Sunday, January 15, 2017

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 1
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

As nicknames go, you would be hard pressed to do better than “the rock.”

No, not Dwayne Johnson, but St. Peter, also known as Cephas (“the rock”) in Aramaic, Petras (“the rock”) in Greek, or Pope Peter if you lean Roman Catholic. All in all, good stuff when you consider he didn’t choose it and it could have been much worse. If you take the conventional approach—and pick an embarrassing moment to create a nickname—then he might have spent history as “the rooster.”

But no, Jesus calls him “the rock” on which he will create his church, and gives him the keys to the Kingdom, all of this despite the fact that Jesus would know that a famous denial and the rooster crowing three times. This may be another sermon, but this period of Jesus choosing the twelve feels bittersweet, knowing that—like sheep—they will scatter when the most important moment comes.

Meanwhile, Simon Peter is the Rock. Even Peter (from Petras) is a nickname, and Dan Brown fans in the crowd know he will have one more: ‘the fisherman.’ Popes are called ‘heirs to the fisherman’ and even wear a ring that makes this plain. So the fisherman becomes Cephas, Petras, Peter and finally the fisherman.

Jesus, of course, takes nicknames to the next level, with five of them in the eight verses Dave read. John calls him the Lamb of God, which your Bible will capitalize as a title, and immediately two of John’s disciples will follow Jesus. Jesus asks what they want, and in the course of answering they give him two more: Rabbi and Teacher.

The question was “where are you staying?” and the answer is “Come and you will see.” Then, about four in the afternoon Andrew finds his brother Simon and says “we have found the Messiah” (and John adds “that is, the Christ”). It is at this moment that Jesus calls Simon Cephas, knowing that he is the rock.

It has a mystical quality to it, this mutual naming and recognition, with strange time marker (“four in the afternoon”) and an inference that will take us to the cross and another to the entirety of the Christian tradition. It’s a simple narrative that reveals layers of meaning, and sets the stage for much of the Gospel that follows.

I can confess that I shortened the passage, for the sake of brevity and to spare my friend, but also to avoid repeating some of what was covered last week. John’s telling is unique—Jesus’ baptism is described to us by John the Baptist—but the compelling element is the Baptist’s introduction:

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’

Scholars debate what Lamb of God means, but John’s description seems to take us to the Temple, where the Passover lamb would symbolize the liberation history of Israel and act as a sacrificial offering to help the nation atone in the face of God’s blessing. The ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ becomes a living symbol, alive to the gathering disciples and alive down to today.

In this way we are made aware—from the beginning—how the story will end. In fact, just ten verses into his prologue, John tells us where this story is headed: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The prologue ends with a note of grace, but St. John is unique in telling the story through the lens of Christ’s passion— the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Nine years on, you no doubt have come to learn that I have a certain fondness for the prayer of confession. While other churches have set it aside (one of my colleagues called it “a bit of a downer”) I remain convinced that it is a critical part of the our approach to God.

And it’s not just here. Wedding services include a confession (marriage as an act of hope in the midst of human brokenness) and especially funerals—where confessing ‘things done and things left undone’ seems critical to healing in the face of loss. Again, when I attend a funeral and there is no confession I feel ripped off, since no human relationship exists without a bit of brokenness that I’m happy to let go of when the moment seems right.

And this, of course, takes us back to my longstanding argument with Jimmy, who believes that people are basically good but can make mistakes, while I believe the opposite. And no, I’m not saying you were born bad, like a bad baby (“you’re a bad baby”), I’m simply saying that the human constant is brokenness and failure, interrupted by moments of human progress.

And while some have labelled this a pessimistic view of the world, I would (again) argue the opposite, since we have achieved some remarkable things together despite our general selfishness and fondness for sin. We overcome ourselves and find the best in each other in so many ways, until we don’t.

I don’t really want to talk about this coming Friday, but it seems to fit the general topic of human foolishness, so here goes. But rather than talk about it through the frame of righteous indignation, it might be better to talk about the inauguration through the frame of confession:

I confess that I have been busy blaming the 95 million people who didn’t vote, without considering the context of voter suppression and the kind of malaise the might keep someone away from the polls.
I confess that I spend too much time thinking about worse-case scenarios, and I confess that much of my worry is selfish—retirement savings, the value of my house, etc.
I confess that I have failed to try to truly understand the 60 or so million people who voted for change, choosing instead to dismiss them, categorize them, or paint them as unflattering caricatures.

I spent some time in the US last week and the surprizing thing was the extent to which no one wanted to talk about it. Some are obviously still stunned, some unsure, and some may be happy and unwilling to admit it. Whatever was keeping people quiet, one thing is certain: the sense that history was on one, inevitable course has been shaken—disrupted—and will not return easily.

Part of the silence—certainly for the unhappy—seems to come from the destruction of an assumption: that human history is moving in a particular direction and cannot go back. And whether this is true or not, the sense is real. Confidence in neighbours and friends has been shaken, people are divided, worldviews tested.

The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world would have us look for signs of the Kingdom. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world would have us forgive each other as the first step to healing. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world would remind us that conflict and betrayal—even among those closest to you—can and will happen.

But the last word is forgiveness. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world will redeem us and make us new people, better equipped to love and serve others, more aware of our own limitations, and more apt to forgive as we have been forgiven.

We live in hope, knowing that the better tomorrow we seek will only come through Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home