2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 15, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 49.1-7 is the second of Isaiah’s “servant songs” (we heard the first last week). As God’s servant you may feel you have “labored in vain,” but, doing God’s will, you are sustained. God says, “It is not enough to serve your own people; I will give you as a light to the whole world.” You will even gain the respect of rulers.

Psalm 40.1-11 turns from concern with one’s self to God, to the whole community. First we give thanks for God’s help in trouble, and praise those who trust God. Then we affirm that what God wants is not “sacrifices and sin offerings” but “an open ear” to listen for God’s desire, and the commitment to do God’s will. Finally we move to telling “the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation.”

In 1 Corinthians 1. 1-9 Paul greets the church in Corinth as those “called to be saints,” assuring them that they do not lack any spiritual gift so that they can serve faithfully.

In John 1. 29-42 John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” saying that he saw the Spirit descend and remain on him. Some of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus, including Andrew, who recruits his brother Peter.

Preaching Thoughts

Isaiah. It’s tempting to want to have power and authority, to be admired and listened to. But Isaiah suggests that God’s servant will not necessarily be glorified—but God will. When devote ourselves to serving God, and allow God’s Spirit to work through us, good stuff happens… though we might never see the results. We might think we’ve labored in vain. Bu the assurance is that in the big picture, our little labors make a difference.

1 Corinthians. We often speak of our dreams our hopes and aspirations in life; but we don’t often speak of being called: not that we desire to do something or be someone, but that God calls us and gives us the gifts to carry out God’s purposes in our lives. Our calling is not necessarily what we want to do but what the Spirit, live and free in us, wants to do. (Though sometimes what you feel drawn to is exactly what the Spirit is in you to do!) The key is not having any special skill or ability, but discerning how God is acting in and through our lives.

Lamb of God. You can preach a few dozen sermons on various aspects of the rich image of Jesus as the lamb of God who take away the sin of the world. Note that Jesus doesn’t take away our (plural) sins—our acts of selfishness—but he takes away our sin—the state of being separated from God (or at least thinking we are). Jesus connects us with God even as we continue to think we’re separate and act as if we’re the center of (or the only thing in) the world.

Some folks interpret this image with that misleading substitutionary idea, that Jesus suffered punishment so we wouldn’t have to, by being a sacrificial lamb—a scapegoat. It’s true that Jesus is a scapegoat: society loads its sins on him and expects him to carry them away, off into the desert. This is how we treat all the victims of injustice: they suffer so we don’t have to. But Jesus’ ministry makes it clear that that doesn’t actually take away our sin: it makes it worse. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Our slaughter of God’s lambs only deepens our alienation from God. But the good news is that even in our sin, even as we torture God by causing God’s beloved children to suffer, Jesus does away with our separation from God: in his being he embodies the unity of the human and divine, and in his ministry he makes clear that we are forgiven and have no reason to distance ourselves from God. In that manner he takes away the sin of the world.

And maybe it’s in that same vein that Jesus sends us out like lambs in the midst of wolves (Lk. 10.13).

Invitations. Don’t overlook the wonderful exchange between Jesus and the two disciples.
—He asks “What are you looking for?” That’s a question Jesus keeps asking us. Ponder that. Of course we’re seeking God—but how, in what form? When we think we’ve found something, how will we know its actually God, and not something easier and cheaper we were looking for instead? If we find happiness, is that God? Or success? Or is it more likely to be healing, or justice? Can we learn to seek simply being one with God, without other trappings?
—They answer “Where are you staying?” It might be curiosity about his lodgings, but maybe it’s more like “What do you stand for? What principles do you stand on? Where are you at?” Or maybe the question we most often have: “Where should we look for you?”
—He answers “Come and see.” Isn’t that Jesus’ invitation to us all the time? Not “Here, let me tell you what to think,” but “Come closer. Pay attention. Notice what you see.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (See worship resources specifically for for MLK Jr. Day here.) What might it meant to say that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” in the face of racism? Certainly not that we’re done with racism. And certainly not that God doesn’t judge racism. God judges and condemns racism, militarism, materialism, violence and oppression in every form. It doesn’t mean that we are not guilty, culpable and responsible to effect restitution. So what does it mean?

I think it meas that Jesus removes the distance between us and God that our racism creates. When white folks separate ourselves from people of color, even unthinkingly, when we participate in white supremacy, even accidentally, we betray our oneness with all people and with God. We alienate ourselves from God. But even in our sin God holds us close. Jesus reveals this to us, and invites us to live out of God’s grace instead of our fears and habits. In that way he sets us free. He takes away the sin of the world. Guilt is no longer the issue. The issue is how we establish and maintain just relationships.

Call to Worship

1. (John 1.35-39)
Leader: John was standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus went by he said,
“Look, here is the lamb of God!”
All: The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following him he said,
“What are you looking for?”
Calling him teacher, they said,
“Rabbi, 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.
Jesus, we come to be near you, to see, and to stay with you.

2. ( based on Psalm 29)
Leader: God, you have rescued us from the pit of our despairing.
All: You have put a new song in our mouths.
You have given us Christ, who delights to do your will.
We are glad to tell the good news of your salvation.
You do not desire burnt offerings and sacrifices.
But you have given us open ears.
May we hear, and in our hearing praise you. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: Lamb of God, Forgiving One, you carry our sin.
All: Lamb of God, you give yourself for us, and set us free.
Lamb of God, faithful servant, you call us.
Lamb of God, Gentle One, you show us the way.
In your spirit, we follow.
Bless us, and use us for your will. Amen.


4.
Leader: Creator God, eternal Spirit of Love, we praise you!
All: Your grace is our salvation, and we thank you!
Risen Christ, Lamb of God, you have shown us the Way of Life.
Gentle One, give us your Spirit to follow on the Way of Love.
Holy Spirit, as you descended upon Christ, come to us, and remain with us.
Grant us the compassion to trust your love,
to love others as ourselves, and to live only in love.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation, God of our Salvation!
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Jesus asked John’s followers,
“What are you looking for?”
All: We are looking for you, God.
They asked him, “Where are you staying?”
Where shall we look for you?
He answered , “Come and see.”
We come to you, God. We draw near to look and listen,
to behold you among us. We come to worship.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of mercy, you have sent us Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. We want to see him, to hear his word, to receive your grace through him. Speak your Word to us, and give us life. Amen.

2.
God of love, you have given us as light to the nations. Speak to us now and fill us with the light of your Word. Show us Jesus, so we might see, and follow. Amen.

3.
God of love, you sent us your lamb to show us the way of mercy and justice. Open our hearts that we may hear your call, receive your grace, and follow the Lamb. Amen.

4.
Gracious God: Jesus, the Lamb of God, walks through our midst. He asks what we are looking for. We are looking for him, and for his grace. He invites us to come and see. Help us to draw near, and to look and listen; help us to follow. Amen.

5.
Lamb of God, Anointed One,
you take away the sin of the world,
and we worship you.
Lamb of God, Gentle One,
you walk beside us
through green pastures
and the valley of the shadow of death,
and we follow you.
Lamb of God, Tender One,
you suffer for us, and we thank you.
Lamb of God, Willing One,
you live in us, and we bear your loveliness
onto this hurting world.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
Gather us in your loving arms;
have mercy on us and forgive us,
and transform us according to your grace,
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
by the grace of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Silent prayer… the word of grace]

2.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
we turn to you.
Our sin is more than we can bear;
but you have forgiven us completely.
We sin more than we know,
and you forgive us more than we can imagine.
In your mercy, help us accept you grace,
become more free, and live as new people.
[Silent prayer… the word of grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

      We believe in God, the Creator of all that is, whose only desire is life and blessing, and whose grace alone is our salvation.
      We follow Christ, the Lamb of God, the Forgiving One, who revealed God by healing, loving, and blessing. By the Spirit of God that descended upon him Jesus showed us a world ruled by God’s grace alone. He forgave his enemies and taught us to do the same, gentle as a lamb. For his love he was crucified. But on the third day God raised him to new life. He lives among us still, granting to us his spirit of peace and love.
      We live by the Holy Spirit, God’s presence in all people, which makes us one; and God’s power in us to live with compassion and courage. We are Christ’s Body, the one Church. We trust in the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection and the mystery of eternal life. We devote ourselves as followers of the Lamb of God to lives of gentleness, forgiveness and compassion, that we ourselves may be lambs of God for the healing of the world. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
1.
Lamb of God,
as the Spirit descended upon you,
so may it descend upon us and remain,
that we may be your gentle lambs.

2.
God of love,
Jesus says “Come and see.”
We come, to be near you.
We come, to behold you.
We come, to discern.
Open our eyes.

3.
Christ, Lamb of God, walk with us through green pastures.
Rest with us beside still waters.
Lamb of God, accompany us in paths of righteousness.
Even through the valley of the shadow of death,
lead us Lamb of God, to eternal life.
Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Gracious One, we give you thanks,
for you create us in love, claim us with faithfulness,
and continually set us free.
You guide and shelter us and feed us as your tender lambs.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.
In grateful joy we sing your praise, with all Creation.
     —Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
the Lamb of God, in whom your Spirit lived.
He taught and healed, fed the hungry, and stood for justice.
He was crucified, and you raised him from the dead.
By his grace he takes away the sin of the world,
saving us from our fear and distrust of you.
Lamb of God, he renews for us your Covenant
to be with us in love forever.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation—

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
gentle as lambs among wolves,
through our courage and love
to participate in your work of the healing of the world,
in the name of Christ.

Amen

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.


Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Send us in the power of your Spirit as your lambs, to do justice, to practice mercy, to walk humbly and confidently with you in the ways of peace, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
2.
Gracious God, in gratitude for all you have given us, and in faithful stewardship of what you have placed in our hands to share with the world, we give our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Help us to follow Christ in setting this world free from fear, in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

3.
God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Lamb of God, you who take away the sin of the world, grant that in gratitude we may follow you, for the sake of the mending of the world. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World (Original song) – [Epiphany “Theme song”]
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using one to three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:]

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
“You are my servant in whom I delight, a light unto the nations.”
Shine for the ones who dwell in the dark, with comfort and justice.

Jesus, Beloved, the Lamb of God, the light of your love shining brightly,
you take away the sin of the world, and we will follow.


Behold the Lamb of God (Original song)

Behold the lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.
Come, let us follow.
Come, let us follow the lamb of God
Who takes away the sin of the world.