It’s Personal

January 19, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

2nd Sunday after Epiphany
John 1:29-42

Listen here:

 

 

Transcript of Sermon

This weekend we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As is my custom at this time each year, I re-listen to his “I Have a Dream” speech, and this year I did a little bit more research. I realized that although certainly I know Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. had different ways at coming at the Civil Rights Movement, I really didn’t know much about their interactions with one another.

They both were passionate about the struggle and they both ultimately gave their lives for it, and yet I was surprised to learn that they didn’t know each other personally. They actually only met in person one time. It was on the steps of the Capitol Building in March of 1964, after both had just been listening to the Senate hearings on the Civil Rights Amendment. They walked out of different doors and then encountered on another on the steps of the Capitol and the one photo of them together was snapped at that time and at that place.

This idea of not knowing personally, somebody who mattered so much to the same cause you cared about struck me. Interestingly, as I was reflecting and engaging the Gospel reading for today, I also was struck in John’s telling of this encounter between John the Baptist and Jesus. You see, in John’s telling they don’t know each other either.

John sees Jesus coming toward him and says, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I myself did not know him, but I came baptizing with water that he might be revealed to Israel.” And then he went on and said, “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.”

John had been called by God to be more than a baptizer, but to be the testifier of Jesus! John knew his purpose was to point others to Jesus and to help them see who he was. He didn’t hold on to the disciples that were following him, but instead recognized Jesus as the lamb of God, and when he called out, his disciples followed Jesus.

And we learned in today’s reading that Andrew was one of those disciples who turned and responded and followed Jesus. And Jesus said, “Come and see.” And Andrew shifted in the time that he spent with Jesus. He shifted from calling Jesus Rabbi, which means teacher, to calling him Messiah, which means anointed. And yet after this time together, Andrew too, didn’t hold on to Jesus for himself. He went and found his brother Simon Peter, and he immediately told Simon Peter about Jesus and said, “Come and see.” Pointing yet another person to Jesus.

And then, after what we heard today, Jesus goes to another town in Galilee and he found Philip. We’re told that Philip was from the same town as Andrew and Simon Peter so surely in their encounter, Philip would have known that Jesus had already met Andrew and Simon Peter, so there was a personal connection. And Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me.”

Philip recognized Jesus, then saying to Nathaniel, his friend, “The one Moses talked about is who Jesus is.” He recognized Jesus for who he was and he didn’t hold onto just for himself, but instead pointed Nathaniel to Jesus.

Does anybody else see a pattern here? All who recognize Jesus, invite others to recognize him too.

Now in today’s cultural context, that’s risky business. We think that by sharing who Jesus is to us, we’re pushing our faith on somebody else. But I tell you that John, and Andrew, and Phillip were not doing that. They were sharing something special that they had found. Something had come to matter in their life, and they shared it – not with strangers on the street, but with people that they knew. Personally.

We don’t talk about that much in this space. It’s a tricky, tricky business. But I will tell you, other people are telling folks about Jesus, and the Jesus I know is worth talking about. The key in sharing is in knowing them personally.

When I reflect on my research about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the reality that they didn’t know each other personally probably played a part in their lives and in the work of the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, they had differences and they had obstacles between the way they came at the work, but it didn’t keep them from trying, in particular Malcolm X, tried to reach out to King several times. The last time being in February of 1965. King was in Selma, Alabama helping with a voting rights campaign and Malcolm was down South giving a series of speeches. While there, he met privately with Coretta Scott King stating his desire to work more closely with the nonviolent movement King was leading.

Because King and hundreds of others had been arrested several days before and were in jail, Malcolm X and King were unable to meet at that time. It was just a few weeks later that Malcolm X would be killed in New York City while giving a speech. King wrote a letter of condolence to Malcolm X’s wife saying in part, “While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem. I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.”

It’s impossible to know how the Civil Rights Movement might have developed differently had these two men known each other personally. Movements like those for Civil Rights happen because of the personal connections with others that allow it to take flight.

Similarly, the Jesus movement, as our Presiding Bishop would call it, from the very beginning, took root from people knowing others and sharing their experience of Jesus personally. It wasn’t something somebody picked up on. It was a deliberate conversation.

And so, as we sit here today I ask:  Is the Jesus you know worth sharing?

All you have to say – to a sibling, to a neighbor, to a friend – is “Come and see.”

God will take care of the rest. Amen.

 

Sources:

[1] Barbara Maranzani, “Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X Only Met Once: The Civil Rights leaders did not see to eye to eye, and their encounter lasted minutes,” Biography, Feb 12, 2019, updated Jun 24, 2019. https://www.biography.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr-malcolm-x-meeting, Accessed January 17, 2020.

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