A Sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-14, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

“Here is the Lamb of God.” It’s an odd sort of statement notwithstanding that we use the phrase ‘Lamb of God’ practically every time we celebrate the Eucharist. “Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us/O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” It’s part of the answer that John the Gospel writer as well as John the Baptist used of the question, “Who is Jesus?” For the Baptist Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one on whom he saw the Spirit descend like a dove, the one who ranks more highly than John, that strange messenger of God who, like Elijah before him, came out of the wilderness. For the Gospel writer Jesus is the Lamb of God who dies with the Passover lambs – a sin offering for the world.

For Andrew and his mate, the unnamed companion, as well as for Andrew’s brother Simon, who would later be called Cephas/Peter the Lamb of God is the one who calls them into relationship. This idea of being called by God is one of two ideas worth exploring this morning. I’ll get to the other in a moment.

All four Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – have stories about the way in which Jesus called his disciples, people who ended up following him. Unlike the other three, which have Jesus calling Peter and the others on the lake side, St John has the story we have heard today. Andrew is initially linked with John the Baptist. And it is John who points to Jesus as the Lamb of God.

But go back to the earlier readings today and we find a quite remarkable story of call in Isaiah 49. This passage is another of the Servant Songs found in the Isaiah. This servant of God is quite clear as to his calling – it happened in the womb, before he was even born. (And there was I thinking that my calling to be a priest at the age of six was early!) The calling is to lead to the glorification of God – but not in the way we might expect. There are to be no triumphal processions of conquering armies, no trumpets heralding a new ruler, no commanding of obeisance, kow-towing and touching of the forelock. This call is to deliver a message to a broken humbled people. It is a simple message to start with – you are not forgotten. The sort of message so many people have been sending to those caught in the bush fires of recent weeks and months. You are not forgotten. The Servant of God seemed to have little option, little chance to say, sorry, I don’t accept the call, the invitation of God. God has taken the initiative and called him, marked him out, even before he was born.

It’s a little different when we get to the call of St Paul. In the opening words of his letter to the Corinthians he simply makes reference to the fact that he has been called to be an Apostle– but we know more of his story. How Saul, as he then was, was, in a sense, dragged kicking and screaming away from his firmly held beliefs, knocked off his horse, blinded and led into a city – there to be ministered to by one who he had been trying to arrest and imprison. Saul’s call is one of the most dramatic recorded in the Bible and he makes several references to his call in his letters, as well as the long description by Luke in the Book of Acts. Saul, now Paul, writes to the fledgling church in Corinth that, like him, they too are called by God, called to be saints.

Today’s psalm, number 40, has a veiled reference to the idea of being called. The psalmist waits patiently for the Lord and then seems almost overwhelmed by God’s initiative. “He brought me up from the pit of roaring waters, out of the mire and clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and made firm my foothold. More than this, God has put a new song in my mouth, a song of thanksgiving to our God.

It seems that all these people – the servant Isaiah speaks about, the psalmist hauled up from the roaring waters, St Paul struck down and then given a new purpose, and Andrew, along with his brother Simon Peter (our patron saint) – all were taken by surprise when the call of God came. Is this how God works? Here are people going about their business when God calls. It sometimes comes as the very last thing one would expect – even for those who are already, in some sense or other, aware of God’s presence.

But let’s be very clear, this call of God is not into some sort of cosy personal relationship with God, the sort that excludes others, the sort that for so many years could make reference to ‘my communion’ and, still today, is found in the question as to whether I have a ‘personal’ relationship with Jesus. The relationship with Jesus is intensely personal and completely turns upside down my life – but it is not because it is private and to be hidden away.

Look at the call of the Servant of God in Isaiah. Not only was he to speak words of encouragement to his own lost and forgotten people, but to say to them that God had an incredible mission in mind. They were to be light to the nations – to the whole world. They were bearers of God’s salvation to all people, to the ends of the earth – and this to an insignificant people deeply despised, abhorred and the slave of rulers (Is 49:7).

The psalmist knows full well that it is not the burnt offerings and sin offerings that are required, but the telling forth of God’s righteousness, faithfulness and salvation to the ‘great congregation’.

St Paul, in his opening words to the Church in Corinth, reminds them that they are called into fellowship – with each other and with God in Jesus Christ. They are not alone but in the company of all who are called to be saints – those in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Andrew and Simon Peter, along with all the disciples including (perhaps especially) Mary Magdalene, honoured as the apostle to the Apostles, came to know Jesus as the Light of the World, the Word of God active in creation, the living water, the way, the truth, the life. Where Matthew ends his Gospel with the Great Commission given by Jesus to the disciples – to go out and make disciples, baptizing and teaching in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28: 19); St John makes the point that he is writing so that people will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, they may have life in his name (John 20: 30).

The call to discipleship is one thing, the call to go out and proclaim the message of God’s saving healing love and grace is another. We have a powerful and challenging Collect offered us today which includes these words: “may your people (that’s us), illumined by your word and sacraments, shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” (APBA Collect for Epiphany 2) That God may be known worshipped and obeyed – that’s all!

How do we do that? It begins when we hear the John the Baptist figures in our lives say, “Here is the Lamb of God.” It becomes real when people see our faith in action in our daily lives; when we take a deep breath and offer to pray with a troubled or hurting person; when we reach out to our neighbour – perhaps beginning with the person in a pew in front or behind us; when we not only make offerings to bush fire appeals but begin, or continue, to work actively to cut down on our profligate living, to care for creation, to question whether we do need to eat meat every day, and actively call for genuine change in this country that will lead to the preservation of the earth.

It’s quite a call – to make God known, worshipped and obeyed – but that is our calling as followers of Christ, as those who pray, “Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us/O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”

Go out today and shine with the radiance of God’s glory.