Saturday, January 7, 2017

What Are You Looking For?

The gospel text appointed for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany in the Year of Matthew, John 1:29-42, is an Epiphany text par-excellence.  It epitomizes epiphanies.  In nearly every verse something is being revealed, or someone is having an epiphany.  The text is all about revealing who Jesus is, even to the point that an entire Christology (Jesus as pre-existent Christ, Cosmic Redeemer, Spirit-anointed Messiah) is announced.  We have already been told in John's prologue that "what has come into being in him is life" but already here we have this being worked out.  Jesus' first words to his disciples are also recorded:  "What are you looking for?"  The answer, which the disciples did not give, might well have been, "We are looking for life."  Jesus is that life.

(The following questions are a sample from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.  These questions attempt to unearth the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.)

 1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is all about testimony.  This text reveals Jesus.  Jesus is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  He is "a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me."  He is "the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."  Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One.  All of this is a gospel function, announcing to us one who can finally take away the sin of the world - ours included.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Law here.  It might be argued that by mentioning "the sin of the world" our need of the Lamb of God is being highlighted.  This is true, but an explicit mention of our need is not present.  It is certainly no difficult task to flesh out our need of this sacrificial lamb, but we will need other texts for this.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are in the place of the bystanders who hear John's words.  We hear him testify as to the identity of Jesus.  Near the end of this passage we meet Andrew and Simon, who have heard the testimony of John.  They are the first believers.  We would do well to identify with them.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  Andrew and Simon provide us with an example to follow.  Andrew, particularly fulfills this task as he hears the testimony of John, believes, and then immediately testifies to "what he has seen and heard."  This then, as believers, is our call.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  John the Baptist's words, "I myself did not know him," - repeated twice - are a clue to a possible couplet.  John's words suggest couplets like:  in the dark/enlightened; blind/eyes opened; without understanding/wise.

6.  Exegetical work:  Peter Ellis' book, The Genius of John, argues that this Gospel is, from beginning to end, structured in an artful way using the ancient form of chiasm.  In this brief passage we have a clear example of this:  Verses 29-34 and verses 35-42 both begin with the announcement that Jesus is the Lamb of God, both continue with the revelation that "we did not know him", and both conclude with an announcement of Jesus' revealed identity - Son of God and Messiah.  It might be fruitful to delve into the Old Testament background for each of these titles given to Jesus in this passage.  We might ask what the Jewish rites of sacrifice had to do with this title of Lamb of God.  We might want to look at Ezekiel's words regarding the Son of Man.  Other prophets' words regarding the Anointed One might also be revealing.  John is undoubtedly calling on many Old Testament passages in announcing Jesus in this way. Another way to proceed might be to look at the whole Christology that is presented here:  Lamb of God, One who was before me, One the Spirit remains on, One who baptizes with the Spirit, Son of God, Rabbi, Messiah, Anointed One.  Raymond Brown, in his classic commentary is always insightful.  He notes that in this passage "on each day there is a gradual deepening of insight and a profounder realization of who it is that the disciples are following." (The Gospel According to John I-XII, p. 76)  Perhaps this will be the task for our sermon as well.

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Fred Craddock reminded us that we need to bring the experience of the text to the listener, not just the content.  How will we do that here?  We dare not preach theology alone.  That rarely preaches.

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