Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pointing Folks to Jesus

Hope Lutheran Church, Fosston, MN
January 16, 2011/Epiphany 2
John 1:29-42

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

When I was a little boy my parents did their level 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 when we look at some of the greatest works of art depicting John the Baptist (whom we encounter in our gospel lesson)—when we explore the many paintings, murals, sculptures. How is John the Baptist portrayed? He’s wearing his camel hair outfit, out in the wilderness, sometimes pouring water over the persons who come to him by the Jordan River….but often, John is also depicted as pointing.

John must not have been taught that it’s impolite to point.

John is a pointer, especially here in this portion of the fourth gospel.

All those works of art that show John pointing take their cues from the first chapter of John’s gospel. Today’s gospel reading is all about John and Jesus—who they each are in relationship to each other and everyone else….and John’s characteristic posture here is that he is pointing, singling out, drawing attention to Jesus.

It happens over the course of two days.

On the first day John sees Jesus coming toward him (in verses 29-34) and he gives a little speech about Jesus….he points to Jesus for two reasons.

First John the Baptist wants everyone to know that he’s not the One folks had been waiting for. John points away from himself—he clears up any misunderstandings that some may have had about John himself being the Messiah.

So, first of all, John points away from himself: “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.’…” (vv. 29-30)

The second reason John points to Jesus is to let others to know who Jesus is. Digging deep into the treasure chest of his own Jewish faith, John calls Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Wow! What a grand introduction! John the Baptist simply jumps right in there with both feet and “cuts to the chase.” Pointing a long bony finger—pointing at Jesus!—John says: “Here….here is the One you’ve been waiting for. Here is the One whom God is sending into the world to set us free. His blood—like the blood of the lamb our ancestors sprinkled on their doors at Passover time. The blood of this ‘lamb’ will rescue us from our captivity to ourselves, our sin….and not just ours, but the sin of the whole world.”

John was a pointer. And there’s nothing modest or subdued about what he has to say about Jesus here. John points away from himself—making it clear that he (John) is not God’s chosen one—and simultaneously making it clear that Jesus is the Real Deal, God’s new Passover lamb, whose coming among us delivers us and redeems the whole creation.

This is more than a grand announcement or a spectacle, however….which we see as this story unfolds…

Because the next day, when Jesus approaches John once again, John repeats his message: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” (v. 36)

But now John shifts gears. Rather than launching into another long speechn, John moves beyond pointing at Jesus. Instead, he takes a couple of his own followers and points them to Jesus.

John points in a very specific way. He doesn’t just point at Jesus….but rather he grabs a hold of persons and points them to Jesus, almost (as it were) taking them by the shoulders and giving them a good shove right in Jesus’ direction….because John knows they need to get close to Jesus, to hang out with Jesus, to remain (Greek: meno) with Jesus.

As I sometimes like to say, faith in Jesus is more like stewing in a crock-pot than being zapped by a microwave. It takes some time…

So, two of John’s followers, now spend hang out with Jesus. “…And they remained with him that day” (v. 39) I would give my right arm to know what the three of them did and said that afternoon—but the fourth gospel is utterly silent on that point.

What we do know is that by 4 p.m., one of the men simply has to go out and find his brother and point him to Jesus: Andrew scurries over to his brother Simon, just bursting with good news—“we have found the Messiah.” (v. 41)

And then Andrew takes Simon by the shoulders and points him toward Jesus, who immediately recognizes Simon and bestows on him the name that we know better: “…you are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).” (v. 42)

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 touched off.


And in fact, that’s what is happening here. Moreover, this very same chain reaction of Jesus-pointing is what has brought you and me here this morning.


I am here with you, a brother in Christ, because someone pointed me to Jesus: Lawrence and Roberta (my parents), when I was just a little baby, brought me to Jesus, washed me with Jesus, and kept pointing me to Jesus, pushing me to hang out with Jesus, so that I can’t imagine life without Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


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.


No, someone pointed out Jesus to you, someone took you by the shoulders, literally pointed you toward Jesus, and nudged you in the right direction, to abide with Jesus, spend time with Jesus, 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 setters more than pointers. (Excuse the dog pun!)


We Lutherans have tended toward a pretty passive, “sitting” role in this chain reaction. Here in North America we’ve counted on waves of immigrants to grow our church, and then waves of Lutheran babies who were 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. We were setters (or “sitters”) more than pointers….but no more.


Immigration and reproduction no longer carry us forward. We Lutheran “setters” are discovering our calling to become “pointers,” like John the Baptist. Thank God, we’re getting caught up in the chain reaction that started when John spied Jesus coming his way, when John lifted up his bony finger, pointed away from himself, pointed toward Jesus, taking his own closest friends, his intimates, taking them by the shoulders and pointing them to Jesus.


Can you teach an old dog new tricks, though? I think you can. We Lutheran setters can become Lutheran pointers, in fact it’s happening all around us in this 21st century mission field called North America.


And if that unnerves you, if that scares you, to think about heading out into the world and boldly pointing others toward Jesus, perhaps you need to take baby steps at first.


Look at Andrew. He didn’t do cold-calling on strangers. He shanghaied his next of kin, his brother, who became the prince of the apostles. “Peter, you gotta meet this guy—we think he’s God’s anointed one. Come and see!”


The mission field starts right inside your home. My friend David Anderson of Vibrant Faith Ministries likes to say that the prayer that is prayed most often in today’s Lutheran church is: “Dear God, please get my grandchildren to church!”


If you pray that prayer (or something like it), let that prayer take you somewhere you may not have traveled before. Let that prayer lead you to set aside your good manners and do some pointing.


Here, let’s try it right now. Take your finger, stretch it out, and point it.


First, point it away from yourself as a reminder that you are not God.


And then point your finger toward Jesus.


And as you do so, start imagining how you could take some precious child or grandchild or brother or sister—take them by the shoulders and point them toward Jesus, the way Andrew did with his own blood-kin Peter.


Point someone to Jesus. And, I guarantee you, neither of you will be disappointed.


In the name of Jesus. Amen.


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