Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Last week we heard Matthew’s version of the baptism of Jesus; this week we hear John’s take on Jesus’ baptism, as well as his story of the calling of Andrew and Peter. What sets John’s Gospel apart from Matthew, Mark and Luke (known as the synoptic gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes with exactly the same wording) is really it’s point-of-view; one biblical commentator says that this gospel, “quite often relates not simply what Jesus did or taught, but also why or for what reason he did such things.”[i]
Look again at this account of Jesus’ baptism: We get John the Baptist talking about the event from his own perspective, rather than a narrative full of details about the event. New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders concludes that the readers of the Gospel of John were assumed to already know the “Jesus-story,” allowing the writer to “focus on the signs than might lead others to belief in Jesus as the Son of God.”[ii] Here John the Baptist literally proclaims the coming of God in Christ. He points to the Messiah and explains the signs that verify him as the Son of God.
That image of John the Baptist—as one pointing to Christ—is one I have talked about often. In Renaissance paintings, when John is pictured with Jesus, he is often seen literally pointing at Christ, or at a lamb representing Christ. It is as though he wants to make it clear to all that he himself is only the messenger, the herald of the Messiah.
So in today’s reading we get John’s take on the baptism of Jesus; and then the scene changes to the next day, where John is standing with two of his own disciples. Jesus walks by and, once again, John points to him, saying, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
And this is where it gets really interesting. I imagine these two men suddenly turning around to follow Christ, which prompts Jesus to glance up and say, “What are you looking for?” They respond by calling him Rabbi, or Teacher. They give him this title to express their respect for him – and, I guess, to make it clear that they now intend to be his disciples. And they ask what seems to me a rather odd question: “Where are you staying?”
His response is not to answer their question, or to tell them who he is, or even to proclaim their wisdom at being smart enough to follow the Son of God. Instead he says very simply, and rather cryptically, “Come and see.” Christ invites the disciples to become witnesses. To experience firsthand his ministry. What they cannot begin to know is how their lives will be changed. They follow, and what amazing things they see!
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to experience Jesus firsthand? To be one to whom he said, “Come and see”? I mean, all of the stories we have of Jesus are incredible, but we always see him through someone else’s eyes. What might it have been like to really see Jesus for ourselves?
But wait a minute—maybe we have seen Christ. Perhaps you have heard me preach in the past about my grandmother, Marguerite Ward Smith, and the witness of her life. She was a living embodiment of God’s love for me. It would probably have embarrassed her to hear me say that, but I know it is true. I saw Christ in her.
And I see Christ in people here at St. Paul’s. I see him in the work of the Lee Food Pantry where we serve the community. Though the work that we do there is non-sectarian—that is, we serve everyone, regardless of religious affiliation—the reason the work is done is decidedly Christian. This is work that, like John the Baptist, points to Christ. It exemplifies Jesus here among us in our world. And in these good people serving others, and in those they minister to, I see the face of Christ.
And the face of Christ is evident in so many in our world—in our shared history. Today I remember especially The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday is commemorated this weekend. (Last Wednesday would have been his 91st birthday.) Dr. King is remembered not only for what he said or did, but also simply for his presence. He stood tall against oppression, and for many he put a face on injustice. His witness was his greatest strength. He embodied Christ for the world, especially our nation as it was torn apart by the sins of racism.
There are so many great quotes from Dr. King—today I turn again to his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which I have quoted to you before. He said this: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”[iii]
This is a view of the world that shines with the light of Christ and Christ’s hope and grace. I find those words so reassuring, especially today in a turbulent election year with the specter of war so recently having arisen. Praise be to God for Dr. King’s life and witness, and for the ways that he points to the love of God for all.
The two stories of witness in our gospel this morning – John the Baptist pointing to Christ, and Jesus inviting the first two disciples to come and see—as well as our remembrances from our collective past—invite us to think about where else we have witnessed Jesus at work among us.
Where do you see Christ embodied? Is there someone like my grandmother in your life? Or have you witnessed Christ in action in the world? My guess is that you have.
Christ invites us to open our eyes and see the wonder of love in action all around us. But perhaps really seeing Christ requires eyes of faith—that is, a real belief that Christ can and does appear among us. I believe we build that faith through prayer—conversation with God. As we become more familiar with God through prayer and worship, it becomes easier to see God in everyday life.
And of course we should also aspire to become pictures of Christ for others. Now that seems like a daunting proposition, doesn’t it? But I think that too comes through faith. I think that my grandmother and Dr. King, just to name two, became Christ-like through a life lived by the precepts of Christ. As they lived lives full of faithful discipleship, they began to glow with the light of Christ.
And I guess that it wasn’t something that happened overnight, but gradually and surely over a lifetime of faith.
This is what God asks of us. God came to earth as Jesus in order to show us that we can—and must—aspire to be the instruments of God for a world in need. Christ calls us to come and see his way of love. And now that he no longer walks among us as a fellow human, we are called to point to Christ with our very lives, even as we aspire to embody him for the world. Amen.
[i] Miller, Troy A., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 261.
[ii] Garrett, Greg, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 261, 263. [Includes quote from Sandra M. Schneiders, Written So That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (New York: Herder and Herder, 2003), 38-39.]
[iii] King, Jr., The Rev. Martin Luther. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-acceptance_en.html, accessed 1/14/2017