To Abide or Not to Abide

Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42


Good morning. Tomorrow we celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To be honest, I’m always a little nervous about preaching on this particular Sunday. I wonder what I could possibly say. I’m a 40-something white guy; I’ve never experienced racial discrimination. I’ve never been on the receiving end of racism. And I was born after Dr. King was assassinated. It’s not like I can point to things I did during the civil rights movement and share the story of how I participated in that work.

I can stand up here and tell you racism is bad, but you already know that!

I don’t think any of you are posting racist rants on Facebook.

I highly doubt that any of you are going to Klan meetings.

So why can’t I just let this be? As I said, Dr. King was murdered before I was even born. The civil rights movement succeeded in changing a lot of unjust laws. It seems like the work has already been completed. But it hasn’t. Racism and prejudice still exist. There is still a racial divide in this nation. We are also divided by wealth and social class. And we are called to mend the breaches in our world.

There’s a lot going on in our reading from the Gospel of John. Among other things, it’s a call story. That is, this passage ends with Jesus calling two of his disciples, Andrew and Peter. Jesus calls them into his work, which is, according to John the Baptist, taking away the sin of the world. John testifies, saying: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Notice that John the Baptist says “sin,” not sins. This is really important.

We tend to think of sin as a collection of bad actions. All the little things and all the big things that we do that hurt others or offend God. All the bad things we do and all the good things that we fail to do. Which makes it all about us and all about individual behavior.

That is NOT how sin works in the Gospel of John.

In the Gospel of John, sin is anything that separates us from God. Sin is a category of relationship. Sin is separation from God. Sin is a lack of relationship with God or a fractured relationship with God. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus takes away that sin and restores the relationship. This is accomplished through the incarnation—through the very existence of the human Jesus in the world: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, therefore, takes away any separation from God and makes it possible for all to be in the same kind of relationship with God that Jesus has with the Father.”[1]

In last Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist actually baptizes Jesus. In today’s reading, John the Baptist announces that Jesus has been baptized with the Holy Spirit—that is, John doesn’t do the baptizing. Instead, the Holy Spirit equips Jesus for his work of reconciliation.

John says: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” The word that is translated as “remained” is the Greek verb meno. It can also be translated as dwell or abide. This is really important. It’s so important that it appears in the Gospel of John over forty times. This is how the gospel wr