Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany 01/19/2020

I read this week in the latest issue of Christian Century that after analyzing fifty thousand sermons from six thousand five hundred congregations, the Pew Research Center determined that the median length of all the sermons was 37 minutes. Catholics were the shortest at 14 minutes, historically black Protestant churches were the longest at 54 minutes. Mainline Protestant congregations, that’s us, came in at 25 minutes. From that I could only conclude that I’ve been short changing you all these years. I don’t know for sure but I’m thinking I come in closest to the Catholic 14 minutes so I’ve got lots of catching up to do; I owe you a lot of minutes.

Well, you don’t have to worry about me catching up today; if anything I think I’ll be bringing the median down. Besides, I’m pretty sure that right now some of you are thinking more about how the Packers are going to do tonight than you are about anything I might say. Still, I’ll try to reel you in here for a few minutes and get you to think about the season of Epiphany and Jesus’ identity being revealed.

As his identity begins to be revealed, one of things we find is that part of who Jesus is has to do with disciples. I said last week that his identity is never just about him, it always has to do with others and this is another example of that. To be who he is supposed to be, Jesus needs disciples, he needs followers, and so this week and next week there are stories about him calling disciples.

Today we get John’s version of Jesus calling disciples and as usual, John approaches things differently than the other gospels. He starts with John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If we’re looking for information about Jesus’ identity, that’s a mouthful and is worthy of sermon, but not today. That statement though, leads two of John’s disciples to follow Jesus. On seeing them, Jesus then asks, “What are you looking for?” Those are Jesus’ first words in the gospel of John as I said last week, in each of the gospels his first words are worthy of attention.

What are you looking for? It’s a good question but not an easy question then or now mainly because a lot of the time I don’t think we really know; we can feel like we’re searching for something but it can be hard to put into words just what that something is. The way John tells it, the two disciples who followed Jesus didn’t know either, they didn’t have an answer. In John’s gospel you probably wouldn’t expect a logical answer anyway as his dialogues almost never proceed in a logical, straightforward fashion and that’s the case here.

Based on what John the Baptist said about Jesus being the Lamb of God, for the two disciples the logical answer to Jesus’ question would have been, “We’re looking for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” but no; instead the disciples pose another question, one that seems unrelated to Jesus’ question which is also par for the course in John. They pretty much change the subject and ask, “Where are you staying?” to which Jesus responds, “Come and see.”

With that, the “What are you looking for?” question is more or less left hanging. There is no definitive answer and there’s not going to be one and I would have to think that that’s intentional on John’s part. Instead of a logical, narrative flow in what he writes, John offers ideas and images and dialogues and questions that seem designed to make you think about the nature of your faith for one thing, and with that to think about who you are and who God is and who Jesus is. In other words, John is much more a book of questions than it is a book of answers. With his questions though, he does open up the possibility of new insights into our relationship with God and each other.

As I said though, what are you looking for is not an easy question; you can’t blame the disciples for wanting to change the subject. We could dwell on the question for awhile but what I find most significant is how Jesus responds. He doesn’t say to them “Get back to me when you come up with an answer.” Instead he says, “Come and see.” Those are words of invitation and they are words that provide a connection for us.

Last Monday at the council meeting there was a reminder that if they hadn’t done so already, committee chairs needed to submit reports to Carrie so she could get them in the Annual Meeting booklet. Usually I’m pretty good about getting my pastor’s report in, but I had completely forgotten about it. As I ran the next morning on the snow and ice covered streets of Ishpeming, I was thinking about what I could say about the current state of things in this church and the church in general. With such reflection, one thing that’s hard to avoid is the reality of decline in numbers. Without question there are fewer people for whom their faith and involvement in church are a priority. Never mind worrying about those “out there;” you just think about your own immediate family. It’s easy to get discouraged and I do sometimes and so do many of you.

I can tell you that there are lots of books you can read and workshops you can go to that will tell you how to turn things around and from them it’s even possible that you might get an idea or two worth trying. I think however, that Jesus had the best idea when he simply said, “Come and see.” That’s invitation and that’s what we can do when the opportunity is there. We can invite people to come and see, and then we can do it again and again and again.

Then…we have to make sure that there is something worthwhile for them to come and see and I think we have that here at Bethany. Are we the right church for everyone? No. If you’re looking for guitars and drums and screens and entertainment, that’s not us. If however, you’re looking for traditional, liturgical worship, then come and see. If you’re looking for a non-judgmental biblical word of hope centered on the grace found in and through Jesus the Christ, then come and see, we might be the place for you. If you’re looking for a place where it’s OK to struggle with your questions and doubts, come and see. If you’re looking for a group of people who care about each other and are there for each other when times are tough, then come and see; this might be a good church for you.

There’s more that we do but still, we’re not perfect and we’re not the only ones who do some of these things but I do think there’s something worth coming to see here. I also know that there are some people who are never going to come no matter how many times you say “Come and see,” but that’s not your problem or my problem, it’s theirs. As with many aspects of life, there are some things we can control and some things we can’t. What we can control is the invitation.

With that invitation what we then hope is that, having come and seen, having heard the word proclaimed, having shared in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we hope that ultimately, like Andrew in today’s gospel, some will be led to say, not just that we have found the right church, but that “We have found the Messiah.”

I’m going to stop there, even if it means I’ve added to the number of minutes I owe you.

Rev. Warren Geier


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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