It’s not about me

A sermon for Epiphany 2 | 1 Cor. 1:1-9 & John 1:29-42

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he author of John has been taking great pains to set John the Baptist in his proper place. John played a very subordinate role and should never be confused with Jesus or be set on the same level. “It is not about me.” That is the message whenever people in the Fourth Gospel ask John the Baptist who he is. He is not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet, not even a man worthy enough to untie the sandals of the One who is to come.  So to remain in keeping with how things have been portrayed so far, the day after Jesus has been baptised John saw Jesus and declares “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

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John’s interest was not describing the actual baptism, but to focus on the signs that might leads others to believe in Jesus as the Son of God.  In other words, John is not interested in what people say about Jesus, he is more interested in telling us about the things that Jesus has done.  The signs that support what the prophets said would be done by the one who comes after him.  John wants us to be amazed and ask, Who could have done that? rather than what was done.  Spending time wondering about the sign instead of about the person who did the sign, is like spending time in a fabulous restaurant discussing the menu instead of feasting on the food.  John is saying “it’s him, it’s him, it’s him.

John introduces us to Jesus as the Lamb of God, he manages to convey that this Lamb of God is pre-existent, the one upon whom the Spirit descends and rests, the chosen one. Yet the three most popular titles of Jesus were Son of God, Messiah or Saviour, but John uses the rare phrase “lamb of God.”   Scholars have suggested that there is probably a two points of origin for the term.

First is the reference to a lamb in Is 53:7, a passage that would have been quickly applied to Jesus by the earliest Christians after his crucifixion. ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.’  A second possible stronger association of this imagery, is with the “paschal lamb,” the sacrifice mandated by the Torah at passover.  John’s gospel likes passover themes.

Later in the story, Jesus will be condemned to death at noon on the day before passover, the precise time when passover lambs were slain in the Temple.  The hyssop Jesus was offered on the cross could represents the hyssop that was smeared on the doorpost of the Israelites homes at the very first passover.  This Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world is an image of a defenseless young animal enslaving the power of sin.  Notice that it speaks of sin in the singular.  It’s about cosmic victory, not our individual indiscretions.  Note, too, that there is no sacrificial language here, just taking away, getting rid of, confronting, disempowering all power to destroy.

The reading is a sequence of people telling each other they have seen Jesus and who they think  he is. John tells two of his disciples that Jesus is “the Lamb of God,” They follow him wanting to see for themselves. They catch up and have an odd conversation with Jesus, part of that conversation has two questions and an invitation these are at the heart of the Gospel of John “What are you looking for?”, “Where are you staying?” and the invitation to “Come and see.”  These questions about staying, remaining, and abiding are not merely questions about the logistics of locations. John speaks later about abiding in the vine, remain in me, as I also remain in you.  They are statements of intimate, enduring relationships.

Then Andrew goes off and finds his brother Peter and brings him to meet Jesus too. When Jesus meets Peter, Jesus gives him a new name, “Rock.” Peter will do so much telling others of who he thinks Jesus is that he’ll be a foundation on which the church will be built.  To read this story is to get caught up in the cycle of listening, telling, and re-telling, that is the story of discipleship.

That is why John is called the evangelist.  John retells the story of who Jesus is.  Maybe, what we are all looking for without even knowing it is a place to stay, a place to belong, a whole way of life. That is what the disciples got, a whole new way of life.  “Come and see.” is the offer, they take it and go with him. They end up staying, and his story becomes their story.  The disciples continue to listen, tell and re-tell stories.   “Come and see,” is still said to those who wondered if they have a place in his story. The thing that moves people from one question to the other, from “What are you looking for?” to “Come and see” is the story the church has been called to tell.

Now we are still in the season of Epiphany, you might think that the appearance of the angels and the telling of Jesus’s birth would be enough to have us believe in the incarnation.  This string of Sundays that we encounter in the lectionary as “after the Epiphany” serves to remind us that a baby in a manger is not enough to support our theological claims of the incarnation. We need more evidence. We have waited patiently for the arrival of the magi, we then need to know that Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan, we need to be told of how the clouds part, we need to hear the booming voice that names Jesus as the beloved son.  We need to hear theses stories again and again.  Then we might get to think about the question “What are you looking for?”

David Toole, says that we are often too fast to reply to that question.  He suggests that before we answer, we need to be mindful that there are seven more Sundays “after the Epiphany” and six of them are devoted to the Sermon on the Mount.  We would do well to hear what Jesus has to say in the coming weeks before we answer his question and before we finish the celebration we started at Christmas.  In the meantime we can ponder those questions, what are you looking for, where are you staying,  where do you abide, or where do you remain; maybe then we can accept the offer to come and see.

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