First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7
1Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 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 cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” 5And now the Lord says, who formed me in 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 sight 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 restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to 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 nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Gospel: John 1:29-42
29[John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is 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 ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Gospel has John pointing out the Lamb of God to some of John’s own disciples, and at least one of those disciples, Andrew, ends up following Jesus rather than John. The other disciple is not named, so we cannot be certain if it was another one of the Twelve.
When Andrew fetches his brother Simon, Jesus immediately gives him the name of Cephas, or Peter—at least in this writer’s telling of the story.
The focus today is not really on Jesus giving Simon a new name, not really on that name being the Greek version of the Roman Peter, which means Rock, and is equated with the solid rock of Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah in the other tellings of the story. Here it’s not even Peter who makes that determination, who calls Jesus the Messiah, but Andrew. And Andrew gets it, in a way, from John the Baptist.
John called Jesus the Lamb of God. That doesn’t sound like Messiah. Messiah means, “anointed one,” or, one might say, “chosen one.” What is a lamb chosen for?
A lamb, at least in the Hebrew tradition, was not chosen to be a cuddly pet. The lamb was chosen to be used as sacrifice, the most well-known would be for celebration of the Passover observance.
So when Johns points to Jesus and declares him to be the “Lamb of God,” his very choice of title foreshadows Jesus’ death.
But Andrew and his brother Simon somehow seem to miss that, or to gloss over it. Andrew describes Jesus to his brother as the anointed one, the Messiah, the one chosen by God, they believed, to bring Israel back to prominence.
So what am I doing here, if that isn’t the focus? Of course Jesus is always the focus of what we do as church, or at least that’s as it should be! The very word “church” comes from Jesus’ title in Greek, from “Christ.”
The first reading, the one from Isaiah, is the one that rises to prominence, particularly because of the Gospel reading, declaring Jesus as the chosen one of God. The first reading is all about being chosen. The prophet speaks of being chosen even before birth! But even then, things are not easy. Words are like a sharp sword, and so often it seems that what we do is ineffective. Listen again to verse 4, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;” (remember that vanity means emptiness, and not just a puffed-up vision of one’s self). The verse continues, “yet, surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
Our translation puts a period at the end of that sentence, but I wonder if there shouldn’t be a question mark, because it sounds to me as if the prophet is questioning as much as declaring. “I was chosen before birth, but everything I do seems useless, empty! Please tell me I didn’t get it wrong! Please tell me I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing!”
It’s what people all over the church are asking today. Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing, when fewer and fewer people seem to gather for Sunday School and worship on Sunday mornings? Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing, when we dip further into congregational savings just to meet regular expenses? Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing, when so many of our young stop coming, stop engaging, become like strangers?
There is a church in Cottage Grove (MN, part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area) that is closing. They have an average of 25 people worshiping weekly. The kicker is that the building will reopen in November with the same name, but they want most of the present members to worship elsewhere, because they’re old (they call 60 old!), and the church wants to attract younger people. And they want the current members to keep up the space while it’s closed, things like mowing the lawn, and give money for expenses.
It’s not an ELCA congregation. In the ELCA, the congregation has the power to make those kinds of decisions. However, the questions are the same. Are we doing something wrong? How can we become more inviting to more people, so that they want to gather here with us?
Someone asked me the other day what I had done in these years since I arrived to try improve the situation of our congregation. I did respond with an answer, but the question really belongs to all of us, and the answer does, too. We, as people of God have been chosen, chosen not as ballast, useful only to keep a ship in balance, but to be a light to the nations.
Again from our first reading: It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel. (In other words, that’s not enough. It’s not enough to go back to where things were in the glory days. Instead,) … I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
We have been chosen; each and every one of us has been chosen by God. You are chosen by God to shine God’s light in this world, in this neighborhood, in this community. You can’t count on me or the rest of the staff here at Concordia to be the church for you. You can’t decide that it’s someone else’s turn now. You are chosen to be the light, to be the welcome, to be the church, to be the body of Christ. It is too light a thing to try to bring back the past. Instead, you are called to be light to the nations today, proclaiming the lamb of God who died—for us, and for all the world.
In Jesus’ name. Amen