Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 19, 2014
“Gifted Speakers” (John 1:29-42a; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
Have you ever heard of the St. Louis Speakers Series? Every year there’s a series of lectures, held in St. Louis, given by famous speakers from around the country. Well-known authors, politicians, broadcasters, and the like are brought in, and they’ll give an hour or so talk, followed by questions and answers. The event is held at Powell Hall, and people buy tickets to hear these famous personalities speak. Often in the advertising for these events, the description will say something like, “So-and-so is a gifted speaker who has delighted audiences around the world.” Or, “Besides being a talented writer, she is a gifted speaker who will entertain and inspire you.”
“Gifted speakers”: What is meant by that is that these people are accomplished public speakers who are able to move an audience through their use of oratory and rhetoric. They’re good at public speaking.
Of course, for most of us, public speaking can be a rather daunting, even intimidating, challenge. Maybe we’re not used to it. Maybe we’re scared of it. In fact, in various surveys, quite often “public speaking” is listed at or near the top as one the biggest fears that people have. Therefore most of us would probably not think of ourselves as “gifted speakers.”
So it may surprise you now when I say that I know a whole bunch of gifted speakers, and I’m looking at them right now! Yes, that’s right. I’m here to tell you today that you–yes, all of you–are “Gifted Speakers.”
Now I’m not talking about public speaking. I’m not talking about getting up in front of an audience and people buying tickets to come and hear you speak. No, not that. But I do think you are gifted speakers, nonetheless, and I’ll explain why. And to do that, we’ll be looking at the Holy Gospel and our Epistle for today, from John 1 and 1 Corinthians 1, respectively.
Gifted speakers. First of all, what do I mean by “gifted”? Do I mean that you have a natural knack for getting up in front of a group and holding their attention? No. Do I mean that you have “the gift of gab,” that you are an outgoing person who loves to talk to people one on one? No, not that either. Those things may be the case with you, but that’s not what I mean when I say that you are a gifted speaker. Natural gifts you may or may not have. But you all have been gifted by God as Christians to do the kind of speaking we’ll be talking about.
So how have you been gifted? Well, let’s start with this: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That’s John bearing witness to the greatest gift of all, namely, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is the gift with which you have been gifted. Jesus is both the gift and the giver, and he gives to you by taking something away from you. Huh? He gives to you by taking something away from you. Listen again: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That’s right, he takes away your sin. And that is a remarkable, fantastic gift in itself.
You see, you–and I, and the whole world–we were loaded down with the weight of our sin. It was crushing us. It was killing us–literally. Our sin was this big load of rebellion and guilt–rebellion against God and guilt before God–sin was the self-chosen burden we were carrying around on our backs, a big burden indeed. It’s all the wrong choices we have made, all our going against God and what he has said is the right way for people to live. And this unbearable, crushing load, which we ourselves have caused, and which we share with the whole world–this would drive us all to the grave and send us all to hell.
But then Christ came. He, the very Son of God, came down from heaven and became man. He took on our human flesh, became incarnate. Became our brother, sharing our humanity, our experiences, our temptations and weaknesses. All without sin, though. And even more than that, Jesus came, as John puts it, as “the Lamb of God.” What does he mean by that? Well, in the Old Testament, a lamb was often used as a sacrificial animal. The Lord provided the lamb, for instance, as a sacrifice to be made at the temple, in order for the people’s sins to be forgiven. Now of course a lamb has no power in itself to forgive anyone’s sins. But this was the means that the Lord provided at that time, pointing ahead to the one true sacrifice that would be made for all sins, for all people. And that “Lamb,” the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is none other than Jesus Christ.
True God and true man, Jesus dies on the cross as our sacrificial substitute. By his holy shed blood, our sins are fully forgiven. He takes away the sin of the world by taking that awful load from off of us and placing it on his own sinless shoulders, carrying it to the cross for us, as our substitute. And because he is the Son of God come in the flesh, his sacrificial death has infinite worth. He really can and does take away the sin of the world, including yours.
So that’s the first gift, the gift of sins forgiven. You are gifted already. But there’s more. John has more to say. He repeats what he himself was told: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Again, that’s Jesus. The Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the one on whom the Spirit rests–he then bestows the Holy Spirit on us. So you have been gifted in this way, too: You have been given the Holy Spirit. It happened in your baptism. And the Spirit stays with you, enlightening you with his gifts, keeping you in the true faith, as you feed upon the Word and Sacraments, those means of grace the Spirit uses. Yes, you are gifted in this way, also.
St. Paul talks about this gifting in his letter to the Corinthians. In fact, as in most all his letters, Paul opens with the greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And “grace” is a “gift” word. It literally means that God is freely gifting us with his gifts.
As Paul goes on to say: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him. . . .” This reminds me of a little memory device I like to use to understand what grace is. Grace: G-R-A-C-E, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Christ purchased his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation for us with his holy, precious blood, and now God lavishes these riches upon us, for the sake of Christ. “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”: Grace.
And what are some of these gifts with which we have been enriched? Paul tells us: “that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge,” adding, “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” Now keep in mind, the church at Corinth was a pretty messed-up church. They had all kinds of problems, as the rest of this epistle will tell us about. Even so, Paul says that the Corinthians have been enriched, and they are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
So it is with us. Even in our little congregation–out here in the hinterlands, small numbers, struggling for attendance and offerings, swimming against the tide of an increasingly paganized, non-churchgoing culture–even in our church, we are not lacking for what we need. God has gifted us, richly. We have the gospel in our midst, that’s the main thing. And we have people who have been gifted by God to build up the body of Christ with whatever gifts God has given them, for our life together and our witness to the world.
And this is where our speaking comes in. Paul says we have been gifted and enriched “in all speech and all knowledge.” This knowledge includes the fact that you know Christ and you know the Christian faith. And God’s will is that you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And because you know him, you will also speak about him. The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. The Holy Spirit has filled your heart with lots of Jesus, and so now your mouth will naturally speak of what you know.
You don’t have to be a theologically trained, seminary-educated, professional church worker. It does help, though, if you come to church regularly, and go to Bible class, and maybe read your Bible at home, too. That helps. But you have been instructed in the Christian faith and you know who Jesus is and you know where to find him, which is at church. And you know people, people who need Jesus. So you can speak. You can tell others. You can tell your friends and relatives and co-workers and neighbors–you can tell them about how Jesus is your Savior and how he has forgiven you and given you new life and meaning and hope.
That’s what Andrew did, wasn’t it, when he came into contact with Jesus. He couldn’t help but speak about what he had discovered. Even if he didn’t have all the answers yet at that point, he still had something to talk about. Andrew went to his brother, Simon Peter, and he told him, “We have found the Messiah.” And he brought him to Jesus.
That’s a good pattern for us, isn’t it? We spend time getting to know Jesus here at church. We have a friend or a family member who could use what we have found in Christ. So tell ’em about it. Speak. And then bring them to Jesus. He’s here, you know. Every week, every time we gather, Jesus is here in our midst, giving out his gifts. That’s good to know. And it’s good to speak about, too. People need it. You can do it. For you, dear Christians, you are “Gifted Speakers.”