Sunday, January 19, 2014
The story of Jesus’ baptism is in all four gospels, each time with some differences. Here in John’s version, the story is told through John the Baptist’s eyes. We can hear his excitement as he points out Jesus to his disciples. John says, “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And later John says, “I saw the Spirit of God descend on him like a dove.”
Here at the beginning of the story, we already sense the ending. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God. Most likely this is a reference to the lambs that are slaughtered for Passover. Indeed, in John’s Gospel, Jesus will hang on the cross dying at the same time as the lambs are being slaughtered. Jesus is the Passover Lamb in John, and dies before the Passover begins. He dies to take away the sin of the world.
Two thousand years after Jesus lived and died, do we still need him to take away the sin of the world? … Of course we do. We still manage to sin. We sin in what we do, and in what we don’t do.
There is personal sin, and there are the sins that are part of living in a community. Sin is any action or lack of action that breaks relationships. Broken relationships happen between people, and between people and God.
We tend to think about sin in two ways – we don’t sin much and don’t need God’s mercy, or we are so sinful that we don’t deserve God’s mercy. Either way we are wrong. We sin in many ways, and we always need and can receive God’s mercy.
I am often caught in the confession each week, not by the sinful things I have done, but by those kind things I have not bothered to do. I didn’t remember to bring food for the hungry, or diapers for a needy family. I didn’t speak kindly to the telemarketer. I was not patient with my husband.
Our culture teaches us, even though we resist the lessons. No matter how hard I work at it, I sometimes catch myself reacting negatively to someone’s physical appearance, a behavior taught by my parents and my culture since I was a baby. Those who are of a different race, those who are of a different faith, those who are from a different country, those who are not as smart or as able, those who have less money, those people are not equal to me. These comparisons lead us into sin and broken relationships, prejudices, and tempt us to abuse or fear those who are different.
There was a time when I was living in Chicago while attending seminary. We were all warned from the beginning that our neighborhood was not safe, we should not go out at night alone, and we should always carry our whistles, which were issued with our keys. I was on my way to the grocery store, about three blocks away.
As I looked toward the corner where I would turn right, I realized that there was a group of seven or eight young African American men who were just hanging out there together. One or two would not have concerned me, but even though it was broad daylight, the group made me nervous. I chose to cross the street in the middle of the block instead of at the light at the corner. Was it my prejudice or a very real need to stay safe?
Most likely, it was my prejudice and fear – and my sin. I need Jesus to forgive me, to take away my sin. And, since I have recognized this sin, and confessed it, I know that Jesus has forgiven me. I am thankful for God’s mercy; I am grateful for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, including mine.
In our Gospel story, John the Baptist introduces two of his disciples to Jesus. Andrew is so excited about meeting Jesus, the Lamb of God, that he rushes away to find his brother Simon. Together, they go to get to know Jesus, and become his disciples. For the next three years, Jesus will teach them a new understanding about what sin is and about God’s mercy and forgiveness. The disciples are so excited that they go out every day and tell someone else about Jesus.
Hope’s mission statement: “To know Christ and to make him known” is just like that. We all need to know that we sin, and that Jesus offers forgiveness, if we just ask for it. It’s our job as Christians to share that news with other people.
My friend Ron was looking for something, but he didn’t know what it was. His relationships were in a mess. He couldn’t find a job that suited him. Part of his problem is that he is extremely creative, a writer and an actor, and regular jobs bore him. He was working in a bookstore and met Michelle, a church member. Michelle shopped in that store often and they developed a friendship.
One day, Michelle invited Ron to church, not to worship but to a pot luck. “What’s a pot luck?” Ron asked. “Come and see,” Michelle said. “It’s a meal with a lot of food; everyone who comes brings something different.” Michelle knew that Ron loved food, and that he needed people who would love him for who he was. Michelle’s church was just that kind of place.
Ron began to come to worship because the pot lucks occurred after worship, and he learned about the Jesus who loves him, who forgives him, who lived and died for him. After a few months, Ron was baptized, and became active in the congregation. Today, he invites others to pot lucks and other events at his church.
When we really know Jesus Christ, we want to make him known to others.
When we really know Jesus Christ, we want to put an end to prejudice of any kind.
When we really know Jesus Christ, we want to share his love and mercy with others.
When we really know Jesus Christ, we want to help people find what they are looking for, especially when they don’t know that what they are looking for is Jesus.
There are plenty of events at Hope we can invite people into.
Maybe you know someone who loves pancakes – invite them to a Saturday breakfast or Shrove Tuesday supper.
Maybe you know someone who loves soup – invite them to the Lenten Wednesday soup suppers.
Maybe you know someone who loves to quilt – invite them to join you for quilting.
Maybe you know someone who wants to learn more about the Bible – invite them to attend a Bible study.
Maybe you know someone who loves yard work – invite them to join the property gang on Friday mornings.
Maybe you know someone who is troubled by some old sin – invite them to talk with me or a deacon.
Maybe you know someone who left the church because of some event or some unkind words – invite them to share their story and assure them that we at Hope are not like that.
In other words, pay attention to what your friend is saying and invite them to an appropriate Hope activity. Invite them to know Christ through your openness to listen and respond with his love and mercy. Invite them to meet the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
Please pray with me. Lamb of God, you gave your life so we might know you and your love for us. Help us to know you better, so we may make you known in our world. Amen