Some have no trouble finding center stage and camping out there. Others act delusionally invincible. So, do I admire, or am I to be threatened by John the Baptist? Praise, appreciation for what you do, compliments for a sermon is pretty heady stuff. John, though, runs off stage, holding up his unworthiness for all to see. Some in the region think he’s Elijah or even Messiah. If he’s shrinking and unworthy, why would the Temple’s elite dispatch agents to check him out? As Jesus strolls by one day, John notes, “Behold, Lamb of God, who takes sins away – and not just yours, but the whole world’s. God told me I’d see the spirit descend on Messiah. Jesus is God’s Son all right.” We call one who points out Jesus – a witness. That’s who John now is.
Another day John’s disciples ask, “Who’s that?” He says, “Look, the Lamb of God!” They look; they leave John; and go join Jesus’ church. You can understand if John’s having a hard time with all this. I would. I hate to lose members. But John gladly and obediently accepts his lesser, supporting role.
But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? It’s not about us – our status or our roles. It’s not about worship space that screams, “Sacred,” nor music (or lack of music, in deference to our 8 o’clockers), nor worship style or warm hospitality. We are like John, witnesses – so get out of the way and point others to Jesus.
How does our role shape up? We have to do more than sit here, listen to uplifting stories, feel better, and then go home as we came. We come to meet God and to be transformed into witnesses. We’ve asked, “Who’s that?” And someone told us, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – yours included.” Maybe the Lamb has tapped you on your shoulder, some sort of “wake-up” call, “Hello, are you listening?” Or he’s maybe in a sunset, or in a person who loves and listens to you. Maybe you realize you’re forgiven when you are wrong, and you in turn, you are more forgiving of others. Maybe you are overwhelmed with a love too large and great to explain, or in a flash you realize you know beyond what you already know, inviting you to step into a larger world. These are Epiphanies – moments when God shows up. Go home and think about this: “Where does God come into my life – to awaken, forgive, heal and restore me these days?” He is, you know. If we are alert, we keep meeting Jesus again for the first time, as Marcus Borg says. In other words, we miss Jesus’ presence when we take him for granted.
How many of you are witnesses to Jesus? Hands? No don’t raise them, because you are. What if someone asks you, “Who’s that?” – meaning, “Tell me about your Jesus.” Would your palms sweat – your heart race, your brain stop? Here’s what not to do – be caught speechless. Think: “When do I realize Jesus could be prodding me – heals, forgives, and loves me.” Tell those stories of how Jesus meets you again over and over – and what that means if you are asked. That’s the only witness of Jesus we have. And if no one asks, just love others the way Jesus loves you. Sometimes they need to see what divine love looks like in us, and later they may ask.
Respect others. Some Christians argue, want to prove they are right, judge someone. Don’t – just listen. Give the other your full attention. Admittedly that sometimes is hard. But do it. Jesus turns and looks at those following him. He doesn’t whip out his Bible, or tell them where they’ll go if they don’t straighten up, or have a prayer with them. He simply says: “What are you looking for?” He beholds them, gazes upon them with eyes of love. He gives them his full attention and draws out their deepest questions. Witnesses of Jesus don’t bore people with their agendas. We listen for their longings and desires. That’s where Jesus will meet them.
“Where are you staying?” That doesn’t sound like a great question for Messiah. They’re not thinking the “Hilton.” They want to abide with him – learn what’s up with Jesus. He invites them to come and see. He doesn’t force or overwhelm. He leaves it to us, whether we go see, or stay put. Whatever these disciples see, they stay – until they leave and go tell their stories of finding Jesus, or maybe Jesus finding them. They can’t help themselves. They now are excited witnesses, passionately pointing others to Jesus. And slowly, one by one, a movement starts. We are here today – because witnesses keep the telling the story and pointing us to see how Jesus shows up.
Today we come to the end of our 175th Anniversary Celebration. I can’t give you numbers, but I bet that at the turn of the Twentieth Century, the percentage of people in Milwaukee who were members of St. Paul’s was much higher than now. Do you understand what that means? It means we have an extraordinary opportunity. We have a lot of pointing to do, loving others and listening, asking, “What are you seeking?” And then we can share our stories. We can because we are passionate about God-in-Jesus. We see and know how we are beloved. Can you tell others how God’s love came upon you? Sure we can. Do you think it’s silly to point to Jesus? May I remind you, you probably have friends who put fake cheese wedges on their heads each Sunday in the fall – in public no less. Are you kidding? We can do this.
If we can’t put Jesus ahead of all else, then we’re spinning our wheels and wasting time. I don’t think we want to do that, do we? We are witnesses, like John. My mother used to say, “It’s not polite to point.” This time I think she’s wrong. It’s what God calls us to do.