Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2B, Sunday, January 17, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our gospel lesson Philip responds to Nathaniel’s caustic question about meeting Jesus by inviting him to “come and see.” That invitation still stands for us concerning Jesus. But if we looked at Jesus what would we see? This is what I want us to look at this morning.
We start with our OT lesson. We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in the days of old Eli and Samuel, the days when ancient Israel had no king and everyone did “whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). And we certainly get how ominous that statement really is. The word of the Lord is rare in our day as well; more and more of us are doing whatever seems right in our own eyes. As our nation increasingly rejects its Judeo-Christian heritage with its strictures, mores, and values, our nation falls ever deeper into chaos. We see it most keenly right now in the political arena and in how we think about and treat those with whom we disagree. Our abandonment of our Judeo-Christian heritage with its accompanying values is the root cause of all our problems because as we abandon God-given ways for thinking, speaking, and acting in favor of our own fallen desires, chaos descends. The word of the Lord is indeed rare in our day and people are increasingly doing whatever seems right in their own eyes, resulting in ever-increasing vitriol, invective, hyperbole, vindictiveness, and demonization that is quite simply breathtaking, and not in a good way. All this makes us very afraid. We look for God’s help and presence but apparently find none. But are we looking in the right places and for the right things? Are we allowing God to take us by surprise and rescue us in unexpected ways as he did in Samuel’s and Philip’s day? This is at the heart of both our OT and gospel lessons this morning. Instead of trying to dictate to God how God should intervene and rescue us, we are called to listen before we speak, to open our eyes and minds so that God can speak to us in the ways God chooses, not how we choose, and to respond accordingly and faithfully. When we do, like young Samuel we will know that God is present with and among us.
And now we return to our gospel lesson with its great existential invitation concerning Christ: Come and see! When you look at Jesus, what do you expect to see? A cosmic Santa Claus to give you your heart’s desires? A mighty warrior who swoops in at just the right moment like a conquering hero to rescue you from all your problems? A Messiah (Christ) who will rid you and this country of all your enemies so that all the chaos conveniently disappears? A bolt of lightning and thunderclap to smite all the evil and wrong in this world and your life? We are promised that indeed one day when the Lord Jesus returns to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection, we will have our expectations of a mighty warrior and conqueror fully satisfied. Just read Revelation 20 with its vivid language if you doubt that. God is indeed God and he will not let fallen humans and/or the powers of Evil and Sin mock him forever. But that is not what our gospel lesson is pointing to today. Here is Christ, God become man, to dwell with his people. So if we come and see, what will we see? St. John has given us hints leading up to our lesson today. He began his marvelous gospel by telling us about the eternal Son of God coming into his world and to his people to dwell or pitch his tent (live) among them as we read on Christmas Eve. St. John reaffirms this glorious truth at the end of our lesson today when he recounts that Christ told Nathaniel (and us) that we would see God’s space (the heavens) open up and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In other words, we would see heaven and earth coming together in the person of Jesus despite the fact that we don’t particularly want God to dwell with us because we are slaves to the power of Sin that has blinded us to his presence. We hid from God in the garden and we continue to hide from God today, and to our detriment. St. John also reminded us of this sad reality in his prologue when he told us that God’s own people failed to recognize God when he came to live with them as Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, when by God’s grace we do let Christ into our lives, we get glimpses of heaven meeting earth, God’s new world and Presence breaking in on us and the chaos that swirls around us. More about that anon. When you look at Jesus, do you believe this promise?
Come and see, St. John invites us through Philip. So what else do we see in Christ? As St. John has also previously reminded us, in Christ we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—our sins, our rebellion, our hostility toward God, our selfishness, our desire to do whatever seems right in our own eyes—and reconciles us to God the Father through his saving death on the cross. Here we see God’s totally unexpected and illogical grace, illogical at least according to the wisdom of the world, in action. Who dies for their enemies so that their enemies can be reconciled to them and find life instead of death? No one I know, no one expect God the Father that is. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, at just the right time Christ came into the world to die for us sinners and reconcile us to God (Romans 5.6-11). We use the word grace quite freely and casually, and in doing so I think we miss the astonishing power and reality of God’s love for us behind it. God didn’t wait until we came to our senses and realized we need God if we ever hope to have life—life defined as being more than mere biological existence. We cannot hope to live, either in this age or the age to come, without being reconciled to God and as both Scripture and the collective human experience testify, we are incapable of ending our hostility and rebellion toward God on our own. We remain unreconciled to God and dead in our sins without outside help. That help comes from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—your sin and mine—and in doing so overcomes the evil our sin generates. We aren’t told how this all works. We are simply told that it does and are invited to believe it by faith because of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection and because God promises it is true in Holy Scripture. When you look at Jesus, do you see the Lamb of God who takes away your sins and gives you life? If you do, what difference is it making in how you live and see this world and your place in it?
Come and see, St. John invites us. What else do we see in Christ? In telling us that we will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man, Christ promises us that when we see him we will see the agent through whom God’s promised new world will come into existence, a world made possible by his saving death on the cross and through his mighty resurrection, a world where the dimensions of heaven and earth come together in a mighty new act of creation greater than the act of God’s original creation to heal and restore all things. As St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, our bodies matter greatly to God. We know this because God raised Jesus’ body from the dead and will do the same for ours on the Last Day. In other words, our bodies are part of God’s good creation that God has promised to heal and redeem in and through Christ’s resurrection. So what we do (or don’t do) with our bodies matters to God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit dwells in our bodies and God has paid a terrible price to redeem our bodies from eternal death when he came to die for us and be raised again to new life (Rm 8.3-4). When you look at Christ, do you see the promise of God’s new world embodied, a world where heaven and earth are joined together and all things are made new, a world where death and sorrow and sickness and sighing and all things broken are forever abolished, a world where the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death are banished forever so that they can no longer harm or destroy us as they do now? If you don’t see this in Christ, if this is not your ultimate hope, you have missed seeing Jesus Christ entirely and are most to be pitied. This promise and all that it entails should give us ample reason to hope, even in the most desperate times. It should also motivate us to imitate God’s great love for us, even when we were his enemies, by proclaiming and inviting others to come and see Christ along with us.
Come and see, St. John invites us. What else do we see in Christ? As St. John and the other gospel writers proclaim, when we see Jesus we will see God’s Messiah (Christ) come in power and love and mercy to call us to repentance, i.e., to turn from serving ourselves to serving God and others, heal the sick, mend broken bodies and minds, raise the dead, feed the hungry, provide living water to those who desperately need it (that would be all of us), and to announce the Good News that despite our wickedness, despite all that is desperately wrong in our lives and the world around us, God the Father loves us and demonstrates his love by giving us Christ to show us these signs of God’s kingdom breaking into the midst of the chaos of his world and our lives. But it would be easy for us to miss this because as we have seen, God accomplished it all in a most unusual and unexpected way by dying an utterly godforsaken death in the most cruel and vile manner ever invented by humans. Creatures trying to destroy their Creator. What a travesty! So we need to pay attention to Holy Scripture because in it, God tells us how he has and will accomplish all that God promises. As young Samuel found God’s presence in his day, if we are willing to come and see who Jesus really is, we must start by listening before we start speaking. Only then can we start to think through the truth of these claims, both individually and together.
When we dare come and see who and what Christ really is, it will require a response from us. Will we choose to limp along, following our own thinking and doing whatever seems right in our own eyes, or will we ask the God who seeks us out, whether we love him or not, to open our eyes so that we can begin to glimpse his glory among us in the person of Christ? Nathaniel cynically asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. Jesus would end up showing him and the rest of us that everything good could and did come out of Nazareth! God himself came to reconcile us and draw us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son so that through the Son, God could heal and restore us to be the fully human beings God created us to be. Nothing else can make us fully human, especially not the perversity that comes from doing whatever seems right in our own sinful eyes. May we all, by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, have our eyes opened to the reality of our crucified and risen Lord and Savior by living out his commandments faithfully, especially as they pertain to our bodies and the bodies of others, through the faithful reading of Scripture together, in our worship, in confessing our sins and experiencing God’s healing forgiveness, in partaking of the Holy Eucharist as a tangible sign of that forgiveness, and in our holy fellowship so that Christ becomes a dynamic and healing reality and Presence to and among us, able to sustain us, even (and especially) in these dark days. When we see Christ, may we be blessed to see the Son of God, the crucified and risen Lamb who takes away the sin of the world along with our own, and may our hope that God really is bringing in his kingdom on earth as in heaven in and through Christ and his people bless and sustain us until to see it realized in full and our blessed Lord and Savior face-to-face. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.