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Grace and Peace... - John 1:29-41 - by Rev. Melissa Maxwell-Doherty

It is a delight to be among you today. Pastor Brian invited me to come and be among you and I jumped at the opportunity. We have something big that connects us together. Both of us—Cal Lutheran and Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church are both institutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Over the years, 42 years in fact, SOTH supported Cal Lutheran and its seminary, PLTS with 84,000 to fuel its mission and work. In addition, you have supported students from your congregation with scholarship support through the Congregational Partner in Education award. Thank you!

Years ago, 60 years ago in fact, members of the Lutheran community and churches within the southwest like yours would come to campus and literally help us to turn chicken coops into classrooms. That is exactly what happened. I thank you for this support which has fueled our mission.

On behalf of Chris Kimball, our President, I thank you for your partnership in the gospel and for your prayers and advocacy for all the colleges and universities of the ELCA. Your Lutheran university’s serve best when we labor to raise up leaders who are strong in character and judgment, confident in their identity and vocation, and committed to service and justice.

It is good to be among you.

“The heart cannot feel what the eye cannot see.”

These were his words to us as we prepared to venture into Tijuana the following morning. Twenty-two students and staff from Cal Lutheran were traveling to the San Diego for a Justice at the Border event sponsored by Campus Ministry. We met with ELCA Pastor Bill Bruggeman on Friday night to prepare for all that we might see and feel the following day.

“The heart cannot feel what the eye cannot see”, Bill said. “You will see a lot tomorrow when you cross the border”.

It was a promise that he kept. Our eyes could scarcely take it all in.

We saw two business men roast 12 pounds of organic, fair trade coffee and serve it to us as if we were royalty. They were committed to coffee with justice—giving Mexican workers fair wages for their products in the hopes of improving coffee farmers lives.

We saw a garbage dump where women and young children would scrounge around looking for anything they could recycle and sell to make a few dollars. A nun saw that and had compassion. She developed a day care center for the children. She brought in cosmetologists to teach the women how to cut, style, and color hair. She opened a beauty parlor for the women and eventually a bakery so they could have an income and a business and a future.

We saw a shelter for men who had been deported from the US back to Mexico. It was easy to have conversations with the men who would be housed there for up to two weeks because most of them spoke English having lived in the United States for years, some of them decades. Each of them had illegally entered the states. Some of them entered legally but overstayed their time frame of their work cards. All of them entered hoping for a better life and daily work.

We saw a protest march of people calling for the end of corruption within the Mexican police, an end to bribery, and a start of a fair judicial system. They marched with signs and placards, their leader calling out his opinions on a bullhorn for all to hear.

We saw lots more than I can share this morning. The students left the border knowing the issues related to immigration were more complex than we had thought. We were less able to arrive at an easy sound bite answer that would end this public debate. All of it was far beyond the lines that we draw up today about liberals and conservatives and right and left wing and politics. Yet more than that, Bill’s words to us came true. The heart cannot feel what the eye cannot see.

In this morning’s gospel reading recorded in the first chapter of John, we encounter John the Baptist. However, in this portion of the reading, we meet John not as he is baptizing his community but as he is testifying, or witnessing, to Jesus. Maybe in this story from the New Testament we could rename John as John the Witness.

In this gospel story we meet John the Witness, with his community just as Jesus is walking towards them. John perks up. Oh my gosh. It is a celebrity sighting of sorts. John the Witness tells everyone within earshot of his voice what he has seen. “Here is the Lamb of God!”

“This is the one I have been telling you about. This is the one who takes away the sin of the world. People. Look. There he is.”

“Remember how I told you that I saw the Holy Spirit descend upon from up above like a dove lighting upon his head. The Spirit remained there. It didn’t leave him. This is the one who baptizes with the Spirit itself. I have seen this. Believe me. This is the Lamb of God, the Son of God!”

It happens again the very next day. John and two of his disciples are talking together and Jesus walks by. Oh my gosh. “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John is testifying to what he knows as true. John is a witness.