A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (49:1-7)
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
1 I waited patiently upon the Lord; *
he stooped to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; *
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; *
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Happy are they who trust in the Lord! *
they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.
5 Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us! *
there is none who can be compared with you.
6 Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
but they are more than I can count.
7 In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
(you have given me ears to hear you);
8 Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
and so I said, “Behold, I come.
9 In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: *
‘I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart.’”
10 I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O Lord, you know.
11 Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; *
I have not concealed your love and faithfulness
from the great congregation.
12 You are the Lord;
do not withhold your compassion from me; *
let your love and your faithfulness keep me for ever.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1:1-9)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (1:29-42)
John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“What are you looking for?” These are the first words spoken by Jesus in the gospel according to John (1:38). “What are you looking for?” They comprise in fact the central question that Jesus poses to us and to the world into which the incarnate Word of God has come.
Come to think of it, that is the central, the fundamental question of life, isn’t it? What are we looking for, anyway? At the deepest level, what is it that we most want and need in life? Where can we find real life, the fullness of life, and a reason to live? Isn’t that the question that brings us here to church, that brings us to the scriptures, that brings us to our religious heritage, that leads us on a quest for God?
Jesus’ first disciples, Andrew and another disciple, whose name is never mentioned, were on that journey. Their quest led them first to John the Baptist, who then directed them to a stranger walking by. They apparently had no idea who he was: just a man whom John had pointed out to them as “the Lamb of God.” He turned to them and asked them directly, “What are you looking for?”
I’m not sure that they could give him an answer. I’m not sure that they were completely clear what they were looking for. But I think they may have had some vague idea what it was. Their response to his question was a question of their own: “Rabbi…, where are you staying?” That seems like a fairly innocuous inquiry, but I suspect that John intends a deeper meaning here.
There is a Greek verb, “menein” (μένειν), which appears four times in today’s gospel reading. In the version that we use, it is translated as “remain” or “stay” and, later in the gospel, as “abide.” First, John the Baptist reports that he saw the spirit of God descend on Jesus and remain there. Then he affirms that God had told him that the person on whom that spirit descends and remains is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. A few verses later, Andrew and the other disciple ask Jesus where he is staying: where does he remain? Finally, we are told that the two of them followed him, saw where he was staying, and remained with him that day. God’s spirit remains with Jesus; the two new disciples ask where Jesus remains; and they then decide to remain with him.
Isn’t that what we are looking for: something or rather someone who remains? Our world constantly changes. Other people constantly change. We constantly change. Change is a reality that is integral to our universe and everything and everyone in it. But what, or who, can we look to throughout all those changes? Whose love and faithfulness and compassion are constant and dependable no matter what transitions come our way? We all know the answer. That is one of the reasons that we are here this morning.
That affirmation of God as the One Who Remains, as the one on whom we can always depend, is the first part of the message of today’s first reading. Despite outward appearances, despite the struggles and disillusionment that Israel faced, God was with them: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” God continued to be their One Who Remains, their Rock, their Hope. And God is ours as well.
But, as I mentioned, that is only the first part of the message of our first reading. It’s the part that we like to hear, and so many churches and members of churches stop there. They don’t want to hear and be faced with “part 2.” But the author known as “Second Isaiah” tells us anyway: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
We aren’t the only people who are looking for the One Who Remains. Whether they recognize it or not, all other people are looking for that faithful God as well. And that is where we come in. Through and with Jesus, we remain in God; we find our life in God so that we might truly be God’s servants: those who bring the light of God to the rest of the world, so that we might lead the world to God.
Churches all too often focus inwardly: toward themselves and their own church community. And there are times when that is essential. It certainly is when, for example, churches are suffering persecution, when the threat is great that they might abandon their witness to the gospel and lose their religious identity. But that is obviously not the context in which we live.
Paul Hanson, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School, observes (Isaiah 40-66, Interpretation series, page 131): “It is safe to say that contemporary communities of faith in North America have no excuse to retreat into narrow self-preoccupation when they compare their own prosperity and influence with world hunger and ecological crisis. They need to recapture the vision of the Creator-Redeemer whose purpose embraces the vastness of the universe and then translate that vision into bold new initiatives that challenge all areas of human knowledge. A narrower focus would be ‘too light a thing’ to be worthy of a servant endowed with such resources and opportunities.”
Put another way, the many gifts and resources with which God has blessed us, including the unparalleled religious freedom that we enjoy, require that we focus beyond ourselves, outward to those who do not know the God Who Remains: the faithful and compassionate God who is the source of life. It is to them that we are sent to be God’s servants, to be the ones who remain with them: the ones who are with those in need, not just for an occasional project that makes us feel good, but for the long haul. We are sent to be their sisters and brothers, those who walk the way of life along with them, enabling them to come to know in us the God in whom all our journeys begin and continue and reach their ultimate end.