Let us point towards The One.

The Rev. Suzanne Wille, preaching

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen+

For years I’ve had 
Hung over my desk
A ragged photocopy 
Of an image from the Isenheim Altarpiece, 
Created by Matthias Grunewald 
500 years ago
For the monastery of St. Anthony.

On the front of the altarpiece
Is a large crucifixion scene. 
At first, you think it’s pretty standard:
Christ on the cross, 
Mary, mother of Jesus, 
comforted by the beloved disciple,
And Mary Magdalene kneeling before Jesus. 

Then you notice
That Jesus is covered in sores, 
Sores like those who were suffering
From the plague at the time, 
And you learn that the monastery
Acted as a kind of hospital 
For plague victims
And those suffering from other skin diseases.
When they went to the chapel for prayer
They saw a savior who suffered
As they were suffering.  

And then off to the side,
There’s John the Baptist,
Arm raised,
One long, bony finger pointing to Christ.
Next to him, in Latin, 
These words: 
“He must increase; I must decrease,”
Which John says later,
After the scene 
We read in today’s Gospel.

Of course, John the Baptist
Couldn’t have been at the crucifixion; 
He was beheaded much earlier by Herod. 
Yet on the altarpiece, 
There he is, head attached, 
Pointing . . . 

And that is John’s whole function—
To point to Jesus. 
To point others, 
To point us
To Jesus. 

That’s why I keep
This image near me:
So I remember THAT
Is my number one job,
In preaching, 
In pastoral care, 
In teaching, 
Even in administration:
Point to Jesus.
In fact, I think 
That is the job
Not just of pastors
But of all Christians.

And that’s what John 
Is doing in today’s Gospel.
He’s not baptizing.
He’s not railing
At people to repent.
No, he is pointing to Jesus, 
Revealing for all around him
Who Jesus is:
“Here is the Lamb of God
Who takes away the sin of the world!”
He testifies to what he
Has seen and known, 
Pointing away from himself;
Pointing others to Jesus.

In this way,
John is as much of an Epiphany figure
As an Advent one, 
Revealing the nature of Jesus, 
Not only as prophet and teacher,
But as the Lamb of God
Who takes away the sin of the world.

Even at the beginning
Of the Gospel story, 
Just as Jesus appears on the scene, 
John, here more Witness than Baptist, 
Reveals Jesus’ ending: the cross.

Anyone listening
Would have heard “lamb of God”
And thought of the Paschal Lamb, 
Slain to save others.

John points to 
Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, 
For us, suffering to 
Take away the sins of the world. 


This weekend John the Baptist
Puts me in mind of another
One who used his whole life to point to Jesus:
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Whom we honor each year on this weekend.
Dr. King knew that he must decrease
As he pointed to a Jesus 
who knew the suffering
Of an oppressed people,
Who in 20th century America
Was not a man covered in the sores
But a Jesus who spoke 
of the inherent worth of all people
In the Beatitudes; 
He knew he must decrease 
As he pointed to hope 
For equality, dignity, and civil rights.

When he spoke before 250,000 people
During the 1963 March on Washington, 
King’s speech started to falter,
And Mahalia Jackson,
sitting behind King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, 
Encouraged him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”

Suddenly, Dr. King looks up from his notes
And launches into an improvised section of his speech, 
The one punctuated, over and over again,
With “I have a dream.”
And throughout that speech
He pointed to a dream
That his children
“Will one day live in a nation
Where they will not be
judged by the color of their skin
But the content of their character.”
He pointed to a dream
That one day in Georgia
"The sons of former slaves 
And the sons of former slave owners 
Will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
He pointed to the vision in Isaiah when
“Every valley shall be exalted,
Every hill and mountain shall be made low . . 
The crooked places will be made straight, 
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”

King pointed to a dream larger than himself. 
He pointed away from himself
And towards a vision.
He gave people hope, 
Soaring rhetoric
That caused people's spirits to soar too,
To look beyond themselves, 
Their own selfishness, 
Their own fear,
Their own suffering, 
To something greater than themselves.

But Dr. King’s hope
Was more than rhetoric, 
It was grounded in Jesus, 
Anchored by the cross. 

For though Dr. King
Was a Civil Rights leader,
even more he was a preacher, 
Even more he was a theologian,
With a doctorate in systematic theology.

He believed “The Cross is the eternal expression
Of the length to which God will go 
In order to restore broken community.”

And King believed it was the cross
That could lead to racial reconciliation, 
For racism, segregation, injustice are sins,
Sins that estrange us from one another 
and shatter communities.
The only hope that that brokenness—
Sin and death—don’t have the final word
Is the cross, which is God’s defeat
Of sin, of death, of segregation and injustice,
Of distrust and enmity between races.

Five years after the March on Washington, 
Dr. King preached for the last time, 
This time in Memphis,
The night before he was killed.
He had borne his cross
But always pointed ahead to God’s dream. 
In this last speech, 
Dr. King ends by testifying 
That he has been to the mountaintop; 
He’s seen the promised land. 
He says to the people gathered, 
“I may not get there with you. 
But I want you to know . . .
That we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

As if he knew what would happen next, 
He says he doesn’t mind if he doesn’t live long,
For “I just want to do God’s will.”

I just want to do God’s will. . . .

On this second Sunday after the Epiphany, 
As we continue to experience
Revelations of who Jesus really is, 
Whether in his baptism,
Or the announcement by Andrew—
“We have found the Messiah!”—
Or the Sermon on the Mount,
Or in his Transfiguration, 
Or through a long, bony finger
Pointed by John the Baptist
Declaring, “Here is the Lamb of God
Who takes away the sin of the world!”
Let us point away from ourselves, 
Like John, and point towards
The vision that Dr. King pointed to,
Where there is neither Jew nor Greek,
Male more female, slave nor free, 
Where all are treated with dignity, 
And former enemies can sit down
And eat together as friends. 

Let us point towards 
The One who is our only hope
Of realizing that dream:
The Lamb of God
Who takes away the sin of the world.

 King, Jr., Martin Luther. Stride Toward Freedom, pp. 105-6.