Jan. 19, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jan 19, 2020 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 19, 2020

“I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6b

The other day Barb O’Neal posted a quote by Madeleine L’Engle that said, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” It definitely called for a Facebook “like” response! I read it between Edith Harman’s service yesterday and this morning’s worship and found it a wonderfully appropriate link. Edith would have agreed, since her wise and articulate words and her radiant light certainly drew people near. I think Jesus would have agreed too, and we often read of how they followed him but seldom of his berating them. Today’s reading is from John’s gospel (John the Evangelist that is) and he writes that Jesus has been spotted by John the Baptizer who points Jesus out to his own disciples. John tells them Jesus is the one on whom he saw the Spirit descend at his baptism, and he testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. This happens again the very next day, and this time John’s disciples follow after him. Jesus turns and sees them, saying “What are you looking for?”

“What are you looking for?” These are the first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel, and a large-as-life question for us too. Madeleine L’Engle was ‘looking for’ how we help to draw people to Christ, just as they are—not by berating or discrediting, but by showing them a light so amazing they have to know the source of it. The disciples don’t really answer this question, rather they say “Rabbi!” And then ask where he’s staying. I think they didn’t know what they sought, only that they were drawn to that man to whom John pointed. Jesus’ answer, once again, is as much to us as to them, and has nothing to do with which Airbnb he’s headed for; “Come and see.” How simple! He’s not checking credentials or what they believe, he’s not asking where they’re from or who their people are. “Come and see.” The remarkable thing is, they do! Remarkable because most of the time we in the Northwest invite people to come and see the light of Christ at St. Michael’s they thank us politely and don’t exactly clamor to come to church with us—unless it’s to celebrate a Baptism or Christmas and Easter. These disciples of John’s weren’t ready that first day, they weren’t seeking anyone else. Then the next day did, they go with him and remain with him. Soon they are so excited at the realization they have found the Messiah, that one goes and gets his brother to ‘come and see.’ Did this brother, soon called Peter, see a light in Andrew when he invited him? Was he perhaps looking for it in some way? It’s certainly easier to see when we are in search of it. These three were searching for something, and in following Jesus that day they were being active in that pursuit, not passively waiting for it to come to them or waiting until they are lured in or hooked with entertainment or promises of greatness.

What about the search for God’s light? How do we do it? We come here, we care, we serve, we pray, we seek to live faithful lives guided by what Jesus taught—and as those become second nature and constitute part of what feeds our souls, we look harder for more of that light we now recognize. As we seek it, we wonder, how can we shine that Christ-light for others? What if that person is searching for it and misses out because I didn’t try, didn’t listen, or because it felt awkward, or we didn’t think it was ours to do?

No one preaching today does it without the awareness of Monday’s honoring of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, and a sense of awe at what he accomplished and inspired, his writing and his preaching—his light! Aware as we are of his legacy throughout the year, it’s like Thanksgiving, celebrated in November though also in our daily lives. This day we set aside and pause to be intentional in our gratitude for his ministry and ask ourselves how we advance his barrier-breaking work. I’ve asked a few people this past week what they will do on Monday. One said his children are in a private school which is not closed that day so they learn about the Rev. King and not just have a school holiday. Another woman wrote about engaging her family in actively celebrating his life and work that day. Instead of lounging around and sleeping in, she and her children honor him by learning more about him and talk about of all sorts of bigotry rooted in our world, and whose weedy runners keep cropping up. This tradition began because she didn’t know how to talk about these things with her kids but wanted them to understand the gravity and necessity of what King fought for, so they go to programs at museums or the library where they learn without the sugarcoating which often happens by the time we write school history books. Another said the political atmosphere has made it increasingly difficult to trust that his legacy will thrive and doesn’t know what will happen or what to do – and in those words I heard great sadness and fear of losing hope.

King himself wrote, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” (Letter from a Birmingham jail, 1963) He was reflecting on his frustration and dismay upon learning the support pledged be merchants and religious leaders was turning out to be empty promises, now broken. He thought the ministers, priests and rabbis would be among their strongest allies, and instead, heartbreakingly, some became opponents, or at best much more cautious than courageous. It pained him to hear them preach of supporting desegregation because it was the law, and instead longed to hear them say it was because it was morally right. We wish this struggle was all part of distant history now, and yet we continue to have violence erupt along racial, religious, and ethnic lines, encouraged by those who spread hate instead of love, who would sooner fight than heal. King’s deep disappointment was because of his deep love; he loved the church and served the Gospel of Christ faithfully. Finding its leaders failing to act would have hurt less if he’d expected less. And yet, these many years later it is not his words about disappointment we remember, but his words of hope and his faithfully chosen approach; “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Isaiah tells us the Lord said, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is both a promise we can believe and a ministry for us to undertake. He even includes the reason why! Today instead of asking what you already know is right; that we all do this light-spreading better and more often, and instead of exhorting you to go and be evangelists, today I want most to thank you for being that light in the world, for me and for so many others. Thank you for standing as a witness and invitation to that light of Christ’s love which we believe can triumph over any darkness, any sin, or any hatred.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asked. As we look for justice and peace in our world, seek loving ways to serve Christ in each other, we may very well find it, and if not —find ourselves stirred to create it, grow it. They wondered where Jesus would be, “Come and see” he said. May we all delight to come and see the light of Christ, be guided by it even when it is difficult, personally costly, or unpopular, so that we too can say, “We have found the Messiah!”

 © The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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