Look! It's Jesus!

John 1:35-51

Look!  It’s Jesus!

January 14, 2018          Maple Grove UMC

 

          Every time I hear that gospel reading, I think:  so many sermons, so little time.  For example, there’s a whole sermon in Jesus’ question: “What are you looking for?”  Two of John the Baptist’s disciples start following Jesus, and he asks them, “What are you looking for?”  I wonder how often we don’t find what we’re looking for, because we don’t know what we’re really looking for.  We buy cars and remodel our houses and go on trips.  Nothing wrong with any of those, but are they what really want?  Jesus’ first question in the gospel is, “What are you looking for?”  What a great sermon that could be, but it will have to wait for another day. 

          I’ve preached before on that wonderful phrase:  Come and see.  Those two who start to follow Jesus ask him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And he says, “Come and see.”  They came and clearly liked what they saw, for they spent the rest of the day, in fact, the rest of their lives with him.  Philip tries to get Nathaniel to meet Jesus.  Nathaniel is skeptical: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Philip doesn’t argue.  He just says, “Come and see.”  It's the gospel invitation.  Does Jesus really forgive everything?  Come and see!  Is there a place for me in this church?  Come and see!  Can you have faith and still have questions and doubts?  Come and see!  I promise to give you that sermon again soon.

 

          But this worship series is called, “A Fresh Start.”  What does this gospel reading have to say about that—a fresh start with God, a trans-formed life?  Well, did you notice how excited everyone in this story is to meet Jesus? Well, everyone but Nathaniel, and even he gets there.  When John the Baptist sees Jesus, he can’t help himself—he has to cry out, “Look! It’s the Lamb of God!”  And when those two guys start following Jesus, they can’t help themselves—they invite themselves over to his house.  And when Andrew has been with Jesus a while, he can’t help himself—he has to go and get his brother so he could meet Jesus too.  And when Philip starts following Jesus, he can’t help himself—he has to find Nathaniel and get him to meet Jesus too. 

          In this story—and I would say, in all of our stories—meeting Jesus is exciting.  But here’s the thing:  by now some of us have known Jesus a long time.  I have known Jesus longer than some of you have been alive.  In turn, others of you have known Jesus longer than I’ve been alive.  And if we let it, over time the excitement of being with Jesus can kind of wear off.  Instead of thinking, “Oh boy! I get to spend time with Jesus this morning,” we think, “Well, I suppose I’d better say my prayers today.”  The excitement wears off.  Instead of thinking, “Knowing Jesus has helped me feed the hungry and speak up for justice and welcome all kinds of strangers,” we begin to think, “I wish there weren’t so many people wanting help from me.”  The excitement wears off.  Instead of thinking, “I get to praise God with Christ’s body today,” we begin to think, “I’ve got to drag the kids to church again.”  The excitement can wear off.

          But the gospel reminds us—when we meet Jesus, it is so exciting that we can’t help ourselves:  we have to cry out, we have to tell others about him.  Oh, to find that excitement again!  Marcus Borg wrote a book called Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.  It isn’t really about “A Fresh Start.”  It’s about how you can be a scientist, or a liberal, or a skeptic, or any number of things, and still find faith in Christ meaningful.  It’s a great book; I hope you’ll read it.  But for today, just the title is evocative.  How can we meet Jesus again, as though for the first time?  How can we find that life-changing, fresh-start-giving excitement of knowing and being known by Jesus Christ?

 

          Well, here’s the story I want to tell you.  Years ago, when our daughter Rachel was about three, our family was having dinner at Roadhouse Annie’s, a long-gone diner in the Short North.  At that age kids like to stand on the seat of a restaurant booth, turn around, and look at everyone but their own family.  Rachel was doing that when the door opened and in walked a bearded man in a hooded jacket.  When he pulled the hood off, it revealed shoulder-length brown hair.  And Rachel cried out, for everyone to hear, “Look!  It’s Jesus!”  Carolyn and I were mortified, but Rachel was so excited.

          Carolyn and I were reminiscing about that a few days ago, and Carolyn said, “Yeah, she was young enough to believe Jesus might walk into a restaurant in the Short North.”  To which I replied, “I wish I was young enough to believe Jesus might walk into a restaurant in the Short North.”  More on that a little later. . .

As important as that “Come and see” sermon is, as critical as it is for to reach out and invite others to see and know Jesus, it’s not ultimately our invitation that gives people a fresh start.  It’s Jesus who does that. It's knowing and being known by Jesus that changes your life.  It has changed mine . . .

          When I was in junior high I went to church camp.  The counselors were wonderful.  There were kids I really clicked with.  I loved it.  But on the last night, sitting around the campfire, I started to not feel so good.  There was this burning in my chest.  I was afraid I had food poisoning or heartburn.  I went to the dean, a very reserved retired pastor, and told him how I was feeling.  He laughed out loud.  “Son,” he said, “that’s not heartburn.  That's the love of Jesus in your heart.  Sit down and enjoy it.”  Turns out it was Jesus and it was exciting.  And every time that feeling comes back, it's like a fresh start.

During seminary I attended a church in downtown Atlanta.  A huge, historic building with just a handful of members.  But that tiny church ran a homeless shelter in the basement, a weekly soup kitchen that fed hundreds, a city-wide racial justice ministry, and goodness knows what else.  One time I asked, “How can such a small church do all this ministry?”  One older lady shrugged her shoulders and said, “Because it’s what Jesus want us to do!”  Once you’d met her Jesus, you see, you couldn’t just stand by and let people be homeless; once you’d met her Jesus, you couldn’t let racism go unchallenged.  Her Jesus was exciting and empowering.  He still is.  And right now we need her Jesus more than ever.  Do I hear an Amen?

          A family member went through an extended, life-threatening crisis.  I could be with them, even help them sometimes, but I couldn’t protect them and I couldn’t fix the problem.  All I could do was pray and wait.  And every morning, figuratively, Jesus would come and sit on a park bench with me.  Every morning he reminded me he loved me and handed me the strength to make it one more day.  I'm not sure you'd call that exciting exactly, but it was pretty amazing.

Do you need a fresh start?  Well, let me recommend meeting Jesus.  Knowing and being known by Jesus is a life-changing experience.  Or if you’ve met Jesus before, let me recommend meeting Jesus again, as though for the first time.  Rekindle the excitement of meeting Jesus that has changed your life and carried you through hard times before. 

 

Now let me add a caveat here:  meeting Jesus is exciting and life-changing, but he's no flash-in-the-pan.  There's another important word in this gospel reading, and it is "stay."  Not just "Look! It's Jesus!"  But also, "stay," or as we used to translate it, "abide."  When Jesus asked the two guys, "What are you looking for?", they asked him, "Where are you staying? . . . or better, "Where are you abiding?” They weren't asking for his address; they were asking his heart resided, I they could count on him for the long haul.  They were wondering what it would be like not just to meet Jesus, but to be with Jesus, to "abide" with him. 

          And I suspect that, even in this ADD, thrill-seeking culture, this is what people are most deeply looking for—not just a new experience, but a new life.  Not just the excitement of meeting Jesus, but the discipline and joy of abiding with Jesus.  Abiding without excitement is being stuck in a rut.  But excitement without ongoing relationship is fleeting and shallow.  We need not one or the other, but both.

 

So how do you recapture the excitement of meeting Jesus?  If you need a fresh start, what can you do?  Here are three ideas:

  1. Open your eyes!  This is what "We Spy God" is all about: finding God in the everyday.  I am convinced that God is always somewhere in the picture.  But sometimes it's hard to see.  Sometimes we forget to look.  Sometimes we harden our hearts.  The trick is to be willing to stand on the booth and look around, to be willing to cry out for all to hear:  "Look!  It's Jesus!"  You don't have to be three to do this.  All it takes is a little faith.  All it takes is looking for God in the everyday.  All it takes is letting excitement carry you away a bit.  The truth is, Jesus just might walk into a restaurant in the Short North, or into Maple Grove Church, or into your home or heart.  And that is pretty exciting!  Open your eyes.
  2. The ones who meet Jesus are often the ones who seek Jesus.  When John the Baptist pointed Jesus out, two of his disciples got up and went after him.  When Andrew told Simon about Jesus, he got up and went to Jesus.  Even Nathaniel, skeptical as he was, when Philip said, "Come and see," he went and saw, and it changed his life.  Episcopal theologian, Kat Banakis, has pointed out that Jesus wasn't even what these guys were looking for.2  It didn’t matter; they found him anyway.  If you need a fresh start, a transformed life, don't just sit there.  Look for Jesus.  Or look for love or truth or meaning, and you'll find Jesus along the way.
  3. Or, by way of contrast, if you long to meet Jesus again, go where you’ve met him before.  In his massive commentary on John's gospel, Frederick Bruner has a little section entitled, "The Return to the Scene of the Encounter."2  Today's gospel reading starts out with John the Baptist seeing Jesus walk by and crying out, "Look! It's the Lamb of God!"  But just six verses earlier, exactly the same thing had happened.  John was standing in that same place, saw Jesus coming, and cried out, "Look! It’s the Lamb of God."  Do you think, after the first meeting, John was hungry for another?  So he goes back to the same place, this time taking two of his disciples with him.  Bruner puts it like this:  The moral of the story is: return to your meeting place with Christ; stand there with your most serious friends, and wait for him to walk by again.  Have you met Jesus before at camp or on retreat?  Well, there are still camps and retreats.  Have you met Jesus in morning prayer or by singing in the choir?  Well . . .  Have you met Jesus serving at a food pantry or homeless shelter?  Well . . .  Have you met Jesus in conversation with a counselor or trusted friend?  Go there, and wait for Jesus to walk by again. 

 

Will you pray with me?  Lord Jesus, we are hungry for a fresh start; we ache for our lives to be transformed by your amazing love.  Lord, give us eyes to see you in the everyday.  Give us voices to cry out with excitement.  Give us the will to seek you out, to go where we are led or invited on a holy quest.  And give us hearts to wait for you, in places where we have met you before.  O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.  Amen.

 

 

1 Kat Banakis, Reflections on the Lectionary, The Christian Century (December 20, 2017), 21.

2 Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 99-100.

Read 91 times Last modified on Sunday, 14 January 2018 12:30

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