Sermon for Epiphany 2
Lamb of God
By Vicar Sharon Richter -
“Here is the Lamb of God.” “Behold the Lamb of God . . .”
What do you think of when you hear Jesus called the “Lamb of God?”
I suspect many people never think about this. These are frequent words in Christian liturgy: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. . . . Have mercy upon us.” But I wonder whether many people thinking about the Lamb of God are thinking of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace. Do they have a peaceful image, maybe of a fluffy, playful lamb? Do they think of white—the color of purity?
Instead, I suggest you think of red. The color of blood. To Jesus’ people, to John the Baptist, and his disciples who heard John say “Here is the lamb of God,” a lamb was not a white, fluffy, carefree creature. It was an animal whose special purpose was to be slaughtered and burned on God’s altar.
“God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering,” Abraham said to Isaac, as he led his young son up the mountain to be sacrificed. And as we know, many hundreds of years later, God did provide the lamb for the sacrifice.
What was John thinking when he said these prophetic words? Of course, as a prophet, John said the words God gave him to say.
But what were John’s disciples thinking when they heard him say, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” That sentence is just jam-packed with meaning, and it’s not a meaning that evokes fluffy white lambs. John declares, before Jesus’ ministry has even begun, that this man will die a sacrificial death—a bloody death—to redeem all our sins.
We don’t know what the disciples were thinking, except that they were buzzing with excitement. Andrew and an unnamed disciple who heard John’s prophecy immediately left John to follow Jesus. “We have found the Messiah,” Andrew told his brother Simon-Peter.
Now, what happens next is very interesting. It reminded me of a seminary colleague who is up and coming and, though still a student, is very prominent already in the ELCA. I’m sure our Bishop Guy has met Lenny, and I know that Bishop Eaton has met him. Lenny, though born biracial to an evangelical missionary family, spent most of his teenage years and the early half of his young adulthood in an alcoholic and drug-induced stupor in a Philadelphia slum. He ran with a gang, and he did bad things. Lenny spent time in prison and had a child out of wedlock that he all but abandoned.
But somehow, in the midst of stuporous weeks when he barely noticed the passage of time, a dedicated, day-in, day-out slum preacher reached him with the gospel. Reached his soul.
Now, Lenny is on fire for the Lord. He married the mother of his daughter and got sober. And out of his fairly literalist evangelical background, he has arrived at a very Lutheran understanding of grace. The seminary and the ELCA have pulled out all the stops for him and his new movement, which he calls “Decolonize Lutheranism,” seeking to make the ELCA more inclusive and welcoming to all races and nationalities. [You have to admit, it’s a pretty white, pretty Nordic and Germanic population.]
What reminded me of Lenny is this Gospel conversation the disciples had with Jesus. They asked him, “’Where are you staying?’ The word, “to stay,” more fully means, “to abide with.” He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” Isn’t that an interesting detail? “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” Why does John tell us that?
Lenny can help us here. Lenny followed the slum preacher out of the slum, and out of his stupor. He came and saw where Jesus was staying—where he was abiding—and he remained with him. And Lenny can tell you exactly when that was. To the hour.
Four o’clock in the afternoon is the hour when John’s disciples became Jesus’ disciples. It is the exact time they heard and understand that God was calling them.
Jesus’ call to these disciples seems very vague, on the surface. “Come and see,” he says. But in fact, Jesus’ call to them, and to us, is exactly tailored to each and every person who he calls. “Come and see.” This call, God’s call, is a call to discipleship. It says nothing, and it says everything. It says that whatever your gifts are, God has a place where you can use them, and God wants you to use them to lift up the community of your fellow human beings.
I believe God gave me a prophetic voice. When I say “prophetic,” I’m not talking about foreseeing the future. I’m talking about speaking out against injustice and oppression, speaking up for the kinds of social change and personal change that will help the poor, the sick, the forgotten, and the exploited among us. The widows and orphans, if you will. God also gave me the gift of teaching. I hope, like Martin Luther King—though I could never aspire to fill his shoes—I hope I will never lose the courage to speak truth to power.
And I, like Lenny, can tell you exactly when I realized that God was calling me. It was specific to me. “Come and see,” God said. So I came, and I saw, and I am here.
Jesus knew Simon’s name before they were introduced. He said, “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas.” The Lamb of God knows all of us by name, too, and his call, God’s call, is specific to each of us. By our very name.
The Lamb of God is not calling us into the pasture to play with the lambs. He is calling us into the pasture to face the wolves. Discipleship is not easy. It is not meant to be easy.
Do we hear the Lamb of God—the red Lamb of God—calling? Do we hear our name whispered? Some do, and some don’t. Some take awhile to hear it. Some resist or reject it, and that’s ok. It’s an invitation—never a command.
But if you listen, you will hear it too. And if you accept the invitation of the Lamb of God, you will know the very hour when you understood.
Now it is about 5:25 in the afternoon. What time is it for you? Amen
Vicar Sharon Richter
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Lamb of God
Sermon for Epiphany 2
Written by Vicar Sharon Richter
January 15, 2017
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California
*Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support Mt. Olive's many ministries.
Just click the blue button titled ONLINE GIVING at the top right of the page. Thank you!