First Congregational Church
January 19, 2014
Second Sunday after Epiphany
"Swimming with the Elephant"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
"I've just had the most awful time," said a boy to his friends. "First I got angina pectoris, then arteriosclerosis. Just as I was recovering, I got psoriasis. They gave me hypodermics, and to top it all, tonsillitis was followed by appendectomy." "Wow! How did you pull through?" asked his friends. "I don't know," the boy replied. "Toughest spelling test I ever had."
Have you ever wondered why we have trouble with the English Language? Let's face it English is a stupid language.
There is no egg in the eggplant
No ham in the hamburger
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England
French fries were not invented in France.
We sometimes take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
If writers write, how come fingers don't fing.
If the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth
If the teacher taught,
Why didn't the preacher praught.
If a vegetarian eats vegetables
What ever does a humanitarian eat!?
Why do people recite at a play
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways and
Drive on parkways
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as
It burns down
And in which you fill in a form
By filling it out
And a bell is only heard once it goes!
English was invented by people, not computers
And it reflects the creativity of the human race
(Which of course isn't a race at all)
That is why
When the stars are out they are visible
But when the lights are out they are invisible
And why it is that when I wind up my watch
But when I wind up this observation,
If it hasn't come to you yet, this morning's message is about language. When I was looking for a Meditative Sentence, I looked for the word "lamb," because of the scripture passage. When I found the one by John Owen, I also found the title of this message, because we will be going to the deeps - at least for me. If you didn't catch it, his quote is, "In the divine Scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim."
Came across some interesting "language" this week, too. Actually, it was slang from the 1920s, and the thought that we should start using some - if not all of them - again. Some I can't say in church. But, has anyone ever hear of the phrase, "Banana oil?" It means, "That's doubtful."
I don't know if "bangtail" will become popular again for a race horse. Or will "eel's hips" ever come back as an equivalent to "the cat's meow" or "The Monkey's Eyebrows." I'm sure, however, that we won't be bringing back "Rock of Ages," because as a reference to middle-aged women over 30, it just ain't gonna fly.
The passage for this morning comes from the book of John, the fourth Gospel, the one that not like the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels, which means that they include many of the same stories, often in similar sequence and wording. But John is different. John spends more time talking about Jesus as the revelation of the divine Word. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" - all with capital W's. In John, Jesus talks more about his divine role and there is less time spent on parables.
As Kathy makes her way forward, I'll give you a little clue into the passage. There is a repeated phrase. So see if you can pick it out.
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.
Thank you, Kathy. So, did anyone catch the repeated phrase? "Lamb of God." Actually, "Look, the Lamb of God." If you look up "Lamb of God," it is used in exactly that order in only two places in the Bible: the two contained in our reading today. When the Bible contains repetition, you might pay more attention than usual.
At the Ministerial Association this past Thursday, it was Fr. Skip Comer's turn to do the devotional part of our meeting. So he read this passage, and asked us, "Who is the Lamb?" He extrapolated the question with another, "What does the Lamb of God mean?"
Skip reminded us that the "lamb" reference came from the Jewish tradition of worship sacrifice. Long before Jesus' day, way back in Abraham's era, lambs were used in the temple every morning and evening for the sin of the people. Our culture is not necessarily so fond of such practice, for a number of reasons, including sensitivity to the unpleasantness all the way to animal rights and protection. And yet, that is - in part - why Jesus came, so that we don't have to bring lambs or grain or doves or any thing else to sacrifice.
There was that nasty incident with Abraham and his son Isaac, and that time God told Abe to sacrifice his son - as a burnt offering - none-the-less. One doesn't need to be a parent to abhor such a "command," much less the carrying out of it. Even when God provides a ram in a thicket, the obedience of Abraham - or any one - to such a situation is hard to take in.
Then there was "the" Passover, the tenth plague on the land of Egypt, because Pharoah wouldn't release the Jewish people from their captivity. The actual plague was the death of every first-born male child. The only way to prevent the Lord's angel of death from stopping at your house was to put some lamb's blood on the sides and top of the door frame of the house. Then you were "passed over." We're not fond of such drastic measures these days, and more than a few have wondered why we need to keep this reminder of brutality, much less talk about it.
In fact, there are tons of questions about a "lamb of God." Does the lamb belong to God, or come from God, or possess some sort of godly status? Is it God’s Passover lamb? Even after Jesus' death and resurrection and ascension back to eternity, sin isn't eradicated. People still kill; individuals are hurt. And sometimes we swim with the elephant.
My friend, although he doesn't know he's my friend, Richard Swanson, is a professor of religion, philosophy and classics over der at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Sout Dakoda. On this topic of "lamb of God," he said, "What matters, I think, is that the phrase “lamb of God” does not point easily and simply to a single symbolic referent. Rather, it weaves this chance encounter with Jesus into the whole variegated tapestry of Jewish Scripture."
Maybe pastors and religious know-it-alls have been focusing too much on the phrase, and we've forgotten that it was John the Baptist, Jesus' locust-eating, camel-skin wearing preacher cousin who voiced the title. Maybe it wasn't so much a proclamation as much as an affirmation.
Maybe this was the best term John could come up with to make his point, "This is the man." This is my home-boy, the one I've been telling you about. Maybe John had known Jesus as his cousin, and in that moment, it dawned on him - the depth of what Jesus was to do; he had seen Jesus in a new way.
Maybe the point of this morning's message has more to do with recognizing Christ around us in ways we'd not thought before - in the face of our neighbor, in the crisp, cold winter air, in the laughter of children. Maybe it's about seeing the holy in the people around us and the environment we're in. Maybe it's about taking a hard look at God, without expectation.
I don't know who The Lamb of God is, except that John said it of Jesus, nor do I know what it means, except that John also said he takes away the sin of the world. (Not the little sins, those are left to us.) But I don't know what that means, either. I do know this. When we look at Jesus, we aren't seeing just the guy who welcomed kids or the guy who changed water into wine or the guy who did miraculous healing. When we take a good, hard look at Jesus, we begin to understand that God is willing to go to great lengths to get us to understand love, even if we can grasp just a small strand of that fabric of understanding. Allowing the mystery of faith to be as big and beyond as it is, let us go to the place where that same mystery of faith becomes close. So let us pray.
Omnipresent and Omniscient God, it's not easy to swim with the elephant. Wading with the lamb is so much easier, less messy. But sometimes, Lord, when we come away from those deeps, we realize how much richer we are, even if we don't have the language for those experiences. So we are grateful for those times when we can wade in the easy waters of life. And we are grateful for the times when we go to places that aren't necessarily comfortable, yet we know there is a reason, even if we can't articulate it. Thank you, too, for those who point us to you, and help us to see you in ways we'd not thought of before. More than anything, Gracious God, thank you for sending your Son, that we may begin to understand the depth of your love for us. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.