Almighty God, we come to You to lift us up. Lift us up away from the ways of the world that drag us down. Lift us up from broken relationships. Lift us up from broken promises. Lift us up from the hurt of this world, so that we may walk in Your light. We know that You are faithful, always. We know that You are the one who made us in Your image. We know that You are with us, even when we cannot experience Your presence. Help us to walk by faith through the valley of the shadow, and into Your light, so that we can become Your light to the world. Amen.

Hebrew Bible Text: Isaiah 49:1-7 

49 Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Gospel: John 1:29-42

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Let’s consider together our passages today on this Second Sunday after the Epiphany.  This season when we celebrate the Good News of God’s love for all people,
made manifest in Jesus Christ.

That’s what Epiphany means, you know, a revealing, a manifestation, a showing.  These passages have a theme running through them; it is the sharing of those revelations, the sharing of Good News.  Aka Evangelism.  Yes, that is what the word evangelist means literally–to be a bearer of Good News.  How it got to be associated with those who are self-righteous and condemning–well, that’s a topic for another day.

But what if, as these passages suggest, evangelism begins simply with paying attention and giving voice to manifestations of God’s love in our own lives?

John the Baptist has experienced Jesus as the one who takes away sin.

Andrew says we have found the anointed one…the chosen one.

If you read on in John’s gospel, Phillip says we have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.

My guess is that at one time or another, you too have had an experience of the divine presence in your life.  An epiphany.  Because I am a minister, people share their epiphany moments with me, and I wish they shared them with others too.  Oftentimes, they sound something like this:

  • It was when my brother was dying I realized, I saw, I sensed, a comfort, a peace, a transcended word.
  • Or it was one lonely night on a military ship far out at sea, far away from everything I knew and everyone I loved.  I was feeling so small against the vast sky and the endless clusters of stars and galaxies when I became aware of a presence, a connection, an assurance.
  • Or it was after an awful argument with my son, an insight gripped me, a conviction, about my own brokenness and how far off track I had gotten.
  • It was tutoring a child whose family was hopelessly caught in the cycle of poverty, and I knew, I saw, she was my child, my sister.  We were part of the same family.  I was her and she was me.  There was no distance between us.
  • It was my first year of college.  In a moment of deep confusion and doubt I admitted to myself I couldn’t believe anymore–not the things I had grown up believing–and it was the surprising assurance in that moment that love had not abandoned me.

Maybe like John the Baptist, in a moment of epiphany, you too have come to know Jesus as the one who takes away, takes away guilt or shame or burdens too heavy to carry, too deep to undo, takes away despair or cynicism.

Maybe like the Andrew and Phillip you have come to know Jesus through religious teachings and to know yourself to be called into the sacred narrative that in Christ God continues to love and transform the world.  You have a sense–it has been revealed to you–that your life has a mission and a purpose tied up in the Good News.  Maybe like the psalmist, you have endured unspeakable grief and times of unbelief and have felt a strength, a power beyond your own, sustain you and lift you up.

And the truth is there are as many variations of epiphanies as there are people.  And those moments shape us and to the extent that they have made us more loving and compassionate and accepting, our LIVES BEAR GOOD NEWS without saying a word, and we already are evangelists.

There is that wonderful proclamation credited to Saint Francis of Assisi.  Perhaps you’ve heard it.  _Preach the Gospel. When necessary use words._ Doesn’t that ring true?  When God’s love claims us, our very lives preach Good News.  And sometimes it is indeed necessary to use words. And being an evangelist is also about giving voice to your story in those necessary times.  Giving voice to your story.

Now listen!  That does not mean that you have to take a course on how to explain the Christian faith in ten minutes or reduce your story to an elevator talk.  Nor does it mean you have to memorize Bible verses.  The words to share are simply the words that tell your honest story–nothing more, nothing less–the words of the evangelist are not threats but testimony, the telling of your encounter with God’s love.  The words of the evangelist are not answers, but authenticity.  The words of the evangelist are not doctrine but discipleship.  Notice how John the Baptist says, “Hey, I didn’t know who Jesus was, but here’s what I have learned.”  That’s what discipleship is all about: learning.  That’s what the word means.  To be a student.  And evangelism is sharing what we learn.  Evangelists are students, not scholars.  The words of the evangelists are not quotes, but questions, heart-to-heart questions.

Which brings us to the other starting point of evangelism–besides paying attention and giving voice to manifestations of God’s love in our own lives–evangelism begins with a genuine attentiveness to the other.

Remember the story.  There is Jesus walking along and two people start following him.  The passage tells us he turned around and then he gave them a list of things to which they had to give intellectual assent.  BEHOLD.  No, no, no, no.  It didn’t happen like that.

Okay.  So two people are following Jesus.  He turns around and he gives them a phrase they need to repeat in order to secure their eternal destiny.  No.  It didn’t happen like that either.

He turned around and he beheld them.  He beheld them.  He pays full attention to them.  He sees them.  He contemplates them.  And the same thing happens later when Andrew brings Simon to Jesus.  First, Jesus BEHOLDS him…perceives him…looks at him with his mind’s eye and his heart’s eye.  Isn’t that part of the issue with our popularized notions of evangelist?  They are people who do NOT SEE individuals but simply roll over people with their agendas.  But evangelism begins with beholding another person.  And then after Jesus beholds the two, he asks a probing question.

What are you seeking? 

What do you want?

Evangelism always begins with genuine interest in the longings and heart desires of the other person.

What are you looking for?  What are you seeking?  These are questions that invite people to share their lives beyond the surface, to look deeper together at life’s complexities.  They are an invitation to mutual discovery and sharing of stories.  The Good News is shared in personal encounters.  Jesus invites the two to come and see–and keep reading–later Phillip invites Nathaniel to do the same thing:  Come and See.  Evangelism is invitation, not intimidation.

So I wonder about your story.

  • How did you get here today?
  • Why are you listening?
  • What are you seeking?
  • Who in your life has paid attention to you and seen you and asked you the questions that go below the surface of our lives?
  • Who has taken the time in their busy life and turned around and beheld you?
  • Who in your life has asked the questions beyond:  What do you do?  Where do you live?  Where did you go to school?  Where did you grow up?
  • Who SAW YOU and asked what are you seeking?
  • What’s on your mind?
  • What’s troubling you?
  • What do you really want?
  • Who invited you to COME and SEE?
  • Who invited you into a community of faith where God is at work and people are asking and learning and serving and growing and worshipping together?

Whoever those people are–can you see their faces now in your mind’s eye?–they are the EVANGELISTS of the world.  They are the bearers of Good News, and the world needs more of them.  Those who love because they have been loved.  Those who welcome because they have been welcomed.  Those who take the time to turn around and see another because they have been seen.  Those who invite because they have received an invitation.

If that’s what it means to be an evangelist, I wonder how many of you already are evangelists?

Commentary provided by James H. Evans, Jr., John C. Holbert, Karoline Lewis, Rick Swanson, David Lose, Pam Driesell, Alexander Crummell, Stanley P. Saunders, and Mark Abbott.