Sermon 15 January 2017

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our Lord and Saviour. Amen

 

Sheep farmers, who have Suffolk sheep (lovely white sheep with black faces), will now be in the middle of their busiest time of year: lambing starts early for them and it is a frantic time. Someone needs to be with the ewes 24/7 to ensure that lambs are born safely and that ewes, who are having trouble giving birth, are helped.

If a lamb dies it gets skinned and a twin lamb is taken from another ewe. The skin of the dead lamb is then wrapped around the foster lamb to transfer the scent and if all goes well the ewe accepts the lamb as her own. And so two lambs have plenty of milk from a ewe each. Lambs are precious even in modern farming.

Our gospel story today tells us John’s version of Jesus’ baptism. When the Baptist sees Jesus coming he says, as if to himself or us: “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

What did John the Baptist mean by calling Jesus the lamb of God? Did he see a vulnerable, helpless man approach, in need of feeding and protection? By no means. Jesus was a carpenter, trained by Joseph in the family business. Jesus would have been strong and able.

Calling Jesus the lamb of God must have meant something else. Two things spring to mind. Firstly it is a characteristic of lambs that they are extremely able to distinguish their mother’s voice from among dozens of others calling around them. There is no mistaking it. Jesus was equally focused and able to hear the voice of God.

Secondly John the Baptist was referring to the Jewish Passover celebrations. Every year Jews still share a lamb at their Pesach meal among their family in accordance with the instructions from Exodus 12,15. The lamb is roasted and eaten in memory of the last night in slavery, when Israel was preparing to leave to gain freedom from oppression.

In Jesus’ time hundreds of years had passed since those events and Israel felt oppressed and enslaved by the Roman authorities – in their own land! Israel was waiting for liberation again. Some like the Zealots chose violent rebellion. Most though were hoping for God’s Messiah, which means the anointed one or in Greek Christos, to come and free God’s people.

John declares Jesus to be the one, whom he was sent to announce. He tells us of Jesus’ baptism and his vision of the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Jesus. John is convinced that Jesus is the lamb of God, the one sent to be Israel’s  nourishment, sign and seal of liberation from sin, from all that separates mankind from God, the source of life and love. John is convinced that Jesus is the son of God.

 

Last week we remembered the gifts of the wise men and how these gifts point us towards Jesus being the King of Kings, a vulnerable man and God’s son.

This week John the Baptist announces to us and to two disciples that Jesus is the sacrificial gift of God, come to us to liberate us and to set us free.

 

Andrew and his friend are intrigued and spend the day with Jesus, who invites them to follow: “Come and see!” And Andrew is left in no doubt. He goes to his brother Simon and tells him to come as well, as they have found the Messiah, the anointed one, the longed for leader and liberator of Israel!

 

Now do not imagine that this invitation to “Come and See” by the Lamb of God is an invitation to religious lift off from the harsh realities of this world. On the contrary. God has come in Jesus into this world to live and redeem IT, not to deny it!

 

On the 19 December 2016 Rabbi Lionel Blue died aged 86. Lionel Blue was one of the most esteemed religious leaders of this country and many people went to work chuckling after hearing his thought for the day on Radio 4 of a Monday morning.

The jokes which invariably ended each 3 minute talk were usually both funny and pointed and played to Jewish stereotypes, for example:

“Nazi to Jew: ‘You Jews are the cause of all the trouble,’

Jew to Nazi: ‘Yes, Jews and bicycle riders,’

Nazi: ‘Why bicycle riders?’

Jew: ‘Why Jews?’”

 

Allow me to quote from one of Lionel Blue’s reflections:

 “I went into religion partly because I was not very good at dealing with the world. I thought this was my unworldliness, but it was in fact my fear and incompetence. In my innocence I confused spirituality with droopiness and I imagined myself with equally droopy colleagues, sighing blessings to each other.

I got a rude shock. Synagogue (and church) general meetings are not the communion of saints, and an awful lot of religious business is concerned with balance sheets, not blessings….you have to be very competent to keep the show on the road – and I don’t mean any disrespect.

This led to a crisis in my religious life. My religious organisation was a place where I gave blessings; this was after all what I was paid to do. But it was not a place where I seemed to receive any – at least not obviously.  As my teacher tartly remarked when I complained to him, the congregation employed me to solve their problems, I didn’t pay them to solve mine.

Blessings did come to me, but not from the place I had expected. They flowed into me from the worldly world I had rejected. A major source of ideas for sermons and spirituality came to me in airport lounges, bars, cafes (not always the genteel ones) and bus queues. To my astonishment the still small voice of God spoke to me through the clamour of the juke-box.

I remember a song from Marlene Dietrich: ”Where have all the flowers gone?” she sang. Young girls had picked them. They had given them to their men. The men had gone to war and got killed. Out of their graves flowers grew. Where had they gone, those flowers? Well, young girls picked them…

In a café in Germany I looked up and saw a young girl and a boy at the next table. A vase of flowers separated them. The full tragedy of Europe came home to me, and I knew the work I must do. So many people had to be reconciled to break that terrible repetition. God had spoken. (Lionel Blue, Bright Blue: Rabbi Lionel Blue’s Thoughts for the Day, BBC 1985, pp 11-12)

 

Jesus, the liberating lamb of God, still invites us to come and see, come and follow his leading and see the world with his eyes, loving it passionately and offering it blessing against all that destroys and kills.

Jesus does not say come and look – we are not invited to be bystanders in admiration or admonition, critiquing what the bad old world is doing.

We are asked to see, to have insights because we are loved and we are sent to love. We are invited to see with different eyes and look deeper to discover what needs to be done to honour God’s creation and work his justice for all nations.

 

Today’s OT passage is one of the most important texts in the OT showing the radical will of God to break ethnic boundaries.

“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.”

God the creator embraces all of humanity and Israel and by extension all who follow Jesus are called to embrace all of humanity, God’s beloved creation.

 

 

But let’s face it: many here have been faithful Christians for many a year and have we seen a difference in the world? Has it really made a difference what we believed, whom we followed?

 

The passage from Isaiah today (49,1-7) is the second of the four so called Servant

Songs, written in exile in Babylon, where Israel’s faith was in severe danger of being abandoned.

 

A tired and downcast Isaiah says:

But I said, “I have labored in vain,
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity… (49:4a).

 

How many among us are able to relate to this sentiment? How many feel that they are getting nowhere or that what they are doing is not being valued at work, at home or in church.

And how many people outside the church, young and older, also suffer serious pressure and become depressed because of what they feel our society demands of them by way of looks, talents, time, effort or success?

 

Well, here is God’s good news: God calls everyone! No one is barred from his kingdom and not needed or valued, whether academic or practically gifted or all shades in between! God calls the high paid folk and the street beggars equally, those deemed good looking and those looking differently.

 

Look and see what Jesus did. He was a great teacher of God but behaved so differently from the teachers, the rabbis of his time.

 

Rabbis would look out the brightest of the village boys and groom them to become their successors. Jesus in contrast walked about and invited anyone interested to come and see and to become a disciple.

 

So Jesus soon went about with fishermen, tax collectors, women, cripples and sick folk or those cured from their ills and they were having a good time together; Jesus was famed for being a wine drinker and party goer.

 

And so it is still. We do not have to be clever or gifted to be Jesus’ friends and disciples, learning the ways of God, just have to dare to come and see. We are challenged to dare to take the first steps into a life, which will be challenging the selfish ways, the unjust ways, the greedy ways of life lived without God’s Spirit.

 

For this is what Jesus came to do: to invite everyone to follow him and see. He wants us to follow in his way and on this way, on this journey he wants us to learn to live love, to live graciously and practice kindness and mercy.

 

His Spirit of love will be our guide on this way and help us to grow and find the place where we are meant to be. For this we need to get up and go, we need to come and see, go and open our eyes to new ways and try them out at home, at work and at church.

 

For example how about becoming a church visitor visiting the housebound, the lonely and sick among us? See the Order of Service for details.

 

How about supporting those far away by buying fairly traded goods, or supporting those unfairly imprisoned around the world by supporting the work of Amnesty International and writing messages of encouragement to prisoners and letters of concern to authorities?

 

Or how about reaching out to neighbours from other backgrounds?

 

God’s Spirit has come in Christ, the lamb of God, among us to set us free to love.

God’s Spirit is working still in our midst, calling: Come and See!

Does it make a difference? When people are open and caring for one another – yes, it will make a great deal of difference wherever you are!

 

So let us listen to Jesus’ call, let’s come and see and let’s go and serve.

Amen