2nd Sunday after Epiphany
The beautiful Missouri river begins in the Rocky Mountains of southern Montana. It flows nearly 4000 miles on its way to the sea.
As it flows through North Dakota, it meets the massive Garrison Dam. I’ve been there many times and I always find it striking, as I drive over the dam, to observe how different the north side of the dam is from the south side. On the north side is Lake Sakakawea, the vast reservoir created by the dam. On the south side is the river continuing largely in the same manner it has for many centuries.
The dam marks a transition point. It’s the same water that moves downstream, but above the dam and below the dam are totally different worlds. Habitats are different, the landscapes, the wildlife and vegetation. The water is different. It’s the same water, but it moves differently; it works differently. The world of the water is changed after it moves through the dam and the river reclaims it on the way to the ocean.
A moment of transition, moving from one world to another, is also at the heart of today’s Gospel lesson.
The text relates the dramatic moment when the ministry of John the Baptist comes into contact with the emerging ministry of Christ.
What I notice when I first read the text are things that are left out rather than things that are there. For example, there’s no baptism of Jesus mentioned in the story. Also, the name of one of the first two disciples to meet Jesus is omitted. Who is he?
There’s no explanation as to why, for two days, on two separate occasions, John is standing about as Jesus walks by. There’s no direct interaction between them… no exchange of words. Why is that?
And what happens when Jesus brings the two disciples to the place he is staying? What is said? What do they do? Is the place Jesus is staying a tent in the area? Or is it someone’s house some distance away? When and where does Peter meet Jesus? None of this is clear at all?
It’s very hard to form a good picture of the action in today’s text. It seems confused… almost like biblical gibberish.
Scripture often reads this way when we are looking for one thing and the text is trying to show us something else.
The purpose of this section of the Gospel of John is to mark the transition from the time of John to the time of Jesus. The moment described in today’s Gospel is like the Garrison Dam along the course of the Missouri River. It establishes a transition point in the lives of those who had been drawn to John the Baptist.
They will be the same flesh and blood, before and after they meet Jesus, but their lives will take a new direction… their lives will come to look different, feel different… be different.
John’s purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ time has come. Those who followed John now must redirect their eyes and their energy. They must alter their course. It is time for something new. That is the message of today’s Gospel.
John was a very important figure in the world of the early church… so much so that the early Christian writers felt it was important to state clearly for the record that this moment of transition came and went.
This experience of transition… becoming something new… moving into new life… is the experience all Christians are called to. It should define who we are and how we live. The moment of transition for us is marked by our baptism. As we grow and live out our baptism, we, like the waters of the Missouri River, find ourselves moving into something new.
God calls all of us to new life. He calls us to hear his voice, open our minds to his teaching, open our hearts to his love and follow where he leads. We are to do this so that the power of God can work in us and we can become the people we were created to be. This, of course, means that we will change. Over time, as the spirit of God works in us, we will come to think differently, act differently, be different. There is a fancy term for this change, this growth that is to occur in us. It is sanctification.
In our second lesson today, the apostle Paul uses that word in his letter to the Corinthians. He opens his letter: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus…:” In other words, he is saying, “To those who are being made new in Christ Jesus… those in whom the spirit of God is creating new life.”
Paul continues: “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…”
We know that our Christian life is to unfold this way because we see that was the nature of Jesus’ ministry. He enters people’s lives and heals, teaches, forgives and then sends people on their way to rejoin their family and friends and community as new people. He gives them strength and grace to live differently. We see that in the disciples, like Peter, Andrew, James and John. We see it in others he meets, like Zacchaeus, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
We hear this message in Jesus’ teachings and in his parables.
Other New Testament writers speak of it as well. Paul, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians writes: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
In the letter to the Ephesians, we read: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 10)
The writer to the Colossians writes: “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Colossians 3:14-16a)
That is the life we are called to as Christians… a life of growth and change… a life of becoming a new creation in Christ… becoming what God intends us to be.
Just as it was important for followers of John to understand that the moment of transition had come to them, so it is for us. We must understand that our baptism… our moment of transition into the family of God has come and it is time for us to move away from the old and into the new.
For you students here, you especially need to grasp this. You need to be aware that an important moment of transition is upon you.
For 19 years I’ve been a part of the Heart River family. That’s longer than any of you students have been alive. I have seen many students come and go in that time. When they leave I always hope that they will find new life, not return to the old. Occasionally, in the time before they leave, I get to talk a bit with students about their thoughts and plans as they get ready to move on.
One thing I have learned to listen for in these conversations is whether they understand that they have come to a critical crossroads in life. Do they understand that everything must be different now? They are the same flesh and blood that entered this institution, but now they must move into new waters, live in a different way, think differently than they did when they came here.
Those who understand this, and who find a little bit of help along the way, do fine. They are able to move into a new and hopeful future. Those who don’t can’t make the transition. The old life reclaims them. Nothing new comes.
Understanding that transition is upon us… and that growth and change are required… is critical in life. It’s critical in our calling as Christians. The writer of the Gospel of John wanted his readers to see this so that they would seek it for their lives.
May we all see when the time for change and growth is upon us. And may we respond by living the words of the hymn we now sing:
Let us walk in the light of the Lord…
Let us live every day as our last…
Let us grow ever closer in love…
Let us bring forth your realm on the earth…
May we learn to be children again…
We are still on our way, we are going home together;
Let us walk in the light of the Lord.