January 20, 2002
Second Sunday after Epiphany

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

The underlined text will take you to a sermon on the gospel text.
Check also the possibilities for a series on 1 Corinthians on this same page.


Waiting and Winning
Psalm 40:1-11

"I waited patiently for the Lord!"

The very first words of our Psalm for today point to one of the foundation blocks of faith. There is an old saying that goes, "All good things come to those who wait." Indeed patience makes Paul's top nine list of qualities that represent the "fruit of the Spirit."

"...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  [Gal. 5:22-23]

Fruit of the Spirit represents the qualities that develop in our lives as the Spirit of God grows the character of Christ within us. And to be sure, I am encouraged as I read Paul's list. It is clear that faith brings a sense of love and joy to my living and without faith it would be hard to imagine having a real sense of peace.

Then comes that fourth item.

Patience.

Some years ago, I did a survey of how people felt they were doing with these nine "fruits" of the Spirit. The people were asked to rank the qualities from one to nine in terms of easiest to most difficult to live out. One was easiest and nine was most difficult.

Guess which quality was most difficult for most people?

Right!  A large percentage of people readily admit that they are "patience challenged."

How are you for instance - at:

  • Feeling okay in a long line at the grocery store when the cash register tape runs out
  • Standing in line at the bank behind  a man who is depositing his business receipts
  • Peacefully relaxing in your car while a traffic jam clears up
  • Waiting in line at the amusement park with your kids knowing it will be two hours before you get to the "super duper" roller coaster

If you are like many of us, these little "inconveniences" test us. Patience is not our number one strength. And yet - there it is - right smack, dab at the outset of our reading:

"I waited patiently for the Lord!"

If this injunction to have patience was an isolated one it would be different... but the issue of waiting on God is repeated over and over again. Listen:

"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" [Ps. 27:14]

"Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices." [Ps. 37:7]

"I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope..."  [Ps. 130:5]

"The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him." [Lamentations 3:25]

This is one - most of us will remember:

"...those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." [Isaiah 40:31]

And here is the secret...  it is not simple waiting that we are about, but rather it is "waiting upon the Lord," that builds us up spiritually and gives us a sense of peace. The bible is not telling us to simply, "Grin and bear it," while the traffic jam clears up, or, "Keep a stiff upper lip," until it is our turn at the cash register in the grocery store.

Waiting as we experience it in our every day life is an exercise in trying to escape stress. Patience in stressful times is a struggle of our human nature. Perhaps the morning and evening "rush" in major metropolitan areas is the epitome of "waiting" and the stress of contemporary living.

Some years ago, I moved from the Chicago metropolitan area to a place where corn fields and cow pastures are ten minutes from my driveway. There was this great smile every time I would leave Lakeland hospital after a pastoral call and look out at Holstein cows grazing about a football field away from the hospital's front door!

Whenever I felt stressed, I would simply turn on WBBM radio and listen to the rush hour traffic reports. "Thank you Jesus!" I would pray as I listened to the reports of lengthy delays on the expressways I used to use.

***

But all of this is not "waiting upon the Lord."  It is just waiting. Plain old tranquility busting,  peace denying, toxic waiting. Waiting on the Lord is a whole other thing. There may be times when the stress and trials of life are weighing heavily on our minds and hearts and there are two ways to go.  [1] We can simply "wait it out" or we can, [2] "wait on the Lord."

Waiting on the Lord is to allow faith to engage our lives at the point of difficulty and rest in a gentle trust that we are cared for and that God will bring to pass every divine purpose for our lives. "Waiting patiently for the Lord," in other words is not simply waiting -- it is, "Waiting and winning!"

The Psalmist notes that there are three specific "winning" outcomes when he waits patiently for the Lord:

"I waited patiently for the Lord:

  •  He heard my cry
  • He drew me up from the pit
  • He put a new song in my mouth..."

There are some great spiritual truths in these few lines.

[1] God is listening!

One of the hallmarks of our generation is that hardly anyone is listening anymore. It isn't that there is nothing to hear -- there is so much noise to go around, we talk about "noise pollution." Have you ever noticed that people become louder when they think no one is listening?  It happens a lot in our personal relationships. Have you ever heard someone literally shout, "You're not listening to me!"

One of the most important things we can do to build authentic Christian Community is to take time to listen to each other. Listening attentively to another person is a gift to that person. We could dramatically lower the need for therapeutic intervention in people's lives if we would increase the amount of time we carefully listen to each other.

Here's something else - when people don't listen, we can pretty much assume they don't care. In their book on Christian Caring, Robert Wicks and Thomas Rodgerson write:

"We cannot care without listening. If we do not listen, we do not care. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that the first service we owe to others in fellowship is to listen to them. If we fail to listen, there are spiritual consequences because as he says,"...he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either.' "

The good news is that God is listening to us. Whether we are enjoying good times or languishing in tough times - the affirmation of the scripture is that God is paying attention to the details of our living and listening to our laughter and our cries.

Isn't that amazing?  Even though we may not be able to get mere mortals around us to listen, we have the ear of the God of the universe. That is incentive to wait patiently for the Lord!

But it gets better.

[2] God is guiding!

God does more than listen. When we line our lives up with God by patiently waiting for and talking with the God who listens to us, we can count on God's guidance. Not only does the Psalmist declare that God is listening - but God also acts on his behalf. "He drew me up from the desolate pit, set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure."

Living in relationship with God and talking with God in solid confidence that God hears, will insure that our steps are "secure" -- we gain clarity and direction in living. We are able to grow in waiting patiently on the Lord in the secure assurance reflected in William Cullen Bryant's, "To a Waterfowl."

"He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright."

[3] God is renewing!

Life is more precious than we have heretofore dreamed of, richer than we have dared to imagine, and greater than we could ever have envisioned. Life is an amazing, sacred gift of God and God alone knows how great that gift can be.

The Psalmist points us to a wonderful key for living -- "Waiting is winning."  He waits patiently for God who is listening to his cries. The One who knows best finally lifts the Psalmist from his desolation and sets his feet in a good place where his steps are secure. And then...

"He put a new song in my mouth!"

Waiting patiently for the Lord is an active step of faith. It is not a lazy waiting or resigned acceptance of an unknown fate. For the person of faith, waiting patiently for the Lord is trusting that God will hear and act on our behalf.

We do not need to know when God will act, or how God will act -- we place our absolute trust that the One who knows us best will most certainly bring us to a place in our lives where the "new song" will also be placed in our hearts and brought to our lips.

Waiting patiently for the Lord becomes a lifestyle - not a quick fix in times of trial. We set the Lord before us from our rising up until our laying down. We are renewed day by day and grow steadily in our appreciation for the great gift that life really is. As we live with the eyes of faith as well as physical sight, we understand more fully day by day that God renews us as we wait patiently for the Lord!

Well??

What are you waiting for!


"Companions in Hope: The Art of Christian Caring," Robert J. Wicks and Thomas E. Rodgerson, New York, Paulist Press, 1998


Reflection on the Texts

Isaiah 49:1-7

This is the second of the "Servant Songs" of Isaiah. The first begins in 42:1 and points to the ministry of Messiah. This second servant song points to the ministry of the Servant who will bring about a restoration of God's people, Israel.

There is an intimate connection between the Servant and Israel. In verse 3, the bond is clear - "You are my servant Israel, in whom I will be glorified."  Yet the servant is the one who will bring Jacob (Israel) back to God.

There is a sense of sadness as we consider the role of the servant and the ultimate rejection of God's provision and plan for Israel. From our vantage point, we can see the destruction of Israel, the exile of Judah and the cessation of a national identity for the people of God.

So what's the key message here?

God never gives up on us!

In some ways it may seem as though the eventual fate of Israel mitigates against Isaiah's more positive prophetic pronouncements. But not so - from the beginning of scripture to the end, God continues to pursue lost humanity. The purposes of God are deeply rooted in the life of the community of faith.  The servant is "formed in the womb" to bring Jacob back to God. And yet the purposes of God go beyond the nation of Israel - the servant will be "a light to the nations."

Eventually, the redemptive purposes of God given to the Servant of Isaiah 49 becomes the ministry of the one who came "to serve and not to be served."  The resolution of the complete drama will await the coming of the Servant "to judge the living and the dead."

But the good news is - God never gives up on us!


John 1:29-42
Choose the NIV reading at Bible Gateway for IVP commentary on this text

This passage is the only place in the bible where the phrase "Lamb of God" is used. Mark and Luke speak of the "Passover lamb" (Mk.14:12,  Luke 22:7)  In I Cor. 5:7, Paul uses the phrase, "...Christ our Paschal lamb has been sacrificed." In Rev. 5:12, a heavenly choir is singing, "...worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered."  It is interesting that out of 98 uses of the word lamb in the bible -- the book of Revelation has 27 of those uses referring to Christ.  For those who see no connection between the author of the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation -- the use of "Lamb of God"  in John 1:29 and 1:36 is at least interesting.

While the image of the sacrificial Lamb of God is not a mystery to post crucifixion followers of Christ, the image would have required exceptional insight for John the Baptist's disciples to grasp. It is of course, easy and logical to see the phrase as "ex-eventu" reading back into John's ministry -- yet, the story of Andrew is compelling.  He is the one who becomes the silent disciple -- quietly bringing people to Christ every time (thought few in number) we read about him. (Here, along with John 6:8-9 and John 12:20-22)  Andrew leaves John to spend some time with Jesus, then finds his brother Peter and makes the connection between the original "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" and Messiah ("We have found the Messiah.")

This was not quite so true of John's followers. See John 3:23-28 where John's disciples seem worried that Jesus (through his disciples) was baptizing more people than John was. John's reply points his disciples to God and not to himself.  Indeed there is joy in John's life precisely because of who he is in relation to Jesus.  His, "He must increase and I must decrease," is the hallmark of his identity resolution.

v.32  The Spirit "remained" on Jesus.  The word "meno" is the word for "abide" or "dwell" and has a lot of meaning in John's gospel. "Abiding" in Christ is a mark of the genuine follower.  If we "remain" in Christ and his words "remain" in us our prayers will be answered.  See John 15 where Jesus develops the meaning of "abide in me".  The Descent of the Spirit on Jesus marks him as the Ruler (of David's Royal line) in Isaiah 11:1

v.34  "This is the Son of God..."  The gospel of John shows us "sonship" of Jesus with special clarity.  The filial relationship of Jesus with the Father in John's gospel is at the heart of Jesus' messianic ministry.  There is an alternate sermon in pursuing the phrase "my Father" in the gospel of John.  It is used no less than thirty times in this gospel -- exclusively on the lips of Jesus.  His use of "my Father and I are one" in John 10:30 brings outrage and the crowd undertakes to stone him (10:31)  Matthew and Luke use the phrase "my Father" on Jesus' lips -- the confession of Peter in Matt. 16:17 being a key incident, but a study of the phrase in John is impressive.  [See:  John 5:17, 6:32, 65;  8:19, 28, 38, 49, 54;  10:17, 18, 29, 30, 32, 37;  12:26;  14: 7, 12, 20, 21, 23, 28;   15:1, 8, 15, 23, 24;  16:10;  18:11;  20: 17, 21]

v.36 "look" = fr. "idou"  Behold!  Lo!  Denotes surprise and/or excitement.   "Look -- here is the Son of God I was talking about -- the Lamb of God..."

v.37 "followed Jesus" fr. "akolutheo"  "To follow -- especially as a disciple."   Same word Jesus uses to say, "Follow me..."  The aorist tense of "went after" or "followed" him suggests that Andrew and his fellow were ready to go with Jesus as disciples. Thus the effect, "they became his {Jesus'} followers."

v.38 "What are you looking for?"  A great question for anyone who gives thought to Jesus.   The answer Andrew and his companion give seems to come from left field.   "Teacher {rabbi} , where are you staying?" Likely, the use of the term Rabbi indicates that Andrew and the other disciple were wanting to learn more about this "teacher."  Commonly a teacher would invite his students ("mathaytes"  = learners) to come to his home for teaching.  So, Andrew is saying, "Teacher...  we would like to come and learn more about you and your teaching."  They stayed for the day.  In fact, they stayed for the duration of Jesus' ministry!

v.42 Jesus renames Simon son of John (Bar-Yohanan) "Kepha" which is Aramaic for rock. This is translated into the Greek "petros".  (Any difference between the Greek petros and petra are beside the point here.  Petros is the masculine form and petra would be the feminine -- Peter would, of course be "Petros.")


1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1. The Identity of Paul and the Church   (vv.1-3)

* Paul begins with an affirmation of his apostolic position which is by "the will of God" -- the legitimacy of his apostolic standing has been challenged by some. (9:1-17)

* In verse two, Paul emphasizes the fact that the Corinthian church is a part of the world wide body of Christ -- they are "Church of God," "sanctified in Christ," "called to be saints," "together with all those -- in every place". This will surface as one of the primary concerns of the apostle -- the unity of the Body of Christ -- not only in Corinth but the unity of, "all those who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours..." An emphasis that well deserves to be lifted up in our own time.

* Paul's concluding phrase in his greeting is identical to that in Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians and Philemon.  Thus once again Paul demonstrates the things that bind all Christians together.  It is the grace of God which saves (Eph.2:8-9) and the peace of God which results. (Romans 5:1)

2. Paul Praises the Church   (vv.4-7)

* There is an essential pastoral lesson in these verses.  There is so much to deal with in this Corinthian Church -- problems that would put any pastor under a lot of stress!  Many of us would be seeking a new appointment. There is flagrant immorality, infighting and backbiting, criticism of the pastor and more.  How would you begin a letter to people like this?

* Two words.  Thanksgiving and praise.   Paul begins by saying that he is thanking God for these people and then points out the positive things he sees in their life together as a church.  The lesson here is -- lead with prayer, follow it with praise and then continue with discussion. It is much easier to listen to challenge or correction if I know you care about me and that you see something positive in me.  [I tell my congregation often that I am much more open to hearing their constructive criticisms while we are sharing a nice steak dinner together -- at their house!]

* There could be good application of this series in a church where there has been conflict and division.  One essential element of recovery is to name the things that are good. In Corinth this is:   1) They have experienced the grace of God,  2) They are knowledgeable and articulate, 3) They have many gifted persons in their midst

3. The Potential of the Church   (vv.8-9)

* The key to potential of the Corinthian church is something beyond them.  Take note:  "He {God} will strengthen you..." and "God is faithful..."

* The strength and faithfulness that are necessary for the life of a church come from beyond the people of the local church.  We may have gifts, knowledge, good qualities, and bad qualities.   Thankfully, the source of strength and faithfulness is beyond us -- yet, available to us.

* BUT...  we have to be open to the One who provides strength and faithfulness.  Our potential is not finally in our hands at all. (Good thing huh?)  Even when there is difficulty and trial in the life of the church, two things remain:  The positive qualities of the people who are the church and the potential available to us through openness to the one who gives strength and faithfulness. In order for the potential to get energized, all within the church will need to turn away from self to the Lord.


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 40)

Leader:  We come together to be in the presence of God,
People: For the Lord knows our hearts and hears our cries.
Leader:  Our God puts joy in our hearts,
People: And a song on our lips!
Leader:  Here we are, O Lord, we open our lives to you,
People: Let your love pour over our souls,
Leader:  And your mercy flood our spirits!
People: For you alone are the Lord our God!
     Halleluiah!  Amen!

Confession of Sin

Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, your face is hidden from us by our sins, and we forget your mercy in the hardness of our hearts. Cleanse us from all offenses and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires. With lowliness and meekness may we draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in you our refuge and strength; through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

May the mercy of our God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be your strength and comfort as we open our hearts to receive the forgiveness and renewal that come from God alone.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

O Lord Most High, we rejoice that you who have set the worlds into motion and created the vast regions of the universe, have come to us and have had mercy toward us in Jesus Christ your Son.

We are amazed that he should come on our behalf!  We who turn away from you and from the cries of humanity around us have nonetheless been the object of your love and grace. How your amazing grace has captured our wandering hearts and calmed our tumultuous spirits!

Where can we go from you O Lord? How can we ever find rest and peace apart from you? We your wandering children come before you today with profound gratitude and joy unspeakable because you have redeemed us.

O Lord, make us worthy servants of your love and put the new song of praise in our hearts that it might evermore spring from our lips as we join all the saints of all the ages in declaring your praise to the world!

Amen.

Prayer of Dedication
There is absolutely nothing that you have withheld from us, O Lord.  All that we have is from your bounty.  No mountain is high enough, nor is there an ocean wide enough to compare with your love toward us. The gifts we bring could never contain the gratitude in our hearts, yet in faithfulness we offer them to you. Amen.