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The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 19, 2014
The Gospel: John 1:29-42
Sermon: "Peter's Brother"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
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).
John 1: 21-42
An old Black woman, weary of her rural surroundings, decided to travel overseas to see what the rest of the world was like. One Sunday morning, being a good religious person, she thought she might get a taste of the local church fare. Since she was in London at the time, she naturally headed for St. Paul’s Cathedral. “How splendid this place is!” she thought. It was simply far beyond anything she had ever imagined a church could look like after all those years in her old back-woods wood-frame church at home. She moved as close to the front of the nave as she could, not wanting to miss anything, and planted herself right smack in front of the pulpit. Everything went smoothly enough for her as the service began, so caught up in the wonder of it all as she was; until the sermon started. Now she was used to a style of preaching that allowed for audience participation. You can guess what happened. The sermon was being delivered by the Dean of the Cathedral. Starched and proper as he was, he still managed to say something that sounded right to this woman, so she quite naturally called out loudly, “Amen!”
This High Anglican priest had heard many sounds from the congregation before, but this was a new one. He startled, then caught himself and resumed preaching. Soon he said something else that struck this woman right, and she called out even louder than before, “That’s right!” The Dean was so startled this time that he nearly jumped out of the pulpit, but again he regained his composure and with great effort continued on.
The old woman, seeing the contorted look on that priest’s face, determined from her experience with such things, that he must be working himself up for a big finish. So she called out as loud as she could, “Preach it, Brother!” The Dean gasped and collapsed as his notes scattered into the air. Heads everywhere turned watching as the usher came down toward the woman. “Madam, you must be quiet,” he said. “But, I have the Spirit!” she said. “Yes Ma’am,” he replied, “but you didn’t get it here!”
A spirited active faith is truly an exciting thing. Today, such “participation” is no longer unheard of in congregations in England, even St. Paul’s. There is something of a revival movement going on there, and a surge of the Spirit is bringing new people, and an air of excitement into many formerly dower worship services. What’s going on? The church is actively promoting spiritual practices, and active members are personally inviting anyone they know to come take part. You know, nearly every survey of church life and practice has found that some 80% of active church goers got there in the first place simply because a friend or relative brought or invited them. Once there, people discover or rediscover their faith.
That’s a lot the way it happened for Peter in our lesson from the Gospel according to John this morning. Peter’s brother, Andrew, excited in his new faith in Jesus, ran to tell Peter what he had found. His simple invitation to come and see was all it took to start Peter on the road to faith. For the most part, that’s all it often takes when you and I share our faith and the joy of our faith community; a simple but sincere invitation to come and see. And that’s good news.
Because, for too many of us, the idea of sharing our faith with someone else congers up visions of button-holing people on street corners. Like a time, some time back, when I was walking up Hollywood Blvd on a Friday night. Understand, if you want to see shouting street-corner prophets and strange religious gatherings in the streets, this is the place. (I say strange, but it’s not considered at all strange there!) Suddenly, a young man jumped out of a darkened store front at me. He grabbed my arm and shouted, “Brother, are you washed in the blood?” Coming from a fundamentalist background as I did, I was probably the only person he’d accosted who actually knew what he was talking about. So I answered straight-up, “Yes, Brother, Amen! Praise the Lord!” He was so taken aback by that positive answer that he clearly didn’t know what to say next. He gave up and went back to his hidden perch. Thanks God, that’s not what our Gospel lesson is calling for.
The truth is though, as our passage demonstrates, it is the character of our faith, rather than how perfectly we word our invitations, that gets the message across. We can see this best by looking for a few moments this morning at the character of Andrew’s faith.
First, Andrew’s faith was an excited faith. He couldn’t wait to tell his brother Peter. He was excited because he had connected with Jesus personally, and wanted to share that joy. There is something about such an encounter with Christ that is wonderful to watch as it takes hold in a person’s life. At the same time, though, it’s amazing how uncomfortable we can feel in the presence of someone who is really charged up about his or her faith. Sometimes we may even feel that we need to help restrain some of that unbridled enthusiasm. But, why would we do that? Is it maturity on our part, or is it an embarrassed awareness that we no longer feel that connection?
My Aunt Sara was a missionary teacher in an Anglican school in Kenya. While there, the priest was given a car to help him make his rounds to the outlying villages. After a few months, though, the car refused to start. He looked under the hood, but not knowing anything about engines, he couldn’t find the problem. So, to get it started he would either have some of the boys from the school push the car for fifty feet or so, or park the car on a hill where he could just let it roll down while he popped the clutch. He did this for two years. When it was time for him to return home, his replacement came. He explained to the new priest how to start the car by pushing it or rolling it downhill. The new priest, who did know a couple of things about engines, looked under the hood and found that battery cable had become disconnected. He reconnected it, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key, and the engine roared to life!
When we are not as excited about the things of faith as we once were, it may well be because we are no longer connected to the source of our strength and power. To have an exciting faith we are to have a connected faith: connected by an on-going relationship with Jesus Christ. Andrew’s faith was an excited faith.
Second, Andrew’s faith was a giving faith. He gave his faith away. An encounter with Christ is exciting, but in order to keep it alive we are to share that faith with someone else. It is a spiritual principle that when we share our faith, the Holy Spirit courses energizing strength through us to better enable us in our witness. Some of that energy inevitably stays with us, sustaining and even growing our own faith. If your faith is flagging, or just become a bit passive or dull, give it away. Give it away and see how the Holy Spirit’s energy will recharge you. Andrew’s faith was a giving faith.
Third, Andrew’s faith was a loving faith. Real faith in Jesus is more than learning a set of theological propositions. Real faith is a life of active love.
Miss Thompson was conscientious teacher who tried to treat all her students the same. There was one little boy, though, who was difficult even for her to like. His name was Teddy Stallard. Teddy didn’t seem to be interested in school. He was not an attractive child, his schoolwork was horrendous and his attitude was no better. In short, there was nothing loveable about Teddy. Indeed, for some strange reason, Miss Thompson herself almost enjoyed giving him the “F’s” he had earned.
Miss Thompson didn’t like the way she felt about Teddy. A normally loving and faithful Christian, she prayed for a change in her heart. She went to check Teddy’s school records. They indicated that in the first grade Teddy had showed some promise, but that he had some unspecified problems at home. In the second grade his mother had fallen seriously ill, and Teddy started falling behind. In the third grade his mother had died. Teddy was tagged as a slow learner. By fourth grade he was far behind. Someone had noted that his father had no interest in Teddy’s progress. Miss Thompson’s prayer for a change of heart was answered. Her heart was broken for Teddy. She now prayed that a way would open for her to somehow show the love of Jesus to him.
Christmastime came and the boys and girls in Miss Thompson’s room brought her some gifts. To her surprise, among those gifts, was a very crudely wrapped present from Teddy. Opening it in front of the other children she discovered a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. Sensing that the other children were beginning to smirk and giggle at the simple gifts, Miss Thompson was suddenly blessed with the presence of mind to quickly put the bracelet on and daub some of the perfume on her wrists. She invited the children to smell it saying, ”Isn’t this bracelet beautiful? And doesn’t this perfume smell lovely?” Taking their cue from her the children responded with “oohs” and “aahs.” At the end of the school day, little Teddy came to Miss Thompson’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson…You smell just like my mother…and her bracelet looks real pretty on you, too. I’m glad you liked my presents.”
To make a long story short, or at least shorter, from that day on Teddy became a new pupil and his grades dramatically improved. He caught up academically, and advanced on at the end of the year. Miss Thompson stayed in touch, occasionally sending an encouraging note. Now that Teddy was no longer her student, she felt free to include a simple word or two about the love of Jesus for him. A couple of years later she received a note; Teddy was getting baptized, and would Miss Thompson come and stand up for him. A few years after that another note came. Teddy was graduating from High School, as the Salutatorian of his class. Four years later another note arrived. Teddy was graduating from college, this time as the class Valedictorian. Then four years passed and another note came. Teddy was now Theodore Stallard, M.D. Also he was getting married. His father was dead now, too. Would Miss Thompson be willing to come and sit where his mother would have sat for the wedding if she had lived? “You are all the family I have left now,” he wrote. Miss Thompson did sit proudly where Teddy’s mother would have been seated at that wedding. That moment of loving faith, given so many years before had brought her to that place.
What I’m saying this morning is that there are some very special people in this world. They are the luckiest people alive. They are the Andrew people. Their faith is excited, giving and loving. I know people like that. There’s a lot of you right here in St. Thomas. And that makes this a very exciting place to be. Do you want to build on that faith? Like Peter’s Brother, get connected. Then give it away, with love!