Photo from Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org.
Karen Hollis | January 15, 2023
Jesus calls disciples 1
John 1:29-42 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us today, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen
As a preacher, one of the fun things about being called to a new community is that you don’t know any of my stories. I get to put all of them back into my toolbox to pull out and share as they become relevant. In this time of getting to know each other, I also want to share some stories about my history and my family. Most of you are meeting my husband James this morning for the first time. James and I met at church on Vashon Island, where we were both living, 11 years ago. Vashon is in the Puget Sound, between Seattle and Tacoma.
I somehow had a Sunday off from my own church and went to the United Methodist Church on Vashon one Autumn Sunday morning. Before the service there was this guy setting up to play his guitar at the front of the sanctuary. He was holding his instrument, mic, music stand, music, and I could see on his face that he needed a hand, so I got up . . . I approached him and said something cool, like “hey, can I help you with that?” James says I blushed . . . I probably did. When we got all of his things sorted, I went back and sat down. When James spoke with the minister after the service she said, “that was Karen,” the woman I was telling you about. I think she gave him my phone number and he and I engaged in an extraordinary game of phone tag. Our calls kept dropping, so when I looked at the call logs on my phone and the text messages, the name James Hollis was everywhere. Hmmm, that’s interesting, I thought. We finally connected and after meeting for coffee I was headed to a clergy Bible study, so I invited him to come along. I listened to him talk about scripture and theology and that was it for me . . . but God wasn’t done reiterating the point.
I went to a potluck at James’ house a few days later, where I met his parents. His dad told me about a student he knew who was studying theology and ministry in the same program where I was enrolled. He had been corresponding with her as he prepared for his trip. Jim is an evangelist with the United Methodist church and was interested in branching out to the west coast. My jaw dropped to the floor, because Victoria was a friend of mine . . . and a few days before she told me how an evangelist from home was coming to visit his son, who had just moved to the Seattle area.
Over the next week or so James and I also ran into mutual friends on Vashon, who were so glad we had connected, because they had also told James about me! So there was just no way James and I weren’t going to meet . . . and from the very beginning there was a gravity between us that brought us together . . . we trusted God and were both in it for the long haul.
I noticed a similar kind of gravity between people in our gospel reading this morning – not a romantic relationship, but between Jesus and his new followers. John does his job of pointing out Jesus to those around him and identifying him as the Messiah. The people respond by turning all of their attention to Jesus. They literally begin walking after him . . . and even inquire, where are you staying? The text implies that there at the end of the day, the disciples don’t want to go home to their own houses; they want to remain with Jesus. Andrew even brings his brother to meet Jesus, because they have found the one the Jewish people have been searching for . . . the Messiah – the anointed one, who comes through the line of King David, and is set apart to save the Jewish people. Jesus, who has been on his own journey, is a teacher, a healer . . . he is called, blessed, and is seeking disciples. There is this gravity that draws them together . . . (for the science lovers in the room) perhaps the space between them bends such that moving toward each other is the most natural path they can take.
As I mentioned a second ago, Jesus and everyone around him are in a Jewish context . . . and the theology that developed around Jesus comes out of a Jewish context. Did you notice how John the Baptist refers to Jesus? I bet you did notice, because for us United Church folk, these words tend to clang in our ears. He says, this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I don’t know what previous ministers have taught about this language – in any event, it’s good for all of us, including me, to have a refresher.
Our minds often go first to atonement, but John isn’t referring to Jesus taking on the sin of each of us so that we can be free of it. In those days the Jewish people offered sacrifices at the temple to be absolved of sins, but they offered bulls, goats and adult sheep. The sin we’re talking about here is different, it’s collective, it’s the world’s collective alienation.1 Lamb more likely refers to a ritual remembrance of the Exodus story. You may recall that in the Exodus, a lamb’s blood protected the ancient Israelites from death, and made possible their liberation from their Egyptian enslavement.2 The ancient world often refers to the collective when it comes to liberation. There was no liberating one person without liberating all people. As a name for Jesus, then, “the Lamb of God” is less about atonement for sins and more about a shared liberation from sin and its constraining and oppressive effects.3 The two narratives are quite different. As people living under Roman occupation, it’s not difficult to imagine why they would be seeking the Messiah . . . and upon finding him, going all in.
Today, as you hear these words again, or perhaps anew, how are they landing on you? As you hear John the Baptist say, “here is the one who is blessed by God to bring our shared liberation” . . . how to you receive these words? Is liberation a word that resonates? From what do we need liberation? Perhaps an easier question to answer is, in what ways do we feel constrained?
The process of moving always reminds me how complex it is to live in the world today. Transferring mail, phone, finding a place to live, with a pet. It’s challenging to feed ourselves for days when our kitchen is in boxes, we have dietary restrictions, and restaurants are closed on holidays. I could go on. I also challenge us to step outside of our own experience, because we normalize it. . . but there is a wide range of human experience even here in the Comox Valley. Like the first disciples, as followers of Jesus, we are called to seek and follow in his way with the cries for liberation ringing in our ears. Our faith tells us Jesus is also seeking us . . . and we will find with him the way for not just some of us to find relief, but all of us. It is early in 2023, and we don’t know exactly where Jesus’ ministry will lead us this year . . . let us trust the pull inside that draws us closer to Jesus, and go with curiosity and openness to see the world differently, to see the world through the lens of Jesus’ teaching, and follow where that leads. Thanks be to God.