Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling picture
January 15, 2023

Second Sunday after Epiphany, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

John 1:29-42

In 2011, Minnesota astronomer Parke Kunkle innocently stated in an interview that the Earth’s wobbly orbit means it’s no longer aligned to the stars in the same way as when the signs of the zodiac were conceived 5000 years ago.  It means that all the signs have changed dates.  The comment took to the news by storm. The next day, Virgos woke up to the possibility that they are Leos.  Cancers became Gemini.  USAToday reported that a 25-year-old publicist, a former Capricorn, feels like the rug has been pulled out from under her.  “Now I’m a Sagittarius!  I don’t feel like a Sagittarius.”  Some felt cheated.  Some realized that they had the wrong tattoo.  Still others were elated.  One woman said, “You have no idea what relief and joy I felt after hearing the wonderful news.  I always felt like I was a Scorpio trapped in a Sagittarian body.  Up until now, I felt like my whole life has been a lie!”[1]

The star signs have been realigned, and apparently that has the power to shift identity.

Of course, we knew that.  It’s the Epiphany season.  We know that a star has come to rest over the place where Jesus dwells.  In this fourth gospel, John the Baptist is not breathing fire and judgment.  He’s more like the Christmas star, pointing to the place where Jesus is.

Here is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

When some of John’s disciples see Jesus, they shift alignment.  Andrew and Simon find Jesus, and Simon’s identity shifts.  He becomes, “Cephas” “Peter” The Rock.

In John’s gospel, Jesus is an experience.  Following Jesus isn’t believing an intellectual list of principles.  It’s responding to Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See.”  They follow Jesus to the place where he is staying.  Maybe it’s a house.  Maybe it’s the love of God, which is the place where Jesus says that he abides.  This invitation opens up a theme that will play out over and over again the gospel, culminating with the final invitation on the night before the crucifixion, “Abide in my love,” and a promise that the Spirit will, indeed, come and stay with them.

John’s whole gospel turns around words like dwell, and stay, and abide, and remain.  God’s love abides in Jesus and in the community that abides in him.

Years ago, I participated in training for nonviolent direct action, Dr. King’s strategy for civil disobedience.  Our instructor said, “You have to stay in the place of love. If you find that you’re losing your calm, or want to hit back or shout something that will denigrate the action, you have to step away; get out of the line.  Have a buddy. Know where you are, who you are, and what you need.”

Keeping clear about where you’re grounded was essential for the people in the civil right’s movement.  It’s why the rallies in church, the powerful preaching, the songs of liberation were so important.  The community needed to get centered by being in Jesus’ house.

The entire civil rights movement was born in the church, in the place where Christ resides.  The theory was that if you met hate with love, violence with non-violence, it would force a reckoning.  Fighting back simply confirms the way the world works.  Love enrages evil and forces it to show its ugly face.  Love creates a mirror to see the truth.  Another form of “Come and see.”

Nonviolence made the nation look.  Look at this image.

Between April and May, 1963, images like this were printed in newspapers all over the country.  Called the Birmingham Campaign, groups of students, usually 50 at a time, walked from the 16th Street Baptist Church to City Hall to speak with the mayor about integration.  City Commissioner for Public Safety Bull Connor called for firehoses and dogs to be used to terrify and turn back the marchers.  In the end, the police used sticks and their own fists to beat students who were intent on a peaceful protest.

Some say that the pictures of this protest turned the tide, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It was one of the finest examples of nonviolent direct action, King’s strategy to force the violent face of discrimination so that the whole world could see its evil.

The evil became easy to see.  It still is when we view these pictures.

Imagine on screen of police turning firehoses on student protesters.

Yet we might see something else in this image:  the glory of God.  For King, the power of love was greater than the power of hate. For him, this was the North Star, the truth of the gospel around which the universe turns.  The love of Christ meant that violence could not be met by violence.  The students’ ability to stay with Jesus, even in the face of violent suffering moved a nation.

Finally, these words from Dr. King:

I have decided to [stay] with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.’

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”[2]



[2] Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, 1963.