Epiphany 2 | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 15 January 2023 | Isaiah 49:1-7 | Psalm 40:1-12 | I Corinthians 1:1-9 | John 1:29-42
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God who illumines us with word and sacrament and makes us to shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.
Good morning, friends. Welcome to the Second Sunday of Epiphany. January 6 is the Feast of Epiphany, the day we celebrate how the wise men found Jesus after following the star. And so now we’re in the season of Epiphany until Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It’s a season of light and revelations. The first light we get in Epiphany is always the celebration of Jesus’ baptism, where Jesus is called beloved and so are we. We celebrated that last week and baptized some of our own.
This year, the second week of Epiphany, the second revelation that comes to us, is about sharing the light that God gives. In this week’s readings and collect, we hear about spreading the good news of what God is doing.
In our collect, we ask that we who are illumined with word and sacrament will be able to shine with Christ’s glory and share Christ with the whole world.
In our reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear about God’s servant who is chosen not only to call his own community into faithfulness but to be a light for the whole world. In our Psalm, the poet longs to proclaim what God has done; this psalmist speaks God’s wonders out loud and can’t keep silent.
In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul continues to teach new Christians about the life and strength Jesus offers. In our Gospel, John the Baptist points out Jesus to his followers, and Andrew invites his brother to see Jesus, and Jesus invites new disciples to come and see more.
Our readings this Second Sunday of Epiphany are about sharing the light, passing on the faith, inviting those we love to come and see. So we could say today’s readings are about evangelism if we want to use a churchy word for it.
And some of us have a mixed reaction to the word evangelism and to the practice behind it. We’ve had bad experiences. Some of us grew up in churches where evangelism was an arrogant confrontation of telling other people how wrong they are, or a manipulative system of trying to trap people into agreeing with us. And maybe some of us have been on the receiving end of evangelism like that, where someone really felt like they needed to save our soul and ended up hurting us or just pushing us away.
Some of us (including me) also question evangelism because of the more global ways Christianity has done harm in the name of enlightening the world. We have a lot of reflecting and repenting to do on the ways our faith has been used to enslave and exploit and murder rather than to liberate and love and give life. Missionary efforts have been part of that. Maybe we can even see a little bit of that colonizing urge in our collect where we pray that Jesus “may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”
All too often, language like this about subjecting the world to Jesus has come from people who actually want their own nations and cultures to be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth, and to get the wealth and power that comes with that for themselves.
Christian evangelism has too often been about controlling others and putting the weight of divinity behind human ambitions and anxieties. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on in our readings today when people are moved to share what God has done for them and moved to invite others to follow Jesus. These folks want to tell others about the light they’ve found not to control, not out of guilt or fear, but to share something good with those they love.
So today I’d like to see if we can move a step toward sharing the faith in lighter and more joyful ways, or deepen that practice. We’ll dig into the Psalm and reflect on what sharing faith from our own stories and our own hope in God might look like as we follow the saints who shared with us.
Before proclaiming righteousness in the great congregation, our psalmist starts with their own story, their own encounter with God’s saving love. “I waited patiently for God. God heard my cry. God lifted me from the pit. God put a song in my mouth.” The Psalmist’s desire to tell others about God comes from this deep well of experience.
Last week in the story of Jesus’ baptism, we saw that Jesus’ ministry starts with the moment when God calls him beloved. Before Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God to others, Jesus is already loved, and everything starts from there. We see a similar pattern here. The Psalmist first knows from experience that God hears and helps and loves, and then comes the public proclamation.
So, evangelism isn’t something that is out there, as if we were trying to go out and fix other people’s relationships with God. It’s in here as we deepen our own relationships with God and our neighbors. The deliverance God offers is for us too; it has to be for us before we share it with others.
Whatever else we might hope for other people, we can start from God’s hope for us. God loves us and takes delight in us. God pulls us up out of the mire and the clay. God calls us into community. God makes our footing sure and puts a song in our hearts. Telling the story of God’s deliverance is where the Psalmist starts, and maybe it’s where we start too.
And if we’re not there yet today, we can take our time. God loves us and saves us and delights in us wherever we are. We are all still learning how to let God love us, and we’re in it together. We reflect God’s radiance back to one another. We are illumined by word and sacrament day by day.
We learn together to perceive the Spirit’s movement among us. We learn together how to tell the story of God’s salvation among us. We are invited to draw from a deep well of experience—our own and that of saints and psalmists and teachers who came before us. We are invited to drink deeply of the goodness God gives us.
And friends, if you are here but you’re having trouble finding the goodness and love God has for you, we can help each other; Holly or I would love to talk with you and see what we can find together. It means a lot that you chose to be here even in a difficult time, and maybe that can be a gap that lets some light in. Maybe we can find our way back to the deep well of God’s goodness together. Because when we do find that well, and keep finding it, we become more and more the kind of people who take delight in proclaiming God’s wonders because we know our own stories of deliverance.
Sharing those stories will look different in different contexts. I am very lucky because I’m at work right now and I can just stand up here and quote Psalm 40 and it’s not weird at all. I actually get paid to proclaim God’s faithfulness in the great congregation. In some ways, laypeople have the harder job, because y’all get to translate the story of God’s goodness into a thousand more languages than your priests do every day.
Some of you did this last week when you welcomed leaders of the community into our space at St. Paul’s as part of the Church Buildings for Collaborative Partnerships project. You listened to these folks, and you listened for where the Spirit might be moving in our community, and you let these neighbors and partners know who we are and what we value and why we’re here, even without using a bunch of churchy words. There are many ways to tell the story of what God is doing, and there are many ways to invite people into that story with us.
As we learn to share the radiance and goodness God gives us, we are surrounded by many shining witnesses who have gone before us. Like the Psalmist, these prophets and teachers and saints start from stories of deliverance, and they delight to proclaim God’s righteousness. We have the prophet Isaiah seeing visions of God’s love and light and deliverance even in a time of exile and proclaiming a hope that keeps on expanding to more and more people.
We have St. Paul who preached God’s grace near and far after God shone a blinding light on him and saved him from a life of hatred in the name of righteousness. We have the first disciples who answered Jesus’ call to “come and see,” and they saw something so good in Jesus that they brought the folks they loved along with them.
And this week we celebrate the witness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who believed in God’s deliverance for his people. In the tradition of the Black church that raised him up, Dr. King understood that God is a God of liberation, in scripture’s great stories of deliverance and also in the present wherever anyone is less than fully free.
He understood that we all get free together. He said “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” He used “creative tension” to push back against the many who used Christianity to silence and oppress Black Americans. He proclaimed a vision for deliverance in the midst of complex and ingrained oppression, and he was murdered for it.
His faith was a vital force for good in this world. Like the psalmist, Dr. King proclaimed God’s righteousness out loud from a deep well of his own experience and a deep hope in God’s deliverance. He is among the saints whose lights guide us toward Jesus. And today we give thanks for his witness, for his evangelism, for his teaching.
I give thanks also for the people who first shared the story of Jesus with me. My parents and grandparents read scripture to me before I could talk because these were the stories that had given them life, that had sustained them in difficult times, and they wanted the same faith for me.
I give thanks for my mentors and friends in this branch of the church who taught me what was possible because God’s grace had opened doors for them, God’s love had kept expanding for them, and they shared that love with me. They taught me that God’s love was even bigger than I thought it was growing up, and that all kinds of people are holy and beautiful and part of the Spirit’s movement.
I am grateful every day for the saints and psalmists and prophets and teachers who light the way and who shared their faith with me. They’ve helped me to learn and re-learn to tell my story, they’ve helped me to take hold of the goodness and joy that God offers to me. They have shared their light and the light of Jesus with me.
And so I wonder today, who are the witnesses who shared the faith with you? Who invited you to “come and see”? Whose faith gives you vision and stirs up your courage and awakens your joy in God’s goodness?
Where do you see God’s deliverance in the stories that sustain you, and in your own story? I wonder how you tell your own story of walking with God. I wonder where you have seen God’s light shining for you in this season.
And I wonder how we all may be called to share the light and the hope and the faith that guide us with someone else, or invite them to come and see what it’s like. I wonder what our songs of deliverance will sound like in this season.
As we follow whatever light is given to us in this season of Epiphany, let us walk in love as Christ loved us, and let us shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory as we are illumined with word and sacrament. Amen.
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