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Few things are more irritating than being pulled over by the police for a traffic violation. This happened to me recently. Prior to a busy intersection I entered the lane with an arrow painted on the road which also read "right turn only." I followed that direction and made a right turn only to find a police officer in the middle of the block signaling me to stop. He had just finished giving a ticket to someone else apparently for the same reason. Obviously this seemed to be a favorite and busy spot for him. He told me that a new "no turn" sign had been recently posted at the intersection and made no apologies for the other sign painted on the road. Our conversation was brief followed by a long wait while the ticket was being written. It took forever I felt. At first I felt sorry for what I did but soon after I became angry and I was getting angrier by the second. I finally exploded when the officer came to give me the ticket. I said, ?I am going to contest this, you know.? He replied, "Then you had better have a witness", and then proceeded to signal the next violator.
"Witness?" I asked, "why do I need a witness?" Well I read the $75.00 ticket and on the back there was a box to fill in the name and address of a witness. What is a witness? A person who gives a testimony, a person that says I saw it. I was there, I heard it, I know it. I am convinced and I am willing to put my name on my declaration. I stand by my testimony. The root for the word witness in the scripture is the same root for the word martyr which gives even a stronger meaning to the word witness. Someone who is willing to put his or her life on the line to tell you what a person believes. We have many martyrs of the Christian faith throughout history.
The Gospel lesson, John 1:29-34, clearly defines John the Baptist as a witness. He was clear about his role as a witness to Jesus Christ the Messiah. He understood his call to make it known that Christ was to come to baptize people with the Holy Spirit. Until then John kept busy preparing the way for the Lord.
People asked him several times about his identity. "Are you the Christ?" and he said no. "Are you Elijah?" No I am not. "Are you one of the prophets?" No, I tell you I am a voice crying in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord.
In our Gospel text, John says: "I am a witness. I know, I am sure." As Christ appeared on the scene, he said "Behold here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one we have been waiting for, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lamb of God."
Just as John was clear about his role as a witness, he was also clear about the role of Christ on behalf of humanity.
John used the image of the Lamb, not just any lamb, but the Lamb of God. He was referring to the Old Testament ritual to sacrifice a lamb on the altar. The divine instruction had been that without the sharing of blood there would be no expiation, no forgiveness of sin. The priest kept very busy at the temple as people crowded the office hours to clear their records with God through the sacrifice of the lamb. John said Christ is the Lamb of God. The Lamb God has chosen as the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of all humanity. A once and for all sacrifice for all people. We read in the Prophet Isaiah 53 that as a lamb he did not open his mouth. As a lamb he was taken to be slaughtered and by his wounds we are healed.
John the Baptist says this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The image of a lamb also applies to us. We, like lambs, easily go astray and become prey to the forces of evil. No lamb can withstand alone the attacks of a hungry wolf. Except for one. It took Jesus, the Lamb of God to take our sinful nature in his own body, and through his death and resurrection conquered sin, death and the evil one. Isn't this good news! Isn't this exciting news. It is news from Epiphany. John the witness is revealing to us God's work on our behalf. He is unveiling for us the Grace of God.
Like John, we are called in our Baptismal covenant to be witnesses to the work of Christ on behalf of all of humanity on every time and place.
Now more than ever, the lambs in our midst are going astray. You and I can witness the situations surrounding many of our urban, suburban and rural areas; people facing increased violence, drugs, fear, injustice, poverty and economic strife.
You and I are witnesses of the situations of the people in regards to spiritual hunger. With almost half of the population not being active in any church with little or no knowledge of basic Biblical teachings.
The newly elected Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, H. George Anderson, said recently: "People are hungry for God, yet are settling for spiritual junk food."
John faced a similar situation during his time. Like John lambs can assist other lambs by showing them where the good nutritious food is in the person of Jesus Christ.
We are called to be witnesses. Witnesses like Dishi, a biology teacher at St. Mark University in Lima, Peru, who took time for me during my first year in college.
I was confused as I entered this new chapter in my life. There were too many things coming toward me at the same time.
I was proud but also embarrassed about my new looks. According to local tradition, my friends cut my hair and shaved my head after finding out that I had made it into college. I was one of the few selected out of thousands of applicants. So I had to deal with personal identity. I was very proud on the one hand, yet very susceptible to public embarrassment on the other.
I was also very angry. The more I learned about the history and current situation in my country, the angrier I got. Almost 400 years had passed since the Spanish Colonization, and the conditions of poverty, injustice and exploitation only seemed to grow for the many and to the benefit of a few. And solutions looked far from possible.
I was also unsure about my Christian faith. I questioned whether my faith had any relevance to the reality around me. I remember asking questions like: How do you reconcile a God of peace, love and justice with the conditions of the time? What is the proper way, the mechanism or vehicle to bring about change in the midst of such desperate situations?
Upon entering college, the older students demanded that we join recognized, standing groups in order to study for change. This was an extra curricular activity. The choices included: the group on Marxist Theory, the group on socialist model, the Leninist-communist philosophy, the teachings and method of Mao Tsetung, the group studying the programs of Fidel Castro, the Guevara or Pablo Freire and the groups reviewing the agendas of current political parties, independents, republicans and Christian democrats.
Pressure was on the entering class to choose one of the groups or the consequences would include public humiliation or possible physical punishment. I chose the group of Christian Democrats and soon I felt they were neither. So I moved from group to group and my confusion and anger only increased.
Dishi took time to be with me and to listen to me. I remember his invitation to a retreat for college students. Most of them had similar concerns and struggles as I was experiencing. We reviewed the basic teachings of the Christian faith which was very important for me.
Dishi underscored how as Christians we don't hide from the world but rather engage ourselves in it. I further learned from him that Christianity cannot be reduced to the ways and means of a particular philosophy or political agenda, but rather, God's grace sets us free to fully participate in the creation of a new world order reflecting God's character of peace, love and justice. As Christians we are free to engage in dialogue with others, motivated by our love for God and our love for our neighbor, yet without having to compromise our Christian faith.
I am thankful to Dishi, he practically saved my life. To me, he is a clear witness to Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
What about you as a witness? John reminds us of the importance of a Christian witness for the current and future generations. You are being called today to get on with the business of introducing Christ, the Lamb of God, to people around you: family, friends, neighbors, and don't forget your local political leaders. The statistics show that the majority of newcomers to a church do so at the invitation of a friend.
Let me share two final comments:
First, if you are ever in the city of Chicago, driving north on Michigan Avenue, do not turn right on Jackson St. You will probably have to face the same officer I did.
By the way, do I have a witness for my court appearance? Yes, I do. Hopefully it will save me $75.00.
Second and more important than saving money, is John the Baptist's reminder about God's on going activity of saving the lives of people. There is spiritual hunger in America. Lambs are going astray. God is calling you to be a witness. God is calling lambs to lead other lambs to where the good food is. God is asking today: Do I have a witness? Can I count on you to make Christ known today?
Thanks be to God, that through God's grace and power, you and I can say, as John did: Yes, I am a witness for Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.
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