Monday, January 21, 2008

What Are You Looking For?

What Are You Looking For?
John 1:29-42
January 20, 2008
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2008 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: Testimony. Identification. Discipleship. The three words captures the essence of the action in this text. John the Baptist, having just given his testimony regarding Jesus as the Anointed One, then identifies him as the very “lamb of God” to two of John’s disciples. Having heard John’s pronouncement (and directions?), they follow Jesus. And Jesus, having seen the two former-disciples of John, asks the paramount question of the text: “What are you looking for?” The question is answered with another question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And Jesus answers, in almost cryptic fashion, “Come and you will see.”

Sermon Function: To teach listeners that discipleship and evangelist (“come and see”) to hand in hand, and that discipleship isn’t something you can figure out entirely on your own. You just have to obey the injunction, “come and see.”

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Last week, at the conclusion of the sermon, I invited all those present to participate in a corporate reaffirmation of baptism. The theme for this week is the exploration of what it means for us to say that we are baptized. What is the nature of our baptismal faith, our covenant, our calling, in Jesus Christ? What is one of the patterns by which Jesus is known, followed, and then shared with others? These are some of the big questions that arise from the reading today from the Gospel of John.

Let’s listen now to God’s word to us.

[Read Scripture - John 1:29-42]

Opening Comments

As a reminder, we’re in the midst of the first of two periods of Ordinary Time. The first period runs from Epiphany, which we have just observed, through the first Sunday of Lent, the Great 40 Days preceding Easter, which is earlier this year than it has been in 32 years. The next period of Ordinary Time runs from the Sunday after Pentecost all the way through to our next Advent. Lent is historically the great time of preparation for Baptism, which would commonly occur during the Easter vigil in the wee hours the night prior to Easter morning. It is my hope that those of you present who are not baptized might prayerfully consider this step of faith in Jesus Christ. And for those of you who are baptized, I hope these weeks and the weeks of Lent instill within you a renewed sense of your baptismal obligations and their associated Joy.

Testimony. Identification. Discipleship. These three words describe the three-fold movement in today’s scripture passage, a passage filled with interesting images that highlight the importance of faith and our baptismal vocation. At the same time, the gospel gives us a good indication of what it means to be obedient to the Anointed One of God, Jesus. Today, I’m going to address each one of these movements and how, together, the form the foundation of our baptismal covenant.


Let’s talk about testimony.

Testimony is a word that, in our culture, is most often associated with the courtroom. The courtroom testimony theme is actually a big part of the Old Testament, and it should come as no surprise to us that this theme extends into the New Testament as well. And in fact, that is what is likely the connotation here in our gospel reading.

John quotes John the Baptizer as saying “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is a bold opening statement. The term “Lamb of God” seems to a loaded one – the early readers of the gospel would have likely thought of the Passover Lamb that was sacrificed for the sins of the people each year during the annual Jewish festival of Atonement known as Yom Kippur. John says that he baptized with water so that “he,” the one who ranks ahead of him, might be revealed to Israel. At first, John didn’t recognize him, but then he received a clear message: “He on whom you see the Sprit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). Jesus was revealed as the one anointed by the Spirit when John baptized him with water. John concludes by saying, “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 NRSV).

Testimony is the starting place for evangelism. Testimony comes to us in a variety of forms. It is given to us in the way commonly seen in courtrooms, but it’s also given in stories we tell each other, the stories we share from Holy Scripture, and the personal stories we share while together in worship and fellowship. In testimony, we commit ourselves to telling the truth. Telling the truth about who God is, and how we have experienced his presence in our lives. Truth-telling is at the heart of evangelism, because we open our hearts to others to let them know about the wonderful things that God has promised in his Son Jesus. We heard such a testimony this past Sunday. And I want you all to know that you, too, are welcome to share your testimony to the people of God. Just see me to make arrangements. Such testimony is a wonderful offering to God of a portion of that bounteous grace he has given to us.

Baptism itself is testimony. And as those who have been claimed by God in our baptisms, we become human vessels of God’s good news in Jesus Christ. The first component of our baptismal vocation, then, is testimony, both given and received.


The next part of our three-pronged view of our baptismal vocation is identification.

One of the reasons we have the sacrament of baptism is that it marks us, it visibly identifies us, as recipients of God’s amazing grace and members of his body, the Church. Baptism has another function, too. Through baptism, we are given gift that helps us to see Christ, because it is Christ himself who instituted the sacrament, and it is Jesus himself who baptizes us with His Spirit.

So our baptisms are kind of like an ID of sorts, but with along with that ID is an associated responsibility of our vocation, to point out Christ has the Lamb of God, just as John the Baptist does in our text today. We testify to the wonderful things that God has done for us, but then we extend that testimony to the next step: Who is the one that is the fullest revelation of God’s grace and love? The answer is Jesus Christ. And we are charged to spread this terrific news. By ourselves, we are unable to achieve any sort of redemption, but through Christ, we not only have the assurance of pardon for all of our sins, but the promise of being with him in resurrection life when he returns to renew all of creation.

Our baptismal vocation, our calling, as three parts: Testimony, identification, and discipleship.


Discipleship is the trickiest part of our vocation, but it’s at the very heart of Jesus’ call to his disciples.

Let’s look at our text again.

John is with two of his disciples, and then sees Jesus walking by. Having given his testimony that Jesus is the Anointed One, he then exclaims to his disciples the identification of Jesus as the very Lamb of God. The gospel then reads, “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus” (John 1:37 NRSV). Without any other prompting other than John’s declaration, the two cease to be disciples of John and begin following Jesus. One can imagine the two wondering what exactly it was they were doing, leaving the known quantity John for the largely unknown quantity named Jesus. And Jesus turned around and saw the two following. The Greek verb here translated as “saw” is one of the typical verbs describing the act of seeing. But the gospel here uses the word θεάομαι, which a couple of particular meanings. First, the word describes the action of seeing, but with the implication that what is being observed is something unusual. Might it have seemed a bit unusual for the two disciples of John to suddenly change course and follow Jesus? Yes, one could imagine such a response. The second nuance associated with this verb is “to go see a person on the basis of friendship and with helpful intent.” I like that. Jesus looks at them on the basis of friendship and helpful intent. And the two disciples, one of them Andrew, the other unnamed, are asked by Jesus the same exact question most of us ask we encounter someone who doesn’t seem to know where they are going. That is, they appear lost, and unsure of the way. Perhaps they were getting along okay, but now they’ve taken a wrong turn, and are wandering in the wilderness. I remember the first time my family traveled through the famed desert known as Death Valley National Park. I was freaked out just by the name. “We’re going through Death Valley? Isn’t there another way?” I remember that one of my chief worries about the trip was that somehow we would get lost, and then we would become, tragically, another reason why this particular valley was called “Death Valley.” The fear of getting lost, having been unleashed by one prophet, John, will we now hitch ourselves to this new guy, Jesus?

So, perhaps our two disciples appear lost. And now they are being asked what they are looking for. You can imagine that they might have been unprepared for the question. When they reply to Jesus’ question with their own question, “Rabbi … where are you staying?” it is almost as if they are hedging for time, time to consider what they really might be looking for. But, as it turns out, the place where Jesus is staying, where he abides, is where they need to be. “Come and see,” answers Jesus. And then they came “and saw where he was staying.” And then they “remained,” they “stayed” with him that day. The place where they are staying isn’t identified geographically for us. Instead, we learn simply that the disciples stayed where Jesus was staying. And that is the nature of discipleship. You don’t necessary have a place to stay, but you do have a person to stay with.

This is also, for us, the concern of discipleship. Because discipleship, that third part of our baptismal vocation, may send us places we’re not familiar with, to be with people we’re not familiar with, to participate in worship and sacramental acts we’re not familiar with, to sit in classes with people we’re not familiar with, to take a new job we’re not familiar with, etc. You get the idea. The place isn’t as important as the person who is with us, regardless of where we physically may be, and regardless, even, of our own spiritual condition. Discipleship is about abiding, “staying” with the one about whom we have heard testimony, and the one who as been identified to us as Jesus, the Son of God, and the one with whom we abide no matter where he takes us.

So there is a choice, then, that must be made. Perhaps you’re starting to feel the necessity of that choice in your heart and soul. Perhaps you, too, are lost, and looking for someone who will abide with you no matter where you are right now in your life. You’ve heard the testimony about this great God who has done great things for us. This advent and Epiphany, you have heard that the full revelation, the full identification, of God with us is Jesus the Christ, the Anointed one, the Lamb of God who takes away not just your sins, but the sins of the whole world. Maybe you’ve been baptized, and are now trying to understand where God is leading you next in your own baptismal vocation? Is it to testify to what God has done? Is it to point out and identify Jesus as the savior of the world in some form of evangelism? Or is it do live out your discipleship by taking on a desperately needed mission of the church, which is sometimes an uncertain tasks that can take you to foreign places, but places where Jesus abides, where he is staying.

Or perhaps you are not yet baptized, but through the Word and Sacraments of the church you are wondering what to do. If you happen to be such a person, I pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit you might be able to see Jesus turning, and looking at you with that look of friendship and helpful intent as He asks you the question, “What are you looking for?” And, like the two disciples, you may come up a bit short with the answer. But that’s okay. If you’re simply willing to take the next step to follow Him, just ask Him where he is staying. Jesus will smile, point to the water of the font, and will say these words: “Come, and see!”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to whom be all glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.