Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Look at the Lamb!

Sermon preached for Epiphany 2A, on Sunday, January 16, 2011.

    Strange that in our mostly urban, technological and modern day world, where most of us have no direct farm experience, where most of us have only seen lambs in pictures or perhaps at a petting zoo, that the image of the lamb continues to be a powerful and profound image in Scripture. We like the picture of the Lamb of God even if we really don't know much about lambs or sheep or shepherding. We will ever give up the image of God gathering us lambs in His arms or give up the 23rd Psalm at funerals.  But today is not about an image.  Today is not about a picture.  Today John points us to Jesus and says, “Look there, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
    But what about this Lamb?  And why does John tell us to look at the Lamb? These are the questions we face so early in Jesus' ministry and so early in the church year. Today we heard in the Gospel lesson how John, after Jesus baptism, points to Jesus and declares Him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now if those words are familiar to you, we sing them every Sunday several times, first in the Gloria in Excelsis that echos the angels’ song at Christmas and again as the host which is His body and the cup which is His blood is lifted up before us.
    “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Look at Him.” says John. Apparently some were listening because they dropped what they were doing, sought out their family members, and told them, too, "We have found the Messiah." So if we are to be gathered into the household of the Lamb, if we are to remain faithful to the Lord in the midst of troubled times, and if we are to know what to say to the world about Jesus, we better know a little bit about this Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
    Jesus is the Lamb of God - the Lamb of Sacrifice. He is the spotless Lamb without blemish or stain who is offered for those marked with sin for death and stained with guilt and unrighteousness. Jesus is the Lamb of God meant for sacrifice and every lamb sacrificed before Him looks to Him.
    Remember that ram stuck in the bushes when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac?  Remember the Passover lamb whose blood marked the doorpost of God's people so that the angel of death passed over them? These are types or figures of the Lamb to come, of Jesus  the one and only Lamb whose blood can take away sin.  In this way all the Old Testament stands with John in pointing to Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
    Jesus is the Lamb who will shepherd God's people. From Ezekiel we hear the lament of God who has seen the failures of the shepherds appointed to care for His people.  He promises one to come, who will not be a like a hireling who cares only for himself or runs from danger. No, God will shepherd His people, the Lamb will become the shepherd, the Good
Shepherd, who lays down His life for His people. From the Shepherd psalm
to the words of Jesus about the Good Shepherd in John's gospel, we meet in this Lamb THE shepherd who will shepherd His people even at the cost of His own blood.
    Still the story is not yet complete. We have the sacrificial lamb long promised, the lamb who shepherds His people even laying down His life for them, but there is still the heavenly Lamb who sits upon the throne. This is the victorious Lamb who earned His place by His perfect obedience, who gives to His people the fruits of His victory, so that they may be with Him where death no longer reigns and evil is finally and fully overcome. This Jesus is the Lamb of God who gathers the lambs in His arms not for a moment but for all eternity. He will not rest until all are gathered and leaves the ninety nine so that even one lost one is restored.
    John told the people long ago, “Look at this Lamb.” He tells us the same thing today. “Look at the Lamb.”  Look at Him with faith to believe He is who He claims to be, He has fulfilled all that was promised of Him, and He delivers upon all He promises to give. Look at Him through the eyes of faith. As long as the Lamb of God is on your lens, you will not go off the path and find yourself lost or alone. Keep the Lamb in your vision, and you will never lose your way.
    John told the people long ago and still tells us today, "Look at the Lamb." This is the focus of our worship. Not on preacher or presider or people but on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and my sin. From the confession of sins that begins our time together, to the lessons that speak God's Word to us, to the offering in which we bring forward what belongs to the Lamb (our very selves), to the Sacrament where we kneel to receive in His bread and in His cup the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – the whole focus of the Church's life is looking at the Lamb.
    John told the people long ago and still tells us today, "Look at the Lamb." This is the focus of evangelism and outreach. We are careful to tell the world, “Do not look at me or my sin or my holiness or my thoughts and opinions. Look at the Lamb.” This is our proclamation and witness: “Look at Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Messiah long promised. He is the hope of people caught in hopelessness and despair, lost and alone in a world of darkness and sin, helpless to fix what is wrong.  Look at the Lamb!”
    In Word and in Sacrament, we continue the call first given us by John - look at the Lamb! It was this that was John's witness to the world. It was this that he spoke to his own followers after he baptized Jesus and Jesus began preaching the kingdom of God was here. It was this that people looked for and saw in Jesus - the Lamb of God who pays sins price, who sets the prisoner free from his sins, who gathers the lost for kingdom of God, who comforts the sorrowing with the hope that does not disappoint, and who protects and defends the people of God against all their enemies.
    If there is any word we need to hear today, with all the distractions we face and the temptations before us, look at the Lamb. If we find ourselves looking at our wounds or our accomplishments, we need to be told again, look at the Lamb.  If we find ourselves staring into the face of injustice and despair, we need to hear it anew, look at the Lamb.  If we wonder where God is in our moments of greatest need and loneliness, we need somebody to point us to the Word, point us to the baptismal water, and point us to this altar.  Look, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Amen.

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