Sermon Ideas For John 1:29-34 Part 2
On this second Sunday after Epiphany we are made aware again of the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. John the Baptizer is questioned by the Priests and Levites as to his authority to baptize since, by his own words, he is not the Christ, nor yet Elijah.
Now, nearly 2,000 years later, we are still conscious of the tenuous nature of our ministry. By the standards of the world we are not the people of power. Nevertheless, we do possess a tremendous power which the world cannot give nor take away.
This is an awesome reality, and it can be both a blessing or a curse. Blessing as with humility we acknowledge that the power is of God and not our own. Curse when we begin to believe or act as if we are the source of the power. This is true not only for those of us who are ordained; it is also true for all the members of the church who make up the "Priesthood of all believers."
Even though we know the story well, it is often hard for us to put ourselves into the picture. Paul put it clearly and forcefully in the beginning of the first letter to the Corinthians. We are "...consecrated in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours..." (1 Cor 1:1-2). For this purpose, "in every way (we) are enriched with all speech and all knowledge...so that (we) are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as (we) wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ who will sustain (us) to the end, guiltless in day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:5-8). John bears witness to the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). As a part of the "priesthood of all believers," each one of us, whether ordained or not, participate in this ministry.
Many church bulletins now attest to this fact by noting "Ministers: All the members of the Church." "Pastor, The Reverend John Doe." This the kind of word that can be frightening while at the same time can be challenging.
From time to time I am invited by churches to lead discussions on how ministry is performed. If I begin by asking the participants to describe some recent experience in which they ministered to someone else, there is often an uncomfortable silence. With some suggestions such as taking a pot of soup to a neighbor who is not well or phoning a church member to inquire about the health of a child, the situation changes.
Most folk say that they never really thought of those kinds of things as ministry, feeling that this designation puts too great a "weight" on what they had done. The hospital call, the note saying that the person has been missed at a church function—such activities grew out of a genuine concern for others. For whatever reason, it is often difficult for many to identify the "cup of cold water" as true ministry.
It is in this sense that we can understand John. We know, as did he, that we are not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus' sandal. But that is not the point. Although we witness and minister both by word and by deed, the ultimate power of ministry is the power that comes from God and not from ourselves. We are essentially the channels through which God chooses to work.
A basic clue for what is helpful in ministry comes from our recalling a particular difficulty we encountered in our own pilgrimage. We remember the things done by family and friends who were trying to be of help but were not. And, by the same token, we recall those who were quite helpful; what they said or did, or didn't say or do provides a pattern for our own way of relating to folk whose path has become very dark or rugged. Sometimes little needs to be said at all. The power of presence is healing. As Lewis Carroll put it in Alice in Wonderland, "Don't just do something, stand there."
We can identify with the ancient prophet as God speaks to him, "Is it too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Is 49:6).
In this time of Epiphany it is possible for each of us to search for ways to reveal the power and presence of our Lord, and to support all the people of God in the ministry of "bearing one another's burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).
William B. Oglesby, Jr. (deceased)