Found by God in Christ and loved, our joy is to find others and share this with them, bring them to Jesus so they, too, might know this love and grace.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday after Epiphany, year A
Texts: John 1:29-42; Isaiah 49:1-7
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What would it take for you to share your faith with someone else?
What might convince you to take that risk?
Andrew and John, disciples of John the Baptist, start to follow Jesus in the Gospel today. But almost immediately Andrew finds his big brother Simon, and eagerly tells him, “We have found the Messiah!” Simon Peter doesn’t become Simon Peter without being brought to Jesus by his brother.
Mary and I were blessed to be at dinner with friends last week who shared about their faith practices, which were different from ours, and the joy and life they bring them. It was a blessing and a privilege. But what might Andrew the fisherman think about our culture where more often than not we’re reluctant to open up about what we believe, about what gives us life and joy?
Andrew’s joy in finding God’s anointed one couldn’t be kept inside; he had to share it. What would be like for us to have such uncontainable joy?
In Isaiah, God dreams that God’s light and healing would reach the end of the earth.
In a beautiful turn, God says, “It is too light a thing” for the Messiah just to restore Israel. All nations need God’s light. We see this in Christ, who came for the whole world, not just his people.
But these words are also given us in our anointing. Made God’s Christ in baptism, we are sent with the same mission Christ began. And if God has anything to say to us it might be, “It’s too light a thing that you might know my healing salvation just for yourselves, or for your congregation. I give you as a light to the nations.”
There is a joyful sharing of faith in this place. We live our hope together here. We meet the Triune God in Word and Sacrament, in song and prayer. We serve Christ together in this place, in our neighborhood, and in each other’s name wherever we live and move and work. This is a grace for us, and in this community the Spirit gives us life.
Andrew and John must have loved being together in Jesus’ presence, listening to him, talking to him. They’d followed the Baptizer hoping for God’s coming, and now in Jesus they knew that coming. But Andrew, at some point early on, left Jesus’ presence for a bit to find his brother. The author of First John says that his joy can only be complete when he shares the Good News.
What if our joy will not be complete if we keep what we know and find in this place to ourselves? If we never reach out to someone we know and say, “We have found God’s hope and life”?
This is the pattern we see in John’s Gospel repeatedly.
Jesus finds people, who go out and bring friends or relatives or neighbors to Jesus. John the Baptist points out the Lamb of God to his own disciples, who follow Jesus. Andrew brings Simon Peter. After this story, Jesus finds Philip, who finds his friend Nathanael. The Samaritan woman at the well meets Jesus and then gets her neighbors and brings them to see. Andrew and Philip bring Greek seekers to meet Christ for themselves.
This is how God’s light gets to the ends of the earth. When those who rejoice in the light, who are blessed to see by it, who find hope in the darkness and fear of this world in God’s love, say to another, “I’ve found something. Come with me and see.”
In John’s Gospel those who bring others don’t try to convince them of anything. They simply tell what they’ve found, and say, “Come with me and I’ll show you.”
How different that feels from what passes for evangelism in the churches today.
We’re in a time of deep confusion about evangelism across the Church.
The focus of so many articles and books and workshops is either fear or marketing. Mainline churches are frightened about their numbers dropping. There’s a pretty constant stream of gloom and doom writing about how the church isn’t going to survive.
The answer from many is marketing. Sell your congregation, your programs, your facilities. Make a splash in a busy world where people’s attention is divided and glossy, professional entertainment is the norm. Are you doing the right things in worship? Are you finding ways to attract the kinds of people you need?
Isn’t it striking how different that is from Andrew? He found the joy and hope of God’s coming, and needed to share that personally with his brother. The Samaritan woman met the Messiah and couldn’t wait to tell her neighbors.
Evangelism is never about building churches, or adding members. It’s never about worrying about survival, as if that’s Christ’s goal for us. Jesus never said that the ELCA needed to grow, or that Mount Olive should have a certain number of people. He simply came as the love of God in the flesh, invited people to follow, and those people started inviting other people to come and see Jesus themselves. And God’s light spread around the world.
It’s telling that John uses the word “found” a lot.
Andrew and John find Jesus. Andrew finds Simon. Jesus finds Philip. Philip finds Nathanael. Telling the Good News about what God is doing begins with first finding that Good News for oneself. Once we’ve found it, we find others we know and love and share it with them.
It’s how it often happens here. People tell others they know and love what they’ve found, about meeting God here, about the life and worship and service we do together, and invite them to come with them and see. Not to build up our numbers. But because the joy of being filled with God’s grace and knowing a community of faith in which you’ve met the Spirit of God is too explosive to keep inside.
None of us need to care about how many people belong to any denominations or any congregations. That’s never the point. Up or down, it’s not ours to worry about. The only question before us is, have we found God’s love and light for the world? If so, what will it take for us to tell someone who doesn’t know it what we’ve found?
It’s too light a thing, it’s too small, God says, to keep the joy of God’s love for the world for ourselves.
And if our forebears in faith have anything to say, it’s that our joy is incomplete if it’s kept to ourselves. It’s completed when it’s shared. When we set aside our fears, our reluctance, and share what we have found in Christ with someone else. Then we start finding real joy.
When we break our cultural rules that say keep faith private, and instead gently, lovingly, open up to another about what we’ve found in God. Then we start finding real joy.
This isn’t about being intrusive, or knocking on doors, or pushing our beliefs on others. It’s not about convincing others, or being right. It’s about being ready to share with those we likely already know and love what we have found in God, what brings life and joy to us and to the world.
So that God’s light of healing might reach the ends of the earth. And our joy might be complete.
In the name of Jesus. Amen