Jan 15 - Behold the Lamb of God!
Jan 6 - Who is Jesus, Really.
Jan 1 - God Delivers
Second Sunday after Epiphany - January 15, 2017
Walter Haussmann, Certified Lay Minister
Martin Luther King Day is tomorrow, followed by Presidents’ Day which comes in about a month. I don’t mean to ignore the Rev. Dr. King, but I do wish to speak about both President Washington and President Lincoln.
We’ve been celebrating the birthdays of Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln together, by way of a federal holiday, on the third Monday of February since 1971, when our U.S. Congress passed the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act”. I believe these two U.S. Presidents are among the most iconic figures in American history. In addition, this also means they are the subjects of myths and legends.
So, what about George Washington? Did he really, when he was a boy, chop down his father’s cherry tree? But then, did he admit to having done so? Did he confess, adding “I cannot tell a lie” to show his innate honesty and integrity?
In elementary school, I was taught this story as fact! Yet most modern historians do not believe this happened. The tale, it turns out, only emerged years after Washington had died. It was not corroborated by any reliable contemporary source.
Regarding, Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, I have read that Lincoln hastily penned this remarkable speech on the back of an envelope on the train which was en route to deliver it in Gettysburg. Maybe you have heard the same fact – but it turns out not to be true! Instead, there are, in fact, five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address; none are written on the back of an envelope. So some facts about both presidents are questionable.
Now, please join me as we turn our attention to today’s gospel: How many of us think of Jesus as “the Lamb of God”? These are the words in the Bible and the way Jesus is addressed during worship in churches around the world. We sing, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” Especially at Christmas, this familiar phrase is also an integral part of Handel’s well-known and frequently sung masterpiece, “The Messiah” with the words “Jesus is the Lamb of God”!!
Now, let me jump back to our two presidents. People around the world have heard of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. But neither of them has had a masterpiece written by a renowned composer that choruses around the world sing to honor them.
But it is also true that Jesus never called himself the Lamb of God. In John 10:11-14, Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd”. In John 10:9 Jesus refers to himself as the “Gate for Sheep”. Instead it is John the Baptist who paints the picture we are all familiar with when he proclaims to any who will listen to him that Jesus is the ”Lamb of God”! Actually John the Baptist only does this twice: once in John 1:29, our Gospel reading today: “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” and the second time in John 1:36: “Look, here is the Lamb of God” where John the Baptist is in effect the illuminator of Jesus.
What does John mean then by drawing for his listeners and for us today to present this image of Jesus? What does it mean to us as followers of Jesus? The obvious meaning is to point to Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. This meaning seems to be the intent in John’s Gospel. In this evangelist’s description of the crucifixion, John makes the point that Jesus died before his legs could be broken. (This was often the practice of the Romans, to speed up the crucifixion deaths.)
John clearly points toward the rules for the Passover lamb as stated in both Exodus and Numbers. But there’s a problem with John’s reference. John says Jesus came “To take away the sin of the world”. In the Old Testament, the sin offering required a goat, a bull, or a sheep, but NOT a lamb!
So perhaps the words from Isaiah make reference and have meaning as well. The prophet, Isaiah, decides the suffering servant is like “the lamb that is led to slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7) So what picture was John the Baptist trying to create? How have we as a church interpreted John’s image?
Most images of a lamb are ones that are soft, cuddly, tender and gentle. So of course, we see the Lamb of God as kind and merciful. But the image of the Lamb of God is also strong, having the power to change history, to direct the course of events, to impact the way we look at the world and each other.
A common view held in the past, reflected the perspective of ancient and classical Greek tragedy and philosophy. It purposed that you could not change people or fate. Yet, Jesus, the Lamb of God, did just that then and still does today change the way we look at the world. Jesus, as Messiah, brought Good News to the world. His death has given each of us a choice!
Your life can be changed!
Your destiny can be altered!
You do not have to end up in destruction and despair. Your choice can end your story in Glory!
This is apparent in the first chapter of John’s gospel. The Baptist points to the Lamb of God. Then individuals make their own choice to follow Jesus. As John continues to record, more people are presented with the choice to recognize Jesus and to choose to follow Him.
Nicodemus was given a choice. Eventually, after the crucifixion, he chose to follow Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well encounters Jesus. She makes a choice to change her life! This happens again and again in the Gospel. But the Pharisees made a choice NOT to change and NOT to follow. Today we too have a choice to make as well.
Perhaps the biggest clue to the Lamb’s ability to change history comes from the words John the Baptist uses to proclaim His presence:
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”
The word for sin is singular NOT plural! John is referring not just to our sins as individuals (which are indeed many)! Rather John is referring to the condition of sin that infuses the whole world. John is speaking to the web of sin that makes it impossible for us to act without harming someone.
This is the sin we share and bear. It is sometimes called institutional sin. This is the sin of history, the sin of existence, the condition of life that sometimes makes it impossible to live, to move, even to breathe without harming someone else.
But the Lamb of God gives us a choice. What choice do we have when all choices can lead to unintentional as well as intentional sin? What is our response to John the Baptist’s command to “Behold the Lamb of God”? First, simply, Behold! Behold the lamb! Next, watch Jesus. Hear His words! Hear his invitation! Worship and adore! We might follow the example of John the Baptist when we testify to the Lamb! Point to the Lamb! We have been offered a choice, the chance to change, the opportunity for glory. Then let us invite others to share in Jesus!
And finally, live like the Lamb! The Lamb is giving, even sacrificial. It’s not easy to bear our wounds, the marks of slaughter. For Jesus, that was part of what gave Him the strength, to offer hope, and to direct the course of history. We can make choices, not in spite of, but because of our wounds, to heal others as we point to the Lamb and to His glory.
WE, you and I, have the opportunity to change the course of our history as well, as individuals,
as a congregation,
as the body of Christ the world over.
WE can live authentically,
knowing that the web of sin that poisons
everything in the world
NO Longer rules US
or hems US in!
The Lamb has changed EVERYTHING!
Behold the Lamb of God!
Let the Lamb change YOU!
Let US together bear the sin of the world, the pain of our sisters and brothers, and share in the world’s healing.
Please note: The preceding sermon is provided as a resource for the thought, prayer, and meditation of the members and friends of St. Mark's. It is the residue of a verbal event, and thus it does not have academic footnotes and other details that would be expected in a written document. The writer gladly acknowledges the prior thought and work of many Christians before him.