|With a couple of minor changes, what Paul
wrote to the church at Corinth could be written to us today. So I
ask you to listen once more as Paul greets us.
“From Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus
Christ by the call of God, and from Sosthenes our brother, to God’s church
which is in Detroit at Saint Leo’s, to you whom God has sanctified, set
apart, and called to be followers of Jesus.”
That is why we are set apart -- because we
have chosen to be among those who follow Jesus Christ.
Today, in the gospel lesson, Jesus is being
revealed to us as who he really is, what his task is and how he is to carry
out that task. We must listen deeply in the same way that the people
who first heard these words or read these words of the evangelist would
have heard them. They are words that are specially chosen and allude
to passages from the Hebrew Scriptures which help us to truly understand
what John is saying about Jesus.
The first thing to note is how John refers
to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Anyone who knows the Hebrew Scriptures
well would immediately understand that John is referring to a passage in
the 53rd chapter of Isaiah where the servant is described (this
is the fourth Servant Song): “He was cut off from the land of the
living, stricken for his people’s sin. It was the will of Yahweh
to crush him with grief. For the anguish he suffered, he will see
the light and obtain perfect knowledge. Destroyed because of our
sins, he was crushed for our wickedness. Through his punishment,
we are made whole. By his wounds, we are healed. He was harshly
treated, but unresisting and silent. He humbly submitted like a lamb
led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearer. He did not open
The Lamb of God, Jesus, is one who accepts
As we hear from the second Servant’s Song,
which is our first lesson today, Jesus is one who is called to be a light
to all nations, to peoples everywhere for all time and all places.
He is also, as the first Servant Song tells us, the one who is to bring
true justice to the nations: “Here, being the light to all the nations,
bringing true justice to the nations and to all peoples, to the world,
everywhere for all time, he must take away the sin of the world.”
That’s why Jesus came.
In the gospel, John uses the word ‘sin’ of
the world, not ‘sins.’ He’s not talking about our personal, individual
sins, but about the basic human rejection of God, the rejection and opposition
in the world to all that God is and all that God has done. He’s talking
about the basic, fundamental sin within our human history where people
have rejected God and God’s ways.
God is a God of love, a God who creates, a
God who gives life. But in our world, through sin, we reject this.
There’s opposition to it. Instead, we find hatred, violence, destruction
and death. Jesus came to take away that sin and to transform our
The task of Jesus is to change everything and
to make it once more a world where God’s reign can truly happen; where
there would be God’s love again fully in every person in every place and
there would be peace, joy, fullness of life, and justice for every human
Jesus came to take away the sin of the world;
the opposition and rejection to God that has been so common throughout
We have that same task to take away the sin
of the world and to carry on the work of Jesus and transform our world.
But we must do it according to the way of Jesus. That’s why we must
listen so carefully to today’s gospel lesson and to the references that
John makes when he speaks about Jesus as the Lamb of God.
We must also listen when John speaks about
Jesus as the one who now will baptize with the Holy Spirit and bring a
whole new Spirit into the world; a Spirit of God in every one of us and
calling us to share that Spirit. John is speaking about a passage
from the book of the prophet Joel: “In the last days, I will pour out my
Spirit on every person. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your
old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even
upon my maidens, I will pour out my Spirit on that day.”
Jesus came to pour out the Spirit of God.
Or, as it is described by the prophet Ezekiel: “Then I shall pour pure
water over you and you shall be made clean. I shall give you a new
heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart
of stone and give you a human heart. I shall put my Spirit within
you and move you to follow my ways.”
So Jesus came to pour forth that Spirit upon
us. He was to baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit can change us and enable us to be like Jesus, to follow the
way of the servant, to bring true justice, love, joy, and peace.
But we must bring this justice and love as the Lamb of God brings it, by
accepting suffering rather than inflicting it. That’s really what
Isaiah is saying in chapter 53. “This servant, who is like a lamb, willing
to accept suffering rather than inflict it.”
One person who really heard the word of God
and understood who Jesus really is and how he came to take away the sin
of the world and transform the world was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He understood Jesus as the Lamb of God who would be willing to accept suffering
rather than inflict it and in that way absorb the hatred and the violence
and transform it into peace and love.
In today’s bulletin, I’ve set forth for all
of us to continue to reflect upon the passage that Dr. King proclaimed
in 1963, after a time of great violence when the children’s march was interrupted
and there was violence, killing and suffering.
Dr. King gathered all of his followers together
that night in the church in Birmingham and preached this sermon.
He said these words that you’ve heard before but must listen to again and
again. Over the noise of Birmingham, over the songs and the sirens,
the cries and the clash of battle, there sounded the haunting voice of
Martin Luther King. He proclaimed, “We must say to our white brothers
and sisters all over the South who try to keep us down, we will match your
capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.
We will meet your physical force with spirit force. We will not hate
you and, yet, we cannot in good conscience obey your evil laws. Do
to us what you will. Threaten our children and we will still love
you. Say that we’re too low, that we’re too degraded. Yet,
we will still love you. Bomb our homes. Go by our churches
early in the morning and bomb them, if you please. We will still
love you. We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.
In winning the victory, we will win, not only our freedom, we will so appeal
to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process.”
Dr. King understood the message of Jesus as
the Lamb of God. He understood that the only way to end violence and to
end hatred is to transform it by accepting the suffering, accepting the
violence, accepting the hatred, and returning it with love.
Extraordinary. You might think it impossible.
This is what Dr. King did and what he taught. It’s what the whole
movement was about and flows directly from the scripture, the Servant’s
Song, from John the Baptist’s description of Jesus of who he is and why
Today, as we celebrate this birthday of Dr.
Martin Luther King and the holiday, we must be sure we don’t just put him
up on a pedestal. We must really listen to his words which are words
that flow from the scriptures of today’s lesson. Then we will be
able to join in this work of taking away the sin of the world and transforming
Also, we must heed the part of the lesson today
that tells us we are to be a light to all the nations; a light bringing
the clarity of God’s way wherever we go.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Lori Berenson
in Peru, a young woman from the United States. She has identified
herself with the poor and the oppressed in that country and is in jail
right now and has been there for six and a half years and is facing a twenty
I was truly energized and amazed by Lori Berenson.
You think of a jail as a very dismal place,
a very dark place. She was there as a light among the other prisoners.
She has identified with their struggle. These are all political prisoners,
all people who have been oppressed and put in jail because they are struggling
for justice and for peace and for love. Lori Berenson is in their
midst. She helps them to see their own worth. She helps them
to understand that they are not to be put down and have their rights violated.
The women who are with her are coming alive
because of her energy and her determination to stand up for her rights
and for her dignity. And they begin to share that. It’s truly amazing
what I saw in that prison, this young woman who has become one with the
poor and the oppressed and is a light to them.
There are many ways in which any one of us
can be a light to those around us. It’s important for each of us
to think of the way that “I” can best be a light to others, a light showing
the way of Jesus.
There is another example that I read about
this week. There are four family members in Afghanistan, right now,
of those who were killed on September11. They’ve gone to Afghanistan
and are visiting families who have had family members killed in the bombings.
To me, that’s an amazing thing for anyone to
These four people are saying, “We don’t want
anyone killed in our name. What happened to us was a horror.
It was evil. We don’t want it to happen to others. And when
it has happened, we want to bring reconciliation and share in their suffering
as they share our suffering.” That’s bringing the light of Jesus
into a place where there is violence and killing and death. These four
people have discovered how they can be the light of Jesus.
Again, each one of us has the task of looking
into the world in which we live and trying to discover how we can take
away the sin of the world. Literally, we join in this work of Jesus
and do it the only way it can be done: his way, the way of peace, reconciliation,
forgiveness and love. You have to be like the lamb, ready to accept
suffering rather than inflict it. Absorb the hatred and return love.
We have to be the light and those who carry the light and presence of Jesus
into difficult and dark, destructive places.
Paul wrote to us and said, “You are sanctified.
You are holy. You are set apart.” This is true for all of us.
We are set apart to do the work of Jesus.
We must pray now that each of us we will discover
the way in which we can carry on the work of Jesus to help transform this
world in which we live. To help transform it from a world that has
rejected God’s love and has brought hatred, violence, destruction and death,
into a world where God’s light will break forth, where there will be peace,
justice, joy and love. Each of us has some way in which we can do
that. We must pray today to discover the way and then do it.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.