God Abides

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Jesus calls the first disciples

This Epiphany season I’ve been encouraging you to take on a resolution of sorts- to look yourself in the mirror and proclaim God’s word to you, “I am a child of God, and doggone it, God’s going to use me to change the world.” In case you’ve forgotten this week, lets say it together so you get to hear it at least once!  “I am a child of God, and doggone it, God’s going to use me to change the world.”

This season I’ve also been talking about the incarnation – a technical term for the decision that God made to come and be one of us.  To live like us, a human being with flesh and blood.  As John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” We talked last week about how Jesus was even baptized, in the same way that we are baptized, and through those waters of baptism we become children of God.  As I put it last week, in baptism, we join Jesus’ breakfast line.

Last week we read Luke’s version of the baptism of Jesus.  This week we hear John’s version, and we move from Jesus to Jesus’ disciples.   It’s amazing how fast it all moves!  Take a look at the the reading in your bulletin.  In the first verses, John tells the story of Jesus’ baptism from his perspective. (This is a  very different perspective from the other Gospels!)  Then look at verse 35- The next day, that is right away immediately, John sees Jesus and proclaims, “Look, here is the lamb of God!”. Two disciples hear, and right away they start following Jesus.

Can you imagine- never having met someone before and starting to follow him right away?  It’s as if a friend tells you about a great movie that you haven’t see yet, and right away you run off to Redbox to get it.  More than that, it’s as if a friend invites you to come over for dinner sometime, and you show up at their doorstep that night.  Even more than that- it’s as if you hear about a new job, a new passion, for the very first time and you decide to drop everything, right away, and do that for the rest of your life!  What amazing -or maybe crazy- people these disciples must have been!  That’s just what they do, they stop everything and follow this new teacher- rabbi- wherever he might lead.

Why would they do such a thing?  Were they truly crazy?  Or was there something else going on here? Let’s take a closer look.  Take a look at verse 32.  John testifies, “”I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”  The spirit remained on Christ.  The original text here is something more like “the Spirit stayed with him”, or “the Spirit abided with him.” I know we’re getting into the weeds a bit here, but stick with me.  Take a look at verse 38.  Jesus asks these new potential disciples what they are looking for and they respond, “Where are you staying?”  The Greek here is actually the same word that John used for the Spirit.  Where, Jesus, teacher, are you abiding?  Move your finger down the page a bit more, and it says, “Jesus said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.”  Again,  the word here is the exact same, both times.  You could read it, “they came and saw where he was abiding, and they abided with him that day.”

The point that I’m making with this bit of study is this: The Spirit abides with Jesus, Jesus abides with his disciples, and they abide with him.   Abiding is not a word that we use in everyday English, but it is a powerful way of thinking about Christ.  He lives with us, dwells with us, is with us no matter what.  He abides with us. As Jesus’ faithful disciples, we are called to be with him.  We, of course, don’t have the ability to spend time walking and talking with Jesus in person.  But, we do have the promise of his presence.  Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he promises to be there.  In our holy meal, God promises to show up in the bread and the wine.  God invites us to “Come and see” him in those around us.  For those who have eyes to see, God abides in our presence each and every day.

Where can we see God abiding?

This week we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  This is one time of the year where we are called to let our denominational separations go and to lower the fences we put up just a bit.  We are called to recognize that the Spirit abides not just in this place, but in the hundreds of worship houses in Culpeper County alone.  In Manna Ministry at Culpeper Presbyterian Church, the Spirit abides.  Through Precious Blood Catholic Church and Mosaic Church, hosting the Heat Shelter together this week in our building, the Spirit abides.  At St. Stephen Episcopal and the food pantry, the Spirit abides.  As you drive down Main Street this week, look for the steeples.  Look for the store front churches.  Look for the sign of the cross- there, the Spirit abides.

Where else can we see God abiding this week?

Do you remember the controversy that was in the news a couple of years ago about the Martin Luther King memorial?  The design committee had decided to put an abbreviated quote on the side of the statue.  It read, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”  The problem with that was that, while it was actually part of a quote from MLK, it was taken badly out of context and made him look like anything but the humble servant of Christ that he was.  As we remember one that sought to abide with Christ in all he did, I want to put this line back in some of its context for you.  Listen to the words of his sermon:

 If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

This week, God calls us, too, to abide with him.  God calls us to be drum majors for his peace, for his righteousness, and for his sake.  And that’s all I want to say.  Amen.

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