The Light Is the Lamb Epiphany 2
Isaiah 49:1-7 John 1:29-42
There’s a story about a young fellow who had a habit of skipping out on church. He would go across the street and play pinball with the money his folks had given him for the offering. But he was careful to stand near the preacher as people were filing out so that he could pick up on some snippets of conversation about the sermon. He needed to do this so that, during Sunday dinner, he could discuss the sermon as if he had been there to hear it for himself!
But one Sunday, he was late getting back to the church, and wasn’t able to pick up anything. At dinner, his father asked, “Well, what was the sermon about today?” He thought up a lie, and he blurted it out quick. “It was about sin!” His father pressed him: “And how does the preacher feel about sin?” “Well, he’s against it!”
Friends, we all know about churches where SIN is the main topic, and folks are “guilted” into repentance and commitment (or maybe frightened into it). So you may have noticed that we veer away from topics like sin and evil, and instead try to focus on the positive aspects of a life of faith. Last week, we explored darkness and the promise of Light for our darkness, our blindness. In this week’s texts, we have Isaiah reiterating the expectation of light, when God says “I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” And, in the Gospel of John, we are told that John the Baptizer saw Jesus and exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Before I can get all excited about a lamb who takes away the sin of the world, I need to be upset by the fact that there IS sin in the world! I can start by seeing sin “out there” in other people. For instance: when I read that people have enslaved others, I am overwhelmed with disgust and shame for the human race! And I am reminded that there are children in this country who are kept as slaves, used for unspeakable purposes, and traded around to different “owners” as if they were personal property. I can see the evil there.
And once I have opened my eyes to the evil around me, the next step is to see that the evil within me is part and parcel with that evil. When I can look squarely at my own sin, then I know that there is SIN that needs to be taken away. At that point, John’s proclamation, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” starts to take on meaning.
Why a Lamb?
You may be asking, “Why a lamb? Why not a LION?!” You and I are partial to images of power. Couldn’t a lion overthrow our enemies, and show that God is victorious?
Then we come to Paul’s testimony that the power of God is perfected in weakness. He wrote to the Corinthians that he had been given “a thorn in the flesh”, and he asked the Lord 3 times for relief. God’s answer to Paul was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Huh. So, how do we overthrow our enemies? How will God be victorious?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives us an example in his book, Stride Toward Freedom. In talking about non-violent resistance, he says “it is not a method for cowards; it does resist.”
Then he goes on, “A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through non-cooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends in themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The [desired] end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”
Isaiah Chosen as a Light
Our theme during these weeks right after Epiphany is LIGHT. Think about these candles we have burning here. In a brightly-lit room, their effect is mostly ceremonial, symbolic. But a single candle burning in total darkness is amazing and helpful. During an ice-storm in Spokane, all the power was knocked out. Melissa lit a candle and placed it on the coffee table, and our little family gathered around it and shared stories and conversation in the glow of its light. Just remember: all the darkness in the world is not able to extinguish the light of just one candle!
Our message from Isaiah tells us that people are used by God to shine God’s light. Isaiah’s light is still shining down through the centuries. You and I can reflect God’s light to others. And Jesus…Jesus is The LIGHT to the nations! “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)
God’s Salvation for the Nations
And what does this light reveal? Well, it shows me that I NEED A SAVIOR—I am not able to get rid of my sin by myself. “Bootstrap Religion” is just self-glorification. (The saying, “God helps those who help themselves” comes from Ben Franklin, not the Bible.) It also shows me the path that I need to travel, and traveling that path reflects light to others who are seeking God’s way.
In the Light of God, I can begin to understand God’s work on the cross, which at first blush looks like a tragic failure. But we hear Jesus say, “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.” When he told this to the Disciples during The Last Supper, I’m sure they were remembering that he had once told them, “I lay down my life for the sheep…No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”
And, through the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us! I love the story that Max Lucado tells about his 6-year-old daughter who was standing in front of a mirror, looking down her throat. When he asked her what she was doing, she answered, “I’m looking to see if God is in my heart.” He chuckled and turned away, and then he overheard her asking God, “Are you in there?” When no answer came, she grew impatient and spoke on God’s behalf. With a voice deepened as much as a six-year-old can make it, she said, “Yes.”
This is a delightful child’s way of understanding what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”
No, the death of Christ on the cross did not seem like a victory. But the victory was realized in the Resurrection! And it is found in God’s continuing work, shining through people to us, and shining through us to others.
On this Sunday before we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., we will remember that God works in ways that are different from our ways. While we would seek a Lion to fight for us, God sends a Lamb to die for us, and shows us a new way to fight. Dr. King showed people how to stand up for their rights with nonviolence and love.
He said, “We will counter your force with soul force; we will match your ability to hate with our ability to love.”
This weapon of love is an extremely effective weapon. Instead of wishing to destroy those who opposed him, King worked to develop a friendship with them—to free the oppressors while freeing the oppressed!
If John the Baptizer had looked at Jesus that day by the river and said, “Behold the Lion of God, who comes to track down sinners in the world,” it would have made sense to us. But in calling Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” John turns on a light—and reveals something of the peculiarity of the way God saves us in Jesus the Christ.