Sermon - 19th January 2014
Scripture - John 1:29-42
[An audio version of this sermon can be heard via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
I don’t know about you, I hear the word 'power' and mostly it makes me shudder. It makes me think of President Putin in Russia and his horrific treatment of the LGBT community. It makes me think of David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic policy in this country. It makes me think of historical figures like Hitler. It makes me think of corruption – of which the likes we see in Venezuela and Mexico, where the Police are so corrupt they enable all the violence and drug trafficking that makes so many peoples lives hell.
You get where I am going with this: power is so much abused in society that the word carries so much negative connotations that it is so hard to think about it in a different way.
I want to explore with you today another notion of power. Today’s passage contains some of Jesus’s most powerful moments, his baptism and calling of the first disciples. Firstly though I would like to look at John the Baptist.
Up until this point there had been much discussion that John was the Messiah: priests had been to visit him a couple of days before to enquire if he was the chosen one. You could be forgiven for thinking why - he was baptizing people, he had his own disciples and built up quite a ministry despite wearing funny clothes and living in the desert. I could imagine that no matter how much protesting he did, people simply didn’t believe that he wasn’t the Messiah.
John knew differently and steadfastly refused any such conversation, he knew the Messiah was coming - he just didn’t know when; and even though they were loosely related, he didn’t know what he looked like - he was believed by faith that he was coming.
Fast-forward a couple of thousand years and it would have been very different - they would have seen each other on Facebook - known what each other looked like – they may have even shared a fish or locust recipe or two!
Although it is not directly spoken about in John’s Gospel their first meeting was at Jesus’s baptism. We know that Jesus approached John and that the spirit descended like a dove and that God spoke and said ‘ This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’.
Although this is not highlighted in the Gospel of John, It is in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus though wanted to be baptized by John - could you imagine what John thought? There he was, he had just met the Son of God, the all powerful Jesus and Jesus wants John to baptize him?!! John protested and tried to do things the way he felt they should be done and said that Jesus should baptize him and not the other way around but Jesus was insistent that he was to be baptized by John.
The author of John’s Gospel, John the Apostle didn’t include this detail instead he chose to highlight John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus. When John first saw Jesus he said ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ He goes on to testify that ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him and I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me ‘ The man on whom you see the spirit come down and remain upon is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit – and I have seen and I testify this is God’s chosen one’
John used his considerable power and standing to testify about the one greater than him. Jesus was that man and yet was humbly baptized by John. The following day Jesus walked by John the Baptist and a couple of his disciples. John said ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’ - John was again elevating Jesus.
Then comes the calling of the first disciples, who were at the time two of John’s disciples. They had heard John say this and decided to follow Jesus. Jesus turned to them and asked – ‘What are you seeking’? Why would the Son of God ask ‘What are YOU seeking’?
Surely a more fitting question would have been ‘Do you want to follow me’? He wanted them though to follow of their own free will. Given the context of the time, I can imagine this free will thing was a refreshing change given how the Kings of the day abused their power. We saw Herod slaughter the Holy Innocents in his quest to try and unseat what he thought was a literal king coming to take his place. We know that John the Baptist's fate was based on a Kings deceit and an oath given to Herodias's daughter.
So here had finally arrived promised Messiah, the Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world, who will save the world through his death and rose again and HE was asking THEM ‘What were they seeking?’
In our modern world I think if people were asked this question many would actually reply ‘Power’ – for a myriad of different reasons, they may just want control of people, money and stuff. Or their desire for power may be a necessity to get out of poverty.
Power itself is not bad: Jesus taught us that – it is your motives that cause the problems - The story of Judas teaches us that. He betrayed Jesus for silver and favour. Jesus went to the cross, beaten and alone – totally vulnerable – a far cry from the power we usually associate with Jesus. John the Baptist had a lot of power – he used this to elevate Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Son of God; I can’t imagine greater power – yet he died on the cross.
So before we finish with a short film, the challenge for us is to answer the question. ‘What are we seeking’?