Wednesday, February 23, 2005

2 Epiphany A

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-41

I have some important advice for all you young folks still living at really do have to clean up your room when your parents tell you to, because they can get back at you! I'm not talking about getting grounded or having your cell phone taken away or anything like that....I'm talking about fifteen, twenty years from now, when you've got a house of your own, full of all your grown-up stuff, which you may or may not keep clean....

It starts so innocently, as though it was a favor to you. When you open your birthday card, you are surprised and happy to see four or five pictures of friends from summer camp, pictures you know were stuck up on a bulletin board in your room back home....Then when your parents come for Thanksgiving they bring along a couple of high school yearbooks, just for fun....Then comes a trophy from a third grade spelling bee, the photo album you made when you got your first polaroid camera....

Then your mom comes to visit you in your new home in Mississippi, and unloads no less than ten boxes from your bedroom back home, and when she comes back for Christmas she brings five more. I've been unpacking boxes forever, it seems, and now the rooms in my house - all of them - are a mess with the things I never would clean up fifteen, twenty years ago....

To be honest, what makes unpacking tough is that I get so wrapped up in the memories bundled in butcher paper, and I dwell over each thing I pull out of the boxes. I read each word, study each picture, hold each figurine and stuffed animal to remember what I loved so much about them when I was younger.

A discovery in one of the Christmas boxes was particularly special. It was a shoebox, filled with letters and cards, packed so tightly that you can't pull one out without upsetting the others. One of them is a birthday card from Kitty and Jerry, my first EYC leaders. They were goofy and kind and faithful, and they made sure this quiet little sixth grader didn't ever feel left out. There are dozens of letters from friends I met at camp and at youth retreats. Hope, who was the first person I remember sitting down to tell me why she believed in Jesus Christ....Pollye, who was inseparable from me for so many years, who was always there when I needed a friend....Kim, who wrote volumes of poetry that I now see traced a profound journey of faith....

I hadn't thought about these people in so long, but as my own journey of faith is approaching a significant checkpoint in the form of my ordination, it has been an unexpected gift to have the opportunity to visit again with mentors and friends whose witness, whose words and example, set my feet on the road in the first place.

Our readings today all speak toward what it means to be a witness, to be one whose word and example are a testimony to the love and saving power of God in the world, in our lives. The prophet Isaiah writes of a servant called by God to be a witness to the exiled people of Israel, to restore both their faith and their land. The Lord called me from before I was born....and he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Our own Paul writes to the people of Corinth, calling them people who were sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. In today's gospel reading, John the Baptizer can't seem to stop bearing witness: Here is the Lamb of God...This is he...I myself have seen and have testified that he is the Son of God. And Andrew, more quietly, perhaps, than John but no less signficantly, bears witness to his brother, Simon, who will be renamed Peter. We have found the Messiah.

Of course there are many, many other witnesses in scripture, women and men whose very lives, if not also the words from their mouths, spoke of the love and saving power of God. In the Old Testament we hear from Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, a lively succession of judges and kings and prophets, and a smattering of women and men who were on the fringes of the world but whose faith placed them at the very center of the story of creation. In the New Testament we hear from Mary the mother of Jesus, Anna and Simeon in the temple, John the Baptizer, at least twelve disciples, another smattering of folks on the fringe, Paul the convert, the women and men of the earliest Christian communities....They are all witnesses, people whose word and example set others' feet on the road to faith.

I submit to you this morning that we, too, are called to be witnesses - called from before we were born, called to be saints, called to come and see and enter into relationship with and testify about Jesus Christ. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? At our baptisms, we or someone speaking on our behalf, responded I will....I will proclaim by word and example....I will, with God's help. We are called to be witnesses, called to say something with our very lives, if not also the words from our mouths, about Jesus.

And the world is watching and listening to our witness, just as it watched and listened to the witness of our ancestors in faith. Sometimes it watches and listens in order to catch us in a mistake and show us for frauds. Sometimes it watches and listens in order to meet God. Either way, our lives speak and our words matter and our witness is made.

From time to time, the space between heaven and earth grows thin and people encounter God in profound and mysterious ways. But most of the time people encounter God in perhaps profound, but really quite ordinary ways - in the witness of people like Isaiah and Paul and John and Andrew, like Kitty and Jerry and Hope and Pollye and Kim. In the witness of peoplel like you and like me. God is encountered most often in the space between two people.

God is encountered most often in the space between two people....which means that God is encountered most often in the space between two gloriously unique and yet frustratingly imperfect creatures, called from before we were born to be saints yet born with the seemingly irresistable urge to be sinners. Bearing witness does not depend on our having it all together or having it exactly as good as someone else who is a witness has it. But the world teaches us to measure ourselves against one another, to measure success, to measure results. And so we have learned a tremendous fear of inadequacy and failure. If only I had said this. If only I hadn't done that....

It's nothing new. Isaiah's servant, called to bear witness to a people who had lost their faith, was apparently disappointed with his results. I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity. God's response to the weary servant is stunning. 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.

Incredibly, God meets the servant's doubt with faith, with a renewed call to witness even more widely than before. So God meets our doubt with faith, faith in us to be what God calls us to be despite what feels like our inadequacy for the task. God meets our doubt with faith.

It's nothing new. God listened to every doubt Moses had about his ability to be a witness, and then called him anyway. God watched the people of Israel bear witness to other gods, and then called them anyway. Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his closest followers, and then he sent them anyway to bear witness to his resurrection. God has faith in us. God believes in us. It seems there is little we can do to convice God otherwise. Now there's something to bear witness to.

Our witness is, very simply, our response to our encounter with the One who loves us despite ourselves, who believes in us even when we cannot. For most of us, that encounter was made possible by someone like Kitty or Jerry, like Hope or Pollye or Kim....someone who bore witness to their encounter with the One who loves us despite ourselves, who believes in us even when we cannot. And someone bore witness to them, and someone bore witness to them....and back it goes to the afternoon John the Baptizer pointed at Jesus and exclaimed, Look, here is the Lamb of God!

This morning we will baptize N., and her parents and godparents will promise that, with God's help, they will by their prayers and witness help her to grow into the full stature of Christ. We will all promise to support her in her life in Christ, her life that will one day itself be a witness in ways none of us yet know....

Our lives speak, our words matter, and our witness is made. So let us proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ in every encounter, in our own unique and imperfect ways. God responds to our doubt with faith; let us respond to God's faith with our witness. Amen.

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