For What are We Looking?

Epiphany 2 – Year A
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

It’s still Epiphany… the light of the world… is still revealing itself to the world… in the time frame of today’s Gospel… and in ours… John’s question… are you the one who is to come… or are we to wait for another… is being answered in other ways… he says that… the Lamb of God was born after I was… but the Lamb of God actually came before me… he was with God in the beginning… all things came into being through him… and without him… not one thing came into being… and one of the ways that all things came into being through him… is because He is love itself… the Ground of Being… is love itself… and love forgives… reconciles… takes away sin… and restores relationship…

Last week… we heard about Jesus’ baptism… and the text says… the heavens were opened to him… and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him… and God’s voice said… this is my Son… in whom I am well pleased… not… you are my Son… not God speaking so that only Jesus could hear… but so that at least John could hear… because today… John says… the One who sent me… John… to baptize with water said to me… he on whom you see the Spirit descend… and remain… is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit… and John affirms… I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove… and it remained on him… it remained… became part of him… and that’s why Jesus is able to give the Spirit at Pentecost…

In one version of the Agnus Dei… that we sing… we too acknowledge… that the Lamb of God… takes away the sins of the world…

John Shea writes that the world had become alienated from God… unable to acknowledge… or be open to its divine source… and that when John sees Jesus… he says Look!… he also sees into the mission of Jesus… his seeing is a revelation… and so he begins his testimony… the New American Bible translates the word “look”… as “behold”…

And to behold something… is the opposite of our ordinary experience… when we behold something… we don’t filter it through our worldview… through our inherited history… culture… language… or community… we suspend those things… and become open to pure experience… to that which defies whatever understanding we bring to it… so there are no labels… there is no judgement…

The Temple rituals were based on judgement… and that’s why at the Passover… Jews from all over Israel came to Jerusalem to make sacrifice… sacrifice was also a reminder of the lambs blood smeared over Egyptian door posts… that spared them from death… even though there was a slaughter of other innocents… the firstborn sons of Egyptian households…

But… as Shea writes… Jesus is not a lamb for sinful humans… sin does not refer to the many individual transgressions of the human race… but rather it points to the fundamental alienation of God from creation… Jesus is the Lamb of God… ] the chasm between God and the world… is overcome not by human initiative… but by divine initiative… in John’s Gospel… Jesus frees the Temple animals… because they’re no longer needed… Temple sacrifice is no longer the way sin is overcome… God and the world are permanently united in the person of Jesus… and so entering into communion with him… remaining with him… is entering into union with God… Jesus embodies all that Israel was meant to be… as God’s servant… all that we are still meant to be…

We know how this story ends… it was written by those… who already knew how it ended… in today’s Gospel… and next week’s… disciples are called… Andrew and Simon Peter… today… ] and when Jesus noticed them following… he turned and asked… what are you looking for… Jesus always asks… and they asked… where are you staying… Shea clarifies for us… that this is symbolic code for what drives him… what is the structure of his selfhood… what is he all about… these are the right things to be looking for… and so Jesus calls them… he says… come and see… he invites them into a personal knowledge of himself…

And the timing of this interaction was not lost on those who captured it on paper… the text says that it was about 4:00 in the afternoon… the time of Temple worship… and instead of ritual animal sacrifice… Jesus becomes the Lamb of God… who overcomes alienation through interpersonal conversation… and conversion… and unites us to God…

But there are divisions… there’s a cacophony of voices these days… clamoring for our attention… and Pilate’s question… What is truth… seems painfully applicable in our time as well… but there may be… maybe not a litmus test… but a pointing in the direction… so we too may come and see… Presiding Bp. Michael Curry has offered up the idea… that if it’s not about love… then it’s not about God…

And there’s an image in our Jewish Scripture reading from Isaiah that really stands out for me… he made my mouth like a sharp sword… he made me a polished arrow… and said you are my servant… and isn’t it an important-enough thing… that I ask you to raise up the tribes of Jacob… that I give you as a light to the nations… so that my salvation is offered to all people… thus says God to one who is despised… who is abhorred by the nations… who is a slave of rulers…

People like Martin Luther King, Jr… whom we celebrate tomorrow… knew what it was to feel the weight of slavery… his great-grandfather… Willis Williams… was a slave… and Willis and his owner were listed on census records before slavery was abolished… Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary… as Isaiah was… people who see how things were… how they are… and how they could be… how God wants them to be…
So we come back to the questions… what are we looking for… what are the structures of our selfhood… what drives us… and part of the answer… I think… is whether it’s about love… because then… it’s about God…

Mike+

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family, and who believes that diversity was never intended to be divisive. He serves as the Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan and the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan, and on the ELCA's North/West Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, "Open Hearts, Open Church."