16 January 2011/Epiphany 2A - Isaiah 49:1-7/Psalm40/1Corinthians 1:1-9/John 1:29-42
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills
You Are The Way
Today we pray, “Christ is the Light of the World…Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory…”
Going back some 600 years before Christ, so-called Second Isaiah delivered a message to a people who lived in darkness – the darkness of exile and slavery, the darkness of a people who were no longer at home and yearned to return to the land the Lord had given to them. It is a message to a restless and displaced people who saw the world as increasingly hostile, dangerous, with no way out.
The prophetic imagination takes over and proclaims, in effect, you are the way out! I will give you as a light to the nations! That my salvation shall reach to the end of the earth!
Psalm 40 echoes this surprising answer to the people’s prayers for deliverance. Again the psalm opens with a people mired in a pit, in a muddy bog – a sense of hopelessness has set in. Yet, we are to sing, sing a new song….as U2 puts it, “I will sing, sing a new song, I will sing, sing a new song…..”
St. Paul then declares to a young church in turmoil – a church at odds with itself, a church torn by infighting, strife, and even worse, indifference to others, even others within the community let alone those beyond and outside the community in need of the light of the Gospel.
To the church divided in Corinth Paul writes, “…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, we have been endowed by Baptism and the Holy Spirit with any and all spiritual gifts necessary to pull together and become a light to the nations, to sing a new song, to overcome our divisions, and instead shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory – if only…
If only we allow ourselves to be illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments – if only we will let the light of Christ, of Christ the Light of the World to shine in us and through us in all that we do and all that we say – and the people respond, “I will with God’s help.”
So what’s the problem? What is holding us back? Why are we not like Andrew and his brother Simon, following Jesus wherever he goes? Tailing Jesus to find out where he lives? Better still, why is it that we who have been incorporated into the Body of Christ by water and the Holy Spirit, are not being tailed and followed by countless people like Andrew and Simon seeking to find where we are staying with Christ? Why aren’t people lined up and down Rogers Avenue waiting to get a glance of Jesus here in St. Peter’s?
I wonder if we have misconstrued our role in all of this. Much is said about following Christ, and classic texts urge us to Imitate Christ. Our incarnational theology asserts that we are the Body of Christ in the world. It is a staple of Christian spirituality to say we are the hands, feet and eyes of Christ in the world.
On one hand it can feel impossible to do this - to ever possibly “imitate” Christ. Who can imagine? We are truly called to live lives that embody Christ. On the other hand, it is equally important not to take on a messianic identity that says “we are Christ in the world.” Such hubris can lead and has led to all kinds of problems for the church and for the world.
The story is told of a pastor who was the very epitome of a Christian leader - always on the go, always starting new programs, always allowing himself to be interrupted day and night to serve others. One day he was asked to sit down with an old friend. The pastor was looking tired and bedraggled from keeping a much too busy and hectic schedule. The friend said, “I have really good news for you. The Messiah has come!” The pastor, at hearing this, looked confused as to what the friend was getting at. Then the friend said she had even better news, “And you are not him!”
The problem of taking incarnational theology too seriously is that it distorts our understanding of what God is calling us to do, and we come to believe that if the world is going to be saved, we have to do it. Perhaps what we are called to be is something more like John the Baptist who walks around pointing people toward Jesus and calling out, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Instead of asking ourselves “What Would Jesus Do,” maybe we need to be asking, “What Would John The Baptist Do.”
Perhaps we need to be calling out to anyone who will listen: Hey, Look! Come see what I see! Come hear what I hear! Come see the Holy Spirit working through us! In fact, come see how the Holy Spirit is at work here even in spite of us! Behold the Lamb of God!
At the end of the day, God does not need us to be Jesus. God does not need us to be Moses, Isaiah, Peter or Paul. God needs us to be the unique person God creates us to be. As Rabbi Zusya, an eighteenth century Hasidic rabbi summed it up for his disciples just a short while before his death: "In the world to come I shall not be asked, 'Why were you not Moses?' Instead I shall be asked, 'Why were you not Zusya?'" Martin Buber, The Way of Man, (Citadel Press, NY:1966) p.17
Martin Buber, reflecting on this classic Hasidic tale writes: "Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never before existed, something original and unique. It is the duty of every person ... to know and consider that he or she is unique in the world in his or her particular character, and that that there has never been anyone like him in the world. Every single person is a new thing in the world, and is called upon to fulfill his or her particularity in the world. ... Everyone has in him or her something precious that is in no one else." ibid. p16, 18
So it seems for the radiance of Christ's glory to shine through us we need to be our selves. And we need to cry out to others, "Look, it is the Lamb of God! Come and see what I see. Come and hear what I hear."God in Christ is busy saving us and saving the world. It would seem Jesus needs us to be more like John the Baptist to announce to the world why we are here week in and week out.
Know, my sisters and brothers, little by little – it takes time – Jesus will reveal to you how unique you are - that you are the way and the light. He calls you to follow him so that you may do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit. The world needs you, the Church needs you, Jesus needs you. They need your love and your Light. There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives. This is a deep secret you are called to live. Let Jesus live in you. Let your light shine! Sing a new song! You are not lacking in any spiritual gift! You are the way others will come to know Christ! Amen!