The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 15, 2023

Following Jesus

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450
January 15, 2023

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We spend the first two weeks of Epiphany on the baptism of Jesus and surrounding events. Since I spent time last Sunday on the visit of the Magi, I want to focus on the 2 different accounts of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew and then in John.

In Matthew’s account the focus is on Jesus and we have a specific description of the scene. Jesus approaches John and John says,  “I should not baptize you, you should baptize me.” To which Jesus replies “Let this be done to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, John you are dealing with the human Jesus and I should do what all people are expected to do. John baptizes him and the dove descends on him and the voice says, “This is my beloved son, in him I am well pleased.” Not what we do not know is if anyone other than Jesus saw the dove or heard the voice. Each of the synoptic gospels has a slightly different version. Then he is sent into the wilderness.

John’s account this morning is totally different. John presents this over a four-day period. Jesus is baptized on the first day, even though the actual baptism is never mentioned. We begin with days 2 and 3 in today’s reading. John’s entire focus is on the spirit descending on Jesus “like a dove.” Then we hear a second telling of how great Jesus is and how far below him John is. Day 3 he invites the two disciples to come and see where he is staying. He does not call them as disciples in fact John never refers to any of the men we call disciples by that term. He does not have a list of disciples like the other gospels. BTW those lists do not agree with each other.

Another difference in John is he focuses not on miracles, but on signs. In this passage the sign is the spirit descending. Now this is not a dove, but something like a dove. The baptism itself is not important to John like it is to Matthew and Mark. Luke has the spirit descend when Jesus is praying after his baptism. It may be interesting to think about the fact that Luke and John are the later gospels and the Spirit is more important to them. The Spirit is very important to John for John’s focus is on the eternal or cosmic nature of Christ rather than the human Jesus. He stands in bold contrast to Mark in particular.

We hear on day 3 of Andrew and Simon/Peter (notice he is named Peter much earlier than in the other gospels) following Jesus. Now I do not know how I failed to notice this, but Andrew at least and probably Peter as well are hanging out with John the Baptist. We hear of two disciples of John who go to see Jesus. “one of the two” is identified as Andrew. Now next week we will hear the calling of Andrew, Peter, James and John by the sea of Galilee where they are all fishermen. I had never noticed that difference before.

Not noticing the difference of course is why we should always approach these familiar stories as if it is the first time. Watching for, looking for signs is something we should always be aware of. We never know when that insight might happen.  One of the things this makes me ponder is why the difference in the story. Something is important for these two contradictory versions have been kept for 2000 years. Jesus is also acclaimed as the Messiah by those around him in chapter one of John this is much earlier than any of the other gospels.

I think the key is in the word follow. The Magi pay homage to the infant Jesus. Homage can also be translated worship, but that is the only time in all the gospels where Jesus is worshipped. It is always an invitation to come and see, to follow Jesus. I must admit that every time I hear a hymn that refers to worshiping Jesus, I cringe a little. Jesus does not want us to worship him  but to follow and to proclaim, witness as Michael Curry is fond of saying. Following Jesus implies far more than just sitting in church.

There is a wonderful line that I really like. Sitting in church does not make you a Christian any more than sitting in your garage makes you a car. It is what we do in response to the message we hear on Sunday that makes the difference. What we do matters.

Monday Harlan and I had a Zoom meeting with Eric Moen from the Episcopal Health foundation to plan a vestry retreat. Eric will be meeting with the vestry along with Joyce Davis and Tracey Meyer our Outreach chairs at the end of the month. The purpose is for us to learn how to engage our local community through effective outreach, outreach that makes a real difference to people by building relationships and really getting to know the people around us. Now you will hear about that during the parish meeting and in the annual report, but there was one thing he said that grabbed me and actually inspired this sermon.

I was describing us to him and he does know us having talked several times with Chris your former rector. He said, “You are a bit of downtown church. People come from outside the neighborhood and then go home. You come on Sunday, put on your church hat. When you leave you take off the church hat and put on your family/parent hat, your work hat, whatever hat you need to wear when you leave.  The challenge is for us to consider how we might keep that church hat on when we leave church on Sunday.

Michael Curry has said on numerous occasions that the church is one of the few organizations that exists more for the people outside their walls than those inside our walls. Bishop Curry wants us to get out of these four walls so we can make a difference. Otherwise, we are just worried about our salvation and Jesus wants more than that from those who follow him. We need to be like John the Baptist in today’s passage and consciously point to Jesus, to put the focus on Christ.

One of the commentaries I read told a story that I would like to share with you.

Several years ago, when the What Would Jesus Do? campaign was at its peak of popularity among young people, I had a conversation with a young high schooler. She had been given a WWJD bracelet; while she was wearing it, she was also troubled by it. After youth group one night, she shared that she was struggling with the concept of the bracelet. I tried to explain that the bracelet is supposed to be a tangible reminder that we are followers of Jesus and that we are to be guided by his actions in every facet of our lives. She assured me that she understood all that. Her problem was that she did not see how it was possible for us even to know what Jesus would actually do in any situation, let alone to do it faithfully. When I tried to explain that we have the Bible and the wider community of believers to help us, she explained in an exasperated tone, “Yeah, but don’t you see? I am not Jesus! I am fully human, but I am not fully divine. I just don’t think it’s fair to even assume that I could imagine what Jesus would do because I am not God!” She had a point.[1]

The commentator then said maybe the question is WWJBD, What Would John the Baptist Do? So maybe the real question for us today is What Would John the Baptist Do and how does that inform what we should do. How do we wear our church hat proudly in a world that in large part has a less than positive view of Christianity? That truly is a challenge. Think about it from my standpoint. What if you walked around all day in clericals that proclaimed you are a minister of God? Would that change how you interacted with people? Well guess what? You are all ministers of God. The ministry of the baptized. All baptized Christians are ministers of the gospel whether you want to claim that title of not. It is one of the reasons I am not called a minister but a priest. We are all ministers by our baptism. If you haven’t considered that then I think you really should take some time over the next few weeks to consider what that means.

In the season of Epiphany, we focus on the inbreaking of God into our world. We see God in the flesh. Well I see God in the flesh in each and every one of you. Our challenge is to show that to the world. Showing God to the world is why we exist and that is the focus or our ministries. There is a vision for us going forward in 2023! AMEN.

[1] Nishioka, R. Y. (2010). Pastoral Perspective on John 1:29‒42. In D. L. Bartlett & B. B. Taylor (Eds.), Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A (Vol. 1, p. 262). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.