Sheepscott Community Church January 16, 2011
Isaiah 49: 1-7
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42
The Tucson Massacre
You have heard me read the gospel this morning from John, and the very beginning of that gospel read: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That is John speaking to his followers when Jesus was walking toward them.
Excuse me? If that Lamb of God came to take away the sin of the world, where was he a week ago Saturday when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green and four others were gunned down, everyone except the Congresswoman dead. Twenty others were wounded. Where was the Lamb of God in that tragic melee? How could that happen if he had taken away the sin of the world?
Easy enough to answer that by saying, well, Jesus, the Lamb of God, comes and comes again into the world, as each of us welcomes him, or not, as each of us chooses to reject him or not. Let’s build on that a little bit. None of us has the privilege that Andrew and John, who were followers of John the Baptist had. They saw the one John i.d.’ed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world with human eyes, and probably did whatever was comparable in that time and place to shaking hands with him. That was how they met the one the Baptist called the Son of God––up close and personal.
They were impressed enough that each went to his brother––Andrew to Simon Peter, and the unnamed John to his brother James––to announce that they had found the Messiah, the Christ. This event, which preceded the account in Matthew 4 of the calling of those first disciples, who were out in their fishing boats, makes more understandable the report that they dropped everything when Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They had already been prepared, having met him in the company of the Baptist.
So this is how the two sets of brothers came to find Jesus, the Messiah. At least two of them had already been looking for him, or they wouldn’t have been hanging around with the Baptist. Some others search and don’t find, but there is blessing even in the seeking. As Oliver Cromwell once wrote to his daughter, “To be a seeker is to be of the best sect next to a finder; and such a one shall every humble seeker be at the end. Happy seeker, happy finder!”
There are different ways we come to Christ. Some are brought to Christ like Simon Peter, and some are found by Christ in what might be called a divinely interventionary way. It is important to remember that knowing Christ is not simply election to privilege but more importantly, election to service. We are the body of Christ, his feet that must run for him, his hands that must carry for him, his body through which his blessed will gets itself done. If Christ is all we say he is, we cannot keep him to ourselves but must share him with others.
And let me tell you, we don’t have to understand how the whole thing works in order to share Christ with others. We just share our own little portion of what God has done in our lives. For instance, I started off this message with a note about Gabrielle Giffords and all those killed or wounded last Saturday. I troubled about how that event could line up with the quotation from John the Baptist in this morning’s gospel: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” If the current state of the world is one in which sin has been taken away, what would our world be like without any activity of God? The answer to that question depends on us and our willingness to say yes to God in any given moment, as this taking away the sin of the world seems to be a process, doesn’t it?
To be sure, the business of the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world is a slow business at best, if we look at the world around us, and specifically this week at the tragedy in Tucson. But we needn’t even go that far afield. We need only look within to see what a slow business taking away the sin of the world is. How long does it take us to follow through with our own resolutions to do better, to be better, to change? I remind you of the beautifully restored house on the corner of Winter Street in Augusta, which I talked about last week. It shines with its candles in the windows as a beacon of hope and beauty in a neighborhood definitely run-down at the heels.
If you recall, I made a parallel between that house and Jesus, the way he rises beautiful in our own private neighborhoods of discouragement and sin and loneliness. And he stays. He is fixed permanently among us no less than that house is on its granite foundation in that neighborhood. He sees us as we are––simple people who, in spite of our shortcomings, are trying for the most part to live the best life we can with some consistency––he sees us as we are and he loves us. Simple as that. Who deserves it? Nobody. But Jesus doesn’t relate in terms of who deserves what; he simply loves, which is how he teaches us to live––by love and not judgment, day by day in every choice we make.
Something I never noticed before in the gospel reading was John giving testimony, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” He later refers to the one who sent him––whom he doesn’t identify, by the way, but who is presumed to be the Spirit of God––who told John, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” What struck me was that the Spirit remained, did not return from whence it came. And even though that Spirit was utterly with Jesus, even so, he went through the ignominious suffering and death that he did. If you remember nothing else from this message, remember this, the last line of the gospel of Matthew: “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world,” as the Spirit was with Jesus. He was not alone, even on the cross. You are not alone, I am not alone, we are not alone.
The Spirit of God remains in the world now. Even so, there are horrors such as the carnage in Tucson last week; the tsunami-like flooding in Queensland, Australia, the mudslides in Brazil; the unfaithfulness to God and human beings in the hearts of individual people. Every week it’s something else. All of this goes on and on, and yet the Spirit remains, smack dab in the middle of all our personal neighborhoods. You would only have to heard Suki Flanagan’s harp on Christmas Eve to know that the hearts of men and women and children can still be turned by grace more fully toward the light through what seemed the music of the spheres. You would know that the Spirit remains. You would only have to have seen Carol Shorey’s palpable delight in three-week-old Mary last Sunday to know that in spite of everything, the Spirit of God remains in the world.
This weekend we mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., whose prophetic life was stopped by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, TN, on April 4, 1968. The business of the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world is a slow business. In addition to Martin Luther King, witness Ghandi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robert Kennedy, Jean Donovan and the nun martyrs in the El Salvador of the 1980’s, all stopped by violent acts. And yet, the Spirit remained in and with all of them.
I would like to conclude on a note of hope delivered in a speech at King’s rally on April 3, the night before he was assassinated. I think it contains and continues a true prophetic word for all of us.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop . And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”