Listen 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.
He 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.
And he said to me, ‘You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’
But I said, ‘I have laboured 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.’
And 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 honoured in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
‘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.’
Thus 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.’
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I 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.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When 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?’ He 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He 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).
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
By Rev Dr Matthew Rhodes
This coming Wednesday is beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It runs until 25th , when we celebrate the Conversion of St Paul. The ecumenical movement has come along way, particularly at the local level. It is important that we continue to work towards greater unity. But we don’t just do that because it’s a good thing to do. We do it because unity is at the heart of God the Holy Trinity. And we do it because of Jesus’ prayer. He prayed that his followers may be one so that the world would believe. We also do it for the sake of mission which, alongside unity, is another of the great themes of the Epiphany season. The incarnation of Jesus Christ, God sending his son into the world, shows us that mission is part of the nature of God. And by becoming human, Jesus invites us to
share in that mission.
Mission is part of our calling as Christians, as human beings. And it can sound a bit scary but mission takes many forms. Evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in an explicit way, is part of mission. But mission is bigger than that. It is about growing the kingdom, making God’s love known, bringing about peace and justice and caring for creation. And we may do that in our work. In our volunteering. At school. In our social activities. In our family responsibilities. Or through political involvement. God is at work in all sorts of areas of life and our job is simply to join in.
Our first reading this morning both talk about calling. Isaiah writes, ‘Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.’ Each of us is blessed with particular gifts that we are called to use in God’s service. And one of the great challenges of life is discovering what those gifts are and how we might best use them. And when we do discover that secret we can find huge fulfilment. We find our groove. Our meaning.
And that sense of calling applies to churches too. No church can do everything. Each one discovers its strengths. Its charisms. And part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is being able to recognise and celebrate the gifts of other churches. We don’t need to feel threatened by other traditions. We can just give thanks for the ways in which God has blessed them and celebrate the things that they do well.
And we see a similar approach at play in our Gospel reading today. John the Baptist began his ministry before Jesus. He had his own disciples. But he knew that his purpose was not to point to himself or build up a power base. John’s purpose was to point to Jesus so that he could be revealed to Israel. And when Jesus came along John recognised him immediately. This was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Previously, John had imagined that Jesus would come in judgement, which he did. But John soon realised that Jesus was much more than that. The lamb of God came not just to judge sin but to be a sacrifice for sins. To take the sins of the world away. John’s description of Jesus takes us right back to the sacrifice of Isaac and the Passover lamb at the Exodus.
When Jesus passes John and two of John’s disciples, John points Jesus out. Look, there is the Lamb of God. And that is our job too. Not to point to ourselves but to Jesus. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t need to make other Christians in our image. Sometimes we just need to point people in the right direction and let God do the rest.
John’s disciples follow Jesus. And, as he does on other occasions, Jesus asks them what they want. He doesn’t tell them what they need, although he probably knows. He puts the ball in their court. And that’s an important lesson in mission. Too often when people engage in mission they decide what other people need and do it to them. And that infantilises them and often frustrates them. And they don’t then own what is done. If we can meet people where they are, help them explore their needs and then empower them to find answers then those answers are often much more effective and long-lasting.
John’s followers ask Jesus where he is staying. And he invites them to come and see. It was the tenth hour - about four o’clock. Tea time. Sometimes mission is just about hospitality. About inviting people to come and see. Creating spaces where they can discover Jesus for themselves. Offering them a cup of tea and the chance to chat. St Mary’s has some wonderful spaces. This church and the hall next door. I really love coming here when the these spaces are open to everyone and different members of the community find a welcome here.
The ripples of that invitation from Jesus spread outwards. Having been invited to tea, Andrew, one of the two disciples of John, doesn’t just keep this encounter to himself. He goes straight out and finds his brother Simon Peter and tells him that they have found the Messiah. Because of this, St Andrew is particularly associated with the missionary work of the Church. Simon Peter of course became the leader of the church. The rock on which it was built. But that wouldn’t have happened without Andrew who made the introductions. Sometimes we just need to be the catalyst, the broker, the matchmaker. Sometimes we just need to spot the need or the gift in others.
As we enter the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I hope that you will pray for our brothers and sisters in other denominations. And also for those who do not yet know Christ. Unity does not mean uniformity. God is at work in all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. And the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a chance for us to celebrate that and get involved in God’s mission. It is not about having all the answers but about being willing to share in the journey. Creating spaces
where God can be encountered and inviting others to come along too. Pointing always to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.
Prepared by Catherine