Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Sermon: When Words Aren't Enough

January 19, 2014 – The 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

© 2014 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.

You know the call and response. We don’t say it or sing it all that often, but we know it, and we know where in our worship service those words belong. We say them when we gather at the Lord’s Table to eat the Lord’s Supper and to remember the sacrifice that he made for us so that our sins might be forgiven. We eat the bread—a round loaf with its gentle scent of toasted grain and honey and marked with the cross, thus drawing us into Christ’s offering of himself for us. We drink the wine—fruit of the vine with its sweet bouquet and flavor and its dark red color, which brings us back to the blood that was shed for the sins of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ—as Christians—we recognize who he was and who he is. When we proclaim him as the Lamb of God, we know what we are talking about. We may not know the exact derivation of that title—the nuances and symbolic resonances that it evokes from the Hebrew tradition—but we say those words as a confession of faith. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

But how do we get there? How do those words become real to us? When we say “Lamb of God,” what is it that takes our mind not to a petting zoo, where a fluffy white lamb comes up to eat out of our hand, but to Calvary, where two-thousand years ago a man was executed on a Roman cross?

But, before we talk about that, I’d like you to think of a sunset. Now think of how a tomato tastes when it’s picked from your own garden in the middle of summer. Think about one of Claude Monet’s 250 paintings of water lilies. Think about the smell of bacon or coffee or cinnamon rolls first thing in the morning. Now, I want you to think about my mother’s macaroni and cheese. What does it look like? What does it smell like? How does it taste? I can tell you that it’s creamy but firm, cheesy but not too much so, buttery and rich, crispy on the edges but soft in the middle, orange on top but white underneath. I’ll tell you that it’s the best macaroni and cheese on the planet. And I’ll tell you that your mother has nothing on my mom when it comes to making that yummy, delicious, always-from-scratch goodness. But, even though you’d be wrong, I wouldn’t expect you to agree with me because you haven’t tried it for yourself…yet.

Some things need to be experienced to be understood. Without seeing them or smelling them or tasting them or feeling them, some things just aren’t real to us—no matter what words we use to describe them.

That’s the message in today’s gospel lesson. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were standing with him when Jesus walked by. John looked at Jesus and exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples were intrigued by what their master had said, so they turned to go with Jesus. When he saw them following him, he looked at them and asked, “What do you seek?” It seems that they were startled by his question, so, a little unsure of themselves and what they were in for, they asked, “Teacher, where are you staying?” And he said, “Come and see.” So they went and spent the day with him. And they saw what John was talking about. And, after that, nothing would ever be the same.

One of those two disciples was named Andrew, and, after seeing for himself what John the Baptist had seen, he quickly went and found his brother, Simon, and said to him, “Get up! Come and see! We have found the Messiah!” And so the process repeated itself. Simon, unsure what to make of his brother’s words, followed him to Jesus and had an experience that changed his life—so much so that Jesus gave him a new name: Cephas or Peter.

John the Baptist stands on the side of the road, watching and waiting. And, as soon as he sees Jesus approaching, he cries out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” He’s crying out to anyone who will listen. He wants them to know what he knows—to understand what he understands—that this Jesus is indeed God’s anointed, the one sent by the Father to redeem the people of Israel. But, no matter how loudly or boldly or confidently he cries, all he can do is tell people what he thinks. And, when they hear what he has to say, they might be intrigued enough to take a look for themselves, but words alone are not enough—not John the Baptist’s and certainly not mine. There isn’t a preacher or evangelist in the world whose words are powerful enough to save someone…because preachers don’t save anyone. They can’t. Only God can do that. And, in order to know salvation the way that John the Baptist or George Whitefield or John Stott or Billy Graham did, to feel it the way it was expressed in their preaching, you’ve got to experience Jesus for yourself.

Over the years, you’ve probably heard a lot of different people talk about Jesus. Some of them might have been standing on a street corner yelling at anyone who passed by. And some of them were probably standing in a pulpit (like this one) in a big fancy church (like this one). You might have spent your whole life listening to people like me talk about how Jesus died for your sins and how those who believe in him get to go to heaven. But how often have you heard a preacher say that his words don’t count for squat? Well, they don’t. My words can’t bring you to Jesus. You have to get up and go see him. No matter how eloquently or powerfully I talk about him, the only way you’ll ever know who Jesus really is is if you experience him for yourself.

Words aren’t enough, so don’t settle for them. Go out and experience God’s love for yourself. Find out where Jesus is, and go see him. Go down to the CCC and serve lunch to those who can’t afford to buy food for themselves. Walk across the street and give a child at Banks-Caddell the kind of after-school attention his mother can’t always give because she works two jobs just to get by. Drive over to a local nursing home and hold the hand of an elderly man whose nearest relative lives five hours away. If you want to know who Jesus is, you’ve got to experience him for yourself. And that means you have to experience what it means to be loved for no reason other than the fact that you are. Where is that kind of love to be found? How will you experience Jesus for yourself? Amen.

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