazil and within the country, I had the opportunity to read all or most of 5 books. Some were for pure enjoyment, but a couple of them were very inspirational in relation to our Christian faith. One in particularly was especially interesting.

In his book, “The Great Spiritual Migration,” Brian McLaren writes about how faith in the world – Christian, Jewish, Islam, etc. – are moving away from a system of beliefs and doctrines toward a way of life and relationship centered on the revealed love of God. In other words, the importance of faith is moving away from the set of rules and doctrines of, “religion” to a prayerful, spiritual relationship with God. The Bible is not so much a literal guidebook with rules to live by to gain God’s approval as it is a book of stories, letters and poetry which convey the spirit of God in Jesus Christ to us, so that we can live into our calling as disciples. It is a migration, just as birds migrate when they are in need of food or more favorable living environments to thrive. He claims that there have been other spiritual migrations over the centuries, and this one is very important for all of God’s creatures today.

When I read the scripture assigned for this, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Brian’s book – still fresh in my mind – seemed to pop once again for me. In our second reading, Paul is addressing this letter to the Corinthians who are struggling to know how to live as disciples of Jesus themselves. They are arguing over spiritual gifts and the importance of one gift over another. They are probably wanting Paul to lay out the rules of doctrine so that they can follow them and be loved by God. But Paul knows that it doesn’t work that way. He gives thanks for the grace of God that has been given us in Jesus Christ – that free gift of love which grounds all of our lives in the relationship that we have with the one who created us all and has promised never to abandon us. In one verse, Paul prays that they would not be lacking in any spiritual gift, “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word for “revealing” is, “apokolypsis.” It is the same word for the title of the final book of the Bible, Revelation. Apocalyptic writing is something that may seem strange to those who are on the outside, but to those who are of faith, it uncovers or reveals God – and by God, I mean love, forgiveness, peace and joy. Paul knows that at it’s very root, the Christian faith is not about learning the rules, understanding the doctrines and believing a set of teachings; it is about God revealing his love to us as we grow and mature in our life experiences, prayer time, and engaging in times of reading and discussing the scriptures.

One of the ways that God is revealed is through other people. In our Gospel lesson, John the Baptist reveals Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to everyone that is present to see them together. In these verses, he doesn’t baptize at all – he is more the witness, testifier and revealer of God than anything else. This is really the definition of evangelism, isn’t it? When we hear the word, “evangelism” we often get nervous, picturing people accosting others with questions like, “If you were to die today, where would your eternal soul go?” That is a question which comes right out of that understanding of religion as adherence to teachings, doctrines and rules. The definition or model of evangelism that I think comes from the understanding of faith as God’s revealing presence in the experiences and relationships of our lives is this one: “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” If you think about it, that is what John is doing by revealing Jesus to his disciples as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We all desire healing and forgiveness from our own sin and brokenness as well as the sin and brokenness of the world. John is that beggar who tells the other beggars where to find the one who is our spiritual bread, the bread of life, the very flesh and blood which we receive every Sunday when we come forward for communion with our hands wide open to receive him. That is the stature of beggars – hands open, desiring a gift of grace so that we might be filled with what we need to live into the discipleship that God desires for us.

These are the things that have come together for me this week as I reflect upon Brian McLaren’s book and our scripture for this morning. In a world that is always changing from one model to another, it is only natural that the spiritual emphasis of our lives might have migrated as well, seeking new ways to be lived out. In God’s infinite wisdom, our connection with God is not about school-work or memorization; it is about revealing, uncovering the presence of love – the source of love, Jesus Christ. It is certainly not any easier – we are called to live in a certain ambiguity that some long-held assumptions about people might not be true today. We are also called to live with the reality that faithful people do not have all of the answers. And as the love, peace and joy of God in Jesus are revealed to us, we are called to be evangelists ourselves – to reveal to others the source of our love, peace and joy.

I know that we are already three Sundays into this new year, but I cannot help but think about what these next 12 months will bring for my family, this church, and for me personally. I do know that God will continue to reveal himself to us in the lives and experiences around us, and that we will have opportunities to reveal God just as one beggar tells another beggar where to find bread. Our country is about to go into a very different direction beginning this Friday when our new president is inaugurated. Many are happy and hopeful; many are concerned and frightened. We people of faith, though, know that no matter what, we have a calling to reveal the God of love in our words and actions, just as God has revealed himself to us every day of our lives. May God continue to bless our country, our world, our church, and each one of us so that his love is revealed to and through us; Amen.