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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany - 1/20

          What are you looking for?  Those are Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of John.  It’s a good question and it’s a question to which John provides a number of possible answers concerning what people might be looking for in Jesus.  Just in the relatively short lesson today we have Jesus called the Lamb of God, the Son of God, Rabbi, teacher, Messiah and Anointed One.  John is also the gospel where Jesus is identified as the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Bread from heaven, the Light of the world, the Vine, you get the idea.  These are all possible answers to “What are you looking for,” but John has in mind that there is one thing that we really ought to be looking for in Jesus, one answer that is more correct than the others.  

Eventually John says that the purpose of his gospel is “so that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.”  So, it almost seems that what John does throughout is to throw out these different images and names for Jesus so that we can consider them with the idea being that they can help us come to understand Jesus correctly as the Messiah, the Son of God.

          For John there definitely is a progression to these images and identities.  None of them are wrong, but as the purpose of his gospel says, Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as the Son of God, is at the top of the progression.  So when Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” out of all the possibilities there is only one life giving answer that maybe doesn’t tell us what we’re looking for, but it does tell us what we need, what we should be looking for.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  

          Today’s gospel text is about Jesus calling disciples although in this account, it’s more John the Baptist pointing his followers toward Jesus than it is Jesus actually calling them.  Jesus really doesn’t do much calling in John.  John the Baptist points his followers to Jesus and then they kind of call each other.  But John the Baptist is clear about who Jesus is as he points to him; he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; he is the Son of God.” 

The end result, whether it’s a call story or a pointing story, is that Jesus winds up with disciples who respond.  That response is important but as we hear call stories during the season of Epiphany (and every year we get one, sometimes two weeks of them), as we hear these call stories we have to remember that the season of Epiphany is about the identity of Jesus being revealed so before we talk about the disciples it’s important to consider what these call stories say about Jesus.

           I suppose the most obvious thing they say is that Jesus calls disciples; that’s part of who he is and what he does, or maybe another way to put it would be to say that the story of Jesus isn’t just about him but that it involves a community of followers in relationship with him starting with those first ones, Andrew and Simon Peter and the other disciples all the way down through the early church fathers to the Reformers like Luther to the church of today in its many different forms.  Jesus reveals a god who wants to be in relationship; that’s significant.  But how we follow, how we engage in that relationship goes back to the identity question.

          It gets back to some of those names and images that John offers in his gospel.  For example, one of the things that Jesus is called in today’s lesson is Rabbi which as the text notes means teacher.  If our answer to “What are you looking for?  is “a teacher,” well, we’ve found one.  Is that a correct and proper identification of Jesus?  Yes.  In fact, probably anyone who knows anything about Jesus at all would identify him as a great teacher.  Can one follow and admire Jesus as a teacher?  Yes.  Again, very few would argue that he was a profound teacher of ethics and morals so Christian or not they could admire him, perhaps try to follow his teachings.  I would guess that during Jesus’ earthly life, many people, probably most people, probably even his closest followers would have come to regard him this way.  Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher.

          But eventually some saw more.  For some it would have started during his life but mostly in light of his passion and resurrection many more began to follow Jesus in a different way because they did experience Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Identifying Jesus this way changes things.  It puts the emphasis on relationship.  It becomes a relationship with a living being, the Risen Christ, a living God, not just a relationship with a set of ideas and teachings.

          That sounds good; but what does it mean to be in this relationship.  For that answer we can look in a lot of places, there’s lots of books and articles written about it, but today’s psalm, Psalm 40 gives us a pretty comprehensive proposal for what it looks like.  First of all it’s a relationship that starts with trust, with reliance on the Lord.  “Happy are they who trust in the Lord.”  Let’s play with this a little bit.  The Hebrew word for trust can be defined as confident expectation.  Happy are those who have confident expectation in the Lord.  That makes it a relationship where we expect something.  We expect God/the Lord/Jesus to act on our behalf and it’s not just wishful thinking, it’s expectation!  It means that we not only believe that God has acted in the past through the great characters of the Bible but that we are confident that God is still involved and will continue to be involved, that God can and will act again.  That means we believe that patterns of this world that are contrary to God’s will and that seem unchangeable, like war and injustice, we believe that they will change, that God will act, that something new is still possible.

          According to the psalm though, that doesn’t mean that we just sit back and wait in expectation for God to act.  An honest relationship is a two way street.  We have confident expectation in the Lord, but he in turn expects something from us.  So we trust, but we also act; “I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep within me.”  On our side of this relationship we are open to God’s instruction not as a burden but as something we love.  In a world that is pretty subjective, where freedom is defined as deciding for ourselves what is good for us, we say no; in this divine relationship freedom is obedience…obedience to God’s will, God’s law, God’s Word as perfectly revealed in the person and life and teaching of Jesus, not just because we admire him as a great teacher, but because he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the revelation of God.

          And, according to the psalm, we also talk about it.  “I have spoken of your faithfulness and deliverance; I have not concealed your steadfast love and truth from the great assembly.”  Part of our response is to boldly proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Son of God, just as John the Baptist did.  These Epiphany texts reveal the identity of Jesus and Jesus himself reveals a God who desires relationship.  In this relationship, we trust in the Lord, we praise the Lord, we’re obedient and we share the good news.

          But…this psalm also tells us something else about this relationship.  The trouble is it’s in the final six verses that the lectionary didn’t include.  Before I get to those though, first let’s go back to Happy are they who trust in the Lord.  I wish I could say that I am always happy in this relationship.  But I’m not.  I wish I could say that I always love to do your will, O my God.  But I don’t.  There are times when it’s a troubling relationship with a God who doesn’t always meet my expectations and I certainly often don’t meet his.  It’s not as easy as the psalm makes it sound…but then there’s the final six verses.

          Following the praise and the confident expectation the psalmist lapses into complaint about “evils that have encompassed me without number, iniquities that have overtaken me until I cannot see.”  I know how that feels; you know how that feels.  I’m glad verses like this are there because I need them and I don’t think the lectionary should protect us from them because they show that this relationship can be complicated; life is not always what we want it to be and our joy and our trust and our praise of God can quickly be assaulted by the realities of life.

          What this shows though, is that the God we know in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Jesus revealed during Epiphany invites us into an honest relationship.  With this God we don’t have to fake it.  God wants our praise but he can handle and respond to our complaint too. 

          If that’s what you’re looking for, a god who stoops and hears your cry, as the psalm says, if that’s what you’re looking for, look at Jesus, the Christ and Behold the Messiah, the Son of God.    


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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