Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 19, 2014, Year A
Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A life of faith is dynamic. What I mean by this is that faith can sometimes seem like a rollercoaster. There are times where you might be so confident in what you believe, confident in God’s love and presence in your life, confident that no matter what happens to you, you are in the loving arms of God. Then there are times where you might doubt God and your faith, wonder what the meaning of life is, even be all out furious with God who seems absent and not real. There can be times too, when you are ready to give up all together and you are whipped around a corner by a glimpse of God present and as real as ever.
I personally have experienced the highs and lows of faith. In fact, I have yet to meet someone who has never doubted, never struggled with what faith means in a world where “seeing” and “hearing” God seems to be nearly impossible at times. John the Baptist gives us a good understanding of what a life of faith can be like.
We hear him today on the street witnessing to anyone who will listen: “Everyone! Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!…I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him…I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Can you imagine being on the street and hearing this from one who wears camel hair and eats locusts and wild honey? Is it enough to raise your curiosity seeing and hearing this street corner preacher, enough to make you wonder if it is really true and has anything to do with you? Or perhaps you are a little weirded out, so you move to the other side of the street and pick up your pace saying to your friend, “What a crazy dude.”
In today’s reading we hear and see that John is confident and sure that Jesus is God in the flesh, the One who has come to redeem all people, all things. John cannot help but share what he has seen, what he has heard, what he believes to be true.
Let’s fast forward a few years when John is thrown into prison. John was arrested for telling the truth, for saying things he believed. It was from prison that he sends his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another (Matt. 11.3)?” John is at a low point in his life. He’s sitting in prison and questioning his faith in the one in whom he stood on a street corner preaching about.
Is Jesus who I think he is? Was I foolish to believe in him? Does it even matter? Even John’s life of faith is dynamic as he tries to have trust in the God who walks the earth in Jesus, the One John calls, “The lamb of God.”
We don’t hear Jesus called, “The Lamb of God,” often in Scripture, in fact it’s only in two books in the whole Bible: here in our reading today in John, and the title also appears in the book of Revelation. Many scholars disagree on what Jesus being the Lamb of God actually means, especially when it comes to taking away the sin of the world; however, most know it has something to do with the cross, with death, and with giving up his life for the sake of all.
Instead of going into great theological detail about the Lamb of God and confusing all of us, I would like to simply tell a story and let it be for us what it will. What John the Baptist does is witness to what he has seen and heard as it pertains to Jesus, and I am moved to do the same.
Many of you know I was gone last Sunday. I was not here because I was in Decorah, IA, where my first husband, Ben, is buried. Last Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of his death, as well as the fourth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.
Jon, Ben, and me were in Haiti together on January 12, 2010, when the earth began to move. All three of us were sitting at a table together with a friend who was in his 70’s on the fourth floor of a six floor home. The concrete building we were in started to sway and shake. All four of us panicked and scattered. By the time I understood what was happening, the two floors above us collapsed on top of us. I saw and felt the ceiling come down as the earth continued to shake violently. When the shaking stopped I realized I was still alive, but I did not know who else was.
I started calling out for Ben and Jon in the dark while crawling on my stomach in the small pocket of space. Jon and I found each other, but we could not find Ben and we could not hear him when we called out. We realized we were trapped as we tried to get out, unsuccessfully. Finally we saw a small circle of light coming through a hole in the concrete. We kicked and tore at the hole to make it big enough for us to crawl out of it and onto the roof of the building that was still barely standing.
It was then that I began to realize the depth of the destruction of the earthquake. All of Port-au-Prince was covered in a thick haze of concrete dust. Building after building was collapsed. I could hear people crying out for help and for their loved ones. I started to do the same as I searched for Ben. Aftershocks continued and I clung to the roof on my hands and knees just waiting for the building to crumble beneath me. Jon clung to the iron cross that still stood on top of the roof.
After some time, the man in his 70’s appeared, bloodied and yelling, “I hear him! I hear him!” Filled with hope I ran back to the hole Jon and I crawled out of. I could not see Ben beneath all the rubble, but I could hear him. He wasn’t crying out for help; he was singing. He was singing the Lamb of God we sing in worship before we share in Holy Communion. “Oh Lamb of God,” he sang, “you bear the sin of all the world away; Eternal peace with God you made, give us your peace we pray.”
After he finished his song, I asked him to keep singing so that we could find him. I kept listening, but I heard nothing more. Understanding he gave his last breath as a song for his Lord, and a witness to the presence of Jesus in death, I told him I loved him. I don’t even know if he heard me, but I like to believe he did. Ben died that day in the earthquake in Haiti along with nearly 300,000 others. He was buried so deep that it took three whole days to dig his body out.
For a long time it really bothered me that Ben died alone, but when I think of his song, his singing about the Lamb of God, it is clear to me that he was not alone. Christ was with him in his dying because Jesus is the Lamb, the One who knows death and is not afraid of it. Never have I witnessed such tragedy, despair, and death; and yet, right in the midst of it, there was and still is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I can’t explain it; I just have seen it and I’ve heard it.
Why do I share this very sad and difficult story with you today in worship? I share it because it is something I have seen and heard. I share it because it is Ben’s witness to the Lamb of God present in this world and as real as ever. I share it because it points to Jesus, the light that shines in the darkness. I share it because I hope this story may strengthen your faith in God, no matter where you are on the roller coaster of life.
It has taken me three and a ½ years to share this story from the pulpit with you. It is far from easy, but how would you know it if I would not tell you? No one receives proof of God…just testimonies: Witnesses of John the Baptist, my witness, your stories of what you have seen and heard of God in your life…Stories that are worth sharing because they speak of the Word made flesh among us.
Like you, I am sure, there are days in which I feel strong in my faith, and other days in which I wonder what is real and true, how God is present in this world bringing about new life in what can seem to be endless hardship and struggle. But then I read Scripture, I remember Ben’s song in his dying, and am among all of you here and I am reminded of the mysterious and faithful God who dies so that we may live, even in death.
At the end of the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verse 31, we understand the purpose of John the Baptist’s witness, and really all of Scripture: “These [stories] are written [down for you all] so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.