Witnessing – Crossing the Line

A sermon for Advent 3: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8,19-28 (extended to 31).

Yes, I expanded this morning’s Gospel reading a few verses to include the phrase Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) In John’s Gospel story John the Baptist’s the main role is to witness to who Jesus is. He never misses an opportunity to announce, “Look” (Lewis; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a role he claims for himself through the words of Isaiah (Harrelson). a voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isa 40:3) Even telling the priests and Levites Among you stands one whom you do not know, (John 1:26) is a form of witnessing (Hoezee). The title “Lamb of God” connects Jesus with the rich symbolism of the Passover lamb; but at this point, we do not know what John means when he calls Jesus “Lamb of God.” (Gaventa and Petersen).

For Karen Lewis, being a witness is a central Advent task (Lewis). To be a witness involves wrestling with Isaiah’s question “Who am I?” His answer is to go out and bring healing (shalom) to our broken world. In Advent language I am – is one who leads people to Jesus, is one who witnesses to Jesus (Carvalho). Witnessing is not easy. It calls us to break the silence that allows abuse, oppression, and injustice to continue in the shadows. Lewis reminds us that our Advent texts tell us how expecting the birth of Jesus calls us to be witnesses (Lewis).

It may help lower our anxiety, just a bit, to revise ‘being a witness’, to ‘being a storyteller’. John shares the stories of his experiences. We are simply asked to share the stories of our experiences with Jesus. And we all have stories to share (Rippentrop).

Storytelling involves a certain amount of humility. We hear Jesus called the Lamb of God (John 1:29). It is the first in a long line of titles Jesus is given just in John’s Gospel. There are so many because every follower sees something different in Jesus, every follower responds to something different when they meet Jesus. No single title reveals all there is to know about Jesus. And there is no limit to the number of titles Jesus can be given, and there are new titles that might be bestowed at any time; we should keep our eyes, ears and our hearts open. And we should be self-aware so that we do not greet new titles with suspicion or hostility, as they often are (O’Day).

 It is Advent; a time when we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth. It is also a time when we look forward to Jesus’ return. Of all titles that Jesus may carry, the one associated with his return most often is King. It makes sense in all sorts of ways. He is a descendent of the house of David, the model King of Israel. Jesus is also known as the great shepherd; and you know that shepherd is an Old Testament metaphor for Israel’s Kings. It may have been a moment of inspiration that hearing Jesus called “the Lamb of God” sounded very different to me this past week, I mentioned this title fits nicely with the Exodus Passover sacrificial lamb, but, we cannot what it implies. The inspiration I had was a kind of reversal. If ‘shepherd’ is a metaphor for king, could ‘lamb’ be a metaphor for ‘the people’? Can the incarnate Jesus be the perfection of humanity as the image of God?

This has a couple of implications. One is that when we witness does our story point people to see Jesus towards the regents of our day? To the modern equivalent of the kings / bishop s/ priests and prophets? Or do our stories point people to see Jesus in the everyday ordinary working people? In spite of all the regal imagery we associate with Jesus all the Gospel stories place Jesus in everyday places, among everyday people, struggling to get through life on an everyday basis. Even the story of his birth, we are so eagerly waiting to celebrate, is in a very merger setting. From our stories what does our audience expect Jesus to look like: a king a bishop, a priest, a prophet, a faithful lay servant, a wealthy philanthropist, or the one sitting next to you in traffic delayed by the construction on 18 near Big Lake? Where does our audience expect Jesus be: in a palace, a cathedral, or among poor huddled masses, with the Cratchit family, or among the Muslim Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?

A second implication defines our relationship with those we share our stories with, those we witness to. There is an element of being a prophet when we are a witness to Jesus. Both involve radical truth telling. And as Isaiah shows us a prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. A prophet becomes a voice for the voiceless … a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God here on earth (Whitley). The implication is that being a witness to Jesus means to stand with the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, to be a voice for the silenced, to be a voice for God here on earth (Whitley).

In today’s world standing in solidarity with the invisible and giving voice to the silenced requires us to cross the line. In his opinion piece, published Friday, Spencer Platt writes: Americans are a generous people — so it is always said. But our generosity comes with moral judgments: There’s a thin line, in the minds of many, between the poor who deserve help and those who should get off their butts (Platt). He goes on to note that these are old arguments, dating to Dickens’s heartless Ebenezer Scrooge and the noble Cratchit family. The line our story sharing prophecy crosses is the one of judgement.

In a few chapters Jesus will answer his disciples question about a man born blind, who could have just as easily have been a man born poor,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him (John 9:3).

It can be translated

Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind. Now we must work the works God has given us to work.

The point is for Jesus there is no judgement, there is only restoring all god’s people to shalom or wholeness of life. The story John witnessed to is the story of the presence of one you do not see who is restoring all people to shalom. We all have our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit’s restoring shalom that we are called to share those stories.

Stir up your power, O Lord, that we may witness, without ceasing, and in all circumstances, to the one who is not known, yet is the Lamb of God who restores

  • good news,
  • liberty,
  • divine favor,
  • provision,
  • gladness,
  • righteousness, and
  • who brings shalom to the world.

 

 

References

Bratt, Doug. Advent 3B Isaiah 61:1-4, . 17 12 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Carvalho, Corrine. “Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.” 17 12 2017. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 12 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 3:1-17 . 12 3 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Witnessing. 17 12 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Platt, Spencer. The Deserving Rich and the Deserving Poor. 12 12 20107. <nytimes.com/2017/12/15/opinion/class-rich-poor-americans.html>.

Rippentrop, Jan Schnell. Commentary on John 1:6-8, 19-28. 17 12 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Whitley, Katerina. “Do Not Despise the Words of Prophets.” 17 12 2017. Sermons that Work.

 

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