Sermon for January 19, 2020

I have never served on a jury.  But I have imagined that I would listen intently to any eyewitness testimony.  When someone tells me exactly what they saw, then I tend to believe them.  However, studies have shown that eyewitness testimony is subject to unconscious memory distortions and biases.  In fact, eyewitness testimony can be remarkably accurate or remarkably inaccurate.  People can report different perspectives even if they see the same event.  I can understand then that the gospels of John and Matthew may differ a little in what they report.  It is remarkable to me that the themes of these two gospels are the same and the understanding of whom Jesus is matches exactly.

Last Sunday, we heard the story of the baptism of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew.  Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John the Baptist.  After Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his ministry. 

Today, we hear a slightly different version of the interaction between John the Baptist and Jesus.  This time the reading comes from the gospel of John.  In John’s gospel, John and Jesus meet in the town of Bethany which is near Jerusalem.  The baptism itself isn’t described but John states that he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and remain there.  It is interesting that John the Baptist introduced Jesus to Andrew and Simon, two men who became his apostles.  In Matthew’s gospel Peter and Andrew meet Jesus for the first time in the area of Galilee and Jesus calls them himself. The two gospels differ on where things happened but they do not differ on what the events mean to us. 

In John’s gospel Jesus is asked where he is staying and he answers “Come and see.  In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew and calls to them saying, “Come follow me”.  The invitation is the same.  Come and see what you can learn and what you can become if you are with me. It was an invitation for the apostles and I hear it as an invitation for every one of us.  We are all invited to learn about Jesus, the savior of the world. 

Our Scripture is the message of Jesus from the eyewitnesses of his time including the authors of the gospels of John and Matthew.  We are also eyewitnesses to the story of Jesus and each of us understands scripture just a little differently even though we may have the same belief that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.     

We begin by listening to the message of the servant in Isaiah.  Today’s reading is the second of four passages in Isaiah that are called servant songs.  Last week we read the first of the servant songs. In that passage, God spoke and chose a person to be his servant.  This time, we hear the servant speak.  The servant described God’s call to him (or Her), I was chosen before I was born.  The servant stated that God called him to bring the people back to God. And the servant is unsure of whether he is worthy of such a call.  I think Isaiah intentionally kept the identity of the servant vague.  At one point in time, the entire community of Israel is mentioned. Whether Isaiah meant this as a reference to Jesus or not, we believe in Jesus as the servant of all of us, the one who gave his life for us, the lamb of God. 

How many of us have heard God’s call and wondered whether we were worthy of such an important adventure.  Yet, God calls us.  We may think we are weak, we may think we are sinful, we may think we do not have the right skills and yet God calls us.  Perhaps we are called as a community to be the servant just as Israel was called.  We are called to be the eyes and ears of Jesus on earth or more importantly his hands and feet.  We are called to work together for a better world. 

God’s call for the people to return to God was not just for the nation of Israel.  Isaiah said that the servant was to reach far beyond the community of Israel.   The servant was to go to every community, “to be a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”.  Jesus fulfilled that call. 

Our calling is first to be in a covenant relationship with God.  Covenant is a promise between two parties that we will be consistent in our actions with one another.  God always lives up to the promise that God has made.  God will always watch over us and care for us.  God will forgive us and provide comfort and peace for us.  We sometimes struggle with our part of the covenant. We do not always follow the commandments which were given to us.  We also do not always care for one another as God expects us to do.

The Jewish people often forgot about their part of the covenant.  Prophets reminded them each time they failed in their promises. Isaiah presents to us a servant of God, someone who will always follow God’s covenant and who will lead us into our covenant.  The servant gives everything of himself or herself to see that we remain in covenant with God.  

We all struggle to keep our commitments, our promises, to God.  We all fall into temptation, finding ourselves all by ourselves, far away from God’s presence.  But we are all strengthened by Jesus.  I love the words we find in today’s Psalm, “He 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.”

Each of us has our own desolate pit that we fall into. I sometimes want to stay in that pit, feeling sorry for myself.  It is selfish when we allow ourselves to be mired into a pit of sin or a place of self-serving actions.  And we use many excuses to stay there.  We blame others for our problems or like to say that we cannot help ourselves.  But the Lord is always there for us.  All we have to do is open our hearts to Jesus and God will lift us out of the pit of self-despair.  Our Psalm gives us the encouragement we need, “Happy are they who trust in the Lord”.

Psalm 46 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” We are lifted up by the words of Isaiah found in chapter 41, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.  May we all hear those words of promise and turn to God.  Just as Jesus called us to follow him, we turn to Jesus and ask him to lift us up, to bring us out of the pit, to bring us peace. 

During this Epiphany season, we hear several consistent themes from Scripture.  Jesus is the light of the world or the light of all nations.  Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins.  Jesus became a servant to show us all how we should care for others in the world. Jesus invited us to join him in creating the kingdom of God on earth.  You will find each of those themes in our lessons today. 

I am moved by the simple invitation that Jesus gave to his future apostles.  He simply said “come and see”.  We have the word from so many witnesses about Jesus.  John the Baptist called him the lamb of God.  John also told everyone that the Holy Spirit had come down and proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God.  When they first met Jesus, Simon and Andrew called Jesus “Teacher” and later they referred to him as the “Anointed One”.  It was not until much later that Peter said to Jesus, ‘You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.’

Let us all accept that same invitation.  Let us Come and See.  Let us follow Jesus and see where that takes us.  We know from all that we have been taught that Jesus will take us out of the Pit and bring us to the high places.  We know that Jesus will give us the Peace which passes all understanding.  We know that our lives will be changed.  Hallelujah!  Amen. 

 

 

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