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Jesus and John the Baptist: Last Sunday's Sermon

The Reading

John 1:29-42

John saw Jesus coming toward 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).

The Sermon

Jesus and John

John sees Jesus coming and says, “there is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” What a profound statement. It is also a little confusing. This narrative from the Gospel of John (a different John) does not exactly say that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist but it does imply it.

People ask John how he knows this about Jesus and John says, “I saw the spirit come down like a dove from heaven and lite upon him.” In the other gospels we hear a similar story. The spirit comes down from heaven and God speaks.

But, what about calling Jesus the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the first century Judaism lambs were use in ritual sacrifices to cleanse one of his or her sins. It would make sense to say that Jesus came to Earth to sacrifice himself for us.

I do not know how this whole sacrifice for sin thing works. There may be some spiritual law of physics that says a balance must be maintained and sacrifices must be made to keep that balance. As many of you know I was and continue to be a student of eastern thought and those religions refer to our actions having equal and opposite reactions. They use the concept of karma and samskaras as their guides.

What I do know is that Jesus came to this earth and preached his message of love and repentance. Jesus gave us some very simple rules to live by. We should love one another and love our God. Maybe that is all we need to know. Sometimes simple is best. We can leave the theological intricacies to the scholars who immerse themselves in such things.

Let me share this story written by Leo Tolstoy:

bishop and several pilgrims are traveling on a fishing boat from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery. During the voyage, the bishop engages the fishermen in conversation after overhearing them discuss a remote island nearby their course where three old hermits lived a spartan existence focused on seeking "salvation for their souls." Several of the fisherman claim to have seen them once.
The bishop then informs the captain that he wishes to visit the island. The captain attempts to dissuade him by saying "the old men are not worth your pains. I have heard say that they are foolish old fellows, who understand nothing, and never speak a word." But the bishop insists, and the Captain steers the ship toward the island and subsequently sets off in a rowboat to visit where he is met ashore by the three hermits.
The bishop informs the hermits that he has heard of them and of their seeking salvation. He inquires how they are seeking salvation and serving God, but the hermits say they do not know how, only that they pray, simply: "Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us." Subsequently, the bishop acknowledges that they have a little knowledge but are ignorant of the true meaning of the doctrine and how properly to pray. He tells them that he will teach them "not a way of my own, but the way in which God in the Holy Scriptures has commanded all men to pray to Him" and proceeds to explain the doctrines of the incarnation and the Trinity. He attempts to teach them the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father", but the simple hermits blunder and cannot remember the words—which compels the bishop to repeat the lesson late into the night. After he became satisfied that they had memorized the prayer, the Bishop departed from the island leaving the hermits with the firm instruction to pray as he had taught them. The bishop then returned by the rowboat to the fisherman's vessel anchored offshore to continue the voyage.
While on board, the bishop notices that their vessel is being followed—at first thinking a boat was behind them but soon realizing that the three hermits had been running across the surface of the water "as though it were dry land." The hermits catch up to the vessel as the captain stops the boat, and inform the bishop:
"We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God. As long as we kept repeating it we remembered, but when we stopped saying it for a time, a word dropped out, and now it has all gone to pieces. We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again."
The bishop was humbled and replied to the hermits: "Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners." After which the hermits turned around and walked back to their island.

The other day I attended a meeting and the meeting opened with a prayer. It was a good prayer of thanks and all of the right phrases were used. I probably could not deliver a prayer like that. I was at another meeting recently where the speaker addressed prayer. One of the points she made was that you do not have to know all of the correct spiritual phrases for God to listen. God knows how you talk so...just talk to him when you pray and don't worry about whether you have done the prayer eloquently. If your heart is there God will be too.

Fr. Fred

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