January 15th, 2023 Second Sunday of Epiphany
Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1st Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
The Lamb of God or God’s Lamb
Isn’t that an interesting thought, the Lamb of God or God’s Lamb. Where do each of those statements fit into your mind logically? Do you see any difference in those two statements? They are saying basically the same thing, are they not? We hear John use the term “behold the Lamb of God”. Jesus as the Lamb of God, we know that He is the lamb that takes away our sins to reconcile the world unto God. Therefore, Jesus was sent to us to be God’s lamb that was the perfect sacrifice. However, if we look at Jesus as God’s Lamb as only retribution, sacrifice or justice, then we cannot advance in our relationship with the Trinity. We are limiting our understanding of His Holy Sacrifice to atonement and nothing more. The Israelites would sacrifice their lambs to God for the atonement of their sins against His Laws.
Hosea 6 tells us to “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, knowledge of God, not burnt offerings”. Then Matthew 9 also says “go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Therefore, we must learn a deeper meaning of what God is calling us to and requiring us to do as well. The Hebrews had a ritual that they called a “scapegoat”. They would lay hands of the lead on the head of the kid so that he was to put the sins and iniquities of the community on a goat and allow it to run into the wilderness. Never to be seen again. We, as a society do the same. We are proficient in finding a scapegoat to blame for our wrongdoings. We look for an excuse or someone else to blame when we make a mistake or sin. “The Devil made me do it” or “it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault!” We also use the scapegoat method, and have become very proficient at it, as community to go after someone we feel is to blame for the whole problem thru cancel culture. With that being said, we need to gain a deeper understanding of what Jesus’ sacrifice means in the world for us today. It is much more than forgiveness or simple atonement of sins.
I struggle with some of this next part as well. During the time of Jesus, the cultures were still relying on blood sacrifices in the social order and justice. What that means is that the Hebrew sacrifices and atonement for sin, just as other cultures offered sacrifices to their various gods for rain, food, life and everyday living. Sacrificing was also a means of keeping law and order. When there was a capital crime committed, then capital punishment was in order. It was meant as a deterrent for those levels of crime. For the Israelites it was going back to Exodus with “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth”. A means and mechanism for keeping the crime rate down. The Romans were known for taking capital punishment to an all-new level. Crucifixion!
In our society today, we are constantly enacting new laws to deter crime. As United Methodist we stand against Capital Punishment, and some States have abolished capital punishment altogether. We believe in our prison ministries we can rehabilitate someone. We are to give them every chance to be redeemed. Yet crime in our society keeps climbing, including and especially, capital crime. When someone who has committed murder, with our view of justice we say to ourselves, “That person is going to rot in hell”. And we believe it! The thirst and demand of a blood ritual sacrifice for justice from every turnip has carried over to us as it has for all cultures of today. We have an attitude that is describe best from the movie “Untouchables” “You want to know how to catch Capone? They pull a knife; you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue, That’s the Chicago way!”, each must one up the other! Is that the Jesus way? No Jesus says turn the other cheek.
In our New Testament reading, The Apostle Paul is addressing the church in Corinth. This town was corrupt and the people, new Christians, were struggling with the environment of the people there. Do they maintain the teachings of Paul? Do they adapt their beliefs to conform? The sins of the town included worship, gods, greed, marriage, women in church, sexuality and gifts of the Spirit. There were divisions in the church. Christians were suing Christians. False prophets were pretending to be super apostles. Some wanted to remain steadfast; others wanted to conform to the secular surroundings. Paul taught these people for a year and a half. They were failing to abide in Jesus. Some are listening to false prophets and engaging in sinful activity. They are minimizing what Christ died for.
Paul begins his letter to the church of Corinth in a confusing manor for us today. Paul could have begun with strong verbal rebuke or maybe even condemning. They are committing sins in God’s church and should rot in Hell. The whole situation is getting ugly. He tells them they are sanctified in Jesus the Christ, they are called to be saints, just as everyone who calls on the name of Jesus. He tells them that there is grace and peace for them. Wait, perverting God’s word, Jesus’ life, there’s grace, waiting for them? This congregation needed grace and peace Paul spoke of. Paul challenges them to take the High Road, remember they are called to be Saints.
Our United Methodist church is having serious conflicts. This week I read where two UMC Conferences halted all disaffiliation departures. We should never ignore the churches faults and failures. We need to name and own them. We make mistakes, we then need to repent. We need to do everything we can do to correct mistakes. These include the injustices we have done to others and the new ones we are doing now. Some have visions of grandeur within the church at unhealthy levels. The grandeur must be focused on Jesus and God, as we have been taught and shown. So many congregations today are in dire need of grace and peace. Even though all of us understand we are called to be Saints, we fail taking the High Road. It is not just the United Methodist Church that’s in conflict, it is widespread amongst Gods’ churches. We are so inner focused which makes us contentious in nature. Every one of us needs to hear Paul’s words of God’s grace and love.
When we think of the Lamb of God to take away those mechanisms of social ordering, we realize that He helps us survive as a human community. With the way things are today comes a crucial question, how we can continue to survive as humans and God’s people. John gives us an answer, abide in Him. John’s gospel invites us to “come and see” where Jesus is abiding. If we start abiding in Jesus himself, that is when we become branches on the vine. For we know Jesus himself abides in God the true father. We know that at Jesus baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God proclaiming that with him he was well pleased. In our baptism we are reborn from above in the spirit and we are choosing to abide in the true God of love, and not a God that demands sacrifice. The true God of Jesus invites us to abide in him and show us a new way than simply restoration justice. We listen to Paul’s words so that we might learn to survive as a people of God. The two statements are the same, yet they are ever so different. The Lamb of God comes to restore us with the father. God’s lamb just simply provides an atonement for the wrongs. So Jesus is the Lamb of God and He is God’s lamb of sacrifice, so we don’t have to.