Sermon for Sunday, January 19, 2014

John 1:29-42

“Pointing Our Way To The Messiah”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor and preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To see a video of this sermon (which includes two stories that frame the sermon, not printed in the text), go to: http://youtu.be/x7fpeVOBbQ4

[Story]

Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes

Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes

Dr. John Watson (Sherlock Holmes)… Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer)… Rhoda Morgenstern (Mary Richards)… Tonto (The Lone Ranger)… Robin (Batman)… Chewbacca (Hans Solo) … Patrick Starfish (Spongebob Squarepants)… Hermione and Ron (Harry Potter)… Ethel Murtz (Lucy Carmichael) … Barney Rubble (Fred Flintstone)… Ed Norton (Ralph Kramden)… Barney Fife (Andy Taylor)… Rose Marie Woods (Pres. Nixon)… Leon Trotsky (Vladimir Lenin)… Marcus Agrippa (Emperor Augustus)…Bernie Taupin (Elton John)…  Al Gore (Bill Clinton)… What does it mean to be a sidekick, an assistant, a helper, and aide?

Rhoda and Mary

Rhoda and Mary

Which is the same way of asking, what does it mean to not be the center of attention, but simply to point to, undergird, help assist one who is?  Now I would be doing a disservice to history, the great literature which is the Bible, and my own faith if I made a direct parallel between John the Baptist and Patrick Starfish, but what I am bold enough to say is that since the theme of a supportive helper to another person who attains greatness is a central theme throughout history and all literature, it might be worthy of our attention and thus serve as a means to inspire all of us.

For ultimately, every single one of us, from the person who walks through these doors for the first time to those who are pillars of the church, from the brand new deacon to the pastor, we are all sidekicks, helpers, assistants, aides to our sovereign and savior, Jesus, in the great commonwealth of God.  We live in a world that likes superstars, and the church has fallen prey to this bad habit as well.  But there are no superstars in church, only sidekicks pointing our way feebly but faithfully to the messiah.

Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Andrew, Taddeo di Bartolo, 1395. Web Gallery of Art.

Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Andrew, Taddeo di Bartolo, 1395. Web Gallery of Art.

In early Christian literature, when so many people were illiterate, the images that were presented to them in art had to tell the story in less subtle ways.  Oftentimes the color of a person’s clothing would be the same no matter what artist painted that person so that people would know who it was.  For example Mary was often painted with blue and Mary Magdalene with red.  Sometimes it was the position of a person in juxtaposition to Christ, as Peter would be to the right of Christ.  But with John The Baptist, in addition to being portrayed with clothing that was minimal and ragged, often had a gesture which defined his identity.  He would be pointing… to Jesus.  Sometimes he would be immediately next to the crucified Jesus in the very same painting.  Sometimes he would be across the cathedral ceiling on another section of the sanctuary altogether… and yet still pointing.  “Here is the Lamb of God!”  “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me…”

The Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald, panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1515.

The Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald, panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece, 1515.

But far from being submissive and subservient, John simply knew his place in history and lived it fully and completely.  He was confident in his supporting role and bold to live out his place in history in the shadow of one greater than he.  In a culture like ours where being on top is prized above all else and trying to get etched into the history books becomes a life-long obsession, John’s bold humility stands as the ultimate benchmark for all Christians.

So how do we behave well as a sidekick to Christ?  John, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples give us some clues:

John:

St. John the Baptist, Leonardo daVinci, 1513-1517. Web Gallery of Art.

St. John the Baptist, Leonardo daVinci, 1513-1517. Web Gallery of Art.

> We don’t confuse ourselves with the one about whom we are supporting.  We remember the message is always more important than the messenger.

> We are prepared to allow God to be God – even when divinity is realized in unexpected ways!  John may have been looking for a knight on a shining horse, but he accepted Jesus in his human frailness.

> We stick to the truth that the message is not about us, it’s about Jesus.  John reminded himself and others again, “this is the Lamb of God…”  “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

Jesus:

> It is about asking questions and not about presuming answers.  Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” which was far more compelling than saying, “I’m it!”

> It is about invitation and not oppression.  When the disciples asked about Jesus, he said simply, “Come and see.”

> It is about presence with far more than information about.  The text tells us that the disciples “remained with him that day” and nothing about what he taught.

And finally the disciples teach us some things:

> Andrew understood that once he started following Jesus, he became a sidekick, and it was his job to invite others.  Then he invited his brother, Simon Peter, who then became Jesus new sidekick… and so on.

[Story]

The spotlight looks enticing.  Having your name in the title on the book cover might be exciting.  The center stage, the top billing, the primary Wikepedia entry… all appear to be what we should long for, hope for, work for.  But really the most important places in history – especially for those who are faithful to the Messiah – will be sidekick, assistant, companion to the one who transforms the world.  May we live boldly and humbly in our role pointing to the messiah.

Amen.

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