Monday, 17 January 2011

Epiphany 2

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 & John 1:29-42
As we continue in the season of epiphany we find in our Gospel reading this testimony from John the Baptist about who Jesus is, and here John refers to Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’, he is ‘the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’; he is ‘God’s Chosen One’. John the Baptist’s calling was to prepare the way for this One person, this special person whose manifestation was prophesied over many generations of Israel.

John the Baptist gathered many followers over the years he’d spent preparing the way for Jesus. We can imagine must have been overjoyed when he saw the Spirit come down from heaven and remain on Jesus. Here he is! Here is the One! And John’s followers trusted his testimony about the significance of Jesus – right away as he points Jesus out to them, John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus.

A strong thread running through our readings this morning is the importance of testifying to others about God’s grace found in Jesus. In the reading from 1Corinthians, St. Paul shows up the result of his testimony and the testimony of those ministering with him to the church in Corinth. The result was that the Corinthians were greatly enriched in knowledge of the grace that was given them in Christ Jesus. But Paul doesn’t let them get comfortable there, because in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians he says ‘[God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation. [So] we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us’. God calls his people to testify about his loving kindness and redeeming power made known to us through Jesus Christ. Each one of us has heard this testimony from someone, which has led to our being called into the body of Christ as his church. But this cannot be the end of it. Regular attendance at church isn’t all that we’re called to. We are called, as well, to be witnesses for Christ. And that means sharing our faith. Church is important, that’s for sure. But unless we testify to others about who we worship when we come together as church, what is the point?

There are many reasons why we hesitate to share our faith – fear of failure, of rejection or of offending people. Let's be honest. Sometimes it’s just a case of apathy – or we don’t think we need to do this; we can leave it to others. It can be so difficult to tell others about the benefits of a living relationship with Jesus Christ, and we can find ourselves instead saying to people things like, ‘why don’t you go to church, it helps me’, or ‘if only more people would go to church, the world would be a better place’. It’s not that this is wrong, but we can find that we’re leaving Jesus out of the conversation altogether.

I have a cousin who is a pastor in the US at a large and lively evangelical church. My cousin preached a sermon recently that’s available to listen to online. I listened to Steve’s sermon, and it was great. (You might not have liked that it was 40 minutes long! I marvelled at how congregations there are used to that length of sermon.) But his sermon was from the heart, it was enthusiastic, and it was on a subject that’s very important. It was as important to the early church from the beginning as it is to the church today. Steve’s sermon was about sharing our faith, and he asks the question: is sharing our faith a privilege, a responsibility or a burden?

Some people might say a small 8am BCP congregation isn’t the appropriate place to preach about ‘sharing your faith’ or ‘giving your testimony’. Is this true? Are we exempt here? In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, God says, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. ...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. Does this not also apply to an 8am BCP congregation, here in our little town, as much as it does a big evangelical congregation in a church halfway across the world?

The statistics show that the church in the west is in decline. There are people out there - in our families, our neighbourhoods and our community - who need to know about the saving grace of Jesus, who need to know that they can be reconciled with God, who need to know the path that leads to life not only for eternity but for the fullness of life that is available now.

If we are in Christ, if we are in the church, which is the body of Christ, God has chosen us to be his ambassadors – to represent the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When we live as we are called to be, we can’t help but share our faith. No matter our age, no matter our state of health, there are people in our midst, who we meet regularly, who need to hear our testimony about Jesus.

Let us pray: Gracious God, you have made reconciliation possible for all through the righteousness of your Chosen One, Jesus Christ our Lord; and you have called your church to participate in this ministry of reconciliation. We pray for courage, wisdom and discernment so that we may share our faith appropriately with others. Equip us for this privilege and responsibility by your Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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