01-15-17 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
January 15, 2017
"What are you seeking?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Lena was wanting to earn some money, so she decided to hire herself out as a handyman-type and started canvassing a wealthy neighborhood. She went to the front door of the first house and asked the owner if he had any jobs for her to do. ”Well, you can paint my porch. How much will you charge?" Lena said "How about 50 dollars?"
The man agreed and told her that the paint and other materials that she might need were in the garage. The man's wife, inside the house, heard the conversation and said to her husband, "Does she realize that the porch goes all the way around the house?"
The man replied, "She should, she was standing on it."
A short time later, Lena came to the door to collect her money. "You're finished already?" he asked. "Yes," Lena answered, "and I had paint left over, so I gave it two coats.” Impressed, the man reached in his pocket for the $50. "And by the way," Lena added, "it's not a Porch, it's a Ferrari.”
I’m guessing that just about everyone in this room recognizes the name of Sesame Street. They used to do - maybe still do - a segment with four items displayed on the screen, and we were asked - which one was different. One clip, from 1969, shows an apple, an ice cream cone, a hamburger and a mitten. In a 2007 clip, Big Bird had three small bowls of bird seed and one large bowl of bird seed. (The big, yellow guy went on to say that the first small bowl was for lunch, the second small bowl was for seconds, the third small bowl was for thirds, and the large bowl of bird seed was for dessert.) Gotta love that yellow fowl!
You can do the same comparing with the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke all start with some aspect of Jesus’ birth, genealogically so. The book of John, however, starts much more ethereally. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Only after a brief statement about the Word and light, John 1 gets to talking about John the Baptist and the priests and Levites asking about his connection to the Messiah. The beginning of the book of John assumes that everyone knows about Jesus’ birth and so it gets right to the point.
John Testifies About Jesus
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
John’s Disciples Follow Jesus
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Thank you, Myra. One of the interesting things about this passage is that if you stand back from it just a little, when the priests and Levites approach John, John points to Jesus. And when the disciples approach Jesus, Jesus points to God. I’m not sure why that popped out to me, except that maybe it’s a point about humility and focus, for whatever that’s worth.
Another piece that pops out is the use of the phrase, “Look, the Lamb of God” - twice. Most of us probably don’t think twice about that phrase that we’ve heard and sung hundreds of times. Scott Hoezee did some of the leg work to tell us; “Yet John 1 is the only place in the entire Bible where it is used. No Old Testament prophet ever referred to God’s Messiah as “the lamb of God” before John 1 and no New Testament writer will repeat it after John 1, either. Even in the Book of Revelation, where John mentions the image of the Lamb, the exact phrase “the lamb of God” is not repeated.”
Regardless of what any of us might think about such a phrase, it’s interesting that the scholars of such biblical phrases aren’t sure they know what “The Lamb of God” really means.
Without huge dissertation, it makes sense. A lamb can be gentle, meek and vulnerable, just as Jesus was before his accusers. But without coming right out to say that sheep are especially dumb creatures, sheep are probably on the lower end of the animal intelligence scale. But then Jesus calls himself “The Good Shepherd,” and we have to wonder, in regards to the Messiah, if one can be sheep and shepherd at the same time.
Back to the passage, obviously, this morning’s sermon title comes right from the mouth of Jesus, “What are you seeking?” As I thought about that, the first thing that popped into my head was “for the ice to go away.” I can handle winter with the best of folks, but I really dislike the slick, uber smooth ice that insidiously lies in wait for us this last week. Even with my new, heavy duty version of Yak Tracks, I still could have done better with a good pair of ice skates with the last snow blow.
I know there are others that share my disdain for having to do the “ice walk” at this time of year - taking a 3-4 inch steps at a time - for fear of falling. What do I want? I want to run down the streets in Frankfort like the young 20 something-year-old did yesterday, full of confidence and smile, the thought of slipping being the farthest from her mind. I just want to walk normally, Jesus. Thank you.
Snarkiness aside, if you spend a moment thinking about it, what do you want? I’m thinking that such things as money, fame, renown, youthfulness might be on some of your lists. But the more I thought about it this week, I wonder how many of us really know - deep down - what we want. I wonder, too, if or how much - what we want - is perhaps something we may really and truly fear - or know - can’t happen?
The disciples’ response is interesting. They don’t come right out and say, “We want to stay with you.” They ask where Jesus is staying; like if Jesus thought they were cool enough, maybe he’d let them hang with him for a while.
Once again, our English translation hides a deeper meaning for us. When the disciples ask about where he is staying, the word they use is about “enduring” and “abiding.” They want to know about the enduring, permanent, eternal, undying dwelling place of this Lamb of God - perhaps most especially in his mind. Where are you staying? Where do you “live?” Where can we go to be with you, to receive what you have to offer? Where can we be in the very presence of God? (pause)
When John first made reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God, how did he end that statement? “Who takes away the sin of the world.” When putting together the idea of a lamb and sin, it’s not so hard to recall the Old Testament practice of offering up sacrificial lambs on the temple altar. And of course, one of the most important tenants of Christianity is Jesus’ sacrifice on the altar of the cross - to take away the sin of the world. I’m thinking that our deepest “wants” and “places of abode” have a great connection to each other.
Lena and Ole are seated next to each other on a flight from LA to NY. Ole asks if she would like to play a fun game. Lena, tired, just wants to take a nap, politely declines and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks. Ole persists and explains that the game is easy and a lot of fun. He explains, "I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5.00, and vice versa.
" Again, she declines and tries to get some sleep. Ole, now agitated, says, "Okay, if you don't know the answer you pay me $5.00, and if I don't know the answer, I will pay you $500.00." This catches Lena's attention and, figuring there will be no end to this torment unless she plays, agrees to the game.
Ole asks the first question. "What's the distance from the earth to the moon?" Lena doesn't say a word, reaches into her purse, pulls out a $5.00 bill and hands it to Ole. "Okay" says Ole, "your turn."
She asks Ole, "What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?" Ole, puzzled, takes out his laptop computer and searches all his references, no answer. He taps into the air phone with his modem and searches the net and the library of congress, no answer.
Frustrated, he sends e-mails to all his friends and coworkers, to no avail. After an hour, he wakes Lena, and hands her $500.00. Lena says, "Thank you," and turns back to get some more sleep. Ole, who is more than a little miffed, wakes Lena and asks, "Well, what's the answer?" Without a word, Lena reaches into her purse, hands Ole $5.00, and goes back to sleep.
We all have needs, hopefully and fortunately, most of us get what we need, and we are very aware that that is not the case in much of the world. But after your needs, what is your greatest want? After sorting through your list of those things you think would make you happy, which of them will ultimately point to God, whether they point first to Jesus or even other people? Once you narrow that want down to “that one thing,” can you see any ways that God is helping you with that ‘want?” Where is it - where you are living - that Jesus is telling you to live? Let us pray.
Lamb of God and Light of the World, we came this day for many reasons, and hopefully some of those reasons have been fulfilled. But as this day continues, inside and outside these walls, help us to see how it is that you not only provide for our needs, but for our wants, as well. Thank you for those provisions and empowerments and guidance you have given us in our past - whether we have paid attention or not. But help us, as you lead us into the rest of our day, week and life, to see not only what we want - of you - but what you want - of us. Thank you, for each and every want, necessity and blessing with which you shower us. And all your people say, Amen.
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Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.