Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sermon for 16 January 2011, Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

John 1:29-41

Agnus Dei
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 16 January 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
            Scripture doesn’t shock us like it should. Perhaps that’s because we think we know and understand passages like today’s Gospel.
            The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him…This portion of John’s Gospel account means the next day after this took place: … the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28

            The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Scripture doesn’t shock us like it should. Perhaps that’s because we think we know and understand passages like today’s Gospel. Every Communion Sunday we sing this verse. “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us peace.” We call it the Agnus Dei, Latin for Lamb of God. But what does it mean for Jesus to be the Lamb of God? First, we need to know what a lamb has to do with taking away sin.

            Join me in Exodus 12: The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
"Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
"This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Exodus 12:1-14
The lamb was a substitute. The lamb was a male, without blemish. The lamb was killed at twilight. The blood was painted on the doorposts of the household, and the angel of death passed over. That’s why this was called the Passover. And then, the Lamb was eaten. God specified the conditions. He promised to forgive and He did. But how would he forgive the sins of the world?

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
If the Jesus, the Lamb of God died, how would that take away the sin of the world? Hebrews is a New Testament book with an Old Testament perpsective. Chapter 9 says:
Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you." And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Hebrews 9:18-26
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. It took the death of the lamb at the Passover. And it will take the death of THE Lamb of God at Jesus’ Passover. His blood would do what no animals ever could. Isaac Watts confessed it so clearly in his Lenten hymn: “Not all the blood of beasts On Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace Or wash away the stain. But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb, Takes all our sins away; A sacrifice of nobler name And richer blood than they.” LSB 431: 1-2.
            John the Baptizer identifies the one the people did not know.
This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."
This is what we witnessed last week in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus’ baptism. The Lamb of God is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Agnus Dei.

Another day passes. The Agnus Dei is again identified.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ).
You have found Him, too. Or, more precisely, He has found you. John told his disciples. These disciples ran and told other people. Andrew went and told Simon Peter. These disciples told about this Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They went from Jerusalem, through all Judea, and eventually to the ends of the earth. The message is still the same. Christians are the messengers.

It is a common misunderstanding that only the pastor is the congregation’s missionary. “That’s what he’s paid for…” I have been called by this congregation to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments according to Jesus institution and mandate. But by Holy Baptism, every Christian is called to tell the Good News about Jesus. That’s why the Wyoming District has been having these Convocations for all these years—to better equip and encourage pastors and laypeople like you to tell others about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. A congregation grows and thrives according to the Lord’s promise when His Word is proclaimed. It’s not a one man job!
One of the reasons we don’t speak up is fear. I get scared, too, especially when I need to call a member of the congregation to repentance. That responsibility reminds me of my own sin, my own need for repentence and confession, and my need for Jesus’ forgiveness and newness of life. But we are still called to witness to Christ and proclaim the whole counsel fo God.
We are especially concerned about the prospect of witnessing if we have to live with or next to the people that we know need to hear about the Biblical Jesus. How will this change my homelife, my workplace, our family reunions, our neighborhood? We become more reluctant. Yes, we are called to witness with our whole lives, but sometimes we do need to use words. How will they hear if you don’t speak up? What good would it be if we spent the rest of our career or lives in some kind of relationship with a person only in a false peace, only for them to be condemned eternally because we were afraid to speak up? Families aren’t forever. Only Jesus’ family endures beyond this life. Pray for good opportunities when they will actually listen to you and hear you.
“But what do I say?” You see the need to witness. You see the privilege each Christian has to tell about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You even have an opportunity to witness in a particular conversation, or because someone asked you about your faith, your congregation, your God, your Jesus. What do you say?
Keep it simple. You don’t have to be an expert. Tell what you know. How’s this for starters: “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All of it. Yours and mine. He has mercy upon us. He grants us peace.” That’s the Agnus Dei. Put into use what you know and sing on Sunday. That’s what it’s here for.
What else can you share? What do you believe? Sometimes we get tongue-tied. Start this way: “I believe…” Confess the Apostles’ Creed. We will pray it again this morning. You know it. You studied it in Confirmation Class. Dust off your catechism. Review the basics. Tell what you know. It’s a great Chrisian testimony.
There’s another reason why some are reluctant to witness. “What if they ask a question I can’t answer? I don’t know enough.” Guess what? I don’t know all the answers, either. We are all learning from the font to the grave. Christians must never stop learning. If we think we have no further need to go to Bible Class or Church, that means the devil’s got you decieved.
You won’t skip lunch today just because you ate yesterday, will you? You may not remember what you had to eat on January 16th, 2001, but it nourished your body. In the same way, you may not remember that sermon you heard four years ago, but it nourished your soul then. It aided you in your daily contrition and repentance and delivered to you the forgivness of sins. Then, like today, the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world, even yours!
“What if they ask a question I can’t answer?” Tell them you’ll do some research. Do it, and get back to them! Defending the faith will help you learn it better, believe it even more strongly. Check the index of your catechism. Use the concordance of your study Bible. The notes are helpful, too. Ask me. “Pastor, I have a question.” Those are sweet words in my ear.
Whatever happens, try to keep the subject on sin, repentance, grace, and the gift of forgiveness and eternal life we have in Jesus.
We don’t like what we don’t know. We don’t like what’s unfamiliar, uncomfortable, painful. And sharing our faith can be uncomfortable. I’m not asking you to knock down doors of people you don’t even know. Talk to those you do. You already have a relationship with them. You’ve got a great motive—you love them. You have the means—the Word of God. Motive, means and opportunity. Pray for those opportunities.
Many people will come to church if asked. They often see Bible classes as less threatening. And don’t stop with just one attempt. Be persistent, but not overwhelming or annoying. Use the language of invitation, of opportunity. Offer to pick them up or meet them at the front door. Walking into an unfamiliar congregation can be intimidating! Sit with them. Help them find their way through the service and escort them down for after service refreshments.
It can’t hurt a one of us to be more friendly. Christians should act like they like one another. How’d the song go? They’ll know we are Christians by our love? If we’ve really been forgiven, shouldn’t some of that love and forgiveness rub off? Wouldn’t we be more welcoming to visitors and members that we haven’t seen here in a while? Wouldn’t we be willing to talk to new people during coffee hour instead of just our friends? This is faith in action. That is what little lambs do. Think about the opportunities you have to encourage your fellow Christians here. How can you show them the love of Christ?
If the love of Christ had its way with each one of us, no one would ever have to worry about how many people would show up for a Sunday service, a Bible Class, or a special service. If we forgave others like the Lamb of God has already taken away our sins, we would get along better. If we walked the talk, instead of just talked about our fears and concerns, there would never be a budget deficit.
We’re not going to pass the offering plates around twice. That’s using the law as compulsion. Christians are called to use the law to confront sinners secure in their sin. How does that work? Well, let us confess our sins individually and as a congregation. And we’ll be specific. That doesn’t leave anybody out.
We have sinned by thought, word, and deed, individually, and as a congregation. We have sinned against one another. Our thoughts toward our fellow Christians have been detestable. We have harbored grudges—for years—over misunderstandings that could have been cleared up in five minutes if we would only have tried to listen to the other person—or asked them out of love. And we didn’t immediately go to that other person, did we? We have said things that shouldn’t have been said, or could have been said in a much more loving and considerate way. We have gossiped! Boy, have we gossiped! We have done things out of spite. We’ve even served in the church for the wrong motives. We have sinned by what we have done and left undone. We complained, avoided blame ourselves, and passed the buck. There’s a lot left undone around here—hymns left unsung, projects uncompleted, prayers unprayed, sins unconfessed, offerings left in our pockets out of selfishness or mistrust, love ungiven, forgiveness not shared with someone who asked for it. We have not loved God with a whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors, family, friends, coworkers, classmates, visitors, and fellow members as ourselves. We justly deserve punishment now and in eternity.
We’re not going to pass the offering plates around twice. That’s using the law as compulsion. Christians are called to use the law to confront sinners secure in their sin. Christians are sinners. Let us hear the harshness of the law and confess our sins individually and as a congregation. Let’s stop trying to be the stereotypical Christian hypocrite.
That’s hard to hear. I know. It was hard to write and no easier to say to you in public with all of your eyes on me. Not a one of us is perfect. Only Jesus.
Now do you better understand what Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to take away? Now do you better understand sin and how invasive and infectious it is? It spreads everywhere. It hurts everyone. No one has a natural immunity. We are all terminally ill cases. We need Jesus. We confess our sins in order to hear the Lord’s absolution. We all need the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained servant of the Word I therefore forgive all our sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the people said: Amen.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Do you see Him? By faith you do. Jesus is your substitute. Jesus was a male, without blemish, without sin of His own. Jesus was killed and darkness reigned for three hours at midday. Because of Jesus’ blood shed for you and forgiveness given you, the angel of death passes over you. And then, the Lamb is eaten—that’s Holy Communion!
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The world needs to hear of this Lamb of God. Your pastor needs your help. Your Lord needs your hands, feet, lips, and heart. You know the message. You have been called through Baptism to be a messenger. The world needs to hear about the gift of forgiveness.
Behold the Lamb of God. By faith, you see Him in the Word, Old Testament and New. By faith, you see Him in Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution when your sins are washed away day after day. By faith, you meet Him face to face in the Holy Supper of Jesus’ Passover where He is the Host and the Meal itself, the very Lamb of God given for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Behold Him! The Lamb’s blood has been shed. Forgiveness is for you. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, even mine, even yours, all of them! Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.