Preparing for Something New: A Name

This is the second Sunday of epiphany. Let’s remember the path we follow with our biblical story. First the wise men traveled from the East to see the small infant in his mother’s arms. Their lives were changed and they returned home on a new path. Last week John the Baptist met Jesus when he requested baptism. He was anointed for ministry when the dove of peace and justice descended from heaven. This week, we read John’s version of the baptism then Jesus attracts some followers. 

John 1:29-42
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’*
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).
Bless the hearing of these words O God. That what is ordinary might transform in your presence to something extraordinary. Something that might just change our lives and inspire us to change the world. Amen.
America met Rob Ford this past year. Do you remember Toronto’s headline-making mayor? He burst onto the public media scene, quickly becoming comedic obsession for the writers at SNL and the Daily Show as reports about his illegal behaviors while mayor mounted. Illicit engagements with women, then binging on mass amounts of alcohol, then drug use. Society watched as this man’s reputation fell to shambles. I wonder if our media-frenzied attention to this man’s downfall, like with other celebrities caught in public scandal, mimics the crowd’s fascination with battle and death at the ancient Roman Coliseum. But in the case of Ford, unlike a slain gladiator, Ford tried to make amends before the end of the year in the presence of the pastor and congregation at West Toronto Church of God. Standing at the front of the church, he resigned to stop smoking crack and consuming alcohol. In fact he named this confession for us. It was his “come to Jesus moment!” 
Well known atheist and satyr reporter Bill Mahr had this to say in response,
Jesus must admit that anytime anybody ever comes to him is after they’ve totally screwed up. [The audience laughs.] To save time, Jesus must change his message to, “Hi this is Jesus, if you were caught smoking crack press one, drunk driving, press two, sexual harassment three. For all those scandals please stay on the line.” 
Well, as you can imagine, the audience fell into uproarious laughter. And though it’s fairly irreverent, it is funny. Laughing is fine. But Mahr misses a crucial point. Arguably, he misses the point of the entire Gospel with this joke. We do not see anywhere in scripture Jesus redirecting an addict or a slut or a depressed person to voice mail, or whatever the ancient equivalent. In fact, Mahr had the first part of his joke absolutely right. We do all royally mess up, and when we realize our need for confession, we have our own come-to-Jesus-moments. Don’t we? We could easily remain here the rest of the day if we were all going to share our “Come to Jesus Moments.” Fortunately, the Gospel is so much than calling in to Jesus all of our misdemeanors. We come to Jesus for reasons in addition to our need for forgiveness. 
The wise men traveled from the Orient to see a king, and because their astrology signs were not aligned correctly due to the mysterious super-bright star in the West. John the Baptist was timid about his initial encounter with Jesus, not because of his sin, but due to feelings of unworthiness. He was humbled by Jesus’ request for baptism. In our story today, we see people already transfixed by this street walking, water dripping, preaching prophet who seemed to move about in the city wherever he pleased, saying whatever came to mind. Just one day after his baptism, according to John here, John the Baptist sees Jesus walking down the road and claims, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God!” And it was enough to spark an entirely new social movement, a revolution.
For the five years that I lived in Los Angeles, I never saw a celebrity. I can’t believe it. In fact, I’m convinced now that I probably did see at least one and just didn’t recognize them without all the glam. On the other hand, a friend of mine frequented a tucked-away and delicious Mexican eatery along the Pacific Coast Highway where he saw Minnie Driver, Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen and other A-listers pull in for a salty Margarita. My friend is too unassuming to point a finger as he yells out “Look! Paris Hilton!” “Look! Beyonce and Jay Z!” 
At which point every non-celebrity would turn to look. That’s what we do. We look! We look at these mega-rich characters as if they are paragons of wealth and success and fame. Sure, as Christians we know there is more to life than oversized designer handbags and privet jets and exclusive golf club memberships. But when we see it in person, the wealth intimidates us as our lustful gazes continue. Is it because we hope these icons will show us the way to our own success? Is it that they manifest the American Dream--showing up with just $100 in their pocket and now $50,000,000 later they’re on top of the world? Maybe, but I think we look to celebrities for deeper reasons. We long for Beyonce to end racism for good. We expect Leonardo DiCaprio to star in a movie that will expose the evils corporate wealth to end corporate rule. We feel betrayed when our political candidate votes array from campaign propaganda. We are frustrated when yet another financial giant is caught in fraud. We are angry when racism persists. 
I wonder what the first-century Jewish people were hoping for when they obeyed John’s cry and followed his pointing finger to see the Lamb of God walking down the street. 
You see, as the ancient Jewish people needed saving. They did not have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. They lived in subservience to the empire, careful not to interrupt the movement of political officials. They waited on their Messiah to rescuing them. The Messiah that was predicted to them by the prophets of the Old Testament. And if they were going to conquer Rome, combat the corporate giants if you will, they knew they needed a strong warrior. One who would rescue them by force and defiance. 
If whatever name John the Baptist called out to highlight Jesus on the road that day, “Lamb of God” is not what the Israelites had in mind.
A lamb is not at the top of the food chain.
A lamb does not snarl at its predators.
A lamb does not charge forth with aggression and terror.
A lamb does not throw spears at men in armor.
A lamb does not threaten to overpower the king.
No, the Israelites were waiting on the “Lion of Judah!”
They were waiting on God as the sword that symbolized military rule like in the book of Hosea.
They were waiting on the next monarchy rule after Kings David and Solomon.
They were waiting to re-establish their own empire and dominion.
Lamb of God? 
The first nickname given to the Messiah, reflects a docile, baby animal. 
What could this mean? Perhaps this name points to the development of the world’s first grassroots movement. We meet a person who invites us to ‘Come to Jesus’ moments. Jesus, the Lamb of God, does not say, “If you’re sick with cancer press 1. If you’ve lost your job press 2. If your divorce causes sadness press 3. No, when we follow John’s voice and look to the Lamb of God, we hear words that transform us. 
Jesus says, “Come and See.” You do not need to abolish sin or darkness or spitefulnes from your life to come to Jesus. Nor do you need to be rich and residing in a mansion in Malibu. You do not even need to pass a drug screening. “Come and see,” Jesus says. We do not need to be dressed up or well kemp. We do not need to be skinny or not afraid. We do not need to happy or popular, healthy or strong. We need only to look and hear the invitation, “Come and see.” 
To Andrew and his friend Jesus says, “Come and see what life is really all about.” And so they went.
The men spent the entire afternoon with this Lamb figure. I suspect they asked questions and conversed throughout the evening while munching on hummus and figs. So transfixed were they by this new celebrity that the next day, they brought Simon along with them. And oh wow did he ever have a “come to Jesus” moment. The Lamb of God boldly said to Simon, “You are to be called Cephas.” Scripture tells us it means Peter or rock. The Lamb of God just changed the man’s name. No longer is Peter known as “Simon, son of John,” but now he is “Peter the Rock,” the foundation on which the Jewish followers who look to Jesus will birth a new religious movement.  
Are you catching how all of this relates? These “Preparing for Something New” sermons? Each encounter with Jesus sparks something new. So I say to you this morning Lynnhurst, “Come and see! Come and see what happens when we follow Jesus.” Where will we go? 
In first-century Palestine Jesus went to homes of sinners and saints alike. He spoke with outcasts, and he touched bleeding women. Jesus did not just push boundaries with his name Lamb of God, he turned the entire city of Jerusalem on its head.
Where is Jesus going today? Are we willing to follow this Lamb of God? This non-militant, peace-mongering, hippie? I wonder if Jesus would be in our churches today. I definitely think he would take us all to a Beyonce concert. I have no doubt he sits with us at our Al-anon and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. How about in the nursing homes with those who are neglected or abused? “Come and see,” he says. I think Jesus might buy a house in a trailer park that the city wants to condemn. Or maybe he is still on the move, like in the Bible, depending on us to welcome him into our homes. 
When we “come to Jesus” it stops being about us. We might even get a new name. (I wish we were like the Catholics and offered baptism names. There is real power in the idea of claiming a new identity as we remember our baptism, like we spoke of last week. But I digress.) When we come and see Jesus, the simple patterns of our life stop repeating themselves. Our identity reshapes itself into a people who follow the Lamb of God.  
Wether one commits to following the star and finding a different path home, or seeing a dove that brings forgiveness, when we commit to following the Lamb, we embrace something new. New directions bring new decisions and dimensions to ministry. Are we prepared for this, ready to push against the status quo. Are we ready to turn our community on its head in the name of Jesus, Lamb of God? Friends, we must band together to continue in our fight for justice, for those who are still searching for a lion or a gun or their next hit of heroine. There is no right or wrong way to “come to Jesus.” We must only simply come. “Come and see,” says the Lamb of God. Amen.

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