John 1: 29-42
Grace to you and peace from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Just to make sure I get it out of the way. Happy Birthday, Grandma. I love you.
I know that my grandmother doesn’t like a lot of undue attention, but I think that it’s fitting that we are celebrating an 80th birthday today. My grandmother is here, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. At one time, she has been in all these roles, she was once a child (it was a while ago) she had a mother, a grandmother and great-grandparents.
As she grew, she transitioned out the child stage of life. She grew up and had children. During this transition, her mother helped her when she became a mother herself. She has had people to mentor her as she grows into all her different roles. And eventually, she has mentored others as they grew into roles that she has held.
Of course, I’m not just talking about my grandmother (and I’m sure she will be happy to have the attention diverted away from her). This is true for all of us. We have people who lead and teach and mentor us. Eventually, they lead us into new roles, even as they move out of their former roles.
The same thing is happening in our gospel story for today. We are seeing the Holy Spirit as it spreads from one person to another. There is a transition from John to Jesus, and even a little preview of what happens beyond Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this story, we witness John’s ministry decrease as Jesus and his ministry increases.
Here’s how the transition happens. John knows that he is not the Messiah, the Lamb of God. But he can identify who is. The task for John is to make people realize that the Messiah is among them, but not let them think John himself is the Messiah. Was that confusing? Probably.
The Jews had been waiting a long time for a Messiah. This was the one to deliver Israel from all its enemies. The Messiah was expected to reign in a new era for Israel. So there is an eager longing to find the Messiah. Over the course of time, there had been many who have claimed to be the Messiah, so it was hard to know who to believe. John has the gift to know who the Messiah is. He is sent to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. John knows who it is, because he has met Jesus and seen the Spirit of God rest upon him.
Since John’s ministry is one of preparation, he must transition people away from himself just as Jesus takes up the mantle of his earthly ministry. John is one of the rare people who can speak the truth to people, but then take a supporting role as Jesus takes the lead.
How does this transition happen? It happens over a series of relationships, interactions, and personal testimonies.
The transition starts well before this story begins. We read a portion of the story last week in church. Jesus approaches John to be baptized. The two have an interaction with one another, where John is the first one to recognize Jesus as the Son of God.
This is the story that John tells his disciples when he sees Jesus pass by. When John sees Jesus, he points him out to the disciples, identifies him, and then talks about the baptism experience. If John hadn’t told the story in this way, I believe there would be no reason for these disciples to follow Jesus. They had to know and trust John to trust his testimony about Jesus.
Let me be clear, Jesus does not have some sort of magnetism that just draws people to him. People need to know, need to hear who Jesus is and what he has done. They need to hear it from a source they trust. They are slow and skeptical. In fact, as it was, it took two days…two separate “Jesus sightings” for these disciples to step out to follow Jesus.
They leave their original teacher, because he has pointed them to the next best thing. The transition continues…
Almost immediately, these two disciples have their own personal encounter with Jesus. This interaction begins a whole new relationship.
Jesus asks these two new disciples, “What you are looking for?”
Their response: "Where are you staying?"
This is not an answer to the question. In fact, it’s one of those annoying “answering the question with another question” tricks that Jesus likes to pull. Who knows, maybe this is where he learned that….
But let’s look at the disciples’ response a little closer.
Did they not know what they were looking for? Where they scared to say what they were looking for? They really just left John after John declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God. They could have said, “We are looking for the Lamb of God, and that guy over there says it’s you. If it’s not you, can you point us in the right direction?”
Maybe they are looking for Truth (with a capitol T). Maybe they are looking for salvation. All these things are probably right, but it’s not the sort of thing that you can sum up quickly in front of someone who you just met (and, who you think might be the truth and salvation). It’s intimidating.
So, they ask Jesus where he is staying. On one level, this may seem like a cop-out answer, or a non-answer. But it’s not. This question opens up a whole new relationship. They are asking where Jesus is staying, where he is dwelling, where he is resting himself. When they ask him where he is staying, they are using the Greek word “MENO”. This word means resting, abiding, or dwelling. It is the same word that John uses when he describes what the Holy Spirit did during Jesus baptism. “The Holy Spirit REMAINED on him.
Clearly, asking where Jesus is staying is more than a stalling technique. This is a way of inviting themselves to be with Jesus and to continue into a relationship with him. And they spend the day listening to Jesus. They discover that John was right.
These disciples would have never known it had they not experienced it for themselves. Again, this is not the “Come and follow me” sort of approach. These disciples spend time listening and learning before they start the spread the word. It was John’s direction that initially got them involved with Jesus, but after an experience with them, they don’t need John’s testimony. They now have their own stories to share. In fact, after having stayed with Jesus, one of the disciples, Andrew goes to get his brother, Simon. Andrew is so moved by his own personal experience with Jesus that he goes to share it with his family.
Jesus meets Simon and immediately gives him a new name, Peter. And he becomes the Peter that we hear about and follow through all the of Gospels and into Acts. Peter, the rock of faith. Peter, the one who can confidently name Jesus as the Messiah (much like John the Baptist). Peter, the one who will deny Jesus at the crucifixion and declare his love for Jesus following the resurrection. Peter, the one who gives that great sermon on the day of Pentecost.
We started this whole story with John the Baptist, the first one to name Jesus as the Messiah. From John, we moved into a relationship with Jesus (which gets fleshed out more as you continue to read), but we end today’s reading with Peter, who establishes the church following the resurrection.
This is the amazing transition that we get to witness. In our Old Testament reading for today, we hear, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb, he named me.” The Spirit of God rests upon each and every one of us. However, we are all placed in a different time and space and given different abilities. We lead others to live fully in Christ, just as we have been lead to live in Christ.
If the story had stopped with John, then we would never had known that the Messiah had come into the world. If the story had stopped with Jesus, then he would simply be a historical figure. The story continues through Peter and through history to each of us today. We are also called to live out a calling that points other people to Jesus. We are called to help people understand that the Spirit of Christ dwells in each one of them. We are called to invite people to form their own stories and testimonies. We live that calling in our workplaces, our schools, our stores, and within our families. And the story doesn’t end with us. As we move out of our current roles, God will place more people to continue the story, long after we are gone.
Thanks be to God!