Toorak Uniting Church

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Listen, do you hear it?

John 1: 29 – 42   Isaiah 49: 1 – 7
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
20 January 2008

Today’s story, which we find at the beginning of the gospel. It has so many layers and can be looked at from so many perspectives that it is impossible to ever come even near to putting into words what is hidden in there.
The only thing I can do, is to share what stood out for me this week, highlight some of the things that caught my attention and tell you about them, and hope that somehow this will make the story speak to you too. Like when, at the end of the story, Andrew introduces his brother Simon to Jesus he leaves it to the Lord to inspire Simon as he himself has been inspired and make him hear the call Andrew has heard and decided to respond to.

In this story we first of all catch up with John the Baptizer. Exclaiming, when he sees Jesus coming toward him: ‘Look here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. Later he says it again: Look! The lamb of God!

What is John referring to here?

In the hebrew scriptures the lamb is a sacrifice that was taken to the temple for the atonement of sins. It was a sign of repentance to God. It was an indication of someone’s desire to make a fresh start, and the understanding was that if someone made the sacrifice with integrity and commitment to changing their life, this fresh start was always granted.
It was also lambs’ blood that was used to paint the doorposts in Egypt to keep out the angel of death before the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. A lambs’ bone still has a central place on the seder plate which is used in Jewish celebrations around Passover today commemorating the Passover lamb that was sacrificed in the temple each year at Passover until the destruction of the temple in 70.
It was a lamb that was caught in the thicket when Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moira to sacrifice him and was sacrificed. Abraham a father who was prepared to give the most precious thing he had and God offering something to be taken instead.
It is the lamb that is the symbol of the most vulnerable in the psalms and the prophets, needing protection and care, completely dependent on the shepherd.
And finally, in the New Testament, especially in the Johannine tradition, the lamb becomes the symbol for the victorious King that will rule over the Kingdom of God.

How does this connect to Jesus?

In the gospel of John Jesus is pictured as a sacrifice brought by God to atone for the sins of all people. He replaces any sacrifice expected or demanded from humans in the past. In him God gives his everything, like Abraham was going to, but was relieved of. As the Passover lamb his blood brings liberation to those who are in slavery, like the lambs blood painted on the doors of those Jewish hovels in Egypt so long ago it makes the angel of death pass by. In him and through him God makes a new start and enables his people to make a new start. With all the effort and commitment needed for that coming from God alone. Jesus as the lamb who becomes one of the many of God’s lambs who are wandering, lost and without shepherds in a world ready to devour them. Through his dying Jesus shows how far God’s care reaches for those who completely depend on him, how he holds on even to the other side of death.

The lamb then appears as God’s preferred symbol for the king who will rule his Kingdom. Victorious, but not in the conventional way. This King brings the ultimate sacrifice for his people (John is the only gospel that puts Jesus’ death at the exact time of the Passover feast), and makes a new start possible for all his people, like the lambs that were brought to the temple made a new start possible for those who brought them.

There is a lot of theology hidden in those few words, this title John gives Jesus when he sees him come toward him. And there is more. Each title John gives Jesus could be unpacked in the same way.

But lets not dwell on those for too long now, let us imagine we are there, with John the Baptizer and his followers as they see Jesus approaching instead.

Were they wondering what the coming of this man might mean for them, and how he will impact their lives? And you may want to ask yourself: What do you see when you look at Jesus? Who is Jesus for you? How has he impacted on your life? Has he ever compelled you to change direction? Or have you just bobbed along comfortably without too much hassle in your journey of faith?

Two of John’s disciples decide to check out this new person John is so impressed with immediately. Were they seekers? Wandering from one rabbi to another? They seem to change loyalties pretty quickly and easily. If they would have joined our Church I don’t think I would have trusted them and it made me wonder how John would have felt about them. It is one thing to declare someone else bigger and better than you are, but it is another to see your friends walk off immediately after!

They follow him on John’s powerful and pronounced testimony to who and what Jesus was. Perhaps we should see them as the first ones who have the courage to take the plunge, rather than people who abandon one rabbi for another far too easily. The first ones to take on the following of someone whose credentials come with referral to sacrifice, blood, a lamb entangled in the thicket, a cross looming in the distance.

Jesus asks them what they are looking for. Again this is a question loaded with meaning. What are they looking for? More glory than they can get out of John the locust eating, fire and brimstone preaching prophet? Or are they really looking for the God as he will reveal himself in Jesus Christ, the lamb who has come to take away the sins of the world?
They ask Jesus where he is staying. With John they are staying on "the other side of the Jordan", in the desert, the place of preparation and waiting for the people of Israel before they enter into the promised land. So where do they locate Jesus?
We know the answer to that of course: In Jesus the waiting is over, the Kingdom has come and those who follow him are invited to become part of the Kingdom and live it, here and now.

Come and see says Jesus and welcomes them in.

But Jesus doesn’t have a home! The son of God does not have a place to lay his head it says elsewhere. God is where Jesus lives. God is his dwelling place and God’s dwelling place is in him as it says in John 14, a house that is open to many others.

That’s what they are offered: A place to dwell with God, not a Church or a temple but a dwelling place in the heart of a friend they will journey with to the cross and beyond.

They stayed with him the remainder of the day it says, until it was about four in the afternoon. Is it coincidence that the number four also appears in the story about Lazarus who was in the tomb for four days before he was raised by Jesus? The number four seems to be related to a time of suspense in the gospel. The time when things can still go one way or another. Lazarus is dead, but something could be about to happen on that fourth day.
At four o’clock in the afternoon all sorts of things might still happen!

One of the two who follow Jesus, was Andrew, and he has a brother, called Simon.

A bit of a political statement this: Peter is the brother of Andrew and however much important he may be in some other parts of the early Church, in the gospel of John and the community where it was conceived he is just another disciple. He gets his special name alright, but at the beginning and not at the end of the gospel. In doing so John changes it from a commission for leadership in the early Church to something that is more of an irony on who Simon will show to be in the remainder of the gospel. In the next 20 odd chapters Simon won’t be that much of a Peter at all and needs the Lamb’s atonement more than anybody. In the gospel of John Jesus’ star disciple and best friend is not Simon but the beloved disciple who does a lot better and gets things a lot faster than good old Simon.

It is Andrew who brings Simon to Jesus, and this again can be seen as a political statement and example of John’s ironic way of referring to Peter throughout the gospel. It’s only through his brother Simon meets the Lord and not because he is spotted by Jesus or is actively looking for the Messiah himself.

Andrew brings Simon to Jesus and the way this happens offers us a fine example of how mission and outreach is done.

First there is Andrew’s own journey with Jesus. His decision to follow him and spend time with Jesus. At the end of the day Andrew shares this experience with his brother. Then Andrew leaves. The rest is up to Jesus.

I wondered what that means for us, at this time and in this Church.

Jesus invitation to the two friends is open and without reservation. They are welcome in his home, his inner sanctum and he spends considerable time with them before they are ready to go their own way again. We are invited to that inner sanctum too. To spend time with Jesus at the heart of God, considerable time, before we shoot off to get some people interested in our projects, people who will be able to continue with our work, join the church council, fill the empty places in our committees, make sure the church will run smoothly ...... sorry, no, that’s not quite right....

That is not what Jesus sends them away with. In actual fact he doesn’t send them away with any to do lists. They just wander off and talk to their family and friends about the time they spend with Jesus and what it meant to them, what impact he has had on them. And introduce them to him.

That’s it. That’s all.

And I imagine that they met up again, the next morning, in Kafé Kinross for a coffee and another chat, and wandered over to the Church to look at the stained glass windows and read some scripture passages together with Jesus explaining, singing a couple of hymns they liked in the bargain. Maybe one of them could play the organ and did, just cheering things up a bit with some beautiful music. I imagine that they then shared a meal of bread and wine, and perhaps played a game of scrabble while they were gathered around the table anyway. That they invited some of the old people in the village over for a meal and some activities in John Macrae and shared with them about their journeys of faith. That the kids joined in from John Mackenzie kindergarten and that they had a lot of fun together until it was time to go home again and get to work on the Monday morning but looking forward to the time they would be able to meet again.

I wondered if the Church could be a place like that......


© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008

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