a Sermon for Epiphany 2A
Text: John 1:29-42
How strange this sight must have been for John the Baptizer. So many baptisms and among them is Jesus, the Messiah, the one whose way John is preparing.
What John the Baptizer experiences is so significant that he testifies to its power: the Spirit made its presence known, recognized. Looking like a dove—the animal sacrificed by the poor in the Temple. The lamb is for the wealthy. It is the next day that John calls Jesus “Lamb of God,” different from Son of God, like Caesar calls himself or Savior, King, or General. The lamb, the wealthy sacrifice receives the dove, the poor sacrifice of mercy.
There is something compelling about this baptism, lingering with John through the next day; potent to lose two disciples who flock to Jesus and call Him “Rabbi” (Teacher); they go to Jesus and name Him—giving Him place—claiming implicitly, boldly their place as disciples (students) behind Him. And it is Andrew who goes and gets his brother, Simon and brings him to Jesus.
All this naming going on of Jesus: Lamb, Rabbi: and Jesus turns to Simon and says his name. Then names him. “You are to be called Cephas (Peter)”.
Simon, or “God has heard” becomes Peter or “Stone”. Indeed God has heard and this is the response. Simon becomes Peter. The stone becomes. The stone was not and then is. Later, elsewhere that stone becomes cornerstone, the holding-piece of foundation. But before it was cornerstone, it was simply stone. And before that it was a sound. A sound heard by God.
The Challenge of Converting
We receive these stories and this incarnate GOD in Jesus with such ease and comfort. We baptize and are baptized as simply as setting a time. We pick out the perfect outfit and invite our friends to witness. Then before the child is sprinkled, we promise to raise her and protect her faith. Such a bold promise—to raise our children, in faith—a community convicted.
Not everyone thinks it easy.
My Uncle Hal, just retired from teaching. For the better part of two decades he taught World Religions to High School students. He once told me that on the last day of class each semester he would ask his students two questions:
If you were to convert to a new religious tradition
1) Which one would you choose and why?
2) Which one would you not choose and why?
Each year, in every class, these students predictably chose Islam as most appealing for converts and Christianity as least appealing. Islam is easy and Christianity is hard they would reason.
These young men and women, growing up in a nominally Christian environment in Metro Detroit would not convert to the culturally dominant religion because it is too hard. To them, what is hard is not the structures of the tradition, for they are quite aware of the strictness of observances: praying five times a day, the clothing codes, and social restrictions. Observance of these is easier than the theological complexity and moral ambiguity of Christianity.
We have so many things we claim to care about. So many things we call rules and no mechanism for enforcing these rules outside of shame. We claim to love each other, then scowl when our public solitude is interrupted.
Remember, to converts, not people growing up with all our hypocrisies and unwritten rules, navigating the church is hard.
Last week we reaffirmed our Baptismal Covenant. The affirmation of faith that serves as the cornerstone of our relationship with GOD. Words that affirm belief, then declare our work in service.
We begin giving voice to our belief in a GOD known to us as one and three. GOD as creator. GOD as liberator. GOD as sacrament. GOD as one who builds and breaks into and becomes. GOD as one who, like us, is born, lives, and dies. A GOD that is new life and changes our lives.
We believe. Then we promise.
We promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We promise to worship and pray, to gather and share, to be as the ones who followed Jesus in ages past, to live in uncommon intimacy with others.
We promise to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. We promise to resist evil, knowing that we will fail. We promise to repent and return—to come back to GOD again and again. A lifetime of failing and a lifetime of mercy.
We promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We promise to share our faith with others. Not to tell people about our Christology or the particulars of our Trinitarian theologies or to quote the Bible at them or pray by the flagpole in defiance, but to share the very faith we receive in the same love in which it was given. Showing it with mercy in our words and actions.
We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We promise to love the Christ already in them, respecting the Christ that can speak and reveal itself to us. It is a promise to see all our neighbors as worthy of love and more—that they are of equal love to us. Our selfish desire and self-protecting natures extend to our neighbors. To break down the walls we build around ourselves and build new walls to protect the weak.
We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. We promise to act toward GOD’s kingdom, holding that it is more than our love, but it is also our work, our respect, and our hope as well. We regard GOD’s justice as our own, and not the other way around. And we respect each others’ dignity in light of justice—knowing the powerful already receive much dignity and the powerless receive little.
We use the Baptismal Covenant, its affirming and promising, as our covenant with GOD. It is a deal we make that encapsulates the centrality of our faith in a singular commitment to become. Not be, but be-come. This is why Christianity is hard to understand and even harder to sell. Because it isn’t a set of rules or beliefs.
It is about faith. Faith is not what we believe or how or even that we believe. It is faith as response, as natural, as byproduct, as promise, as declaration, as hope. Faith is Laban, loving and fearing our GOD while ritually committed to other gods because he has seen what GOD can do. It is the woman at the well, seeking GOD through Jesus, even as she is part of another tradition. It is Saul, blinded and yet seeing that Christ is calling him to not persecute, but to share his faith with those on the outside. It is Martin, who walked with other faithful Christians to not only demand that we love each other as equals, but that we pay each other as equals as a matter of GOD’s dream for justice.
Our faith is our very lives. It is the air we breathe and the voice we project. It is found in the intimacy of touching one another and sharing what we have. It is found in our belief that with GOD, we are not only able to change the world, but obligated. Because we promised to. Our promises, like our sacraments, are our foundation Just as we promise to raise each other up, not break each other down.
Learn, Repent, Love, Seek, Respect, Become
It is as simple as this. Andrew saw the Lamb of God and he wanted his brother to see Him too. They called Him Teacher. And they followed Him as students—wanting to love like Him, act like Him, be like Him.
Our faith is not in our conviction, but in our bravery that we promise to seek and follow Christ. Then we may become more like Him. Now, let us walk with Him.