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    Jan 15, 2017

    The ultimate measure

    Passage: John 1:29-42

    Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

    Series: Epiphany 2017

    Category: Epiphany

    Summary:

    A sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany and the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

    Detail:

    Last week, Bishop Mariann spoke to us about her favorite season of the church year: Epiphany. She recalled the wonderful stories sprinkled throughout the next two months. They are stories that remind us that Jesus is God in human form and that he inspired something special from his disciples, both then and now. He called on them and us to carry the light forward into darkness. For most people, darkness reminds them of their fears and their insecurities, so taking on that light is a challenge, an unusual pursuit. It requires a calling to care for more than oneself, to be reminded that we are all bound together in a common mission.

    That is why we always hear, during this season of Epiphany, the retelling of Jesus’ baptism. And this year, we hear it multiple times. Last week, we heard from the perspective of Matthew and this week from John. Bishop Mariann pointed out that Matthew describes the actual event while in today’s gospel John the Baptist describes its significance to us.

    Baptism is a powerful symbol in our church. It is the outward sign that we are filled by God’s Holy Spirit and marked us Christ’s instrument in this world. It makes us disciples, followers, advocates, prophets, and enablers of God’s work in a world that needs our collective efforts. It is a united force in God’s grand mission.

    Almost immediately after Jesus’ baptism , Jesus begins to call disciples and today’s lesson tells us of those first disciples. That calling involved John the Baptist, too, because John pointing out Jesus to two of his own disciples: Andrew and the other one. John forgets those details. We know that Andrew was so transformed that he left discipleship with John, to follow Jesus, and decided to rope his brother in on the deal. That brother, Simon, would follow Jesus, and be renamed Cephas or Peter (or in English ‘rock’).

    If you have been around the Bible at all, you have probably heard about Jesus calling his disciples. And how their lives changed from doing normal work (fishing) to a life on the road teaching in the synagogues, and on the shores, and in the mountains, and along the roads. Healing and loving all sorts and kinds of people. Those who were on the inside, but most especially those on the margins. And along the way, Jesus attracted larger and larger crowds to hear his message.  

    And that message was about change, reevaluating the status quo, and taking on a new way of life. That was what he was calling his disciples to be and they dropped everything and followed.

    That is what Epiphany is about and I’m guessing that is why Bishop Mariann loves this season. It is coincidental that every Epiphany (for the past 30) we have celebrated the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I say that because Dr. King was most obviously an Epiphany person.

    He dedicated his life, like the disciples before him, on taking Jesus’ message to the farthest corners, to those who needed to be inspired and to those who didn’t want to hear it. Martin Luther King carried that message from Chicago, and Atlanta, to Selma and even here to Washington. In many ways, he was able to translate the needs of African-Americans and other oppressed people into the hearts of those who had a strangle hold on the power structures of society. He called on those who were comfortable to drop their safety net in order to transform the world for all of God’s people.

    His grand vision of peace and justice is still being sought in this country and around the world for African-Americans, and the many other groups feeling the ills of subjugation.

    From my youngest years, I always thought of Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero, so I was surprised when I discovered how his words and his actions speak to those people who are not native to this land.

    Back in August of 2011, the MLK Jr. Memorial opened on the National Mall. I road my bike to see it on the first day. I shook the hand of the controversial artist who carved the granite statue sitting in the heart of the memorial courtyard. If you have been to the memorial, you are transfixed by some of Martin Luther King’s famous quotations that are engraved on the wall surrounding the courtyard. One of those were words spoken by King in Los Angeles in 1967, but also in his book, Strength to Love (1963):

    • "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." (February 25, 1967, Los Angeles, California)

    The quotations continues elsewhere: “The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”

    Martin Luther King Jr.’s words were powerful then and now.  

    It has been nearly 50 years since his assassination on April 4, 1968. The words he shared and the example he lived through a life of service, prophetic witness, and love for his neighbor are the epitome of a life of discipleship. 

    He took the light of Jesus into the darkest corners of our world and it didn’t go out.

    As we continue to face challenges to justice in 2017 and beyond, remember the call of this season of Epiphany. Remember the call of Jesus. Remember the call of your baptism into the Christian family of faith and take up the banner of peace to all corners of the world.