January 15, 2023

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

“Pointing to Jesus”

I don’t follow Junior Hockey or sports generally, but it was hard to miss the news about Canada’s gold medal in the World Junior Championships a couple of weeks ago. And living here in Regina, I noticed lots of talk about the star-player, Connor Bedard, who was on loan from the Regina Pats.

Apparently, 17-year old Connor Bedard established several statistical benchmarks before Canada registered a 3-2 overtime victory over Czechia in the gold-medal game in Halifax. But individual accomplishments and accolades were the last thing on Connor’s mind as the players rejoiced on the ice following the game.

“I don’t want to talk about myself right now,” Bedard, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, told TSN. “We’re not talking about me. We just won the biggest tournament in the world and, man, I love this team, this country.”

Asked by reporters later about the reluctance to talk about himself, Bedard replied: “No one’s going to remember that from our group in 20 years. We’re going to look at our gold medal. We’re not going to look at stats or anything. We’re going to appreciate what we did together. That’s what matters.”

The story of Connor’s humility came to mind when I was studying the Gospel text for today. I read one reflection on the text that suggested that if John the Baptist was on social media, his profile pic would not be a photo of his face, but rather a close-up of his finger pointing away from himself.

Like the Junior Hockey Star, there was a lot of buzz in the air about what John the Baptist had been doing lately. He’d been out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing, and crowds of people were streaming to him. All kinds of people who were curious, hopeful, and wondering if this prophet could change their lives for the better.

John was gaining a group of followers too, who likely wanted to learn as much as they could from his teaching, and perhaps join in his strange and wonderful wilderness activities.

But John didn’t let them hang around too long. As soon as he witnessed the Spirit of God descending from the sky and remaining on Jesus, he started to preach: “It’s not about me. You should be looking at Jesus, talking to Jesus, following Jesus.”

And that’s exactly what John’s disciples did. They heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. They went with their questions and let him teach them. They remained with him so that they could get to know him and eventually come to understand how he would become their saviour.

And remarkably quickly, they began to invite others to join them, to follow Jesus, and to meet the one that John pointed to and called “The Lamb of God” and they themselves found to be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

When we were discussing the text in our Bible study earlier this week, someone commented that this is one of very few Gospel passages where Andrew has a role. And here we see Andrew doing what Andrew always does – bringing others to Jesus. Here he brings his brother Simon, who will be re-named Peter, and become the Rock of the Church.

In another story, he brings a young boy who has five loaves and a couple of fish that he is willing to share. And in another instance, he brings some Greeks who are asking about Jesus and interested in meeting him.

John the Baptist was not the only one who could have a pointing finger as his profile pic. Maybe Andrew deserves one too.

But as I think about it, I wonder if Andrew’s photo should be a hand reaching out to grasp another hand and bring that person along. Every time we see Andrew he’s bringing others to Jesus, and walking with them on the way.

There’s something about today’s text that makes evangelism seem so simple. If we are to be like John the Baptist or like Andrew, all we need to do is point. All we need to do is take our friends and loved ones by the hand and bring them to Jesus who will take care of the rest.

I’ve heard plenty of sermons that invite Christians to repeat Jesus’ words to the people in our networks, saying: “Come and see,” by which they mean that we can invite folks into our church buildings and our worship spaces and let them meet Jesus for themselves. It’s simple. We just need to make the invitation like Andrew.

But we who are here at worship most weeks know that it’s not really that simple. If it was that simple, I expect that our churches would be full to overflowing, and the Canadian census would be reporting a growing number of Christians rather than a growing number of people who identify as having no religion at all.

I think part of the reason that’s is not so simple is because we don’t literally have Jesus walking around among us. If I could just say, “Friend, come meet Jesus,” and he took it from there, it would be easy. But instead, it’s Jesus’ followers today who are called upon to represent Jesus.

We need to tell people about him – sharing the things he taught and the things he did, and explaining why he means so much to us. We are used to doing that through sermons and Christian Education classes, but we probably need to do it some more in individual conversations with people we know and care about.

But probably more important than talking about Jesus, we need to act like Jesus. We talk about the church being “the body of Christ in the world,” and that’s something we have to practice being each and every day.

I’m reminded of the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

It means that when we invite folks to “Come and see” as Jesus did, they’ll be looking at us. And through us, perhaps they’ll catch a glimpse of Jesus too. If we welcome them unconditionally. If we listen to them and show that we care. If we demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit with patience, kindness, and self-control. If we bear with one another when disagreements arise, and forgive one another with grace and generosity.

Sure, we can give people Bibles and tell them to read about Jesus. But if they are going to truly believe that God is real, that Jesus is alive, and that the Holy Spirit is present on earth, they will need to come and see that for themselves through us.

The Scriptures that were set for us by the lectionary today emphasize the themes of being loved by God and called to share that love with others. We heard the Prophet Isaiah speak about God’s deep and abiding love for him, and his sense that God called him even before he was born to become a servant to raise up the People of Israel.

But the prophet realizes that God’s call for him is bigger than he first anticipated. It’s not just to help his own community re-connect with God after the Exile, but God wants to use him to reach out to others also. God says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob… I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

In our Gospel text, we hear about a bunch of people being invited and coming to meet Jesus. John the Baptist points, Jesus welcomes, Andrew grabs others to bring them along, and many come and become his followers. But responding to the invitation is just the beginning, and at least one of those who comes will soon be called to do much more.

Jesus says that he’s going to name Simon “Cephas” – “Peter” meaning “Rock.” Peter will become the rock on which Christ will build the Church – the ongoing community of his followers. It’s a big responsibility, probably more than he expected. But it was “too light a thing” that Simon should just come along with his brother and watch what Jesus was doing. God was giving him also as a light to the nations, or in this case as a rock – a solid faithful presence on which others could rely as the community of Jesus’ people was formed and sustained.

Both Isaiah and Peter shouldered heavy responsibilities as God’s servants, but others like Andrew and Phillip, Mary and Martha, each had their particular callings, their roles to play and responsibilities to carry. And in none of those cases was their calling to just be and enjoy knowing Jesus. That would be too light a thing, indeed!

No, they were called to point to Jesus, to bring others to Jesus, to learn his teachings and practice his way of life. And when he was no longer physically present with them, they were called to embody his love in the world so that others could still meet Jesus in the world for generations to come.

And that’s our job now too. It’ not a light thing, it’s a heavy responsibility. But as the Apostle Paul encouraged the first century Christians at Corinth as they strived to live out their call, we can be assured as well. He said, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let’s remember that promise as we respond to Christ’s call today and take up our responsibilities as God’s servants.