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Sermon for Sunday 19 January 2020

First Reading                                        Isaiah 49:1-7

1Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” 5And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him — for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength — 6he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” 7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Psalm                                                     Psalm 40:1-11

1I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stooped to me and heard my cry. 2He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure. 3He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord. 4Happy are they who trust in the Lord! they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods. 5Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God! How great your wonders and your plans for us! there is none who can be compared with you. 6Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! but they are more than I can count. 7In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure; you have given me ears to hear you; 8Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, and so I said, “Behold, I come. 9In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: ‘I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep in my heart.’” 10I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I did not restrain my lips; and that, O Lord, you know. 11Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.

Second Reading                         1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — 7so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel                                             John 1:29-42

29The next day {John} saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).


When God created us, He added the quality of being inquisitive.  We, by design, are curious about the world God made and love to explore the things around us.  We want to know, to understand and to experience all God has done in His creation.  Sometimes this is good, and sometimes it can be a determent.  For example, in part, wasn’t it our desire to know that got us in trouble in the Garden of Eden?  Or consider this:  on the road, we call them rubberneckers. 

These are the folks whose burning curiosity drives them to check out an accident, which at times can cause additional accidents.  Or, if we were to see smoke in proximity to our homes, we’d instinctively want to go and see what’s on fire.  It’s natural, and in many cases it can be good.  Take our curiosity to learn.  This God given drive to understand has compelled many to explore our natural world and learn the wonders of how God constructed things.  Without this compulsion to explore, we’d never have discovered the atom or the subatomic particles that make it up.  Additionally, when this drive urges us to search the Bible for the “hidden treasure”, this too can be good.  This is what makes our gospel lesson for this morning so interesting.

In verse 39 Jesus piques the curiosity of a couple of potential followers by telling them to “Come and see.”  Jesus spoke those words to two of the disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:39).  Scholars tell us that the author of the fourth gospel often loads words with meanings that go far beyond what they might mean on the surface.  And nothing could be truer than Jesus’ statement.

John tells the story of the calling of the disciples a little differently from the other gospel writers.  John tells us that soon after Jesus was baptized, John was talking with some of his own followers and he looked up and saw Jesus passing by.  John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (v. 36).  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  You can easily imagine the disciple’s curiosity being piqued, “I wonder what in the world he meant by that.”

So out of curiosity, two of John’s disciples leave him and begin to follow Jesus, possibly at a distance, to see what they could learn about Him.  When Jesus becomes aware that they were following Him, He turns and looks at them.  Turning Jesus askes, “What are you seeking?”  Scrambling, I’m sure, for something to say, they asked, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

Now why would they ask such a question?  Of all the things to ask, why ask where a person was staying?  Maybe they were curious to see where the “Lamb of God” lived, but I’m guessing they wanted to know much more.  And I’m sure there were questions they didn’t yet know how to ask.  I can imagine that Jesus smiled and waved a hand as He said, “Come and see.”  So, they walk on together.  Then they spent the rest of the day together and that was the beginning of something really big.  As with all Bible passages, there are many things we can learn from this little story.  

First, we can’t learn much about Jesus by following Him at a distance.  Now society has conditioned us to be skeptical, so we’re naturally prone to keep our distance and try to do a complete investigation before we get involved in anything.  Sometimes that’s the right thing to do.  Advice given only becomes old adages when there’s truth to it, like the adage, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”  But you can’t really learn much about Jesus following at a distance.

Jesus invites us to come into a personal relationship with Him, and then to follow Him into a new way of experiencing life and relating to it.  As we move further into that new set of experiences and relationship, things will fall into place, and we learn more and more.  Lots of folks talk about wanting a personal relationship with Jesus.  We all love to sing songs that say things like “What a friend we have in Jesus” or “He walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own.”  But what does it mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus?  

It’s not hard to imagine the close, personal relationship the disciples had with Jesus.  They traveled with Him and lived with Him every day.  They watched the things He did.  They listened to everything He had to say to them.  They didn’t always understand, they didn’t always follow His teachings, but they did listen.  They followed and learned from Him a new way of living.  They committed themselves to their Master and took on the purpose of God, to which Jesus was committed, as the purpose of their own lives.  The disciples soon learned that a life lived in a personal relationship with Jesus was an adventure.

Every day they made new discoveries.  Jesus was intentionally leading them into a deeper relationship with Himself and with God.  But it’s likely the disciples never really understood what was happening and what Jesus wanted them to discover until after His death and resurrection.  If we could live in a personal relationship with Jesus, something similar could happen in our lives.  The question some have asked is, how can we, today, live in a personal relationship with someone who walked this earth 2,000 years ago?  There are four things we can do, that will make it possible.

First, we need to get to know Jesus.  We must build a memory of that young Rabbi who beckoned and said, “Come and see.”  We do this by reading the Bible, attending church, Sunday school and Bible studies.  One suggestion is that you start with the book of Matthew and keep reading.  It’s amazing how many Christians today have never done that.  It’s as if they’re afraid to pick up the book, afraid that it’s so profound they could never understand it.  Yes, it is profound.  Yes, we will at times have to struggle and dig and study.  But it’s worth the effort and God will send His Holy Spirit and others to help us understand.  

But there is no shortcut, we must read to learn what Jesus said.  Things like, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear…. indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:25, 32-33).

Or, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).  But we must be careful not to fall into the trap of hearing only the comfortable things that Jesus said.   That won’t lead us into a real relationship with Jesus.  We must listen to all that God has to say, like, “No one can serve two masters…. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24) and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44).  

If we sit at Jesus’ feet long enough, we will eventually be able to hear Him say to us as He said to His disciples: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).  We need to learn Jesus’ teachings so well that they come back to us automatically when something in our life seems to call for them.  The second thing we need to do to be in a relationship with Jesus is to learn the things He did.

Remember how He committed Himself completely to the purpose of God.  Remember how He lived, resisting temptation and praying constantly for guidance from the Father.  Remember how He represented God by relating to all kinds of people in love and reaching out to them in their unique needs and doing for them the things needed to move them toward fullness of life.  Some He taught.  Some He healed.  Some He forgave.  Some He encouraged.  Some He called to follow Him.  In all these ways, Jesus showed us the Father who is reaching out to us.  We also need to remember how He refused to be turned aside from His ultimate purpose, even though that commitment eventually led Him to a cross.  We then need to read to learn what the people who met Jesus said about the saving works He did in their lives.

Read Romans 8 and experience the life-shaping interaction Paul had with the risen Christ.  Read the other reports as well.  These are key to discovering the witnesses of some of the earliest Christians.  Look also at the names they used for Jesus.  There were lots of them.  Many of those names suggest a story that some person, or group of people, used to tell about the saving work they experienced in their relationship with Christ.  It’s important for us to hear those witnesses because, as the old song says, “What he’s done for others, he can do for you.”

It’s important for us to get to know Jesus and to build a memory of the Jesus who was.  That’s the first thing we need to do to move into a personal relationship with Jesus.  The second thing is, learn, discover, or remember that the Jesus who was, is someone who still is.  For some, that may sound a bit outlandish, but it isn’t.  Did you happen to notice that the daffodils in some places are already coming up?  It happens so regularly that we often don’t notice, and we take it for granted.  We shouldn’t.  It’s something that God makes happen, year in and year out.

God is most certainly still alive and at work in this world.  The God who made the sun come up this morning is the same God who is made known to us through Jesus Christ.  I suppose that in the study of theology there are good reasons to make distinctions between the three persons of the holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  But anytime we encounter the reality of God in the experiences of our life, those distinctions become secondary.  All three are present in one reality.  And when we become aware that God is present and at work in our lives, we can then know that we are encountering Jesus, the risen Christ.

The third thing we need to do as we learn to live in a personal relationship with Jesus, is to recognize Him when we meet Him.  Yes, it’s a beautiful thing to be in God’s presence in the worship service or on a spiritual retreat.  Those experiences are especially valuable in helping us learn to recognize Jesus when we meet Him in other places in our everyday lives.  But the really important encounters with Jesus, are those that take place when something important is happening in our everyday life.

Whenever we experience something happening in our life that reminds us of the things that Jesus did, we know that it’s Jesus doing it again.  When we’ve messed things up and we’re forced to deal with the result of our actions, we know that we’re encountering the living Jesus when we receive God’s forgiveness and mercy.  That’s one of the things that Jesus did, and it’s one of the things that Jesus does.  Any time we experience healing — physical or spiritual or emotional – we know that the great physician has reached out a hand and touched us.  And whenever we experience love, know that it came from the one who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).  Living in a personal relationship with Jesus is an entirely new way of experiencing life. 

There’s one thing more we need to learn to do in order to live in a personal relationship with Jesus–we need to allow our interactions with Jesus to reshape our lives.  This isn’t always easy.  We live in a culture intentionally organized to make us forget that God is still around, and teaches us to let other values, ideas and forces shape our lives.  It takes an intentional decision to allow our lives to be shaped by our personal relationship with God, and it’s a decision that will have to be renewed over and over again.  

Some of the ways in which we can do this are pretty obvious.  When we look around at the things that are going on in our families or our communities, we can ask, “What would Jesus say about that?”  As we watch the nightly news and see all the things that are going on in our world, we can ask the same question.  Then we can allow the answer to shape the way in which we will feel about those things and what we need to do about them.  

Some people have made a practice of asking “What would Jesus do?”  Let me offer another suggestion.  Instead ask, “What would Jesus want me to do?”  When someone has done something to hurt us and we feel anger building so that we might respond in a less than charitable way, ask “What would Jesus want me to do?”  When some other person’s need seems to make a demand on our time or resources and we find ourselves resenting it, ask “What would Jesus want me to do?”  All these things are part of what it means to ask, “What does the Lord require of us?” and they are the necessary parts of what it means to live in a personal relationship with Jesus.  But there’s another aspect of that relationship, and it’s surprising how often we forget about it.  

It’s the question “What is God trying to give to me?”  What is God doing in our life to save us and move us toward the fullness of life that we all yearn for?  A while ago I mentioned the different names by which others referred to Jesus and how they represent the witnesses of the early Christians of what Jesus did for them.  Those stories are rich and varied, because Jesus reached out to all kinds of people with many kinds of needs and did in their lives the things needed to bring them fullness of life.  When we hear those witnesses, we know that God is still doing those same saving works in the lives of people who need them today.  We need to be cognizant of those saving works when they’re happening, both in our lives and in our world, and be responsive, so that God can do His saving work in His kingdom.  Take for example the former disciples of John. 

Those disciples may have wondered what John meant by calling Jesus “The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”  That’s one of several great biblical witnesses to the ways in which God works to save.  Some other witnesses are implied in names like the Messiah, Son of Man, pioneer of our faith, high priest, and many others.

For centuries, theologians have tried to use words and abstract ideas to explain what these names mean.  That’s appropriate for them to do.  But we can only get so far by listening to them.  In fact, the great biblical witnesses are actually stories, the early Christians told, to try to tell about experiences they had that changed their lives.  We can only really understand the witnesses if we allow them to lead us into similar experiences.

When we come to experience for ourselves, as one who has been forgiven and accepted by God, in spite of all the sin in our life, we then can remember the Old Testament custom of sacrificing a lamb to atone for sins and realize what it means to think of Jesus as the One who takes away the sins of the world.  We’ve only begun to talk about the new life that will come to those who learn to live in a personal relationship with Jesus.  It’s the life that we all yearn for in our heart of hearts.  

Living in an active relationship with God is why He created us.  It’s the life to which God wants to save us.  When the first disciples were drawn to Jesus, they didn’t know half of what was in store for them.  But they knew an exciting new possibility had overtaken them.  They quickly began to refer to Jesus as the “Messiah,” the bringer of a new possibility.  They eagerly went about inviting their friends and kinsmen to come and make the discovery they were experiencing.  

Andrew went and got his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus.  Philip found Nathaniel and invited him to come and share in the discovery.  Nathaniel expressed some skepticism.  But guess what Philip said to him?  “Come and see.”  Our goal is to long for a time when we’re so excited about the new life we’ve found living in a personal relationship with Jesus, that we will say to all who will be open to an invitation: “Come and see.”


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