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Sunday January 17, 1999
John 1:29 - 42

Focus Text: "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)." [1:42]

Discovery Series
I. Discovering Who We Are

Most of us have had our refrigerators decorated with children's drawings.  The really wonderful ones are the family pictures where the sun is shining, mom and dad are twice as big as the house and the family dog "Rover" has a great big smile on his face. Sometimes, when our children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews get on a roll, we just might wind up with enough drawings to paper our entire home!  When there is an appreciative audience, children love to draw and the only limits on their creative energy is their imagination.

Another thing about children's drawings is that they can be very powerful statements about a child's identity. I discovered just how powerful some years ago as a part of a team that worked with families in an alcoholism treatment center. A social worker asked a little boy  to draw a picture of his family. The boy's father was half way through a 30 day residential treatment program. In the lad's picture, it was raining.  Mom was taller than the house and dad was shorter than both mom and the house.  A sister was holding mom's hand.  There were no smiles on the faces.  And it seemed the boy was missing from the picture.

The social worker said, "This is a very nice picture Eric.  I see mom and dad and sister, but I don't see you.  Why isn't Eric in the picture?"

The boy pointed to a small black scribble in the corner of the drawing and said, "There I am!"

All of us (the social worker, the psychologist and myself) became misty eyed when Eric spoke those words. The issue of identity for this child will be a life long struggle. Can you imagine feeling like a small black scribble in the wider picture of your life?

The Struggle of Identity

As a matter of fact, many of us can relate.   Our struggle may not be quite so horrendous as that young lad's, but no one escapes the inner question; "Who am I -- really?"  A parishioner who is retiring early next year commented, "Here I am getting ready to retire and I still don't really know what I want to be when I grow up!"  Actually, his question is driven by the age old, "Who am I?"  It's more about who we are than it is what we want to be.

Flip through a Life Magazine from the mid-fifties and check out the ads for groceries, or washing machines and look at the pictures of the women.  Go to the video store and rent an episode of "Father Knows Best" or "The Brady Bunch". The issue of personal identity has changed at least as radically as has the subject of data processing.

Our scripture this morning is a very strong statement about identity.  It is quite clear on the identity of Jesus -- and if we will look closely -- the message of the text contains a persuasive clue about our personal identity. It can point us to an essential factor is discovering who we are.

The Identity of Jesus

The heart of John's passage is an amazing declaration about the person of Jesus. This is not just another religious "wannabe" who has come upon the scene. John the Baptist, who has turned religious Jerusalem on its ear and rattled Herod's household with his preaching, makes an assertion that compels a response.

Think about it.  John says, "This is the Son of God."  If John is not seriously mistaken and the gospel of John is not involved in some serious fiction, then the identity of Jesus is absolutely germane to the issue of your identity and mine. Look closely once again at the things this passage says about Jesus.  He is:
   + The Lamb of God
   + The Son of God
    + The Messiah

The most amazing statement is, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  Here's how this impacts your identity -- and mine.  Sin is anything that keeps a person from becoming everything God designed them to be. Most of us think about sin in terms of breaking the ten commandments or violating all the laws of God.  And indeed, there is commandment and law breaking in sin -- but the heart of sin is that it keeps me from everything God made me to be. Jesus, according to John's statement, takes away that which keeps me from becoming everything God wants for my life. (Even if it's something I'd rather hang on to!)

How important is the identity of Jesus?   Martin Copenhaver tells about a conversation that challenged his view of Jesus.   "An early conversation with a feminist friend was a turning point. With passion and no small hint of exasperation, she said to me, 'If Jesus is just another wise teacher; I have no interest at all. I'll be d________ if I'm going to let another man tell me how to live my life!  If he is not the Son of God, God's Chosen One, the Messiah, then forget about it!' Her words expressed a conviction that began to overtake me.' " [Christian Century, 10/14/98, p,938]

If John the Baptist was even close to the truth, the identity of Jesus is very much a part of discovering who we are. It will be helpful to take a quick look at how Jesus' identity impacted those who encountered him in the gospel lesson.

The Identity Of John, Andrew, and Peter

If you could sit John the Baptist down and ask, "Who are you?" -- the answer would come quickly, "I am a herald.  I came to point to someone else. I was sent to prepare people for and point them to the Messiah." John's identity was grounded in who he was in relation to Jesus Christ and the clear purpose God had for his life. Because he was secure in his identity and relationship with Christ, he did not trip over his own ego.  When the time came, he had no difficulty letting his disciples make the choice to leave him and follow Jesus.

Andrew (brother of Peter) is one of John's disciples who left John to follow Jesus. The moment he heard John say Jesus was the "Lamb of God," he was gone. If you could interview Andrew about his identity, you would have to ask your questions on the run. AFter dicovering who Jesus was, Andrew was forever after on the go!  After spending a bit of time with Jesus, Andrew can't wait to find his brother Simon.  "Have I got news for you!" he said to his brother, then he brings his brother to Jesus.

Once Andrew came to know Jesus, he didn't sit around and ask a lot of introspective questions about who he was.  In relationship with Christ, he found new purpose. The only information we have about Andrew comes from John's gospel where all three instances that mention him have to do with Andrew bringing someone to Jesus.  [See note 1]

The last of the three people who encounter Jesus in this passage is Simon Son of John. One look at Simon and Jesus says, "You're a rock!"  Actually, "You will be called Cephas." Peter.

As it turns out later on in the story, Peter is a rock that will crumble before he becomes the solid rock that will guide the beginnings of the infant church.  Yet, one thing is certain.  Peter's identity is very much rooted in his relationship to Jesus.

The Identity of God's Ordinary People

It is clear that the lives of everyone in our text were shaped by their relationship to Christ. Does that hold true for us? Today?

Many people have the sense of "that was then -- this is now" when it comes to New Testament times and New Testament people. Face it. I'm no John the Baptist or Simon Peter and I live in a different world. What does all of this have to do with discovering who I am today?

There is a strong message in today's gospel reading that transcends time and place. We can discover ourselves in the presence of Christ. What are the first three things that come to mind when I ask the question, "Who are you?" Right off the top of your head.    "Who are you?"  [Pause for a moment of reflection]

Did you think of your name?  Your occupation?  Did you by any chance answer ,"I am a child of God!" As with John, Andrew and Peter, we will discover most fully who we are in relationship with the God who made us.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if young children like Eric could have a deep sense within that says, "I am a child of God."   Instead of, "I'm a little black scribble."  There is value and hope and comfort in knowing who I am in relationship to Christ.  When I see myself in light of my relationship of love with the One who made the universe, I gain courage to disregard the identity other people want to hang on me.

Eric didn't become a scribble by himself.   Eric will need love and care and help to get a new identity. I pray to God that someone will point Eric to the One who made him and that he will discover who he is in the arms of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

I pray that you too, by the grace of God, will discover who you are -- in Christ!

Notes On The Text

This passage is the only place in the bible where the phrase "Lamb of God" is used. Mark and Luke speak of the "Passover lamb" (Mk.14:12,  Luke 22:7)  In I Cor. 5:7, Paul uses the phrase, "...Christ our Paschal lamb has been sacrificed." In Rev. 5:12, a heavenly choir is singing, "...worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered."  It is interesting that out of 98 uses of the word lamb in the bible -- the book of Revelation has 27 of those uses referring to Christ.  For those who see no connection between the author of the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation -- the use of "Lamb of God"  in John 1:29 and 1:36 is at least interesting.

While the image of the sacrificial Lamb of God is not a mystery to post crucifixion followers of Christ, the image would have required exceptional insight for John the Baptist's disciples to grasp. It is of course, easy and logical to see the phrase as "ex-eventu" reading back into John's ministry -- yet, the story of Andrew is compelling.  He is the one who becomes the silent disciple -- quietly bringing people to Christ every time (thought few in number) we read about him. (Here, along with John 6:8-9 and John 12:20-22)  Andrew leaves John to spend some time with Jesus, then finds his brother Peter and makes the connection between the original "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" and Messiah ("We have found the Messiah.")

This was not quite so true of John's followers. See John 3:23-28 where John's disciples seem worried that Jesus (through his disciples) was baptizing more people than John was. John's reply points his disciples to God and not to himself.  Indeed there is joy in John's life precisely because of who he is in relation to Jesus.  His, "He must increase and I must decrease," is the hallmark of his identity resolution.

v.32  The Spirit "remained" on Jesus.  The word "meno" is the word for "abide" or "dwell" and has a lot of meaning in John's gospel. "Abiding" in Christ is a mark of the genuine follower.  If we "remain" in Christ and his words "remain" in us our prayers will be answered.  See John 15 where Jesus develops the meaning of "abide in me".  The Descent of the Spirit on Jesus marks him as the Ruler (of David's Royal line) in Isaiah 11:1

v.34  "This is the Son of God..."  The gospel of John shows us "sonship" of Jesus with special clarity.  The filial relationship of Jesus with the Father in John's gospel is at the heart of Jesus' messianic ministry.  There is an alternate sermon in pursuing the phrase "my Father" in the gospel of John.  It is used no less than thirty times in this gospel -- exclusively on the lips of Jesus.  His use of "my Father and I are one" in John 10:30 brings outrage and the crowd undertakes to stone him (10:31)  Matthew and Luke use the phrase "my Father" on Jesus' lips -- the confession of Peter in Matt. 16:17 being a key incident, but a study of the phrase in John is impressive.  [See:  John 5:17, 6:32, 65;  8:19, 28, 38, 49, 54;  10:17, 18, 29, 30, 32, 37;  12:26;  14: 7, 12, 20, 21, 23, 28;   15:1, 8, 15, 23, 24;  16:10;  18:11;  20: 17, 21]

v.36 "look" = fr. "idou"  Behold!  Lo!  Denotes surprise and/or excitement.   "Look -- here is the Son of God I was talking about -- the Lamb of God..."

v.37 "followed Jesus" fr. "akolutheo"  "To follow -- especially as a disciple."   Same word Jesus uses to say, "Follow me..."  The aorist tense of "went after" or "followed" him suggests that Andrew and his fellow were ready to go with Jesus as disciples. Thus the effect, "they became his {Jesus'} followers."

v.38 "What are you looking for?"  A great question for anyone who gives thought to Jesus.   The answer Andrew and his companion give seems to come from left field.   "Teacher {rabbi} , where are you staying?" Likely, the use of the term Rabbi indicates that Andrew and the other disciple were wanting to learn more about this "teacher."  Commonly a teacher would invite his students ("mathaytes"  = learners) to come to his home for teaching.  So, Andrew is saying, "Teacher...  we would like to come and learn more about you and your teaching."  They stayed for the day.  In fact, they stayed for the duration of Jesus' ministry!

v.42 Jesus renames Simon son of John (Bar-Yohanan) "Kepha" which is Aramaic for rock. This is translated into the Greek "petros".  (Any difference between the Greek petros and petra are beside the point here.  Petros is the masculine form and petra would be the feminine -- Peter would, of course be "Petros.")

Alternate Sermon Ideas

Notes for Series on First Corinthian Lessons

The epistle lessons from I Corinthians for Jan. 17, 24, 31 and Feb. 7 provide a great opportunity to explore what it means to be the church in our time. Corinth was a church plagued by difficulties, nevertheless the insights that emerge from these texts will speak to the church of every age.

A few observations about the Church at Corinth and the Corinthian correspondence are in order:

* The church at Corinth has particular relevance to the church in a time of moral chaos. Corinth was home to over 1000 "heirodouloi" (female prostitutes) and a part of the affluence of the city depended upon the traffic produced by these temple "priestesses".

+ People of loose morals were described by the term "Korinthiazomai" which meant "to live like a Corinthian in the practice of sexual immorality."

+ Paul came to Corinth in approximately AD 50 after leaving intellectual Athens with little result from his preaching.  Strangely -- the gospel took little or no root in Athens but did take root in the decedent city of Corinth.

+ There are both Jews and Gentiles in the church, but the church was largely native Greeks. This is the most fully developed early encounter of the Christian faith with a pagan world.  Many of the issues in the Corinthians letters have to do with difficulties surrounding assimilation of pagan folk into the church. Paul has to deal with rival cliques, questions of marriage and divorce, incest, eating meat offered to heathen idols and disorderly public worship and an assortment of other questions brought by a Corinthian delegation while he was at Ephesus.

+ Based on internal issues, theories abound as to whether the two Corinthians letters are composites of three or as many as six letters.   The content and Pauline authorship of the material, however, is attested early on by Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus and Tertullian.

+ The theological emphases in the Corinthians correspondence are related to practical issues of daily Christian living as well as core doctrinal issues which are at the heart of any vital community of Christians.


The Potential of the Church ~ I Corinthians 1:1-9

1. The Identity of Paul and the Church   (vv.1-3)

* Paul begins with an affirmation of his apostolic position which is by "the will of God" -- the legitimacy of his apostolic standing has been challenged by some. (9:1-17)

* In verse two, Paul emphasizes the fact that the Corinthian church is a part of the world wide body of Christ -- they are "Church of God," "sanctified in Christ," "called to be saints," "together with all those -- in every place". This will surface as one of the primary concerns of the apostle -- the unity of the Body of Christ -- not only in Corinth but the unity of, "all those who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours..." An emphasis that well deserves to be lifted up in our own time.

* Paul's concluding phrase in his greeting is identical to that in Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians and Philemon.  Thus once again Paul demonstrates the things that bind all Christians together.  It is the grace of God which saves (Eph.2:8-9) and the peace of God which results. (Romans 5:1)

2. Paul Praises the Church   (vv.4-7)

* There is an essential pastoral lesson in these verses.  There is so much to deal with in this Corinthian Church -- problems that would put any pastor under a lot of stress!  Many of us would be seeking a new appointment. There is flagrant immorality, infighting and backbiting, criticism of the pastor and more.  How would you begin a letter to people like this?

* Two words.  Thanksgiving and praise.   Paul begins by saying that he is thanking God for these people and then points out the positive things he sees in their life together as a church.  The lesson here is -- lead with prayer, follow it with praise and then continue with discussion. It is much easier to listen to challenge or correction if I know you care about me and that you see something positive in me.  [I tell my congregation often that I am much more open to hearing their constructive criticisms while we are sharing a nice steak dinner together -- at their house!]

* There could be good application of this series in a church where there has been conflict and division.  One essential element of recovery is to name the things that are good. In Corinth this is:   1) They have experienced the grace of God,  2) They are knowledgeable and articulate, 3) They have many gifted persons in their midst

3. The Potential of the Church   (vv.8-9)

* The key to potential of the Corinthian church is something beyond them.  Take note:  "He {God} will strengthen you..." and "God is faithful..."

* The strength and faithfulness that are necessary for the life of a church come from beyond the people of the local church.  We may have gifts, knowledge, good qualities, and bad qualities.   Thankfully, the source of strength and faithfulness is beyond us -- yet, available to us.

* BUT...  we have to be open to the One who provides strength and faithfulness.  Our potential is not finally in our hands at all. (Good thing huh?)  Even when there is difficulty and trial in the life of the church, two things remain:  The positive qualities of the people who are the church and the potential available to us through openness to the one who gives strength and faithfulness. In order for the potential to get energized, all within the church will need to turn away from self to the Lord.

Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 40)

Leader:  We come together to be in the presence of God,
People: For the Lord knows our hearts and hears our cries.
Leader:  Our God puts joy in our hearts,
People: And a song on our lips!
Leader:  Here we are, O Lord, we open our lives to you,
People: Let your love pour over our souls,
Leader:  And your mercy flood our spirits!
People: For you alone are the Lord our God!
     Halleluia!  Amen!

Prayer of Dedication
There is absolutely nothing that you have withheld from us, O Lord.  All that we have is from your bounty.  No mountain is high enough, nor is there an ocean wide enough to compare with your love toward us. The gifts we bring could never contain the gratitude in our hearts, yet in faithfulness we offer them to you. Amen.