What You See Is What You Get, January 19

What You See Is What You Get

Isaiah 49:1-9; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; January 19, 2020

There was a lot of information available about this snowstorm that hit us yesterday. Meteorologists predicted when the snow would begin and how fast the wind would blow. Many of us had instructions to buy bread and milk and eggs, I guess so we could make French toast if we got snowed in. But all the predictions and warnings and shopping lists aren’t the same as being in the storm itself. It’s only walking the dog on unplowed streets and building snowpeople and shoveling sidewalks that really communicate what a good January snow is all about. You’ve got to see it to really get it.

The story from John's gospel today tells us about Jesus' baptism and then about Jesus finding disciples. In the synoptic gospels, that is, those that aren't John, Jesus calls disciples and they follow. Here in John the disciples find Jesus, beginning with two of John's disciples who leave the Baptist and follow Jesus. They come to him and ask, 'where are you staying?' How do we label you, how do we figure out what you're about? Jesus doesn't launch into his prediction for the next three years or talk about how hard the wind will blow on their journey; he doesn’t give them a list of supplies to explain their task. He simply says, 'Come and see.' ‘Check it out. Watch what it is I'm about and stick around if you want to be a part of it.’

Ironically, this comes at the end of the first chapter of John, the same chapter that begins so famously: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος is Greek for In the beginning was the Word. But the Greek word, Logos, isn't quite 'Word,' not quite 'Reason,' sort of like both word and reason with an overtone of wisdom and meaning. Communication, order, that which is said, something to say, something to convey. That is, from the very beginning God was not a far-away entity, but a being reaching out to the world to connect, to communicate. And the Word, the communication itself, became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. That's what those first few verses of John's gospel tell us – that the communication and meaning of God, that has always been God, came into our lives and our world in a totally new way in the person of Jesus. Just to get through to us, just to communicate with us.

How do we hear or appropriate this communication which became flesh? Check it out. Come and see. Be there, come, follow, be attentive. And open your eyes, notice, witness.

The idea of witness isn't new to scripture in the coming of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah, whom we heard so much from in these days around Christmas, speaks of the people as a witness to the great works of God. You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. And then the wonderful restatement of the call to be witnesses: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” You will be a light to the nations, so that many who don't know me will see me in you. You will be light, something to see, something worth noticing

This is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday weekend. Dr. King is remembered often for what he said. He was, after all, a preacher and an amazing composer of words. His I Have a Dream speech will be read often this weekend around the country. Some observances may read from his Letter from Birmingham Jail, another masterpiece of wisdom and power. The kids at Catskill High School on Thursday repeated quotes and speeches to honor all that he was about. But Dr. King is a hero not for his words but for his actions, for his determination to stand up in the face of oppression and refuse to stop until progress was made and laws were changed. He marched and demonstrated and put his body where his mouth was. He acted for the justice of which he spoke. And he acted in non-violence and love because he was a follower of the same Jesus whom we name as our leader, example, Lord and Savior.

I read a story on-line by a man who remembers an argument he had with his father, two black men from rural Virginia discussing what Dr. King had really accomplished. The young man was dismissive. ‘So what did he do besides giving an excellent speech or two – I have a dream.’ He then writes: My father told me with a sort of cold fury, "Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south." For blacks in the South the injustice wasn't merely separate water fountains and sitting at the back of the bus. It was the constant and real threat of violence that backed up ridiculous laws like that. Lynchings, beatings, arrests for looking at a white person the wrong way – all of these were at the heart of what people lived with in this country within the lifetimes of many of us. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all of those who worked with him, brought that to an end by leading people to face the terror and the threats together, to sit at lunch counters and take the beatings and expose the violence that underlay the system of keeping blacks down. Because people, thousands and thousands of people, found the courage to face the real violence in which they lived, the system changed. The laws and the policies that followed were immensely important, but the real work was done in the ongoing and personal confrontation and endurance of the terror of white oppression and racism. The struggle they took on is not over. The laws have changed, but racism still affects our legal and justice systems, and our daily interactions with one another. We honor Dr. King when we stay committed to the justice and the love he stood for.

There are still people all over this country and all over the world who are speaking out with their words and with their lives – marching for justice, teaching prisoners, protecting immigrants in sanctuary churches, feeding hungry people even when it’s inconvenient, leaving water for thirsty travelers, whether or not their travel is legal. The work they do is more important than the stories I can tell you about them. If you want to know what it is to live out God’s call to care for those in need, check it out, come and see, get involved.

Jesus says you, we, that is, are the light of the world. We are the ones the world will look to in order to grasp who Jesus is and was; we are the ones to make Christ’s love real here in this place and time. The courage to not be afraid was and still is ours as well. As followers of the same Jesus, the same God of justice, who sets the captives free and loosens the bonds of oppression, we are challenged by the same task as all those who marched to change our society fifty years ago. We are to be about deeds and not only words.

Like Dr. King, I’m a preacher. I like words; I speak them often. We sing and pray beautiful words together here as we worship each week. But as beautiful as the words are that we use to sing and pray and speak our faith at Catskill UMC, they are only as true as our life together makes clear. We have a brochure telling new people about us; we have a website and a Facebook page. But it’s in the sharing food together and in the singing, in the gathering of food for the hungry and sponges and scrub brushes for our neighbors in need after hurricanes that we let the community see what Christian love looks like.

Everything we do is an invitation to those who aren’t here – Come and see, see what love looks, see what it feels like to be part of a community that cares for each other and the world, to live in a gathering of disciples who love one another without judgment but with grace, and who work together to offer God’s love and justice to a world in pain. Come and see, and like Jesus’ disciples so long ago, join the work. It’s good work to do.

May the Spirit work within us to make our witness plain. Amen.

Isaiah 49:1-7

49Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” 5And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength— 6he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

7Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Psalm 40:1-11 (UMH 774)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud,

to those who go astray after false gods.

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,

your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you.

Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear.

Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;

see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.

I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,

I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;

I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.

Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me;

let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 1:29-42

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

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