In the summer of 1979, I got hired as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant near my house. My boss, Frank, was a tough and intimidating man. He was raised on the streets of the South Bronx during a time when being a hoodlum was considered a vocation.
Set aside Evel Knievel and the Bionic Man, Frank was probably the first male figure I looked up to. He was certainly not the kind of teacher parents would want their children to have. In the five years I worked for him, I learned how to cuss more colorfully, how to think more dangerously, and how to survive on the streets more skillfully.
Without even realizing it, Frank had made an indelible mark on my life. So much so that when I went off to college people would ask what part of New York I was from. (Note: I'm from the South)
Here’s the thing, just as Frank taught me, someone taught Frank. We are all students. And we’re all teachers, absorbing and passing on the things we’ve learned whether we know it or not. In our reading from the gospel today, we see how this kind of teaching works. Read John 1:29-42 here
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!...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 Chosen One.” John 1:29-34
Once again the lectionary points us back to John the Baptist. People were going to the wilderness in droves to see what he’s all about. In the midst of the dunking and shouting, Jesus walks by. John points to him and yells, “There’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
By his testimony we learn Jesus is the Son of God. He is the one to bring true restoration between God and creation. We might not have learned that had John not pointed it out to us. John is only teaching what God has made known to him.
God tells John and John tells us. This is how teaching works. Knowledge moves from the teacher to the student who will go on to become teachers who will go on to testify to what they know.
Now, as some of John’s students will learn, Jesus has more to offer than mere knowledge. This Lamb of God offers us true redemption. Which brings us back into the center of God’s heart.
Andrew learns this first hand when Jesus invites him to come and see for himself.
This means we are a part of this great story. Which means at some point we must move from student to teacher; embracing and proclaiming God’s redemptive grace with our words and deeds.
Gerald Collins invites us to consider what might happen to the church if no one testified. "Would it become like the proverbial falling tree in the woods with no one to hear it fall?"
Jesus knew if we don’t continue what he started then people might never know the unconditional, steadfast love of God, which made us and claimed us as God’s own beloved children.
Josh Bowron reminds us that “The gospel requires people to proclaim and live it. If we don’t, society and culture will just swallow it up, because as we know, nature abhors a vacuum.If we don’t proclaim that God is love and, through Jesus Christ, has broken every bond and boundary and empowered us to do the same, culture will come in and teach us how to get and get and get, and how to use people as things.”
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Jesus made if very clear that we are not called to be mere practitioners of our faith. We are to be ministers and teachers of it as well. Jesus knows that whenever we teach and testify to God’s glorious truth like John and Andrew did “the Holy Spirit brings light to where darkness has settled, love on the road where hate once traveled, and hope to the house where hopelessness once dwelled.” (Collins)
We are called to both learn and teach the Word because the Word alive in us. It’s a part of who we are. And what it means for us to love God, love others and serve both.
We can’t lose sight of this - as individuals and as a church - because people are watching and listening to what we do and say. They are learning about God from us whether we know it or not.
So, what are they learning from us? Better yet, what are we teaching? Are the things we say testifying truthfully to an all loving and all inclusive God? Or do they say something else?
What about the things we do? Are they hospitable, kind, healing and life giving? Do they lift people up or knock them down?
Jesus has entrusted us with his ministry, and his message. He tells us things like what comes out of our mouth matters more than what goes into it because our words come from our heart. The things we do, or don’t do, matter because those actions also begin in our heart. The heart is where God finds our truth because it’s in our heart where God has chosen to dwell in us.
Diana Butler Bass writes, “Jesus invite his followers to come and dwell in him, even as he dwells in God. And as God has been made known through the works of love Jesus has done, so Jesus will continue to be known through the works of love the disciples will do.”
Just as God’s heart is given to Christ. Through Christ, God shares with us. Now it’s our turn.
So how can we live God’s heart, like Christ did, so others will want to come and see and know more? You could start with a smile. Or allow someone to go ahead of you in line.
You could do a random act of kindness without expecting any recognition in return. You can begin by being present – listening instead of reacting. Or letting go of your ego and pride to lift up someone else’s self-worth.
You can start big or small. It doesn’t matter. Just start. The world is hurting and hungry for what we can offer as the Body of Christ.
St. Teresa of Avila said it best when she taught, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.”
We are more than just people who show up for church to learn a nice lesson on how to live life. We are God’s beloved children called to teach God’s glory in all that we do. There will be some people who won’t understand why you are flashing your lights at them or why you’re all of a sudden being kind when they don’t deserve it.
Every time you respond to a rude gesture with love, that is a teaching moment. One’s willingness to show Christlike love to someone who doesn’t deserve it, or to someone who desperately needs it, can make all the difference in the world to that person and to the community of Christ in general.
The world is watching us. But will they want to join us?
While Jesus invited Andrew to come and see, I hope this message encourages you to go and be. Go and be a living testimony to God’s glory in your life.
Go and be “like John, like Andrew, like the uncountable cloud of witnesses to God’s gospel of love, justice, peace, and presence.”
Go and be like Dr. King who took the Word of God to heart and understood its value to making the world a more just and equitable place.
Go and be who God made you to be - blessed and beloved - like Christ, the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. Amen.
Adapted from Ian Macdonald's sermon Teaching The Word. January 19, 2020.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) p.260.
Bowron, Josh. Testimony. January 12, 2020 (accessed 01/16/2020).
Butler Bass, Diana. Freeing Jesus. Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence. (New York: HarperOne, 2021).
Collins, Gerald. A Witness To The Lamb of God. January 20, 2002 (Accessed on January 11, 2023)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”