Second Sunday after the Epiphany

(I realized I never moved the updated notes to my “cloud” drive, so I’m a bit after the fact in posting these sermon notes)

If you do a search for pointing fingers on line, you will find that, in general, the notion of pointing fingers has a negative connotation:

“My values, our values, aren’t about pointing fingers. They are about offering a helping hand.” (Kathleen Blanco, Governor of Louisiana 2004-08)

“The human race is facing all kinds of problems, and all we are doing is pointing fingers and saying, ‘Your interpretation of the problem is different from my interpretations of the problem.’” (Shane Smith, Canadian Journalist, CEO Vice Media)

“There has certainly been criticism of the timing involved in getting help to the victims of the storm, and much of it may indeed be warranted. However this is not the time for pointing fingers; rather, it is the time for offering a helping hand to our neighbors in need.” (Jo Bonner, U.S. Representative to Alabama 2003-13)

“Who are you to judge me and the life I live? I am not perfect and that I don’t claim to be! Before you point your fingers, make sure your hands are clean!” (Bob Marley)

In some cultures, especially in Japan, the physical gesture of pointing at someone is rude.  And in searching for global gestures, you would discover that even in America it is considered rude to point at another person.

Students of homiletics are taught, don’t point from the pulpit.

And yet, if the Community of Faith is properly about the task of being who we are called to be, we will point.  We will gesture. We will spend our days looking and living like the icons and ancient paintings of John the Baptist.

But John didn’t point in blame; John didn’t point in judgment; John pointed to the Kingdom of God, and he pointed to the Lamb of God. He used every ounce of his being to point, not in derision but in direction.

The text today opens with John seeing Jesus coming toward him and saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And he talks about what he knows of Jesus—his experience of Jesus and his experience with Jesus.

John says that Jesus is the one who will set the world right again. It is a statement of faith and hope as much as it is anything else. But his claim is rooted in his experience of Jesus.  John describes not knowing Jesus to be any different from anyone else at the Jordan but in a movement of the Spirit, in the descent of the Spirit, John knew that this man was the one he had been called to get the world ready to receive.

John has always known that it wasn’t about him. And John has always said that it wasn’t about him.  But people are funny in that we get drawn to charismatic people and we hear what they say, we hear the purpose of the message, but after a while, the person becomes a phenomenon and we miss the purpose that they proclaim.

In 2002 Rick Warren published a book that became a cultural phenomenon—at least among the Christian community.  The Purpose Driven Life has sold more than 40 million copies in its time, largely because people are looking for their reason for being.

Christianity Today tells of how the book helped Michael Phelps discover “that there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me.”

We crave purpose, and sometimes we (both as individuals and as communities of faith) forget that we’re not here to serve ourselves; we’re here to serve others and even more than that we’re here to serve God in the ways that God has equipped us to serve.

John, when the human temptation makes it so very easy to get swept up being a popular charismatic leader, sees Jesus and says, “Look! Look at him! He is the One this is all about. He is my Purpose for being here.”

Perhaps one of the clearest articulations of purpose and pointing away from a “Cult of Personality” came in a Sermon delivered in 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia:

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

(http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_the_drum_major_instinct/)

John didn’t want to be the head of a cult of personality; he didn’t want to be some highly sought after charismatic preacher; he wanted to point to Jesus, and with his whole being say, “Look! Look at him! He is the one this is all about.”

And then the next day, as he is with two of his disciples, again he points to Jesus. Sending his disciples off in search of their own experiences of Jesus and their own experiences with Jesus.

In all the years that I was in the local parish, whenever I led a confirmation class for the youth of the church, I always made a point of saying, “You can’t get by on your friend’s faith, or my faith, or your parents’ faith or your grandparents’ faith.” And the same is true for us as adults.  We can’t get by on or be satisfied with the experience that others have of God or with God.

It is an amazing thing to hear in worship gatherings the works of God in the lives of the community.  I love hearing about how others have experienced God in their lives because it broadens the experience beyond mine. But the goal of these moments of sharing isn’t to send people out in search of this particular experience of God or that particular experience with God.  These moments are to open the eyes of those gathered for their own experience of God and their own experience with God.

That’s why John was comfortable in pointing to Jesus on that second day and seeing his disciples get up and follow after Jesus. That is the life of discipleship. Following after Jesus and seeing where he takes us.

The crux of the invitation comes from Jesus himself.  He asks Andrew and the other disciple, “What are you looking for?” And maybe they could have said anything.  They could have said, “Fame, wealth, healing, forgiveness, wholeness, power…” They could have said anything.

This is where my imagination takes over.  I see Andrew and his companion stop and look at Jesus, then maybe they look at the ground, kick a little bit of dust. Because they aren’t really sure what they’re looking for.  They’re just here because John said Jesus was “the reason for every season!”

So they ask Jesus, “Rabbi,” (what a safe title for them to use when John just called Jesus the Lamb of God!) “Rabbi, where are you staying? Where do you abide?”

And Jesus says, simply, “Come and see.”

That is the crux of the invitation. Come and see.  There is no definitive place to find Jesus.  There is no single, identical experience of Jesus. My experience of Jesus is no more real or authentic than your experience of Jesus. And if there was only one thing to experience with Jesus, there would be no reason for him to say, “Come and see.”

And maybe that’s why he says that.  And maybe that’s why he gives us Baptism as our sign of belonging to the family and the Holy Meal as the central act of remembering that we’re family.  To wade in the waters and hear that we are God’s Beloved, even with all we have known of life is something only we can experience with Jesus.  To gather at the table, to partake of the Bread of Heaven and the cup of Salvation, to invite Jesus in the corners of our bodies, our souls, our lives is something very personal, very intimate, very experiential.

So, beloved community of God, be like John and point with the whole of your being to the manifestation of God in the human that is Jesus.  And be sure to repeatedly “Come and see” what he does, what he’s doing.

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