Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pass It On

Synod Women’s Organization Convention

Bethlehem, Fergus Falls
September 7, 2013
John 1:35-51

Years ago, when I served on a synod staff in southern Minnesota, I traveled out to a country church for a monthly conference pastors’ gathering.
I arrived early so I could connect with my pastor-colleagues as they arrived for morning coffee.

To my dismay, though, when I arrived there were already a dozen cars in the church’s parking lot.  I guess I wasn’t “early” after all!

When I entered the church building, I couldn’t find anyone at first….not in the sanctuary, not in the social hall….no one!  

Despite the twelve cars outside, the building seemed abandoned.  I thought I could hear the faint sound of voices in the church kitchen, though.

So I gently opened the kitchen door—only to be greeted by twelve lovely women whose average age appeared to be about 74.  They stopped talking right away and greeted me shyly.

Now I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think these women were discussing how to make coffee or frost cinnamon rolls.

What I horned in on was an information-sharing session. Some of what was being shared might even have come under the category of “gossip.”

Gossip gets a bad name, because a lot of it is untrue or hurtful to others.  And yet we all do a little passing on of juicy tidbits we’ve picked up and just have to share. 

There is, in fact, something we might call “good gossip”—news that cheers us up, encourages us, maybe even calls us to prayer.  A friend of mine once suggested that the Gospel itself is the most life-changing gossip we’ll ever hear.

You’re all here this morning because you’re been grabbed by the good gossip of the gospel.   Having heard this gossip, you want to share it with others, as happens here in our gospel lesson from John, chapter 1.

This story is a gossipy text.  Someone’s always talking about Someone Else.  And this good gossip is so juicy that it keeps gathering steam, keeps drawing others in, keeps “hooking” them!

It starts with John the Baptist and his startling announcement that Jesus is “the Lamb of God.”  Now there’s an attention-grabber.   What could that possibly mean—Jesus “the Lamb of God?”

That very phrase, “the Lamb of God,” illustrates how it is in the very nature of gossip to be interesting.   No one wastes time with boring news or dull gossip.

But John the Baptist created so much interest in Jesus that persons around him immediately wondered:  “What’s up with that?  How can we find out more about this ‘lamb of God’?”

My dear friends, what makes the good gossip about Jesus so interesting to you?  What about Jesus has gotten under your skin, deep in your bones?   What could you say about Jesus that might stir up a godly curiosity in others?

Gossip worth its name is always interesting….so interesting that it attracts others.

 Like any good gossip, John the Baptist does what a gossip must do:  he passes on the gossip, and not just to anyone, but to two of his closest friends, two of his disciples.

 These were guys who earlier in their lives had heard some good gossip about John the Baptist.  They’d come to believe that John the Baptist was interesting, worth listening to and following. 

 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.

 So, these 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 question just filled with possibilities.  “What are you looking for?  Isn’t that what we all wonder from time to time?   What are you looking for in this life?  What itch are you trying to scratch?”   

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

 And the two followers of John the Baptist 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.

My dear friends—how are you passing on the good gossip about Jesus in such a way that you not only impart information—but you invite persons into relationships—relationships with Jesus and therefore also relationships with others who are following Jesus?

John’s two followers spend the better part of a day with Jesus.  I’d give an arm and a leg to know what they talked about—to have a transcript of that visit.  

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 then he hustles Simon over to have a look for himself.

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 grabs 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!”

You’d think that might be the end of it here in John, chapter 1.   But, no, the good gossip about Jesus is just starting to “go viral.”   Because the next day the whole thing starts all over again.  

Jesus goes to Galilee, finds a fellow named Philip, invites Philip to follow him—and Philip right away figures that he has to spread the gossip about Jesus to his friend Nathanael.

Except that Nathanael is a harder nut to crack.  He doesn’t just take gossip at face value—he probes, he expresses skepticism….but that doesn’t deter Philip.   Philip does what Andrew did the day before:  he hustles Nathanael over to meet Jesus, who graciously responds to Nathanael’s doubts and calls forth from him a sterling confession of faith.   Like Simon, Nathanael receives a new identity and purpose—all because Philip couldn’t keep the good gossip of the Gospel to himself.

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 meet us in our doubts, to name and rename us, to claim and reclaim us.

And we end up with a new identity.   Like Simon-turned-Peter the Rock….like Nathanael the skeptic-turned-confessor!

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 came here this morning. 

I invite you to ponder your convention theme, “Pass it On,” not in terms of some grim business or a heavy obligation that’s been laid upon you--but to think of it as if it were good gossip—gossip that’s interesting, gossip that can’t be kept to yourself, gossip that moves us from words to deeds, gossip that creates new people and fresh relationships, gossip that simply has to be shared.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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