Sermon: Let Me Introduce…

A figure in the foreground holding a staff (John the Baptist) gesturing to another figure in the background (Jesus), indicating him to two other persons.

January 19, 2020
Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 1:29-42

by Eric Anderson

Every once in a while I get introduced to someone. It usually goes something like this:

“Let me introduce you. This is Eric Anderson. He’s the pastor at Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo.”

Then I put on my best “I’m not one of those mean pastors” face and try to figure out whether this is a shaking hands greeting person or a hug person and say, “Hello.”

I’m sure you’ve been through the same sort of thing. Your mutual acquaintance names the two of you to one another, gives some reference to something you do or the way that you live, and you may be on the way to a new relationship.

That’s more or less what happened to Jesus when John started talking about him with his – John’s – disciples. The difference was that John the Baptist didn’t introduce Jesus as a visiting carpenter from Galilee, no. He introduced him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Now that’s an introduction.

I am occasionally introduced in ways that make me blush. I’m sure this has happened to you – the person introducing you says something very complementary, something you appreciate but, well, we’re modest people so we don’t say things like that about ourselves and it’s a little embarrassing to hear it actually said in front of us. But we make do. We might blush a little, but we hug or we shake hands and we greet this new person.

If John the Baptist had called me the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” however, I think I’d have turned in the other direction and walked away as quickly as possible.

Jesus, however, dared to come back the next day. John repeated his introduction, and this time it interested two of his – John’s – disciples enough that they decided to get to know Jesus better. But how do you greet someone who’s been introduced to you as the Lamb of God? The testimony of John the Gospel writer is that you do it awkwardly. You follow the fellow until he turns around and asks you what you want, and then you say:

“So… Rabbi… Nice to meet you… Um.

“Where are you staying? Is it nice?”

It’s at that point that you might hear the most dangerous words in a Christian’s vocabulary: “Come and see.”

Brother Francois of the Taize Community wrote in Suivre le Christ et se faire disciple (Following Christ and Becoming a Disciple), “Andrew, one of the two disciples, shared his discovery with Simon, his brother, and brought Simon to Jesus. Looking at him, Jesus immediately gave him another name. As the gospel writer remembers it, from that very instant Simon’s life was marked by a new significance. Whoever begins to share Jesus’ life no longer belongs to themselves.”

“Come and see” is an introduction into a new way of living.

Can we be honest with ourselves? We’ve been introduced to Jesus. We’ve been introduced to Jesus not once but a thousand times. Did it make a difference? Did it change us?

Did it make the changes we wanted?

Did it make the changes Jesus wanted?

If I ask myself that question, I have my doubts.

As a pastor, I have something of an advantage when it comes to demonstrating a difference between the life I had before being introduced to Jesus and the life I’ve had since. It’s possible that one of the other careers I considered before entering the ministry might have brought me to Hawai’i, for example, but it seems unlikely. Long-time friends and family can tell you how much ministry has changed me, and how little it has changed me. I remain, for example, completely addicted to playing with words, or in other words, a repuntant sinner.

But by global standards I live a safe and comfortable life, one basically indistinguishable from most people. Glance at me on the street and I don’t look very exceptional. That was certainly not true of John the Baptist or of Jesus or of their followers twenty centuries ago. Both John and Jesus ended up executed by the authorities. According to old Christian tradition, most of Jesus’ closest disciples were executed as well. When the Roman Empire finally legalized Christianity three hundred years later, it became something of a crisis in the Church. Without the threat of persecution, how did one really know if someone claiming to be a Christian was actually fully committed to Christ?

Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, refused baptism until just weeks before his death, because he believed that the Christian commitments made in baptism were incompatible with the needs of an emperor to maintain power. Since he’d come to the imperial purple by waging a series of wars, I find it hard to argue the point. Christians began serving in the Roman army – most had refused up until then – and Augustine of Hippo began developing a theology that would identify just reasons for waging war. By the eleventh century, the Church began to endorse, encourage, and even sponsor wars of conquest. We call them the Crusades.

Could the horrors of war be any farther from the mind of Jesus Christ?

Did being introduced to Jesus change us? Or did we change that introduction to match our craving, our desires, our greed?

This is the season of the Epiphany, of wrestling with the meaning of God’s manifestation among us, God’s self-revelation among us, in Jesus. Karoline Lewis writes at Working Preacher, “Do we have the courage to ask: Who do we need to be because of Jesus’ Epiphany?

“This is what John (the Witness, not the Baptist) implores us to be. Believers willing to confess in whom we believe and why. Believers willing to point to the Truth. Believers vigilant in seeking out where and how we are called to say ‘behold, look,’ there Jesus is.

“In other words, when we allow Epiphany to be a bystander event—one where we can sit in the bleachers and watch the game; one where we simply buy tickets, because that’s what we have always done, and already know the outcome—then, I suspect, we have dismissed or missed the meaning of Epiphany altogether.”

Get introduced to Jesus – follow up the invitation to “Come and see” – and you get changed. If you let it happen.

But it starts with a serious query about whether and how this introduction to Jesus has made a difference in who you are and what you do.

This past week was the anniversary of the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani by… you guessed it… people who claimed to be Christians. They feared that the new constitution she wanted to propose would restore the vote to poor Hawaiians and diffuse the power of wealthy Americans. Members of the group that organized the rebellion also sat on the board of the Evangelical Association of Hawai’i – our church. Tomorrow we honor the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We dare not forget that Christians fought to prevent African Americans from voting, beat protesters with billy clubs, and carried out a reign of terror called lynching that took thousands of lives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

King himself died of an assassin’s bullet. Meeting Jesus changed the course of his life.

I heard Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, interviewed by Preet Bharara recently. He is a civil rights attorney working to end capital punishment. Speaking of the nation, Stevenson said, “There has to be this transformation, and it begins with just telling the truth about who you are. We’ve done some terrible things in this country to native people, to immigrants, to African Americans. We passed an Asian Exclusion Act to ban people from Asian countries. We should be ashamed of that. We put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. We should be ashamed of that, not because that’s the end, but because it’s a process to something better. And that’s what I believe. I just think there’s something better waiting for us than what we’ve experienced in this country when it comes to freedom and justice and racial equality, but we’re not going to get there if we already think our best days are somehow behind us. I’ll be honest, I get confused when I hear people talking about “Make America Great Again” because, as an African American, I don’t know what decade I’m supposed to want to relive. Surely not the period of time when I couldn’t vote, or when we were being lynched, or when we were enslaved. No, our best days have to be in front of us if we’re going to be a great democracy.”

The best days also have to be in front of us if we’re going to be a great church.

“There has to be this transformation.”

That’s what it means to be introduced to Jesus – to risk transformation, reformation, redemption. It means risking the things of our life in this life in order to bring about a better life for others in this life and to bring about a better life in another life for all lives. It means choosing a more challenging route through life than the one prepared for us by those who tried to protect us. It means, well, following Jesus even when there might be a cross at the end of the road.

The wonder of it all is that the blessings of discipleship are present in the hardest times of discipleship. As Audrey West writes at Working Preacher: “If you want to know the word made flesh, come and see Jesus. If you want to know what love is like, come and see Jesus. If you want to experience God’s glory, to be filled with bread that never perishes, to quench your thirst with living water, to be born again, to abide in love, to behold the light of the world, to experience the way, the truth, and the life, to enter into life everlasting, . . . if you want to know God, come and see Jesus.”

Those are the riskiest words of the Gospel – come and see. They are the words of greatest promise in the Gospel – come and see.

Come and see.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Identical to the prepared text? No. You didn’t think it would be, did you?

The image is San Giovanni che indica il Cristo a Sant’Andrea (Saint John showing Christ to Saint Andrew) by Ottavio Vannini (1585-c. 1643) – photo by Giovanni Piccirillo (a cura di), La chiesa dei Santi Michele e Gaetano, Becocci Editore, Firenze (Florence, Italy) 2006. sailko, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on January 19, 2020

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