Faith United Methodist Church
January 19, 2014
Human Relations Day / Second Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood
Scripture: Isaiah 49:1-7, John 1:35-42
Prayer of Illumination: “Epiphany” #255
Sermon: One Person Can Make a Difference
One person. Have you ever wondered if you could make a difference in the world? In the face of the world’s concerns it is tempting to think that what any one person does doesn’t really matter. Take recycling for example. Amongst all the people who give no thought to the green-movement, does it really matter if I separate my plastics and cardboards?
And yet, we live in a world of global-warming, wars, tsunamis, school shootings, tornadoes, genocide, and chemical weapons. How could you ~ how could I ~ do anything to effect lasting change? “But what does it matter anyway?” asked the butler, Carson on Downton Abbey in the first episode of this season, “We shout and scream and wail and cry, but in the end we must all die.” What could we possibly do in this short, frail life that we have?
I think even churches sometimes wonder the same thing. What could our one little church possibly do to make a difference? Last week I was at a Burlington Area Ministers Association meeting discussing the escalating needs in our community. Each faith group represented reported an increase in those seeking help, and especially the downtown churches. They are experiencing a surge in people coming off the streets looking for food, lodging and bus passes. Sometimes they can help. Sometimes they can’t.
While we are not downtown, we also have seen an increase in people coming, or calling, asking for help. Depending on the state of our “Helping Hands Fund” we can sometimes give a gas card or a grocery card or $50 toward rent. Sometimes the needs are greater than what we can address. In all cases, we try to connect them to JUMP or COTS. Yet even JUMP and COTS and other service agencies are overwhelmed with needs. What can I do? What can we do?
This is the second Sunday after the Epiphany. The season of Epiphany lasts from early January until the beginning of Lent. The word ‘Epiphany’ means ‘a manifestation of the divine.’ During Epiphany we are invited to pay attention to the ways God shows up in our lives ~ God moments as we call them. Our Scripture lessons give us examples of how Jesus’ identity as ‘Son of God’ was increasingly revealed to those around him as people had life-changing encounters with him. People like Andrew and Peter.
Today’s gospel comes from John and is the story of Jesus’ first followers. You see, John the Baptist was hanging with his disciples when Jesus walked past. John pointed to Jesus ~ as he was want to do ~ and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples were curious, so they dropped John (like a hot-potato) and ran after Jesus. Later, after spending the day with Jesus, one of the two ~ Andrew ~ left to tell his brother about the amazing day he had. “Simon, Simon!” he said, “We have found the Messiah!” Simon followed Andrew and was introduced to Jesus. Jesus welcomed him and gave him a new name, “Simon, from now on you are to be called Peter.” Wow!
It was a life changing moment, probably more so than Peter even realized at the time. None of them knew what they were in for with this Jesus guy. As one pastor put it, those early followers of Jesus didn’t know that they would end up leaving behind their nets, boats, homes, friends, work and retirements. Their whole lives were about to change.
It seems to me that the common thread in this Gospel story is in the telling. John told his disciples about his experience with Jesus, so they went to see for themselves. Andrew told his brother about his great day with Jesus and Peter was curious enough to investigate. As Catherine Taylor preached, “Telling is having the experience again and giving it to someone else. Telling is shining a light that shows a particular way and then walking along that way together.”
And speaking of light, Isaiah had something to say about light in our Old Testament lesson. Isaiah shared God’s words proclaiming, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The Isaiah passage, which is another of The Servant Songs, reminds us to reach out beyond the close and comfortable and to carry God’s love and grace to those who have never known it.
In addition to being the second Sunday after Epiphany, today is Human Relations Sunday. As we learned from the video, our Human Relations Day offering supports efforts to overcome injustice and empower those struggling to survive. In this way we can be a light to the nations and share salvation with those haven’t experienced it. Through our individual donations we can, together, make a difference.
Can one person make a difference? John made a difference in Andrew’s life by pointing him to Jesus. Andrew made a difference in Peter’s life by inviting him to meet the Messiah. In the later stories of the disciples Andrew often took a back seat to Peter’s center stage. After Jesus’ death and resurrection it was Peter who led the early Christians in Jerusalem and even penned letters that are included in the Bible. What if Andrew had wanted to keep the Messiah to himself and never told his brother? Even though Andrew often fades into the background, we can’t forget that he was the first one to tell Peter about Jesus.
So I believe that one person can make a difference. We may not be able to single-highhandedly effect broad systemic change, but every loving deed, every kind word, every positive action makes a difference in the world. I may not be able to stem global warming all on my own, but each catalog I recycle and each food scrap I compost makes a significant, if tiny, difference. Each grocery card we give out and each rent check we write to help stretch someone’s budget makes a difference to that individual or family. Each time we connect someone with an organization that can provide education or job training or housing assistance we are part of a chain that makes a difference.
As our Seasons of the Spirit put it, “The people who meet God cannot hide the good news of God’s work.” John couldn’t hide it and neither could Andrew. We can be an Andrew. We can tell those closest to us how God has touched our lives. We can be a John. We can point to the source of love and grace. If our lives are changed, if we have experienced something of God, how can we not talk about it? How can we not act on it? To borrow from (and slightly paraphrase) the affirmation of our ecumenical youth group, Ripple, “We never quite know how one small action inspired by love … can ripple out and change the world.” Amen.