Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sermon, Epiphany 2A (Is. 49:1-7, 1 Cor. 1:1-9, John 1:29-42)

How does God go about changing the world? The answer is, "Through us."

The follow up question to that answer, of course, is, "Why?" Why does God use us? Why does God choose us? Why doesn't God simply prove his existence and dictate what he wants done?

There was a story many years ago in a Reader's Digest which had God doing just that. Every day at a specified time, God took control of the airwaves and broadcast a message to the world via radio. Each evening he would say what he was going to do on the next day at a specified time. The one I remember was the sinking of Australia by 20 feet for about 5 minutes, or something along those lines. At the end of the story, everybody knew God existed and world peace ensued . . . or something like that.

There are two problems with this method. The first is that it's not a permanent solution. Think back on the old biblical stories: Adam & Eve, Cain, Noah, the Exodus, Judges. In all of those stories there was some event where God was present in a big way. The Garden, post-murder protection, the flood, plagues and pillars of fire and smoke, and, well, pick your story from Judges. And yet for all of that, within a generation or two, people drifted away. We forget. "Yes, that was nice," we say, "but what have you done for me lately?"

The second problem with God dictating what he wants done is that God is not a dictator. We have that wonderful and terrible God-given gift of free will. God doesn't want us to worship him or love him because we have to, or because he said so. God wants us to worship him and love him because we choose to.

So back to the original question: Why does God use us? Because it is through us that the story gets told and re-told. In us is the capacity for a relationship with God. Through us that relationship is extended to others. It is relationships that bind us to each other and to God. God is looking for a relationship with people. God is calling people into a relationship. But it's not just God who is searching; so are we.

We get both sides of this search in our readings today. Isaiah wrote, "The Lord called me before I was born." And in his greeting to the Corinthians, Paul writes that he was "called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God . . . to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints in every place . . ."

God is calling us to be apostles and saints. God is inviting us to be included in a relationship.

In the reading from the gospel we hear about two of John the Baptist's disciples who leave him to follow Jesus. Jesus doesn't tell these two, "Follow me." Instead he asks them a question: What are you looking for?

What are you looking for? It applies as easily to us today as it did to Andrew back then. What are we looking for? Peace of mind? Spiritual fulfillment? An understanding of scripture? The meaning to life, the universe and everything?

Andrew was looking for the Messiah. When he found him, he then went and told his brother Simon. Andrew brought Simon to Jesus who renamed him Cephas, or Peter. In this incident we see how bound together we are. God, through Jesus, is looking for people to follow him. Andrew is looking for the Messiah. These two develop the beginnings of a relationship, and then Andrew invites another person into that relationship. That is how God changes the world -- one relationship at a time.

And it is changing the world that is our goal. We start here, one relationship at a time: Me to Bobby; Bobby to Polly; Polly to Jennifer; and so it goes. But, to paraphrase Isaiah, it is too easy a thing that you should be God's servants only in this place. We are being called to be a light to the nations so that God's salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

That can seem a bit daunting. How can we be a light to the nations from this little corner of the world? For starters, we can think about that medical mission to Belize. Joelene, Cece and the rest of the team did good things down there and they were a witness to the love of God in a far away place. And I would be willing to bet that that is how most people interpret this -- as a missionary out in the world to spread the Good News.

But think about this: I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

As a light to the nations . . .

What happens when you light a lamp or turn on a light at night? You tend to attract bugs. Bugs see that light and are drawn to it. The bugs come to the light. In other words, if we are the light, people will be drawn to us. It is in that drawing where we can spread the Good News.

And we are in the perfect place for that to happen. The Ruby Valley draws all kinds of people to it -- hunters and fishers and general tourists. Maybe, instead of focusing on "going out," we need to focus on being the light of the Ruby Valley that draws people in. Then, through our witness here, through our invitation and inclusion, we can live out the gospel in a way that has a positive impact on people long after they go home.

We can draw people in with our light, feed them, nourish them, and, like Andrew, develop a relationship with them; and then send them on their way in the hopes that they will continue in that relationship.

Christianity is about community. God is about community. Stories are told and re-told. Relationships develop. God is calling us and we are reaching out to others. Like a searchlight reaches out to the lost, or like the star drew in the wise men, we need to let our light shine so that people are drawn to us.

And that is how God changes the world.


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