“Can I help you find anything?” That’s the phrase we hear in just about any retail market from grocery stores to car lots. Most of us want to hear that in some way, even though we hate answering the question. Usually I say, “No, thanks. Just looking.” Of course there are some stores that you feel you need a flare gun in order to get some kind of service. I’ll never forget being in a certain large store with a friend looking for fabric dye. After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching in the obvious places he walked to the center of several aisles and shouted, “FABRIC DYE! WHERE IS IT?” My wife and I instinctively walked in opposite directions away from him and later rejoined.
Sometimes it seems that our world is full of loud voices competing for their own interests. Sometimes the church becomes caught in the crossfire between joining the shouting match and feeling like we’ve lost our voice. The proclamation of John certainly starts with a shout. “Look, the Lamb of God – there he is!”
Jesus is a rock star. Even the local celebrity worships him, or at least sends him his spare disciples. Come to think of it, this passage raises as many questions as it answers. Why doesn’t John follow Jesus? Why is Jesus the Lamb of God, and how does he take away sin? For that matter, how is it that a story written to a mix of Hellenized Jews and non-Jewish people about a failed Jewish leader supposed to offer hope? For that matter, how could Jesus be both the sacrificial offering and the anointed leader at the same time?
Well, with John we can only assume that he loves his job, and his job is to call for repentance and point to Jesus. Maybe he knew that there could be conflict between followers. Maybe he expected to get arrested. Who knows. Some believe that Jesus was John’s disciple and that after John’s arrest the way was clear for Jesus to proclaim repentance and citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
Whatever the case may be – John knew who Jesus was, and he knew why Jesus was here. Jesus was “the Lamb of God, here to take away the sin of the world.” Of course the lamb’s blood identified the people of Israel before the exodus from Egypt so that death would pass them by. Even so, lambs weren’t sin offerings. They were faith offerings. Offering a lamb inconvenienced people in a way that made them more reliant on God.
One commentary states that the verb used for “take away” is more accurately translated “lifts up”. In the midst of war and death and abuses like human trafficking, we might ask if sin has ever been taken away. Perhaps Jesus lifts up sin in a way that helps us to see the part we play. Perhaps, like the story of Moses lifting a bronze serpent on a pole to heal those who have been bitten, Jesus lifts up our sin so that we can be healed. He raises our awareness of the needs and limitations that we seek to deny. He invites us to join in what he is doing, and he helps us understand who and what we are truly about.
John proclaims Jesus as the Lamb of God. Two of his disciples go check it out, and Jesus says, “Can I help you find something?” OK, so our text says, “What are you looking for?” and the context of the original text is something more like, “What are you seeking?”
What if that were the way we approached worship? What if we came to worship as individuals seeking the Messiah – the anointed, God’s chosen One? What if we, as the Body of Christ, approached the community around us with that sincere question, “What are you seeking?”
What if we put our energy behind truly understanding the needs around us - not just issues of poverty and basic social assistance, not in denial of these needs either, but really finding a way for people to express spiritual hunger and to feel the holy space between giving and receiving? It would be interesting to see what we could get in response to the question, “What are you seeking?”
Of course, those who drive for Meals on Wheels and partner with CUPS in the basket ministry can tell you that they know what the holy space between giving and receiving feels like. But every member cannot do every task. Even so, many of you have contributed years of faithful service, leaving a legacy for generations to come. As we look to the future – as we seek to redefine our mission again and again as followers of God’s chosen One – we must not forget that we are chosen, too.
Throughout the scripture readings today there is an overwhelming proclamation that God is active and present in all things, and that we are responsible to tell people about it. So, like the disciples, we look for a teacher. Like the disciples we are invited, for a time, to stay with the One who offers forgiveness, hope, and wholeness. Like the disciples, and the Psalmist, and the Prophet Isaiah we have to respond by telling people about our experience of God!
And then comes the best part. Just as Jesus named Peter “Cephas,” which means “rock,”because he will become the building block for the church, so Jesus names the best part of you in preparation for the way you will proclaim goodness and mercy and hope. What name will you hear when he calls you, I wonder?
That may sound intimidating, but it is really more like being rapt in a never ending melody – even though our part will last only a short span. Of course this makes me think of Ed Underwood, and his passing this week makes us all sad. You may not have known that he wrote a song about the faith that saw him through his life and even now assures us that we’re not finished enduring his delicious wit.
One stanza speaks of Jesus this way:
“He’s the hand that firmly guides me down the rocky road of life. He’s the voice that calls me to him when I stray. He’s the candle burning brightly on a cold and lonely night. He’s the promise in the sunrise every day.”
Jesus is the Lamb of God who lifts the sin of the world for all to see. He is the teacher who asks us to name what we are seeking. He is the chosen One who names the best part of our souls, claims us as God’s own, and sends us out to proclaim the goodness of God. And to that end may we commit our souls – even here, even now. Amen.