Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever fallen in love? I mean truly fallen in love – had one of those seasons where you can’t stop grinning and think about that person constantly. You can’t wait to be with them and it’s all consuming. You tell your friends and family: “I think he’s ‘the one.’/I think she’s ‘the one.’” You know what I mean.
I had a summer like that before leaving for seminary when I was 22 years old. I had met my husband Joel through a mutual friend and it was nearly love at first sight. After only a week or so, I knew he was “the one.” We both had a perma grin that entire summer, couldn’t stop talking about our newfound happiness, grossed out everyone around us with our besottedness. (I don’t think that’s a word, but it should be.) And here we are all these years later.
This is the kind of spark that happens all the time when two people fall in love and realize the other is “the one” that person with whom they are excited to build a life, to reflect God’s love to, and to challenge and grow alongside.
So, imagine this scene. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, the wilderness prophet who has been preaching and baptizing up and down the river, points to Jesus and declares: “He’s the one!”
Jesus is more than the guy we have all been waiting for, he’s more than the next prophet to stroll up the banks of the River Jordan. Jesus is God’s Lamb! Jesus is the one who will remove the sins of the world. Jesus is the Son of God! This is seriously Good News my friends. This should not only make us all sit up and listen to hear the story retold, but also to make us start grinning and not stop till spring!
The significance of John the Baptist declaring Jesus the one was earth shattering. It was kingdom shattering If two human beings finding “the one” can so rock us to our core, only imagine what it must have been like for those living in the time of Jesus to know that they were living in the presence of THE ONE, God’s Son, God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ. This is the first extraordinary thing in this passage from John’s gospel which I want you to notice, to savor, and remember.
But there is another statement in this text that I find simultaneously puzzling and fascinating. We know from other gospel accounts that John and Jesus were cousins, they even met while still in their mothers’ wombs and leapt with joy in recognition. So, why does John say twice in this passage, “I myself did not know him” when speaking about Jesus? What’s that all about? What didn’t John know about Jesus? John clearly knew Jesus. They were in relationship as family members.
I think it must mean that this was new information for John. It shook his world and upended his paradigm. John’s worldview was thrust on its head when he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and remaining on Jesus. For everything he had known, seen, preached, and believed, THIS event which led him to declare Jesus as the one made him realize that up until that point he had never truly known Jesus at all.
It was as if his cousin had been a stranger to him and now a new reality, a new creation had been revealed. And in this new creation, this dawning of a new reality in which Jesus has come, names and nicknames play a prominent role. In these lines alone, Jesus is named, “God’s Lamb, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.” Other places in scripture, Jesus is called “Anointed, Beloved, the Savior, Mighty Counselor, and Prince of Peace.” He is known by many names.
We even have a feast day to commemorate the holy name of Jesus which always falls on the eighth day of Christmas. And the name “Jesus” itself, a form of Joshua, means “YAHWEH saves.” Jesus is known by many names and each name or nickname reveals another facet of his identity or relationship to God and to us. Don’t our names do the same for us? They reveal aspects of our identity and relationships. We are given a name at birth or baptism by our parents. Some of us pick up nicknames along the way and that’s what people call us.
Lately, as I’ve been visiting small groups, I’ve been inviting the group to introduce themselves by telling the story of their name and it has been fascinating. It typically goes well beyond, “Hi. My name is Kate and I’m named after my great-grandmother.” Usually, the stories go on for a bit detailing names that were considered and not chosen; stories about the people for whom one was named, and often stories of life events that precipitated a name change such as marriage, divorce, or adoption.
Our names tell a story about who we are and about those with whom we are in relationship. Jesus’ names did the same about him. Jesus is God’s Lamb. John declares that on the day he is identified as the one. This is foreshadowing about sacrifice, about the crucifixion, and Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world. “God’s Lamb” isn’t a cute nickname, it’s a theological statement.
John had baptized lots of people in the river, but Jesus’ baptism was unlike any other. It was truly extraordinary for the Holy Spirit came down like a dove from heaven and remained there. That was a sign. Jesus’ divinity was made abundantly clear as the Spirit alighted on him that day and he earned a new name: Son of God.
These first two names tell us an awful lot about Jesus’ relationship to and with God, but what I’m curious about is how we relate to Jesus. And when I saw “we,” I mean humanity. People like you and me, like Andrew, Simon, and the others who followed Jesus. They had another name for Jesus. They called him “Rabbi” which means “teacher.”
Jesus was their teacher, their role model, their mentor and leader in every regard and they his followers and students. We are the same. We are to be students of Jesus. We are followers of Jesus. Jesus the Rabbi has more to teach us than any misplaced hope we may have in earthly leaders who will always fall short, stumble, and fail. And the final name by which Jesus is called in today’s reading is: Messiah. I love how we get there too. Andrew and another one of John’s disciples are following Jesus when Jesus stops and asks them, “What are you looking for?”
I can only imagine they might have been a little embarrassed at being caught following him, so they respond, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” (Seems like an odd response to me.) Jesus probably just shrugged and said, “Come and see.” The disciples end up spending the rest of the afternoon, possibly the night with Jesus and on the other side of this experience, they are changed.
They leave Jesus and go to find Andrew’s brother Simon and when they arrive they announce: “We have found the Messiah” which is translated Anointed. They bring Simon back with them to Jesus. Jesus takes one look at him and says, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter) and means the rock. In this scene, Jesus gets into the naming. He gives Simon Peter a new name, a nickname which symbolizes his new identity as a disciple and reflects his relationship with Jesus which we will see blossom and grow throughout this gospel. It is so very intentional that Jesus calls Simon Peter, “Cephas”/”the rock” upon whom we know Jesus will build the church.
And so, I wonder… What is the story of your name and how does it reflect your identity and relationships? Has it changed? Or is it changing? Is it truly you? How does Jesus know you? What does Jesus call you? Beloved? The rock? Steady? One who loves? One who cares? Jesus is the one for each and every one of us and we know him by many names. How does Jesus call you?
Sermon Reflection Questions
1) Can you remember a time in which you knew someone in your life was “the one”? What did that feel like? How did it cause you to act or behave?
2) What is the story of your name? Has it changed? If so, why?
3) In what ways does your name reflect your identity and relationships?
How are you known by Jesus and what is the name that Jesus uses when he calls you?