Sermons That Work

This Is One of Several Reports…, Epiphany 2 (A) – 1999

January 17, 1999


This is one of several reports of the testimony of John Baptizer about the true role of Jesus Christ. John Baptizer (who you may know of as John the Baptist) has been given the task of preparing the way for the Messiah. It has been revealed to him that he would know his task was finished when he saw certain signs. He has now seen those signs. Accordingly, he declares that the Messiah has come: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

With this testimony, John Baptizer completes his assigned mission. He declares, with emphasis and finality, that he, John, is not the Messiah. Rather, the man to whom he is pointing, the man on whom he saw the spirit descend, Jesus of Nazareth, is the promised Lamb of God. John Baptizer is the last of the prophets. He has proclaimed the message of God in the face of stubborn resistance, and he’s been emphatic about it. Along the way, he has gathered a significant following. Disciples have attached themselves to him, and now he must tell them to attach themselves to someone else. From now on, John must, in his words, decrease. And Jesus, God’s Messiah, must increase. It would appear that he has worked himself out of a job.

Several of John’s disciples follow Jesus immediately. A young fisherman named Andrew only had to be told once. His actions during his early experience of Jesus may be instructive for us as we try to follow Jesus in our time. As suggested by John Baptizer, Andrew was quick to make himself available to Jesus and to commit himself to follow Jesus. Almost simultaneously, he found someone else and brought that person to Jesus as well.

The story of the beginning of Andrew’s life with Jesus is introduced with the pointed question, “What do you seek?” That same question is asked today of persons seeking admission to religious communities, “What do you seek? The words of the answer will vary from one person to another, but all the answers amount to pretty much the same thing. In a world on the verge of being devoured by sin, who is not seeking relief from the power of that sin? Who would not look for relief from almost any source? Who does not want salvation, with all their heart?

We seek Jesus because we do not wish to be overcome by sin and death. But there’s more to it than that. We seek Jesus because we want to be the persons God created us to be. The only way we will ever approach that goal is by, and through, the Grace of God. For Christians, the Grace of God is most perfectly embodied in Jesus Christ. In the work and person of Jesus Christ, in the sacrificial love of the suffering servant of God, we begin to grasp the Grace of God as real and present for our lives.

As the ultimate expression of God’s Grace, Jesus takes our sin and the sin of the whole world, and destroys its power over us in one dynamic act of unreciprocated love, in his sacrifice of himself, on our behalf, on the cross.

When we consider the magnitude of what God is offering through the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, it is hard not to wonder why the world is not beating our doors down. Here is life at its fullest. Here is genuine freedom. Here is genuine peace. Here is the one means of living in the world without being ground up by the suffering and evil that living in the world involves. Here is, in short, Salvation.

It is that very peace, that very freedom, that we seek from Jesus. It is that very peace, that very freedom, that we receive in great abundance. To the extent that we allow grace to fill our lives, we receive and experience God’s peace and freedom. By God’s grace, we commit our lives to Jesus. Just as Andrew and the other disciples of John attached themselves to the Messiah, so do we. Here is the salvation without which we cannot live, and here is its only true source.

But that priceless salvation is not limited to any one person or group of persons. Salvation is for everyone. Salvation is for every person, in every place, in every time. So, the business of following Jesus includes another important step. That step is displayed without fanfare, fuss or feathers by Andrew.

It appears that Andrew wasted no time. He had known Jesus for less than a day when he went to his brother Simon Peter and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”. There’s nothing fancy in that; simply a straight-forward statement of faith. It was a statement of faith that for Andrew was an uncomplicated, but powerfully dynamic, fact.

We don’t know how many other people Andrew brought to salvation. But the record on that first one is crystal clear. Simon Peter became, by God’s grace, one of the dynamos that powered the early church. This final step in following Jesus is not one that we may safely neglect.

Salvation is not just for us; it must be spread around. It must be made available, readily available, to everyone. It is critically important for us to understand this one fact: the freedom and peace we find in following Jesus will never be truly complete for us, until it has been made available to everyone. So long as one person lives under the oppression of sin, so long as one person is excluded, for whatever reason, from the salvation of God in Jesus Christ, our joy, our freedom, our peace, is diminished by just that much. Truly following Jesus, truly staying with him, involves actively seeking others and bringing them to him.

We have looked for Jesus. We have sought him out. By God’s grace, we have found him and by that same grace, we stay with him. We are now charged with taking the next step in the faithful service of our Lord. As children to whom God’s covenant has been opened by Jesus, as children who have committed ourselves to Jesus, we are called to bring others–as many others as we can find–into the Gospel covenant. It’s called Evangelism.

In living out our Evangelism, it will be helpful for us to remember that we are all here by invitation. Each one of us is in the church because someone else moved us, one way or another, to be here. Granted, many of us were first moved to be here by our parents, but as many more were not. Many of us are here because of friends who cared enough about us to invite us to a worship service. Many of us are here because we responded to an invitation and found ourselves at home. We were strangers until we were invited to give up being strangers; until we were invited into the community of the baptized. At this very moment, there are a great many others who are strangers. These people will remain strangers, until one of us finds them and invites them in.

St. Andrew is what we might call a “popular” saint. He is the Patron Saint of Scotland and of countless parish churches throughout the Episcopal Church. That’s surprising because we know very little about the man. We only know one thing about him for certain, but that one thing raises him to sainthood. We know that when Andrew was called to follow Jesus, he turned aside just long enough to bring one other person along. Somehow, that would seem to be enough. Somehow the act of bringing one other person to the Good News of Jesus Christ and into the Community of the baptized, would be as high an honor as any Christian could crave.

We who have sought out the Christ, we who by God’s grace have found and been found by Jesus Christ, are called to live with him. We are also charged with the important next step of inviting others into this community, and into the freedom that is the faithful service of our Lord.

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