A sermon preached by the Reverend Paul Fromberg
January 15, 2017
At Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
Saint Paul, Minnesota
I was raised in a home designed in 1964 by a woman named Ursula Oppenheimer. I remember her a little, but more than remembering her I remember the blueprints she drew of our house. She left a set with us after we moved into the house; as a child I was fascinated by them. I would get them off of the top shelf in my father’s closet and unroll them on the dining room table and look at the hidden bones of our house. Like most blueprints, the design and the actual house built from the design weren’t exactly the same. Instead of a den with a tall, cathedral ceiling and a balcony at the top of the stairs overlooking the whole thing, there was a bedroom upstairs; my mother became pregnant with her fourth child soon after the plans were completed – so the bedroom was added. The raised brick planter in front of the house wasn’t there: cost cutting because of the aforementioned pregnancy. There were other alterations as well. Even though our house wasn’t built exactly as planned, you could tell that the house came from the plans. The blueprint represented the house that Ursula Oppenheimer saw in her imagination, the house my parents built from her design.
Today’s gospel talks about seeing things were designed to be. In order to see what is real, you have to open your eyes and look in a specific direction. “Look,” said John the Baptist to his disciples, “there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Look. There is something about the disciples looking at Jesus, something about their gaze that begins to open the truth of who he is. Something is being made manifest to them. John points them to a sign of God’s presence opening in them.
The Gospel of John is a book of signs. Throughout it there are people and events and things that point to something else. All of these are intermediaries between the audience and God. Scholars are fond of saying that John’s Gospel is ultimately not a story about Jesus; it is the story of God, and the ways that God is continually striving to be known by us. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the sign of what God is really like. Whatever Jesus says or does is a sign of what God has always said and done. In it, Jesus manifests God in a way that a book about God never could. That’s why Jesus is called the Word – the Logos – in the first chapter of John.
But “Word” is only one way to translate the Greek “Logos.” There is another translation that may allow us to hear something new: “Blueprint.” Jesus is the blueprint from which God builds the universe. Just like a blueprint, Jesus isn’t the universe – he points in the direction of what we see when the universe is built by God. As Richard Rohr says, the first sign of the Incarnation is the Big Bang – the moment in time when God was first manifest materially. That manifestation of God continues today. The creation reveals God, because it is built according to the blueprint made flesh, Jesus.
And just like a blueprint, the world in which we live doesn’t always seem to grow according to its plan. We are free to mess up the plan – or at least try to mess up the plan. But the Logos – the blueprint – of the universe is eternally true, always present in every whisper of life and urging of creation.
John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. That was always a part of the blueprint. The plan all along was that the broken place in our souls, called sin, would be taken away, utterly removed from creation. Which signifies that God has never been as interested in sin as we humans have. Obsessing about sin is a part of the human game. What remains when the sin of the world is taken away is an unbreakable relationship to God that isn’t damaged by our best efforts at sinning. What remains when the sin of the world is taken away is the truth of our humanity: we are filled by the light of God’s love and bound indelibly to God and one another.
Looking in this direction, away from sin and toward God, everything changes. God’s love is not only for us, not only for people like us. God’s love is open to everyone. Listen again to the reading from Isaiah, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
The prophet is telling the people of God that the gift they have received is too wonderful a thing to be hoarded and used only for private enrichment. They have to recognize that God’s love is for all people. God’s salvation is universal. God is in love with all people, not just people like us. God has welcomed all people into his family. This is a part of the blueprint too. Which means that when we follow Jesus, we get to welcome all people that we meet along the way not as strange to us, but as members of our family – the beloved of God.
Jesus chooses a very ordinary sign to show what this welcome is like. The sign that he chooses is the meal we share – the Eucharist. It’s the meal we share with those who are prepared to receive it and those who are unprepared. So, if you want to know what it looks like when the sin of the world is taken away, look at the meal. Wherever the table is spread and the stranger is welcome and the outcast is given a place to receive God’s gifts, that’s the way that God designed the universe. That is the place where we will discover what God is doing in the world just now. This meal is about giving thanks to God for all of life. It is about acknowledging that every part of life is blessed by God and made holy by God’s love. And that is a part of the blueprint too.
What remains when the sin of the world is taken away? When his first followers ran after him, Jesus taught them how to look at the world in a new way. He told them to look and see what life defined by love looked like, not what life looked like defined by sin. He invites us in exactly the same way. What have you come to see here today? If you’ve come with a heart broken by the pain of the world, then you will see love here today. If you’ve come with a burden of disappointment, then you will see reconciliation here today. If you’ve come with a soul blazing over injustice in the world, then you will see justice here today. You will see these things because they are a part of the plan, the cosmic blueprint that became flesh in Jesus Christ.