Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon: January 15

Jesus, Lamb of God: have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins: have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world: Give us your peace. Amen.

Last week was the feast of the baptism of Jesus and now for the rest of the story… (as Paul Harvey used to say)

The other Gospels tell of his temptation in the wilderness. But the Gospel of John, which we heard today, wants to explore more the interaction of John & Jesus and the longing for the messiah in those days.

After the baptism of Jesus, there was a hopeful expectation of what was to come. John knew it and so too would his disciples, God incarnate was in their very midst.

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

John the Baptist twice proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God. The second time, two of John’s disciples go & follow Jesus. They want to know where Jesus is staying, they want to hear his words, they want to see the Son of God, they have that hope in the messiah, the one they had been waiting for… And Jesus tells them to come and see.

Come and see. It is an invitation to come follow him, to come see what he will say and do. It is a significant beginning for the disciples, a simple invitation and they follow him. And our patron, Peter is named by Jesus in this moment. Come and see and they are changed.

It reminds me of a beautiful poem written in the 13th century by Rumi a Persian philosopher, Sufi theologian, poet, & teacher. A poetic invitation…

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of living, it doesn't matter
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, yet again, come, come.
(As quoted in Rumi and His Sufi Path of Love (2007))
Rumi’s poetic invitation, is what Jesus says to the disciples, what he says to us… whoever you are. Come sinner and saint. Come wanderer and worshiper. Come again. Come and see…

But sometimes we don’t see.

There was once a poor rabbi who lived in the city of Krakow. He, his wife and four children lived on the street of the Lost Angel, in the last hovel on the street.

Every night, it seemed, the poor rabbi would dream of great riches. But one night the dream was exceptionally vivid. He dreamt that underneath a bridge in the city of Warsaw a treasure was buried. When he awoke that morning, he excitedly told his wife and children about his dream. He decided to see if there was something to his dream; he packed a bag of food and extra clothing and set off for the long journey to Warsaw to find that bridge and perhaps discover a great treasure.

After many long days he finally arrived in Warsaw. He found the bridge, exactly as he saw it in his dream - except for one thing: There was a guard on the bridge, a sentinel who paced back and forth at the entrance.

The poor rabbi, exhausted from his journey, fell asleep in the bushes near the bridge. Sometime later he was awakened by the guard. "You, what are doing here?" The rabbi struggled to stand up. A simple, honest man incapable of lying, the rabbi explained, "I had a dream that underneath this bridge there is a treasure. I have traveled many long miles to find it."

The guard put down his weapon. "That is very strange," the guard said. "Just last night I had a dream. I dreamt that in the city of Krakow, on the street of the Lost Angel, in the last hovel on that street, where lives a rabbi and his wife and four small children, there is buried behind the fireplace a treasure. Tonight I leave for Krakow to find that treasure." [As told in Stories of Faith by John Shea.]

John the Baptist’s words "behold the Lamb of God" is an invitation to look in our midst, to see and hear the compassion of God in our lives, to uncover and lift up God's grace that goes largely unnoticed in the course of our days. We often find ourselves rushing through our lives, too busy and too distracted by our search for wealth and our dreams of riches, we often overlook the great treasure already in our midst. The real treasure of our lives in all its joy and fulfillment; in our "dreams" of what we do not have, we overlook the reality of what we already do have, and the old rabbi realizes this. His treasure was at home, his family.

The treasure of Jesus, the Messiah is among us in every act of selflessness, every act of reconciliation, every act of love and mercy. In his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Dr. Martin Luther King recalls the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, King and his fellow ministers in Montgomery, Alabama, organized a boycott of the city's bus system, following the arrest of Rosa Parks for defying the law by refusing to give up her seat for a white rider. The young minister immediately became the object of threats and harassment.

Late one night, after his wife and children had gone to sleep, the phone rang. "Listen, [ugly epithet]," the angry caller warned, "we've taken all we want from you; before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery."

King could not sleep that night. The call had shaken him deeply. He began to walk the floor, trying "to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God are still vivid in my memory:

Here I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.

"At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything."

In one of the darkest hours in his life, Martin Luther King stopped to behold God in his midst; he lifted up his fears and terror to the Spirit of God and came to a new understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, of what his baptism called him to do: to testify, as John the Baptist does in today's Gospel, to the truth of God's compassion and justice in our world. Through our baptism, we take on that same challenge: to stand up for what is right, to testify to God's presence in our midst, to take our place alongside the poor, the rejected and the forgotten - with the certain hope and assurance that the Spirit of God remains upon us.

May we behold, with the eyes of faith and the spirit of hope, for we are not a caravan of despair, the Lamb of God is among us, come & see, here and now & then go proclaim that truth with your life. Amen.

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