This is the first draft of the Sunday January 16 sermon at Greenacres Uniting Church. It is written in the midst of the Queensland floods of 2011. The set Gospel for the day is John 1:29-42. The First Impressions commentary on this text can be found here.
29 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! 30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.” 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?’ 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).
Does the Lamb of God shine a light on your world?
We can be defined by the tragedy of our world. It’s inevitable that our life experience leaves its marks on us. My son will always feel differently about money from his grandparents who grew up in the Depression, and from me, who grew up in the Depression’s fading shadow.
One of my friends loved school. My school days were much less happy; I was always on the outside.
At the age my Dad was fighting the Japanese in Borneo, I had a colleague from Borneo, a girlfriend from China, and mates from Malaysia and Vietnam.
The world leaves its mark on us. But does the world, and all its savagery, have the last word? How do we see the world? Do we let the Lamb of God shine a light on our world, or will the world and its tragedy define us, and darken our light?
At the age I am now, my Dad and Mum were hosting Japanese exchange students. Dad was taking groups of students on tours around South Australia during the school holidays. Yet thirty years on from there, some of his old fellow soldiers bear more than scars, and hold an abiding hatred for the Japanese. The savagery of life has defined them, and limited some of the joy of life they might otherwise have know.
Sometimes we bear marks and scars from life, and sometimes it rules us.
In the Queensland floods, it is reported that one Pastor Nalliah in Melbourne, says we are seeing a God who is punishing us. God is angry at Mr Rudd, the Foreign Minister for being critical of Israel. In retaliation, God is drowning the innocent men and women and children of Queensland, which is the home state of Foreign Minister Rudd. It is that same God, according to Pastor Nalliah who “said bushfires that killed scores of people in Victoria were a result of that state's decriminalisation of abortion.”
One of my Face Book friends, distressed by the floods, said God is working in mysterious ways.
I asked, “Is it God?”
“Good question,” she replied, “But ultimately He's in control.”
I wondered, “If he’s in control, why does he let it happen?” As you may have read, a former pastor and his wife were swept away from their children, and drowned. A neighbour said God had been looking after the children. Really? What about the parents? How does letting the parents die equal looking after the children?
Of course, at one level, these are not fair questions, because I am repeating the words of shocked and traumatised people, soon after the event. They’re struggling to make sense of, and to survive, what has happened. It’s easy for me to ask the hard questions from my comfortable study.
But like all people, we and they need to keep on going in life, making sense of it, coping with it and, hopefully, thriving. How do we manage this? How do we not lose our trust in God when we face the fact that, apparently, God is not able to stop the floods? And that on a world "standard", perhaps our Australian floods are not so large, either!
The Christian faith can be claimed by the best and worst of Ways in all of this.
Pastor Nalliah imagines a harsh God of punishment. This God somehow has not heard of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the World. His God seems not to be the Christian God, but seems to be an all powerful tyrant who will smack us down if we don’t do what he wants. And too bad about the collateral damage. God is scared of Mr Rudd, it seems, and picks on little children in Queensland instead.
My Facebook friend for whom, incidentally, I have the greatest admiration, is of Christ. She puts her faith in the notion that somehow God is still God. For her, the Lamb of God does in some way, take away the sin of the World. All the savagery and despair and evil, all the stuff of the world that is not of God, is in some way dealt with by Lamb of God. In the end, whatever differences we have, I agree with her. Not as a fully done deal, not in a way that justifies what is evil, some kind of simple easy answer. Their are no easy answers. And the more I learn, the more questions I have. But in the end, when all is done- Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But how can we know that? How can that scientifically unprovable faith be anything more than whistling in the dark? How do we know we are not simply making it up because we can’t cope with life? How is it that the old soldier who snarled at my Asian girlfriend because he hated the Japanese, is actually not being more realistic than me, the minister who believes in a forgiving and healing God?
John is a Gospel that shows us the way. It does not give us a comfortable formula that is better than the pre Christian formula of Pastor Nalliah. It does not give us a set of beliefs. It bears witness to a Way of living, and all I can do is bear witness to that Way. We live the Way, and it seems the Way helps us overcome the savagery of the world. The Way helps us become wounded healers. Sometimes we are badly wounded healers, but healers nonetheless, not victims defined by our suffering. It is in our living that we see the sin of the world being taken away.
The witness begins when the disciples say to Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
My friend Bill calls this a “wink to the reader,” or as we would say in Australia, “Geddit?” It’s a pun, a double meaning. Where are you staying is, in the Greek, where are you abiding, or remaining. It’s the same word Jesus uses when he says later in the Gospel, Abide in me. Geddit?
And Jesus said come and see and they came and saw where he abided, and beside him they abided.
What this is NOT saying is “Here is a set of facts and figures and theories to believe and all the problems of the world will be explained.”
It is saying something more like, “Spend the day with Jesus. Abide in him.” And we see that they abided, and discovered something, and went and told their friends. The friends responded not with some signing off of a contract or set of beliefs, but by coming and abiding, even though they had doubts.
Let me bear witness to the light that has come into my world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world:
I came to God, and to the church, looking for a formula, for answers. And to be honest, after 35 years I have no formula and still have no answers to some of the most difficult questions of our existence. But I have found a Way to live.
Living the Jesus Way has set me free from being defined by what has happened to me. It’s slow. It’s sometimes been very painful. I still get flooded out by the pressures of life, sometimes. But slowly, gently, persistently, I find that I am being changed. The hate from the past, the trauma from the past, and the regrets from the past do not rule me as they once did.
Abide in Christ. Behold he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I commend him to you.
Andrew Prior Jan 2011
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