John 1: 29-42

Epiphany 2A

January 19, 2020

Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon

Elizabeth Winslea

John is pointing out the way - The Way, as in Jesus. And the way, to testify. To witness, to bring change with one’s own life story. Look! See! Behold! He says again and again.

The way to testify begins by putting oneself in places that have meaning, are of importance, that will mold and change you in love and compassion toward your siblings across the globe and next door. Putting oneself in those places and truly engaging the experiences before you.

After that it involves processing what has happened - making sense of the chaos of daily life and assembling words in some sequences that help you see order, sense themes, find meaning, in these experiences.

And then, the way to testify means sharing those words with others. Putting oneself out in the village, at the city gates, to speak what you know, to share how you have changed, to point out a new way forward for others - so that someone else, understanding the meaning that is being born in you, might be born anew too.

This morning we hear of John who is hanging out with his followers, his closest friends and admirers, and when he sees Jesus he shares his story. He witnesses, this is the Messiah. He’s the one you want to follow.

John does this more than once, convincing others of the truth of his experience, trying to help them connect to the events that have changed him, and that he knows will change them. He tells his story - he witnesses - in such a way that those around him want to know more.

Look! See Behold!

“There is the man who is the Messiah. He is the reason I have been preparing and baptizing people with water. It is for his arrival, the Lamb of God.” He tells the story of what happened at Jesus’ own baptism. And through his witnessing, the first followers of Jesus are recruited.

John kept at them - “Look! See what I see.” This is the child of God walking our streets. This is the one you have been waiting for. “Look! See!”

Andrew and one other, who had been devoted followers of John, heard the picture that John painted for them. And on that alone, they left John to follow Jesus. That’s all it took. One witness. Not a whole pack of influential people. Just one man. Albeit, one they respected and admired. But still, one man giving tribute and the two of them headed off in curiosity and a sense of hope. And then they told others, who told others. Who followed.

What would it mean for us to be witnesses about Jesus in this fashion?

I have a friend and colleague who with her Chicago-born southern lilt will tell groups of people about how Jesus told her to do it. Whether it’s asking a certain person for help with a new program - and they turn out to be just the right leader. Or simply taking a run that day where she stopped to speak with a stranger along the path. She will share that Jesus told her to do it. “Jesus made me.” is what she says. And, the way she shares - with a grin on her face and a bit of irony in her voice - you’re sure she’s being silly. Until you realize she’s not.

In fact,  in her own special way, she is offering a window into her spiritual life where she wants to credit the work of the Christ in some mysterious way.

Look! See! Behold!

This week at book group we discussed Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions where the author, Valeria Luiselli, shares the experiences of children who are seeking safety and asylum in the U.S. having fled lives of terror in their Central American communities.

Our conversation wandered in and through the myriad important issues that are all woven together in such a discussion. And toward the end of the evening we began to muse about where the hope is. Or as a preacher would ask – where’s the good news?

And because the Holy Spirit is always at work, someone reminded the group that it has to do with first hand accounts and telling stories. That it is about putting ourselves into the middle of events and then sharing our accounts. They didn’t use the word witness, but they might as well have. Look! See! Behold!

And then Diane read from Luiselli,

“Numbers and maps tell horror stories, but the stories of deepest horror are perhaps those for which there are no numbers, no maps, no possible accountability, no words ever written or spoken. And perhaps the only way to grant any justice - were that even possible - is by hearing and recording those stories over and over again, so that they come back, always, to haunt and shame us. Because being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable. Because we cannot allow ourselves to go on normalizing horror and violence. Because we can all be held accountable if something happens under our noses and we don’t dare even look.”[1]

How do we find the courage to be the witnesses we are called to be?

How do we speak the truth about the power of God, even in the midst of greed and corruption?

How do we say the name of Jesus in a environment that recoils at such religiosity?

How do we dare to look even when we know what we’ll see will change our lives forever? And then how do we testify?

Tomorrow the national government will pause to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. And in that moment there will be stories we hear about people who have worked tirelessly to continue King’s vision of inclusion and harmony among the races, the classes, the nations.

King, of course, was also tireless. And he spoke loudly and clearly for the vision that was rooted in a God of justice and mercy. He stood on countless corners, like John, and pointed out the story of Jesus still at work today. He was publicly fearless in his commitment to speaking truth and witnessing to a better way, to The Way. He is credited saying, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”[2]

Where will you see Jesus? And how will you find the courage to say - Look! See! there he is!

Look! there is Jesus visiting an elderly friend who is shut-in.

Behold! there is Jesus fighting for a better climate for our children.

See! there is Jesus the activist for unions.

Look! there is Jesus is translating for children refugees escaping violence

Behold! there is Jesus offering medical care to those who can’t afford it

See! Jesus is alive in this world and there is reason to hope.

Later in her essay, Luiselli writes “Telling stories doesn’t solve anything, doesn’t reassemble broken lives.”[3] But I would have to disagree with her.

In fact, telling, witnessing, testifying to the power of Jesus, the work of God humming across this planet is the only thing that can begin to make a difference.

We tell the stories and others are inspired. To challenge themselves and put themselves in uncomfortable places. To be changed and shaped by God. In order to tell their stories, and then others more are inspired.

How will we dare to look even when we know what we’ll see will change our lives forever? And then how will we testify?

We are the people of the Good News. And frankly that’s all we’ve ever had. People who have been willing to stretch, change and be reborn in the power of Jesus, the marvel of God at work. And then who witness to this very Good News.

Amen.

This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on January 19, 2020, at Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.


[1]  Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, © 2017, 30.

[2]  Martin Luther King, Jr., a paraphrase of a more complex thought King uttered during a sermon in Selma, Alabama, on 8 March 1965, the day after “Bloody Sunday,” on which civil rights protesters were attacked and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/mlk-our-lives-begin-to-end/

[3]  Luiselli, 69.