Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 (NRSV) (KJV)

Thursday after Food for Thought, Lucky and I left for Cortland. The purpose of the trip was to support a friend’s family and attend his funeral.

He was younger than me by three years but had been on dialysis for almost a year and he developed a blood infection which went to a problem heart valve and despite heroic efforts by the medical staff, he died.

Although he had served the City of Cortland as the Chief of the Fire Department for 23 years, he was originally from Nyack in Rockland County and he would often reminisce that nothing was quite as satisfying as getting a Rockland Bakery roll with butter.

He was considered a mentor, a rabbi, to borrow a police term, for many of the career fire chiefs in the state and they came from all over the state to pay their respects.

But beyond his leadership of the city fire department and mentoring other chiefs, he was a family man and he loved more than anything besides playing with his granddaughter Natalie to get away and go up to the Montezuma National Bird Sanctuary with his binoculars.

Like all of us he was more than the sum of his parts, and I will cherish my association with him. His life was a sacrificial one in public service.
And that got me thinking of this encounter between John the Baptizer and his disciples and Jesus. John exclaims “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

“Here” is Jesus—not up in the sky or far away but here, not there. We worship and follow one who was and is present.

The Lamb of God—the one who will be sacrificed by God to protect the whole world from their sins and transgressions, just as each Jewish family was tasked to slaughter a lamb for the Passover which spared them from death and led to their freedom from bondage in Egypt

“Who takes away the sin of the world! This is truly an extraordinary statement. John the Baptizer does not say this is the one who will take away the sin of the world—future tense—but one who takes away the sin of the word—in the right now.

When we examine Jesus’ ministry and more importantly his expressed personal values, we see one who works to make the situations of others better whether by healings or by showing them the path of richer life.

Time and again he sends people off with the words—Your sins are forgiven. He heals people and comforts those who mourn. He is not afraid to weep at the death of a friend.

To be a follower of Jesus is to conform to his approach to life and to other people. He valued peace but knew that his radical approach to faith would cause conflict. He valued love above all else and demanded it of his disciples—not to love him but to love one another.

He forgave that we might also forgive because we have the freedom he has given us and his model to follow.

This has been a week of prayer and dialogue like no other we have seen recently. Because people believe that the rancor of politics as practiced of late laid the seeds for the terrible crime in Tucson, it may very well be the leaven which stimulate true bipartisanship and accomplishments that benefit all Americans and all who reside in this country.

But on the periphery is the concern that the perpetrator Jared Loughner was mentally ill and no one did anything practical about it. He was told that he could not come back to Pima Community College until he had had a psychological evaluation.

His answer was to continue to brood over a particular public figure, buy a Glock 19 and some 33 round expanded magazines and 500 bullets and perpetrate an attack on the very heart of American democracy—someone representing the people actually meeting with them.

But his is also a powerful example of our broken mental health system. We close most of our psychiatric centers and expect people to come voluntarily to get their medicine and counseling at outpatient centers yet there is no recourse for the public if they are off their meds until they harm themselves or others.

Our own area is a great case in point. The hospital was allowed by the State to dump its inpatient psych unit so that local people in mental crisis can now go to Bon Secours in Port Jervis or other distant hospitals for help—a solution which deprives the majority of patients of the support of their families who depend on taxis or mass transit.

When Jesus saw John’s disciples following him he stopped and asked them ‘What are you looking for?’ There is no evidence that anyone bothered to ask Jared Loughner that or a similar question.

And six people died.

I have this hope that not only will an era of bipartisan cooperation occur at all levels of our government but that someone will reevaluate the miserable way we minsiter with those who are mentally ill and do something positive and creative to ameliorate the plight of the severely ill.

It’s what Jesus would do. It’s the Christian thing to do. Amen.