Jan. 19 sermon of the Rev. E. Bevan Stanley, rector of St. Michael’s Church, Litchfield
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
From the prophet Isaiah: “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.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
To whom is this word of God directed? “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. Who is the “I” in this passage.
At first one would think it is the prophet, after all, it is he who is speaking. Then it the heavenly voice says “You are my servant, Israel. Israel is the name of the Northern Kingdom, but the Kingdom of Israel has already been destroyed before Isaiah’s time. So, Israel is now the eponymous name for the whole of God’s people. This is a collective noun. This servant of God has been sharpened like a sword and polished like an hour and stored away until the proper time comes. And now God 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.” Indeed the whole passage is announced to Gentiles: “Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!” In summary, this servant of God is sent to be a light to the whole earth, not just the people of Israel.
Turning to the Gospel, we see John the Baptist pointing to Jesus and saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Not just the sins of those gathered at the Jordan, not just the sins of the Jewish people, but the sin the world.
Now listen to today’s collect again: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This time after the Epiphany and before Ash Wednesday is called in church lingo “Ordinary Time.” The same is true of the whole six months after Pentecost and before Advent. They are also called “green seasons” because the vestments, altar frontals and other paraments are all green. It is at time when we reflect on how of the stories about Jesus show us how we should be serving the world. We are the Israel that God sends to be a light to the nations. It is our job to be God’s agent for fixing all that is wrong with the world. It is our job to show people the love, mercy, glory, and joy of God and to invite them to join us in the love, mercy, glory and joy that we already experience. All of the Epiphany season is about showing Jesus to the world. In Medieval religious art, John the Baptist is always shown pointing to Jesus. That’s our job.
Then in the Gospel this morning we hear about the first disciples. John points out Jesus to two of his disciples. They follow Jesus. When Jesus realizes he’s being followed, and asks them, “What are you looking for?” Being taken aback by this rather large question, all they can think of to say is, “Where are you staying?” The Greek word is μενῶ (meno) and means “abide”, “dwell”, or “live”. It is an odd thing to ask someone who is a visitor to the area and whose home is far away. Jesus replies, “Come and see.” Come and see. All through Epiphany and indeed all the time, Jesus is showing us things to see. He offers us visions of the Kingdom, he shows us mercy through healing, he shows the power of love and non-violence. It says that they stayed with Jesus that day. We don’t know what happened or what they talked about, but one of them runs off to tell his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”
Here we are gathered in this church this morning. What are you looking for? Some peace? A chance to reconnect with the images and language of your childhood? Inspiration for the living of the next week? Hope to help you through a dark period in your life or a dark period in history? Are you looking for the Messiah? Are you looking for God? And what if Jesus offered you the chance to see where he lives and how he lives and what’s important to him? Would you go? And who would you want to go with you? To whom would you run and say, “I have found someone who is changing my life and maybe the whole world.”
And if this man is the light of the world, are you willing to join him in being the light of the world. Are you ready to be lit up? I don’t mean enlightened, as if some new understanding were sufficient, though it may be necessary. I mean lit. To be a shining beacon for the world. And if that is frightening or unrealistic, what if you get to be part of a whole body of millions who together are the Israel of God, sent to all the nations to show the power, mercy, and love of God?
In the fourth and fifth centuries many Christians went into the Egyptian desert to become monks and to live austere lives in order to become more like Christ. Their stories and sayings became a rich trove of spiritual wisdom for all Christians since. Here is one:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, If you will, you can become all flame.”
What are you looking for? Are you willing to be a light to the world?
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that we, your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward, SLG, p. 88