Word of mouth
My family and I have a bathroom renovation project underway and when I was looking for someone to do the work I did as I usually do and asked Dad. After that I asked my friends on Face Book for their opinions of and experiences with different contractors. Similarly, when our washer died I put out a request for comments on top load washers versus front load models. In fact on any given day you can find requests for advice on road conditions, where to go to get things, and whether or not a movie is worth seeing. None of these things are likely to change our lives but are examples which show that we place greater value on the experience and opinion of our friends than on the advertisements which would have us believe that every product is better than all the other products which in-turn are also better… So what about spiritual questions, things that will change our lives? What would you seek and whom would you follow?
In our Gospel reading today John must have been ‘wired for sound’! He had just experienced what he knew was the highest point of his ministry, he had fulfilled his destiny. It was not his own accomplishment, it wasn’t that he would be thinking what a great job he had done, but it was still a great day. If it had happened today he might immediately get out his cell phone and tweet something like, “Best day of my life, baptized Son of God, heard God’s voice and saw the spirit, time to retire, can die happy!”
In the other Gospels this is where the baptism story ended and they moved away from the Baptist and the area around the Jordan, one immediately, to the temptation of Christ and the beginning of his ministry. John chose instead to continue the narrative of Baptist’s activities. In a sense the author gave him time to tweet and for people to respond to his news. While the other Gospels gradually reveal Jesus’ identity, John front loads the story with details of Jesus’ true identity. In very short order he identifies Christ by several of the titles which had been ascribed to him by the church over the years; Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, and Messiah.
Last week we read of the baptism itself and today, the actual baptism itself is not narrated in John, we take up the story on the next day. John the Baptist saw Jesus and told all who are in the area just what had happened and how important this man was! In a tradition in which sacrifices were made for thanksgiving, for atonement of sin, etc. it would have caught people’s attention when the Baptist referred to Christ as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” It may have brought out memories of the Passover lamb whose death and the painting of its blood protected the people in Egypt. For us, and indeed for the early readers of John’s gospel, this speaks to his crucifixion and resurrection, his atonement for the sins of the whole world. At the time of the Baptist, however, it may have brought to mind Abraham who said God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice. At the least it would have indicated his purity but oddly would also carry a picture of weakness; important because of the role of the unblemished lamb in sacrifice, but weak because a lamb is helpless to defend itself from death on the altar.
The Baptist had been out in the wilderness preaching and calling people to repentance, but never taking credit or making himself out to be important. In John’s gospel this event followed a scene in which the Baptist was questioned by religious authorities. He had denied being Elijah, being The Prophet (Moses), and being the Messiah. He had in fact always been saying, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” He had never made much of himself but pointed ahead to that man. He explained that he had been baptizing with water in order to reveal the man to Israel. He related the sight of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remaining on Jesus, and that God had told them this would be the sign of the man who was coming. He made a statement worthy of a court trial, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
It is likely that most people who heard him talking about Jesus considered it to be at least a bit far-fetched and perhaps attributed it to John’s strange ways. “After all, he lives way out here away from people and doesn’t eat properly, he was probably delirious with hunger, or maybe he is going mad. A spirit came and settled on a man and this is the big news? Hardly!”
The next day, then two days after Christ’s baptism, two of the Baptist’s followers were there when again he saw Jesus. Again he identified Jesus and he testified that he was the Lamb of God. These two men then left John, up until now their spiritual leader, and followed Jesus. Jesus asked them what they were seeking and told them to come and see. Before he had taught them anything they called him Rabbi which means teacher. They went to where he was staying and spent the day with him. Only one of the two is named in this account, Andrew the brother of the man known to us as Simon Peter. Andrew ran off to find his brother and passed on the exciting news, “We have found the Messiah.” When they got back Jesus identified him by name and says he will be called Cephas’ or Peter.
So following the line of information
God tells John of his mission
God tells John how to recognize the one to come after
John witnesses the sign Lamb of God
John tells all who are around Lamb of God
John repeats this to two of his followers Son of God
One of the followers, Andrew, goes to tell his brother Messiah
If we were to continue this line it would lead us all the way to this place and thousands like it where the Word is being proclaimed today.
The three readings I chose to use this morning are very different in form, the Psalm being a poem or song, 1 Corinthians being a letter, and John being a story. They are all about saving help, God’s faithfulness, Christ’s salvation, steadfast love, mercy, and evangelism.
In the Psalm we read a song of thanksgiving for deliverance from dire personal circumstances as well as the pattern of God’s works of salvation for the people of Israel over the ages. The author does what most of us would do after being rescued; he gives thanks and praises his deliverer. He doesn’t do this in private, but in the congregation, he tells everyone! In the 11 verses we read we go back and forth between the personal story and praise to God for his faithfulness, and the communal stories of the past and expectations of the future. The other feature of the Psalm is that it expresses God’s desire for a relationship with us rather than sacrifices. God doesn’t want the rites of religion, he wants our seeking and having his laws written on our heart.
Much of the writing of Paul that is included in the Christian cannon is in the form of letters. There was a very ordered format for letters in his time and he certainly followed it. First you introduce yourself, then identify the recipient, give thanks, and then you move on to the content. Our reading this morning was the introduction to a much longer letter which would address some pretty major issues with the church in Corinth. Without reading further, however, one would be unlikely to realize there was any problem or concern. The focus here was on their unity in that they were all called by Christ, that they were all empowered by the Spirit, that they all shared the same testimony to the grace of Christ and the faithfulness and steadfastness of God. Paul gives thanks for the congregation which was equipped with the tools they needed to continue this testimony, to pass on the word.
So, we have established that word-of-mouth is the most effective way of getting information out to people. Given this it is hard to imagine why do we rely so heavily on the Bible itself to get the Christian message out? How can we offer Christ and invite people to come and see what a life of following Jesus might be like. (Daniel Ogel…GBod)?
People are only willing to inquire about faith and follow if they are themselves open to it. It is spiritual hunger which compels people to search for new possibilities. It is their dissatisfaction with where they are in their lives and in their spiritual life which forces them to go in search of something new.(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com0 John the Baptist pointed the way to Jesus, “don’t focus on me or the trappings of the church or liturgy, look to Jesus himself and be open to a relationship with him. Jesus invited the first two disciples to, “come and see” where he was staying, to actually walk in his ways. Both of these approaches to seekers are models of evangelism. “Instead of beating people over the head or intimidating them to confess their faith, John and Jesus point to what God is doing and invite people to check it out. It’s a pretty compelling strategy for faith-sharing and evangelism.”(Daniel Ogel, GBod.com) and far less awkward than starting a conversation with a person by asking them if they know Jesus, or if they are a Christian and then launching into a “sales campaign.”
So, what did you post on Face Book this morning before leaving for church? Did you post that you were going to church? Great! When we share our lives as Christians with people, just as that, our lives, we open a door. If we get out the bat, quote scripture and tell people how they should live and what they should believe, we are more likely to scare them away. What will you post later in the day? Whether we have good days or bad what people will notice is our patience and hopefulness in God and maybe that will be enough to make them ask where we get that patience and hopefulness and then we can invite them to come and see.
The readings for this sermon were; 1 Cor 1:1-9, Psalm 40:1-11, John 1:19-42
Posted in Bible Study, church, Faith, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Christianity, evangelism, faith, forgiveness, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, John the Baptist