Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 15, 2017
[sermon begins after Bible reading]
John 1:29-42 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! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 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?” 39 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. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed ). 42 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).
Such a great Bible story and strange in a good way. John the Baptist, acting like a street preacher, makes a double announcement that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Two of John’s disciples hear the announcement and start following Jesus without talking at all. Then there’s Jesus – walking along, minding his own business, a couple of lurkers tagging along. I imagine Jesus looking backward a few times and seeing these guys talking quietly with each other but looking right at him. A bit of sight gag with the two disciples trying to act casually every time Jesus looks.
Finally Jesus stops and turns to them. Here comes the great part. Jesus says, “What are you looking for?” We’re not privy to whatever motivates his question. But we are privy to the curiosity in his question. “What are you looking for?” This is a passage where the curiosity of John’s disciples meets the curiosity of Jesus. John the Baptist is the exception. While he’s on the street corner announcing Jesus, everyone else is just curious about each other. Curiosity that has the disciples following Jesus before they have any information they can understand.
Last week, the staff had lunch with Sheryl Stenseth, our Faith Community Nurse who is retiring today. Although I’d heard it before, I couldn’t remember how Sheryl made the decision to begin working in a church. This is how it happened. This is where I hear Jesus’ question as if he is asking Sheryl, “What are you looking for?” She was getting her Nurse Practitioner degree and as part of a project she started thinking about how cool it would be if there were nurses who worked in churches. Filled with life-long faith, she went to her professor to pitch the idea for her project and, without blinking, her professor gave the go-ahead even though she knew that church nursing was already a thing which Sheryl quickly discovered for herself. Sheryl was connected with Sandy, the nurse who worked here before her, and the rest is history.
Here’s why Sheryl’s story fits so well with the Bible passage today. Because God puts our faithful curiosity about Jesus to good use for our neighbor in the world. In Sheryl’s case, this is easily confirmed by talking to even just one person who has worked with her or received care from her. I can think of so many people who reflect this faithful curiosity. Curiosity that turns into action quietly behind the scenes or sometimes more visibly and vocally.
In the visible and vocal department, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind this weekend as we celebrate his birthday tomorrow. His faithful curiosity turned into a dream. As Dr. King said it, a dream of justice and freedom for his black brothers and sisters that extended to “all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.” There is only one Dr. King. But he was simply one child of God as each of us are one child of God. Each one of us to whom Jesus turns and asks, “What are you looking for?”
This past Sunday, I hosted the first of five lunches that we’re piloting as a way for people to focus locally on issues of human dignity like hunger, incarceration, health care, immigration, literacy, and more. The point of this group is to offer ways to be involved as well as to be a safe place for conversation regardless of how you vote. Seven people joined me for lunch. We talked about showing up out in the community to show support for people in the community and to follow Jesus more visibly in the world. Each of us is built with different interests and passions so we can simply pick an event and show up.
As showing up applies to me, I’ll be at a large public meeting at Shorter AME Church on Tuesday evening, a historic black church in Denver since 1868. I invite you to come as you’re able. The meeting includes people from the community, law enforcement, and elected leaders, with the goal of strengthening relationship between law enforcement and the community they serve. Like the other people at lunch, I’m looking for a way to follow Jesus visibly in the world for the sake of my neighbor.
But sometimes, like the disciples, we don’t really know what we’re looking for. Frankly, some of us aren’t even sure we’re looking for Jesus. Some of us loyally show up to church for years with a friend or partner who loves Jesus but we just don’t get it. Some of us show up to church for the first time in a long time, disillusioned years ago. Some of us show up to church maybe for the first time ever, knowing that something deeper is missing from our lives but we don’t know what. So what the heck, maybe it’s Jesus.
Notice what’s happening in these Bible verses. John the Baptist is the only one drawn to confess that Jesus is the Lamb of God. His disciples call Jesus “Rabbi” which means Teacher. They go hang out with him but they haven’t made the leap to Lamb of God by a long shot. The good news is that there is room for the curious. I’ve often wondered what it’s like to hear or sing the “Lamb of God” song for the first time – the song that is sung in the worship liturgy before receiving communion. Like our strange Bible story, it’s kind of a strange song.
John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Perhaps Dr. King can help us out here. Here’s what he preached in his sermon, “Love in Action:”
“Every time I look at the cross I am reminded of the greatness of God and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the beauty of sacrificial love and the majesty of unswerving devotion to truth…But somehow I can never turn my eyes from that cross without also realizing that it symbolizes a strange mixture of greatness and smallness, of good and evil…I am reminded not only of Christ as his best but man at his worst. We must see the cross as the magnificent symbol of love conquering hate and of light overcoming darkness.”
Dr. King’s preaching conveys the simultaneous power of God and vulnerability of Jesus on the cross and the human sin that left him hanging there. “Lamb of God” is a title that says the same thing in three words – vulnerable as a lamb, powerful as God. But it’s more than a pithy title.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by showing us the self-sacrificing love of God and drawing us to faith.
Jesus, who experienced what we’re capable of at our worst, sends us off to do what’s best for our neighbor.
Jesus, asking us what we’re looking for, loves us, pours himself out for us, and strengthens us to love. Jesus does all of these things, even when we don’t know what we’re looking for…
Thanks be to God.
 Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream…”speech, copyright 1963. https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf
 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Love in Action” in Strength to Love: A Book of Sermons (New York: Harper & Row Pocket Books, 1968), 40.