Epiphany 2a, January 19, 2014

January 22, 2014

“The Original Coming to Jesus Meeting”
John 1:29-42

1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

This morning’s passage of scripture serves to remind us how differently the writer of the Fourth Gospel narrates the story of Jesus. The Gospel of John doesn’t tell the story of Jesus going down to be baptized by John the Baptist, but he has John the Baptist recall the story of Jesus coming to him for baptism. And the way in which Jesus acquired his disciples is told in a different way in John than it is described in Matthew, Mark and Luke. According John, the first two men who became disciples of Jesus were originally disciples of John the Baptist – which is not the way it happens in the other gospels.

The first three gospels are referred to as the synoptic gospels because they follow a similar story line. And in those gospels, Jesus first finds and calls Simon and Andrew to follow him while they were at work fishing. But John tells the story differently. The Gospel of John is the last gospel to have been written, and there is no doubt that he was conscious of the first three gospels, but he had a different point to make about who Jesus was. He was trying to get the attention of a different group of people.

The Gospel of John was written after the Christian community had pretty much parted ways with the Jewish community, and consequently he was addressing some new issues. The earlier followers of Jesus were continuing to worship God under the umbrella of Judaism. There was some tension within that community, but they were still trying to stay together. The first three gospels often go out of their way to show how compatible Jesus was with the history and traditions of Israel, but by the time the Book of John was written these two communities had split apart – and that reality is reflected in John in a variety of ways.

You might say there was an atmosphere of confusion about who Jesus was and how faithful people should understand what was going on, so John is seeking to provide some clear answers to those questions. Given this context of confusion and interfaith hostility I can understand why John chose to identify the first followers of Jesus as being previously devoted followers of John the Baptist. John was highly revered by the seekers of the day. John was highly regarded as a true prophet of Israel and an authentic reformer of the faith. You might say he was the Martin Luther King, Jr of his day. He was the guy who spoke truth to power, and he had suffered the consequences of his integrity. People who wanted to be aligned with the truth loved John the Baptist, and he continued to be a revered figure after his own death.

It’s likely that John the Baptist had a greater following of people than Jesus did for a period of time, and the writer of the Fourth Gospel wanted people to understand that John and Jesus were on the same page. John the Gospel writer saw John the Baptist as being totally connected to the life of Jesus, but he didn’t want people to get stuck on John. He wanted the followers of John to move on to Jesus, and that’s what we see reflected in this morning’s story.

We modern fact oriented people don’t always know how to deal with these factual discrepancies. Our first inclination is to think that something is only true if the facts support it, but that isn’t so true of our spiritual ancestors. Our predecessors in the faith weren’t as driven by the way the facts were listed as much as they were by the way the story was told, and John had a very unique way of telling the story of Jesus. The facts aren’t the same, because the situation had changed, but you can trust that this gospel writer was intent on delivering what he understood to be the truth about Jesus to people who were living in the midst of a religious crisis. And he had a clear message – look to Jesus!

Which is a good message for people to hear in the midst of any crisis. This story tells us that the good-hearted seekers who were inspired by John the Baptist found a home with Jesus, and this remains true for the good-hearted seekers of our day.

The primary image that this story presents is the fulfilling nature of Jesus. The way John tells the story, these first people who took notice of Jesus after his baptism went from curiosity to adoration in a very short period of time. They were captivated by what he had to say and they were motivated to go get the other people they knew who were hungry for the truth.

This story of the way people were drawn to Jesus caused me to think of what it means to come to Jesus. I think we’ve all heard someone refer to a come to Jesus meeting. It’s come to mean a meeting where difficult truths are delivered in a clear manner. Our story this morning reveals the experience of coming to Jesus to be more of a discovery than a pounding, but it’s also accurate to say that most encounters with Jesus are driven by crisis. While I’m not sure Jesus is the subject of most come to Jesus meetings, I think the experience of dealing with stark reality brings Jesus to mind, and we would do well to look for Jesus whenever we face a crisis.

And speaking of crisis, I’m going to depart from normal preaching protocol and invite the chairperson of our Staff Parish Relations Committee, Carol Kennedy, to clue you in to some communication we’ve had from our District Superintendent, Rev. Dede Roberts.

(Carol came to the pulpit and reported that the SPRC had met, which is basically the personnel committee for the church. She said they had filled out the required consultation forms that go to the District Superintendent giving advice on the pastoral needs of the church. She reported that they requested that both of us be returned to the church, but she noted that because of the costs involved in having two pastors we had been notified they would not likely reappoint both of us for the next year – which would become effective in July. Carol pointed out that they had advised the District Superintendent they would rather lose the building than to lose both of the pastors. When Carol finished her talk I resumed my sermon.)

As Carol indicated, there are still some moving parts to this thing. We don’t know exactly how it will play out, but you might say we are having a corporate come to Jesus meeting. And it’s not fun. The truth of the matter is that Anne is far more vulnerable to this situation than I am, and it is based on our history of paying a very small portion of our apportionments over the past few years.

Most of you know how dependent this church is on Anne’s good and faithful work. This is a tough situation, and I hate it for all of us. I hate that Anne’s employment is insecure, and I hate that the operation of this church is insecure. We all know that this could be bad for all of us.

But these aren’t the only possible outcomes. Something good can happen for Anne. It’s hard to imagine that she could find a better workplace with more amazing co-workers, but it’s a big and interesting world, and I’m choosing to believe that something is out there for her. I’m also choosing to believe that this church can rise to the occasion and become operationally and financially sustainable. If I didn’t believe that I would be opting to bolt from this situation, but I’m not. I have asked to be returned to this church, and I’m not planning to preside over it’s death. That may be my legacy, but that’s not what I expect to happen.

One of the truths of this situation is that we have been living beyond our means. Our income doesn’t match our obligations, and we need to get these two figures closer together. If we can do that we will be doing something remarkable.

Insecurity is not all bad. I’m pretty sure it’s our lack of understanding of what may happen that drives us to be more prayerful. I’m praying for a good outcome for Anne and for this church. I’m also trying to figure out what I need to do to create the best possibility for us to become a vibrant and sustainable faith community. I hope you will join me in both praying for our church and figuring out how you can help this church move in to the future. We’re going to have to learn to operate in a new way. And while it may feel like we’re having an arm amputated we can adjust to our new circumstance. And I’m not just wanting us to make it – I want us to thrive.

It’s always been people who are in a crisis that have found Jesus to be the most endearing. I think this is an opportunity for us to try to follow him a little closer, and I hope you will come to experience Christ so vividly in this place that you tell a friend about who we are and what’s going on around here.

I don’t know how this is going to play out, but I’m choosing to believe it’s going to lead us into a deeper relationship with Christ regardless of how the numbers go. It’s not so bad to actually come to Jesus.

Thanks be to God.


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