Reverend Martin Johnson
Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42.
As well as liturgical socks, for Christmas this year (what else do you buy the priest who has everything!), I received my first ever recipe book…I am now officially a domestic god, well almost. Yesterday I turned a number of rather unpromising ingredients into a scrumptious toasted muesli — I might start offering it on the menu at the parish breakfast! I was reminded of the reflection in last week’s pew sheet about theology: it’s is like cookery, said the writer and the more you know about cookery, the easier everyday cooking becomes. I think that good theology is sometimes like bringing together ordinary, sometimes rather dry, ingredients into a far more interesting and nourishing whole.
It is said that the two motors of the Church - the forces which drive us are worship and mission, the two are, or should be, inseparable, they each giving meaning and purpose to the other. In worship we reflect God back to God, we love God; and in mission we reflect God to one another in acts of love, generosity and selflessness, we love our neighbour.
-But before we engage in either fully we must reflect on identity; who is this God that we worship and whose mission we engage in? And who are we before God, we missioners, and what is our mission. This is what these days are all about, these days after the feast of the Epiphany.
Epiphany means revelation or manifestation: in these Sundays, among other things, we ponder the differing ways that Jesus has been understood in the Christian imagination. This is important, indeed crucial; using all the ingredients of ‘Christology’ helps prevent us from having a narrow, unpromising and not very nourishing view of Jesus with the all pitfalls that presents; if we get the recipe right, get our Christology right, then worship and mission should naturally follow. Let’s look at these formative texts over these past weeks:
In the naming and circumcision of Jesus he is revealed as being at one with our humanity, fulfilling those obligations that his religion and culture required. But we are reminded that he was named by an angel! And little later, again in accordance with the law, he is brought to the Temple and an offering is made. But we are reminded that the old priest Simeon reveals Jesus as the one promised by God, the one in whom God’s purposes would be fulfilled, the reversal of fortunes.
That humanity is once again revealed when Jesus comes to John the Baptist at the Jordan to commit to a baptism of repentance - once again at one with us...but now with a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
In the first miracle, the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus uses the water of the law to create the wine of the gospel. And in doing so we see Jesus revealing the very meaning of the law which underpinned the religious and cultural life of his people . . . love.
Last week the Magi came searching for the ‘King of Jews,’ this of course came as something of surprise to Herod who thought that was his title! As an aside, I often ponder on the passage later in John’s gospel when Pilate places a notice on the cross ‘The King of the Jews’ and we read that the chief priests objected ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’
Through these revelations of the person of Jesus we can never speak of humanity and divinity in the same way ever again, the barriers between God and humanity and heaven and earth are breached. We can never see political and religious power in the same way ever again, neither can our religious and political lives be separate, nothing will ever be the same again. I use the present tense deliberately, because a large part of our thorough going Christology is the understanding that Jesus lives on in his body, the Church. Once we have grasped all this, we can perhaps begin to appreciate that mission and spirituality are not separate, it’s not Martha or Mary, but Martha and Mary. It’s not about doing more, it is about being what we are and that means seeing things and doing things with a renewed vision. This is what John’s gospel is all about. If like me you believe John’s gospel was the last one written then we can perhaps see that John was saying if you are going to be missional then you need to reflect on the person of Jesus.
Today we read of Jesus revealed by John the Baptist as ‘The Lamb of God,’ and for the writer of the Johannine School the writer of the gospel and the Book of Revelation this is the lens through which we understand the person of Jesus. John is a theological and missiological genius. The first hearers of the gospel would have recognised immediately that here John is speaking of the Passover Lamb of the Exodus, but in the person of Jesus it becomes so much more, The Lamb of God is not like the scapegoat of the Old Testament driven into the wilderness bearing away our sins. The Lamb becomes the focus of John’s vision, the Passover occurs because of the blood of the lamb daubed on the doorposts and lintels, John the Baptist declares that Jesus is that lamb, he then becomes the host at the new Passover, and in the washing of feet demonstrates what new life, Passover life, looks like. In the book of Revelation that lamb is the host at the heavenly banquet, enthroned as shepherd-king, the focus of worship.
If worship and mission are indeed the essence of the Church, the two motors of the Church, then it seems reasonable to suggest that sin could be understood as a failure or refusal to worship and from there it’s a short step to a failure to love. The Lamb of God is the focus of our worship and therefore our mission. At the introduction to our communion, we say or sing the Agnus Dei and we hear the words from John’s gospel: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And then reflecting the Book of Revelation: Happy are those who are called to his supper. This Lamb of God is almost a recipe, containing the ingredients of our lives: love, forgiveness, gentleness, self-giving, atonement, glory, worship, peace . . . This is a missional spirituality. Amen.