Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Good Gossip of the Gospel

My sermon this morning, on the gospel for the day John 1:29-42, invited worshippers at Calvary Lutheran Church of Alexandria, MN to share the "good gossip of the gospel."

Installation of Pr. Dale Olson
Calvary Lutheran, Alexandria
January 20, 2008
John 1:29-42

Why in the world did you show up this morning for worship here at Calvary Lutheran? What brought you here, anyway?

Perhaps it’s because you like gossip—and not just garden-variety gossip, the stuff that gets shared by neighbors over fences across backyards.

No--you’re here because you’ve been grabbed by the good gossip of the gospel.

This lesson from John 1 is a gossipy sort of text. Someone is always talking about, always gossiping about Someone Else. And the gossip is so juicy that it keeps gathering steam, drawing folks in, “hooking” them!

It starts with John the Baptist. John is “big” into the good gossip of the gospel. He starts the ball rolling with his testimony about Jesus. And you gotta admit: it’s pretty juicy stuff!

John makes Jesus into a pretty interesting piece of news. In six short verses, John raises all sorts of curiosity about Jesus by calling him

  • The Lamb of God who bears away the sins of the world
  • Someone who is, paradoxically, younger than John but also older than John
  • Someone who is going to be “publicized”—to the whole nation of Israel.
  • A man on whom the Holy Spirit of God had come down in the form of a snow white dove…
  • ….and, as if all that weren’t enough, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Son of God.

John the Baptist gets the good gossip of the gospel going by making this gossip awfully interesting. Whoever John was talking about—folks were bound to be interested in him!

It’s in the nature of gossip that it be interesting. And the good gossip of the gospel—that needs to be interesting, too, if anyone’s going to pay attention to it.

Pastor Dale, the main job you’ve “signed on” for here at Calvary is the job of making Jesus interesting to these folks. Or, better yet: your job is to help others see how interesting Jesus truly is! Calvary Lutheran exists to help make sure that Jesus Christ is among the many interesting things and intriguing persons you encounter here in Alexandria.

Back to John the Baptist. He gets the good gossip of the gospel going here in our text. But he doesn’t let it stop there, with his initial telling of this juicy gossip.

The next day, John picks it all up again when he sees Jesus passing by once more.

And like a good gossip, John nudges two of his buddies, his followers, and says: “Look—there he is—the one I was telling you about. You know, ‘the Lamb of God’ guy! Check him out, why don’t you!!

Now this is really interesting. John knows that gossip kept to oneself won’t last very long—in fact, it won’t last at all. So John does with his gossip what a gossip must do: he passes it on, and not just to anyone, but to two of the persons who were nearest and dearest to him. Two of his disciples, our text says.

These were fellows who earlier in their lives had heard some gossip about John the Baptist himself. They had come to believe that John the Baptist was worth listening to, worth following. They had already heard some good news—but they hadn’t yet heard THE Good News--the greatest news ever.

So, at the risk of losing them as his followers, John the Baptist shares the good gossip of the gospel—and he pushes his two buddies to go directly to the source, to follow after Jesus.

Pastoral ministry, especially as Lutherans like to do it, is keyed in to relationships. It’s most natural to pass on the good gossip of the gospel first to those who are nearest and dearest to us—family members, co-workers, fellow students, friends. Pastor Dale—and all of you here at Calvary: I invite you to remember that the good gossip of the gospel has to be shared , if it’s going to live. Be bold in passing on this good gossip about Jesus to others—even, perhaps especially, to others who may already be “into” other good news, other life-scripts, other “gospels.”

So, two followers of John the Baptist start tagging along after Jesus. And Jesus sees ‘em coming and speaks to them. It’s the first time Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John, and I think it’s fascinating that Jesus’ first words come in the form of a question: “What are you looking for?”


Now there’s a question—a huge, wide-open, tantalizing question! “What are you looking for? What itch are you trying to scratch?”

With this question, Jesus opens the door to these two persons. Jesus invites them into a conversation that will become a conversion.

And John’s two followers swallow the bait. They ask where Jesus is staying, Jesus tells them to come and see—and they spend the day together.

Here’s where we see how different the good gossip of the gospel is from all our garden-variety backyard gossip. Everyday gossip just gets passed along—and that’s that.

The good gossip of the gospel draws people in. It fosters community. It creates a new set of relationships.

Friends, as we share the good gossip of the gospel, we’ll want to do it in such a way that folks want to spend time over at Jesus’ house—this house, this place of worship and learning and fellowship and service. Pastor Dale—I invite you and everybody else here at Calvary to start conversations that produce conversion--a continual turning from darkness to light, from sin to grace, from emptiness to fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

John’s two followers spend the better part of a day with Jesus. I’d give my right leg to know what they talked about—to have a transcript of that visit. But we have no record of that!

All we know is that that conversation produced a conversion, a turning, a newness of life for these two men. Because by four o’clock in the afternoon, these gossip-receivers had become confirmed gossip-sharers!

One of them—we finally learn a name—Andrew, has a specific plan of action.

Just as John the Baptist got the ball rolling by sharing the good gossip of the gospel with those nearest and dearest to him, so now Andrew turns (quite naturally!) to his own brother Simon.

Andrew does two things. He speaks to Simon (“We have found the Messiah—God’s Anointed One”) and he hustles Simon over to have a look for himself.

I think that this little “two-step” is worth noting. Words are crucial—to be sure. Andrew speaks the news to Simon. So far so good!

We Lutheran followers of Jesus aren’t half bad at that. In fact we like words so much that we invest ourselves in them. We believe that words—especially words about God in Jesus Christ—create a new reality.

But notice, please, that Andrew doesn’t stop with words. He gets his brother’s coat and hat out of the closet, warms up the car, takes his brother by the arm and brings him to Jesus.

The good gossip of the gospel isn’t merely spoken. It becomes incarnate, it puts on flesh-and-blood in the action of a gossip-sharer. Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, draws his brother into a conversation with the potential for producing conversion.

Which it does! Simon meets Jesus, and just like that Jesus renames him! In the Middle East of the first century, such an action spoke volumes. For to change someone’s name was like giving them a whole new identity. “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas—Peter—The Rock!”

Pastor Dale and all of you here at Calvary: Don’t just speak the good gossip of the gospel, but find ways to act on that speech. Words at their best produce actions—information yields invitation, an insistent bringing of others to meet this one called Jesus. I invite you to discover new ways of doing that here in this congregation.

We can bring people to Jesus—confident that when someone meets Jesus they will never be the same again. Jesus draws persons—Jesus draws the likes of you and me—into conversations that produce conversion. Jesus is bold—whenever he gets the chance—to name and rename us, to claim and reclaim us.

And we end up with a new identity. Like Simon-turned-Peter the Rock!

Hearing the good gossip of the gospel makes you and me new people, pure and simple. And hearing this gossip, we start bearing this gossip into a world just dying to hear it.

That, dear friends, is why you didn’t stay home this morning. It’s why you came here. It’s why Pastor Dale has shown up here, to be installed as your new senior pastor. He is God’s precious gift to you! Pastor Dale is here, primarily, to help you keep on sharing the good gossip of the gospel.

God bless you all as you take up this adventure—passing on the good gossip of the gospel.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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