Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
The theme that predominates in today’s texts centers on the continuing emphasis of the season of Epiphany: revealing. During the weeks between the ending of Christmas and the beginning of Lent, our focus is on the ways in which God reveals God’s self, nature, purposes, and work in our world and in our lives.
The message through Isaiah is that God is interested in much more than the deliverance of the nation of Israel; in fact, God’s purpose is — and always has been — the salvation of the world (see v.6). All that God has done through Israel has been so that God’s work in that people might serve as a “light to the nations.” (Which is, by the way, always a great “hint” word to look for in Epiphany: light.)
Just how many people do you imagine are included in God’s intention for “salvation to reach to the end of the earth?” Is there anyone, or any group of people, that are excluded from God’s saving intention? Are you surprised in any way to read a passage like this?
If Epiphany is about “revealing,” then this psalm text fits well. Notice the writer ends his personal testimony of God’s presence in his own life by saying, “I have not hidden your saving help…I have not concealed your steadfast love…” (v.10). What part is each of us — from our own personal experience with God — to play in God’s ongoing revelation of God’s love for our neighbors (and even for those very far away?) How can we speak and show God’s love and faithfulness?
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
As Paul writes to the Christians gathered in Corinth, he notes that they have been “enriched in [Christ,] in speech and knowledge of every kind.” This is evidently a part of their calling to wait for the “revealing” of the Lord Jesus. It seems to me that this is about more than waiting on a coming day at some time in the future, when Jesus will come again and make everything right with the world. It has something to do with the ongoing nature of our walk with Christ and with one another. Each and every day, Jesus is revealed — in us!
According to v.7, none of us is lacking any spiritual gift for living the life Christ expects of His followers. What sorts of gifts have been given to you — to those with whom you gather to study the Bible and worship — as well as to serve Christ in your community? How can Jesus work through your gifts, talents, and abilities to continue revealing himself to the people where you live?
One of my favorite stories from scripture! I love this text on so many levels…
- John the Baptist (the “he” of v.29) exemplifies his usual straight-forward, no-nonsense style of witness. His words about Jesus are clear and to-the-point. This is probably a good thing for us to remember in our own witnessing efforts. Just say what you know and exactly what you mean!
- The two disciples who were following John end up following Jesus, instead — basically at John’s insistence. How many of us would recommend to good members that they might actually like the church down the road a little better than ours?
- There is repeated use of the words, look and see; how many times can you “see” those words used in some form in this passage? Again, the emphasis in Epiphany is on being able to “see” something you might never have noticed before. This passage allows us to “see” Jesus through the eyes of John, as well as of the men who would become Jesus’ closest followers.
- Simon, whose name is changed to Peter, becomes the most outspoken and prominent of Jesus’ disciples. He is important and famous in the early history of the church (you don’t name a basilica in Rome after just any Bible character, you know!) But, consider where Peter might have ended up were it not for the efforts of his quieter, less-famous brother, Andrew. Andrew’s action in telling what he knew about Jesus is one of the Bible’s most under-reported milestones in the spreading of the Christian faith. How might we all be a little more like Andrew when it comes to sharing what we know about Jesus?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Our now grown boys were elementary school age when we lived in the suburbs outside Atlanta.
My mother-in-law, known to the boys as “Meme,” lived in eastern North Carolina. Every summer they spent several weeks with her on the farm. We often met for the “kid exchange” around Columbia, South Carolina. I remember one year in particular that we had trouble finding each other. I had told Meme to meet me at a particular gas station off a certain exit. I had been stalled by an accident and was running very late. When I got there, Meme and the boys were nowhere to be found. This was well before the days of cell phones so we had no way to check in with each other. I decided she might have gone to the wrong exit and doubled back a bit. Unfortunately, she had decided the same thing about me. Just as I got back on the interstate I spotted her car going up the ramp on the other side. After a serio-comic hour of trying to catch one another, we finally ended up in the same place at the same time. After that, we decided that at all future meets, Meme would stay put and I would look for her.
I thought of that adventure as I read our Gospel lesson, particularly verses 41-42 – “The first person he found was his own brother Simon. ‘We’ve found the Messiah!’ he said.’” In his book John for Everyone, Tom Wright says: “What Andrew and Simon Peter thought they were doing was looking for the Messiah. What they didn’t realize was that the Messiah was looking for them.” (p.14)
About twenty years ago a large American evangelistic denomination launched a campaign called, “I found it!” – the “it” being variously God, Christ, Christianity or salvation (or perhaps the perfect mega-church). I was one of those who stood outside that effort and sniffed things like, “Gee, I didn’t know God had been lost.” Or, “We don’t find God, God finds us.” Now, after further reflection, I think Bishop Wright is correct in pointing out this business of the divine human encounter is a really a two-way street – we look for God and God looks for us. The difference is, unlike Meme and me and our interstate misadventure, or Simon Peter and Andrew and their search for the Messiah, God in Christ knows where we are all the time.
In this “sacred safari,” this “divine dance of desire,” no one is more important than the mediator, the witness, the one who points us in the direction of Christ so that we will be ready when Christ finds us. This whole text is a series of pointings: Twice in two days John the Baptist points to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the one sent from God to save humanity from itself. The second time, two of John’s disciples left off following after him and began to following after Jesus. They have a somewhat cryptic conversation with Jesus about hunting and locating things; “What are your looking for?” “Where are you staying?” “Come and see.”
After they spent an afternoon in Jesus presence, they go out and locate Andrew’s brother Simon and more conversation about hide and seek ensues: “He first found his brother. . . ‘“We have found the Messiah.” “He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him . . .” The whole divine/human encounter ends with a playful assertion that encountering the holy in Jesus has changed Simon, signified by the changing of his name to the Aramaic Cephas or the Greek Petros (or the English “Rocky”). It was in meeting Jesus that Simon finally found his true self.
And that which is true for Simon is also true for us. We are world full of seekers. We Americans have “the pursuit of happiness” written into our history and our cultural DNA.
People all over the world look and seek and scramble for that which will bring meaning to their lives. It has been said that there is a hole in the heart of humanity that only God can fill. As Saint Augustine put it in a prayer, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in thee.”
And so many of us go restlessly through life, looking here and there and everywhere, looking for the thing that will fill that hole in our heart and not knowing that that the thing that we seek is also actively seeking us.
To find and be found, we all need a John the Baptist, an Andrew, a preacher, a teacher, a friend, a brother or sister; maybe all of the above and more – to point us in the right direction and to keep us on the trail.
And when we find and are found, we will be changed, transformed, renamed in recognition of the fact that our true nature has been revealed – not only to us but to the world. Our name is unlikely to be Rocky; it is more probable that it will be something like Beloved, Forgiven, Full of Grace, Full of Joy, Child of God, etc.
And we will arise from our encounter with the holy; we will get up from having had our name changed and we will go forth into the world to be pointers and proclaimers ourselves. This is not difficult, it is not something to worry about or shy away from – all that is required is a willingness to help others find what you have found. To help them find the place where they can sit and be still and wait for the Christ to come.
Amen and amen.