John 1: 29-42
Today we are going to the land of Loch Lomond as we think about faithful people, special family members, and a nation that eventually became Presbyterian thanks to John Knox. One man, Rupert Besley, gave this humorous tourist tip about how to pronounce the Scottish “ch” sound. He writes: “Place one half-stick of freshly cut celery (4 ½ inches long) in the mouth at a right angle to the tongue and stand well back from those [with whom you wish to converse.] In summer months, rhubarb may be used instead.” [Scotland for Beginners, Moffat, Scotland, Lochar Publishing, 1990, p.7] If I did that for my sermon, this first row would become a splash area! Now you have your Scottish lesson for today! Next, a story:
A country preacher brought his congregation to a nearby river to be baptized and saved. As they gathered at the river, a man they didn’t know walked up; he’d been swimming but asked if he could join the group. The preacher welcomed him and said in a loud voice: “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?” “Yes, I am!” the man declared. So the preacher took him, immersed him, and then brought him back up, dripping wet. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked him. “No,” declared the man uncertainly. The preacher pushed his head under the water again and held him down a little longer. “Now brother, have you found Jesus?” Again the man said “No!” A third time the preacher pushed his head under the water and held him under for 10 seconds. Up he came. “NOW have you found Jesus?” the preacher thundered. “No!” the man said. “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Finding Jesus has been something that our forebears did all the way back to Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is something that often happens by word of mouth, as happened in our text today, or like hungry people telling others where to find food. Inexplicably, in 1983 when I was living in Arkansas, the federal government allotted huge quantities of American Cheese to be sent to local counties for distribution to hungry people. Cheese! In our county, our Ministerial Association did not advertise the cheese, but we set up a distribution site at a local church. Within a week, the huge allotment of cheese was gone. D.T. Niles called evangelism when “One beggar tells another where to find bread.” But in 1983, it was one hungry person telling another where to find cheese! Seventy-four years ago, the Rev. Peter Marshall, who I mentioned in the opening words of your bulletin, wrote a sermon called “Mr. Jones, Meet the Master.” In it he said this:
The Church rests its unshakeable conviction that fellowship …with the living Lord is possible….The Gospel writers say that at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, he chose 12 men ….’that they might be with him.’ They were very ordinary men. By our standards of judgment, not a single one of them would been considered disciple material. Tax collectors; fisherman, peasants, simple folk, unlettered for the most part with no special qualification. But as Christ chose them he was seeing, not so much what they were, as what they were to become. [He called them, ministered, died, and rose from the dead, making many post resurrection appearances so people to this day may find him who seek him, even if they live after him.]
If this fellowship with the risen Lord, which the apostles experienced, is also available to us, how may we go about finding it? …Do we really want to find him? There is a glorious promise given in the days of old that has not yet faded from the written record: “If with all your hearts ye truly seek me, ye shall surely find me.”
[New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1949, p. 137]
So many people are searching these days. Some call themselves “spiritual.” How can Christians offer Jesus to them? A walk through a bookstore (which gets hard to find these days) shows shelves of books under headings like “Inspirational” or “Religion” or “Self Help.” That’s not all bad. People often search for things that bring peace to their soul. What is the church doing to connect people to the Master?” Mainline churches can keep and gain vitality when they offer the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in an understandable way. Newer congregations that meet in unconventional places reach others who perhaps never have been “churched,” and some come with trepidation. With the rise in popularity of escape rooms, one person this week posted a cartoon, saying, “The Latest in terrifying Escape Rooms: visiting a new church!
In the mid 1990s, the number of songs in the genre “Christian Pop Music” soared. It is now fourth in the list of popular genres with Talk/News radio being number one! But on the dedicated Christian stations, people can find what suits them—country, rock, even chant. So music is one way people can find Jesus! In England in the times of John and Charles Wesley, holding Bible studies and prayer meetings in people’s homes reached many people hungry to know Christ than what they found in the high liturgy of the day at the Church of England. So the Methodist Church was born, having one spiritual beggar telling another where to find bread! You might have heard the hymn “Break Thou the Bread of Life” and thought it described communion. But it was meant to describe the Word of God being shared as Jesus shared it beside the Sea. In our own day, new congregations are taking root in the Presbyterian denomination, not as much through the old ways of wanting a multipurpose building at first, but groups instead are gathering for Bible studies in parks, in gyms, in schools, and even in bars. They call it, “a new way of doing church,” and some have no plans to own their own building. Ever since the middle ages, the church has been reformed and always reforming if it wants to help others know Jesus and make him known. I believe that people are helped by meeting Him. But how do we invite others to meet him? Listen to what happened in today’s text.
John the Baptist had d introduce people to Jesus in a unique way. He called Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And with those words, John said a mouthful. Perhaps John’s words reminded people of the Passover, of the unblemished lamb, the sacrifice, and forgiveness. John tried to say to people who followed him: “No! I’m not the one! This is the one!” And he pointed to Jesus. Often I invite people to our church, but I hope you might invite people to our church too! Studies have shown that when a preacher invites someone to church, 10% will try it; but if you invite someone to church, 90% will try it! So here I am, spending my life inviting others to know Jesus, when you might be more effective at it! Since Jesus physically died on the cross, meeting Jesus happens now in spiritual ways; sometimes as we hear our Bibles sometimes as the Bible is preached, sometimes it’s in the sharing of the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, in prayers, in times of silence and even on weekend retreats, summer camps, or mission trips. Churches try to foster possibilities for meeting Jesus, and teaching members how to invite others to know him. I want people to try this church, or another church, as a pathway to meeting Jesus. Then as we open our Bibles, I can say to them with authenticity: “Meet the Master.” “Meet the Lamb of God.” “Meet the Savior.”
In verses 41 and 42 of John chapter 1, Andrew—the patron Saint of Scotland—does three things to introduce his brother Simon (who Jesus later called Peter) to Jesus:
-First, he finds Simon.
-Second, he tells him, “We have found the Messiah!”
-And third, he brings his brother to Jesus.
Can you imagine how many more people would know Jesus if we followed those three steps? Talk to people who seem to be searching; tell them in your own way that you know a Savior who can help when they are lost and who loves them unconditionally. Then bring them to church to hear that message.
Sometimes we think of Jesus as far away; we can infer that from our prayers to a “Heavenly Father” that makes God seem to be almost unreachable above the clouds. Also, our hymns have phrases like: [On a Hill Far Away; “Along the Dusty Roads of Galilee; High on Heaven’s Throne.”] Yet all along the Spirit of the living Lord is right beside us. He is with us. We are not alone. Peter Marshall said Mr. Jones could meet the Master; and you can too! People in Jesus’ day wanted to see God. And to those inquiries Jesus said in John 14: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And he said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20] We can thank John Calvin and his Christian school in Geneva for deepening John Knox’s love for and understanding of Jesus. We can thank John and Charles Wesley for helping people in England grow closer to Jesus. And we can thank Felix Mendelsohn’s for reminding us of a message we find in Jeremiah 29: in his Oratorio called “Elijah,” those moving words are sung: “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you shall surely find me.”
Search for the Lord truly, and truly, you shall find the Lord.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 19, 2020