Sermons

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 15, 2017 Mass By the Reverend Stephen Gerth

Year A: Isaiah 49:1–7; Psalm 40:1–10; 1 Corinthians 1:1–9; John 1:29–41

I think it was in a ninth or tenth grade English class that I learned about the power of an opening line. The example my teacher used was the famous first sentence in Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick—“Call me Ishmael.”[1] Though I knew who Ishmael was; he was Abraham’s first son, but not the son of his wife, I didn’t know how the author was using his name. My teacher showed us how knowing the story of Ishmael of the Bible told us something about the Ishmael of the novel. Fortunately, we weren’t being asked to read Moby Dick—and I confess that I have never finished reading it. Our teacher was teaching us something about how to read—how to think.

In much the same way, each of the four evangelists, we will learn at the end of their gospels, set the stage for what each wants us to know about Jesus Christ when they begin.

A good Bible study could be had by comparing the opening lines of each gospel and, for our purposes tonight, by comparing the first words spoken by Jesus in each gospel. The opening lines are all pretty famous, especially that of the unnamed evangelist we call John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[2]

Jesus’ first words in John are spoken to two of John the Baptist’s disciples, Andrew and another of John’s disciples who is never named. Jesus asks them, “What are you trying to find?”[3] They answer with a question, “Where are you abiding?—or remaining?”[4] Jesus replies, “Come and see.”[5] They saw the place, and they remained—stayed—with him. In John, those who remain with Jesus become believers, and they become the children of God.[6]

It turns out that Classical and New Testament Greek have many words that carry the meaning of our English verb “to see”: S–E–E.[7] One of them means “to see something or someone.”[8] One carries the sense of “to catch a glimpse and/or to experience,”[9] One word is often translated, “Behold.”[10] Dr. Mark Davis points out, in his Greek New Testament blog, that in English we say, “I see what you mean; and sometimes we say, “I know what you mean.”[11] It works that way in Greek, too.

By contrast, New Testament Greek only has one verb meaning “to hear.”[12] And it will turn out, that Jesus’ last words, at the end of John (but not including chapter 21, the gospel’s “epilogue” or “appendix,” where Jesus reveals himself to some of his disciples who are fishing in the Sea of Tiberius), Jesus will say to Thomas, who doubted what he had heard about the resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”[13] What matters in this gospel is not seeing Jesus, but hearing the Word and believing in him.

In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, John the Baptist preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”[14] But in the fourth gospel, John—he’s simply John, the only John, in this gospel—there’s no list of the twelve in this gospel—proclaims, “I came baptizing with water, that [the Lamb of God] might be revealed to Israel,”[15]—so he could be seen, so others could see and know.

John doesn’t get a whole year in our three-year lectionary cycle, but he does get a lot use where his text seems to fit best. One place is today, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. This year, it’s John revealing Jesus to two of disciples. Next year it will be the rest of this first chapter where Jesus calls Philip and Nathan'a-el. They hear Jesus tell them that they will see greater things.[16] And they do. In the third year, his disciples see the miracle at the wedding at Cana.[17]

“What are you and I trying to find in life?” is a question we human beings answer in many different ways across the years of our lives. Andrew and the other disciple of John asked the right question, “Where are you?” Their question and Jesus’ answer are still the right words for our hearts, our minds, our souls, our lives.

✠ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[1] Herman Melville, Redburn, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick, Library of America (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1983), 795.

[2] John 1:1.

[3] John 1:38. My translation.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John 1:39.

[6] Raymond E. Brown, Christ in the Gospels of the Ordinary Sundays: Essays on the Gospel Readings of the Ordinary Sundays in the Three-Year Liturgical Cycle (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998), 95.

[7] Wilhelm Michaelis, “ὁραω, εῖδόν, et seq.,” Theological Dictionary of New Testament, ed. G. Kittel, trans. and ed. G.W. Bromily (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1964–1976), 5:316.

[8] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. “βλέπω,” 178–79.

[9] Ibid., s.v. “ὁραω, ” 719–20.

[10] Ibid., s.v. “εῖδόν,” 279–80.

[11] http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2017/01/watch-seek-behold-see-witness.html, (Accessed 13 January 2017).

[12] Kittel, 5:316.

[13] John 20:29.

[14] Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:2; Luke 3:3.

[15] John 1:31.

[16] John 1:43–51.

[17] John 2:1–12.

 

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