Jan 15, 2017 – Happiness!
Today is the second Sunday of the epiphany season and Life Sunday. To have an epiphany, in the general sense, is like having a fresh awareness, a revelation, of something that you thought you knew or understood. I read an article about a subject most people like to think they have a good understanding of, happiness, but they also find that it’s elusive. And when I read this article, on the idea of happiness, it was like a little epiphany. What is it that people want? What did our constitutional forefathers say we had a right to pursue… happiness? That’s nice, but what is it that we are to pursue, how do we attain happiness?
According to this article, happiness derives from meaningfulness. Your activities – work or pleasure – when they have meaning or significance to a person, that is when most people find they are happiest. Doing something, doing anything, as long as it has meaning, brings about a sense of happiness or satisfaction. It’s like petting your cat or dog. That has meaning because you can sense that there’s something significant in it for them. Happiness doesn’t come from a lack of doing or from having nothing to do, but happiness comes, according to, this article, from being engaged; being engaged in something meaningful.
That revelation, that epiphany, is important for us today. In the Old Testament and gospel lessons we see that God knows this is true about His people. And He has given meaning to the work of His people.
In the Old Testament lesson, you see a brilliant message of meaning. Listen again to verse 6 it says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus’ work had meaning in this world because He was sent for all people to see that He is chosen by God to reveal God’s goodness and mercy, love and grace in this world. And how does God do that? How does God reveal that Jesus is His servant on earth so that the earth recognizes Him as that? God does it through Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ work.
In the gospel lesson today, that follows Jesus’ baptism, we hear John declare to the world the truth that reveals Jesus as the holy sacrifice for sin in verse 29, “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’” Jesus was shown, through His baptism, as the sacrificial Lamb of God.
Jesus is the Servant, according to the Old Testament lesson, sent from God to restore the tribes of Israel and, significantly for us, to be the light of salvation for the gentiles so that the whole earth may know of God’s love.
And through baptism we have the same meaning applied to us; that is, God makes us His servants also. We too share in the calling of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament lesson today to be a light in this world revealing the salvation of God that He desires for all people – for every single person on this planet – to know and rejoice in. That salvation comes through the righteousness of Jesus alone.
We are not the Lamb of God that John declared, but we are made God’s servants through Jesus’ sacrificial work and His victory. That was His meaningful work done in our place. His victory becomes ours, as we spoke of last week, in our baptism and so also does His message. And that, that message of God’s salvation for the world is what gives us meaning and significance in everything that we do.
God’s love for this world is so simple. And yet it’s so upsetting to us that it is so simple. We think it should be harder than it is. In fact, we want it to be harder so that we think we’ve earned something. The truth that you and I know is that the only thing we’ve earned is… God’s wrath. We wanted significance, but we settled for sin.
And on this Life Sunday it’s easy to see how real sin is in our world. God alone is the creator of life and yet we have chosen to put ourselves in the place of God and decide we have the right to take life away. Whether through abortion, euthanasia or other means we’ve put ourselves in place of deciding that we humans can take the right unto ourselves to take a life. We have violated what God has said was good. That was His judgment about His creation – about life.
We have, at least in this country, put the pursuit of individual ‘happiness’ above the right to life. Yes, happiness comes from doing things of significance. But in the face of letting personal pleasure or choice come before God’s gift of life, how can we not see that our world is sick with sin?
After the suicide of Adolf Hitler, two military chaplains were inspecting Hitler’s apartment beneath a bunker. On the wall was a larger-than-life-size portrait of Hitler. Among a few personal belongings was found a necklace containing a very small head of Christ. Said one chaplain to the other, “This is the result in the world when man becomes big and God becomes small.”
When Hitler made his choices, the world condemned him. Today, when individuals make such a choice, it’s protected as a so-called ‘right’. The handout in your bulletins speaks to the death-numbers such a ‘right’ has led to.
It would be easy to stop here and let us all feel sad or angry and resolved to do something. Do Anything! And then after a while the passion would fade and we’d let our anger or sadness subside. It’s also tempting for me to take what I started out talking about to brow beat you by saying, ‘See – if you want to be happy, here’s something of significance you can do – go work for the pro-life movement.’ And if I did that I might feel a bit better. But again, only for a while. However, neither of those things speaks to what God has done for us in reminding us this Sunday that life is His creation and that we’re meant to guard it and protect it.
Only God, in His mercy, comes to us and gives us significance. Only by faith and through baptism do we have true significance.
God comes to us and He makes us His own. By the gift of Jesus’ righteousness applied to a person in baptism, we’re changed and all that we do, every single thing is now given a sense of meaning and purpose far beyond our desires.
Remember from last week, that the battle has been won. Through Jesus’ holy innocent death on the cross and by the power of His resurrection He defeated the powers of hell. That victory is made our victory over sin, over death and the devil.
And that message is what we’re given to give to others. We’re to point to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, all sin even the sin seen in the numbers on the handout. We take His message of forgiveness and freedom, of peace, reconciliation and true significance – true happiness as it comes from the gospel lesson today.
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus… 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Because of what John had said of Jesus, Andrew began to follow Jesus. And what was the first thing Andrew did? He went and told his brother Simon Peter. That going and telling was meaningful activity, and I believe it would have given him happiness as we spoke of earlier. In what Andrew did, we see what God wanted and wants still today. For the word about His servant, Jesus, to be spread to others. For the world to know, as He said in the Old Testament lesson, for the world to know that God’s salvation is for everyone.
There is no one you can talk to who is beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. The peace and reconciliation that comes through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is for every single person. What is we’re about here at Zion Lutheran Church? – that’s right Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel.
That Gospel is the significant thing revealed to us in epiphany. We’re given that same significance in our lives that Andrew had – to tell others that, through the Messiah, the forgiveness and love of God has come to each person in the whole world. In the life and the name of Jesus Christ we pray, amen.
Sermon #867 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Isaiah 49:1-7 49 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” 5 And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” 7 This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Holy Gospel John 1:29-42a
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.