Saturday, January 15, 2011

Close encounters of the Jesus kind

John 1:29-42     

In 1977 the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released. The film starred Richard Dreyfuss and Teri Garr, and received numerous Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Whenever I think of the movie, I hear in my mind the musical theme; I’ve asked Catherine to play it … (MUSIC)

Close Encounters is one of those science fiction movies that imagines an encounter between humans and intelligent beings from other planets. An encounter of the first kind is a sighting – of a space ship or space being. An encounter of the second kind is physical evidence – like a burned area of a field indicating a space ship had landed, or strange footprints. An encounter of the third kind is face to face contact.
Our natural reaction to space beings is fear and a desire to eliminate the foreign beings immediately. Countless science fiction movies tell this story, from War of the Worlds to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But films like Star Trek, Star Wars, Contact, and ET offer us a different way to think about encounters with space beings. They suggest we could meet them, communicate with them, and learn from each other.
In Close Encounters, two characters, Roy and Jillian, have visions of a particular mountain, and hear these notes playing in their minds. (MUSIC) They become obsessed with finding out more, and are eventually led to the mountain, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. A space ship lands, and the crew communicates with the humans gathered there using lights and music. Roy is actually invited to join the crew of the space ship, and we watch as he walks up the gangway. Roy and the others have had a close encounter of the third kind, and their lives will be forever changed because of this event. (MUSIC)

… In the wilderness, John the Baptist has been baptizing and preaching, gathering disciples and crowds. He has been prophesying that someone greater than he will come, who will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit. In John’s gospel, Jesus is not actually baptized, but John does see the Holy Spirit descend like a dove and remain on Jesus. This is a sign for John that Jesus is the one about whom he has been prophesying.
John has spent his preaching ministry preparing for the coming of Jesus, and now he fulfills his calling by pointing to Jesus. John gives Jesus three names – or titles – in this short passage: Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and the Lamb of God. Clearly, Jesus is more important than John. Even after Jesus has begun his public ministry, John continues to point to him. In chapter 3, John says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Soon after this, John is arrested.
John’s life was spent preparing the world for Jesus’ coming. What kind of encounter might this be called? I think it was a close encounter of the third kind. Or more precisely, a close encounter of the Jesus kind, and his life was changed because of it. (MUSIC)
John pointed to Jesus and named him, and some of John’s disciples left him to follow Jesus. We get snippets of those conversations: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come and see, Andrew.” “Simon, come and see, we have found the messiah.” Andrew told Simon, Simon told Nathanael. Simon’s name was changed to Peter, the Rock. They, too had close encounters of the Jesus kind, and their lives were changed. (MUSIC)
The first half of John’s gospel describes several close encounters of the Jesus kind. Nicodemus, the Pharisee who wondered how he could be born again; the Samaritan woman at the well, who wanted living water; the paralyzed man who is told to wash in the Pool of Siloam; the 5,000 hungry people who were fed with bread and with the bread of life; the woman arrested for adultery and the men who wanted to stone her; the man born blind who had trouble convincing others that he really had been healed; Lazarus who was raised from the dead, and his sisters Mary and Martha. These folks all had close encounters of the Jesus kind, and their lives were changed forever. In the last half of John’s gospel, even those who schemed to put Jesus to death had close encounters of the Jesus kind, and their lives were changed, too.  (MUSIC)
… Have you ever had a close encounter of the Jesus kind? How was your life changed by that event? Do you believe in Jesus because someone invited you to “Come and see?” (This counts even if the person doing the inviting was your mother saying, “If you are going to eat at my table, you are going to go to church!) J Has someone or something helped you have a better relationship with God? Does remembering your baptismal promises draw you closer to Jesus, the Living Water? Have you been fed, physically or spiritually, in such a way that you knew it was the hand of God? Have you or someone close to you been healed when it seemed there was no hope other than God’s intervention? Do you believe that God has power even over death? Do you find it hard to be a believer in Jesus in a secular world, yet you cling firmly to your faith in spite of the opposition?
Sometimes, our encounters are sudden, one-time events. More often, they are a growing awareness of a shift in perception, a new understanding, a deeper commitment. For many of us, a close encounter of the Jesus kind means knowing Jesus is Emmanuel – God-with-us, who is always present through the Holy Spirit.
Reflect, this week on the close encounters you have had with Jesus. What impact have those encounters had on your life? How has your life been changed by close encounters of the Jesus kind? As you reflect on these close encounters, reflect also on those people you know with whom you might share your story. Who might you invite to Come and see? Each week we end worship with a reminder to bring a friend next week. We might bring that friend to worship, but just as often, people join churches through activities. Maybe you can bring a friend to breakfast, or quilting, or Bible study, or helping with Angel Food, or mowing the lawn. Invite them to come and see what happens at Hope. Who in your life would benefit from a close encounter of the Jesus kind? (MUSIC)
Please pray with me. Jesus, we give you thanks for your presence in our lives. We are grateful for those moments when we have truly known we were having a close encounter of the Jesus kind. We are also grateful for those times when we doubted your presence, yet you stayed with us anyway, calling us back to yourself. Make us more aware of the times when we can say with Andrew and Simon Peter, “Come and See” to those who need to also have a close encounter of the Jesus kind. Amen (MUSIC)