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New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 God drew me up from the desolate pit,[a] out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 God put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. 5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear.[b] Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. 7 Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.[c] 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. 10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
29 The next day he (John the Baptizer) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared,
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
30 This is he of whom I said,
‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’
31 I myself did not know him, but I came baptizing with water for this reason,
that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove,
and it remained on him.
33 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.’
34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Chosen One.”[a]
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,
36 and as he watched Jesus walk by he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
38 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?”
39 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.
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew,
Simon Peter’s brother.
41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him,
“We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[b]).
42 He brought Simon[c] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.
This weekend we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This morning I will accentuate the parallels readily visible between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus.
These men lived almost two thousand years apart. But still, they had much in common. They were preachers, teachers, charismatic leaders. People were drawn to their messages.
These men were passionate about dignity for all; passionate about justice for all. Weaving these two lives together … one can’t help but notice a contradiction – these were peaceful men – and yet both died violent deaths.
From the Gospel of John this morning, we have the imagery of Jesus as the Lamb of God. The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
How did John know that Jesus was the Lamb of God? And how does that work … How does the Lamb of God take away the sin of the world?
There is always some initial confusion for me here –John writing about John – sorting out the difference between John the Baptist and John the Gospel writer. John the Baptist lived at the same time as Jesus. John the Baptist’s life intersected directly with the life of Jesus.
John named as the Gospel writer most likely was not alive when Jesus was alive, or if he was, didn’t likely meet Jesus. Most scholars believe that the Gospel attributed to someone named John was written sometime between the years 80 – 90 in the Common Era (this era).
It is a big leap from – “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” – to – “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Maybe that leap was made not while John the Baptist was alive, but in the span of time in between Jesus’ death and when the Gospel of John was written.
Jesus’ followers knew how he died. Making meaning out of events can take time, however. We still grapple with understanding it centuries later.
Why the Lamb of God? Remember, Jesus and many of his followers were Jewish. Christianity was founded and grounded in Judaism. Our heritage comes from a time in history when we made sacrificial offerings to God. Yes, the Jewish history is our history and it included animal sacrifices. And what was the perfect atonement offering? An unblemished lamb.
Jesus’ early followers needed to make sense of his death; make meaning from his death. They framed his death in the language and experience that they knew. Jesus was a sacrifice – an unblemished lamb – to atone for the sin of the world. That is how our Gospel writers framed Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is how they understood their world.
There are many theologians that have reframed what Jesus’ death meant using the contemporary thought and language of their day. The theologian that says it best for me is Sharon Baker. Ten years ago, she wrote that, “By asking God to forgive us, he [Jesus] revealed the heart of God. He showed us that the way to God is not a war-path, but the way of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Jesus exposed and interrupted the cycle of violence that we never seem able to escape on our own. Through Jesus, God entered into our world, suffered the consequences of our attachment to violence and reversed the retributive cycle of violence into a cycle of forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and peace. (Sharon Baker, Executing God: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught about Salvation and the Cross, Westminster, John Knox Press, 2013, p.155-56)
This theology fits in the parameters of the Restorative Justice System, which is an alternative to our traditional punitive Criminal Justice System. How do we weave this idea of Restorative Justice Atonement theology with Martin Luther King, Jr., and human rights in America? I see a connection.
Martin Luther King, Jr. worked tirelessly – and he worked peacefully, with the goal that all should be treated fairly and equally. His message was one of love. Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Love without exception. Sound familiar? Martin Luther King, Jr. walked in the footsteps of Jesus.
And we, all of us, do our best to walk in the footsteps of so many that have come before us. Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero. There are recognizable names, like these, and many more that we do not know, walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
In our gospel text Jesus turns to those following him and asks, “what are you looking for?” And so, I pose the question to each of us. What are we looking for?
What are we looking for when we pray, when we come to church, when we gather with others? As Christians, we turn to God, through the living example of Jesus, for guidance, support, and strength. When we do that, we learn answers to the questions about who we are and what we are meant to do in this world.
How do we weave the words about Jesus from the Gospel of John, and the words and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., into the fabric of our lives today? Trying to do that is part of what brings us together on Sunday mornings; part of what makes us a religious community; part of what propels us forward each day. We are a faithful people. We remain that way by asking ourselves, and reaffirming, who we are following, not just once but throughout our lifetimes.
From the Book of Psalms this morning we hear an aching for God’s presence and grace, and then an acceptance of God within our hearts that we willingly consent to share with all others. “I delight to do your will,” our psalmist writes, “O my God; your law is within my heart.”
I will share an excerpt from one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons, delivered in Detroit in 1961, “The Man Who Was a Fool” … “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” (Strength to Love, MLK, Jr., Fortress Press, 1963, 2010, p.ix)
How one treats others affects who one is. How one is treated by others affects who one is. In the Christian Church we say we are One Body in Christ. It is what Jesus taught. It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught. It can be found in the foundations of all religions. Each individual person, regardless of religious affiliation or lack of affiliation, is part of the One Body of Humanity.
We do not yet live in a perfect world. We are still creating the Beloved Community that Dr. King so fervently worked for. The Beloved Community for whom Jesus sacrificed his life. This is a society based on justice for all, belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all, equal opportunity for all, and love of our fellow human beings.
As members of this community of believers we are committed to not let the painful sacrifices of our past be in vain. We can and we must continue to insist that everyone be woven into the Beloved Community. Through the grace of God let our mercy be upon one another this day and evermore.
Rev. TJ Mack – January 15, 2023