Read John 1:29-42
When I was a little boy my parents did their best to teach me good manners….and one of the things they told me was that it’s not polite to point. Don’t point—it makes people uncomfortable. Good manners. Good advice.
But then we look at the works of art depicting John the Baptist, whom we encounter in our gospel lesson. You can do this on your computer or phone – google John the Baptist. And how is John the Baptist portrayed? He’s wearing his camel hair outfit, out in the wilderness – many paintings of him baptizing people in the Jordan River, but also, many paintings of John pointing, pointing at Jesus, drawing attention to Jesus.
John must not have been taught that it’s impolite to point.
What do you hear God saying to us in this reading from John’s gospel? John is a pointer, especially here in this portion of the fourth gospel.
It happens over the course of two days.
On the first day John sees Jesus coming toward him and he gives a little speech about Jesus. He says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John, pointing at Jesus, saying, in effect “This one here is the promised one of God!”
And there’s nothing subdued about what he has to say about Jesus here. John makes it clear that Jesus is the Real Deal. John reaches back to Old Testament language about the Passover Lamb. Jesus will rescue; Jeuss will delivers; Jesus will save.
This is more than simply an announcement, however, because the next day, when John sees Jesus once again, John has two of his disciples with him – and John points them to Jesus. John repeats his message: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (v. 36) John is saying, “Look, you two, look over there – there’s the one who will save the world. He’s the one you should follow!”
John doesn’t just point at Jesus, but he grabs a hold of others and points them to Jesus – because John knows they need to get close to Jesus, to hang out with Jesus, to abide with Jesus – because this will be their salvation.
And that’s exactly what two of John’s followers now do. We read in verse 39, “And they remained with him that day,” We aren’t told what they did all day together, but I can easily imagine them sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Jesus’ teachings.
And then a little later – four o’clock in the afternoon, we’re told – Andrew, one of the two who had been with Jesus, goes to find his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” (v. 41) Now it’s Andrew who is pointing – pointing Simon to Jesus.
There’s a whole lot of pointing going on here—don’t you think??
John the Baptist points out Jesus, points his followers to Jesus, and his followers (after spending time with Jesus) go out and start pointing others to Jesus.
Those who were pointed to Jesus now themselves become pointers. It’s as if a whole big chain reaction has been set into motion.
What do you hear God saying to us? One thing I hear God saying is that it is this very same chain reaction pointing to Jesus that has brought us here this morning.
I am here with you, as a brother in Christ, because someone pointed me to Jesus. It started with my parents, when I was just a little baby, brought me to Jesus, washed me with Jesus, and kept pointing me to Jesus. And yes, I resisted; At times I fought against it. But I had friends who also pointed me to Jesus, neighbors, members of my church, pastors – and now, I can’t imagine life without Jesus.
And hasn’t something like that happened to each of you, too? I doubt that you got yourselves here entirely under your own power—it didn’t just dawn on you out of the clear blue to worship Jesus and follow Jesus. No, someone pointed you toward Jesus, and nudged you in the right direction, to abide with Jesus, to spend time with Jesus, to listen to Jesus. to get so caught up with Jesus that you’ve now become a pointer, too.
This all makes sense, even though we Lutherans haven’t always put it quite this way.
Because, truth be told, we Lutherans have tended to be pretty quiet about Jesus.
We Lutherans here in North America have counted on waves of immigrants – mostly Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Western Europe – to grow our church. And then Lutheran babies born in the homes of all those immigrants; and we’ve been carried forward by the momentum that they created for many years.
It all seemed so automatic, it all just sort of happened – children of church members having children, and the church continued on. We were “sitters” more than pointers….but no more.
Immigration and reproduction no longer carry us forward.
Kelly Fryer, a Lutheran theologian and former seminary professor, who is concerned about the future of us Lutherans, wrote a book titled “Reclaiming the ‘E’ Word.
I will be spending the next five Sundays reflecting on some of the themes in this book. You can check out a copy of this book, or get one from someone who has a copy, and read it if you want to go deeper.
The ‘E’ word that she has in mind is the word “evangelical.” We are St. John Evangelical Lutheran church. We are one of almost 10,000 churches in the ELCA – the Evangelical Lutheran church in America. The word evangelical, when you strip off all the extra baggage that has been attached to it by our culture and politics, is a word that simply means “the good news of Jesus.” Over Evangelical identity has nothing to do with joining a political party. Our identity as a church is all about pointing people to Jesus.
This book is calling us to wake up to that identity and to live it.
What is the way forward for our church? I would be curious to know your thoughts on this. What do you hear God saying to us?
I hear God saying that moving forward, as St. John Evangelical Lutheran church, is going to mean doing the work of pointing others to toward Jesus.
This is what Jesus calls us to do, as those who are baptized into his name – point others toward Jesus. This is our mission.
Can we do that? Can we Lutheran sitters can become Lutheran pointers? And if that unnerves us or scares us – heading out into the world and pointing others toward Jesus – perhaps we need to take baby steps at first.
Look at Andrew. He didn’t do cold-calling, knocking on doors of strangers. He went to his own family, to his brother and he said, “Simon, you’ve gotta meet this guy—we think he’s the savior of the world. Come and see!”
The mission field starts right inside of our homes. There is a movement in many Lutheran churches called “Faith 5.” It is a way to check in with each other, every day, in our homes, and to point each other to Jesus.
If you concerned about this church, let that concern lead you to set aside your good manners – the good manners that have taught us never to point – and do some pointing. Point the other person, with a lot of love, humility, and persistence, toward Jesus.
Start imagining – today, this week, this month – how you could point someone toward Jesus, the way Andrew did with Peter, Sometimes, people will stop coming to church. Perhaps they don’t feel fed or nurtured. Perhaps they just have many questions. Can we be honest, that we too have felt that way? Perhaps we can say something like this:
“Hey, come to church with me and check out this Jesus. Yes, I have questions too, but let’s talk about our questions together. Let’s listen to Jesus together and see where it takes us.”
Is there room, in this church, for new people to get involved and to form this church into a place that can feed and nurture the faith of all people and all ages? Is there room in this church for people to bring new ideas? To do things differently? To change us?
I hope so.
It’s what Jesus calls us to do. It’s who we are. Let’s wake up to our evangelical identity.
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