Our text begins today with these words “on the next day” (John 1:29) and so I contextualized the events of the previous day or perhaps even days. It was about John the Baptizer baptizing crowds of people at river Jordan. At the end of reading that scripture, I opened the pages of the Wall street journal which I usually do. I found in the newspaper a picture of Pope Francis baptizing one of 32 infants in the Sistine chapel of the Vatican. You can see it on the power point today. Let me remind you that the rite of baptism does not belong only to the bygone days. Let me assure you that it will not disappear at any time in the future because baptism is the right of every child.
On seeing John baptizing a large crowd, the priests and the Scribes wanted to make sure whether the Messiah had arrived in the person of John the Baptist. To their direct question John simply said “I AM JUST A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, THE ONE WHO IS COMING AFTER ME IS FAR GREATER THAN I AM”. On that occasion of baptism, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. A voice was heard from heaven “you are my beloved child and with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was named on that occasion “as God’s beloved child”. This is a sermon about naming. In the Hebrew tradition they gave several names to the unnamable, YHWEH, means Lord, and ELOHIM and ELSHADAI. Some time we give names to persons so casually and callously.
A Pastor friend told me he baptized a child with the first name Justin and the last name Case. When my parents named me Thevanesan they put on me the best biblical name Theophilus, means the lover of God. However I know that I have not always lived up to what my name stands for. Whenever I wavered and slipped and got involved in all kinds of pranks in school and later in college, I got reminded as to why my parents named me Theophilus. And then quickly I came to my senses. The early settlers in America showered all their passion in the very naming some of our cities and towns. And I am asking you today: Are they living up to the significance of their names? How about Hope in New Providence? How about Bethlehem in Pennsylvania? Bethlehem means the home of bread. How about Bliss in Philadelphia which means a city of love. The baptism moment at river Jordan was a sacramental experience. Jesus was affirmed as God’s beloved child, a child of promise and blessing, fully human and truly human.
A Pastor whose first name is Fred made a practice of carrying newly baptized babies down the church aisle and back. On one occasion as he passed a pew in which a six year old Jimmy regularly sat with his parents, the boy looked up at his pastor and said “Hi God”. Holding the baby the Pastor stopped and said with a wink,” Why don’t you call me Fred?” A look of astonishment came over the little boy’s face, as he turned to his mother and said with amazement, “Mama, God said that I could call him Fred”. Jesus became one of us in baptism and I become a child of God through baptism.
In today’s scripture the two disciples of John were curious to know who Jesus was. And when Jesus was passing by John said “Here goes the Lamb of God”. So as the two began to follow Jesus, they asked him, “Where are you staying Rabbi? Here is another professional name for Jesus, Rabbi. The meaning of the word Rabbi is more than a teacher; it means a guru, which is completely an eastern phenomenon. I cannot do justice in explaining the meaning of it in today’s 15 minutes discourse for it can be developed into a sermon in itself. Jesus’s response to the question about his whereabouts was Come and see. In the words of Theologian Matthew Fox “Jesus’ disciples were persons who met him, saw him interacting with others, heard him speak and hence they were attracted to him”. The enlistment of the disciples by Jesus did not happen the way the gospels describe it. I believe the making of the disciples happened over several days of conversation and sharing meals and learning lessons. Friends we are happy to emulate Jesus, crown him with many crowns and grant him a glorified status. I am reminded of a hymn written by John Newton more than 200 years ago: How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear. Singing of the sweetness of Jesus alone will not make us followers of Jesus. Following Jesus on a daily basis is a real challenge.
Tomorrow we will be observing and celebrating the birth day of a great prophet this country has ever produced by the name Martin Luther King Jr. He followed the footsteps and practiced the values of Jesus passionately. He worked tirelessly for the attainment of freedom of every individual. He gave his life for a cause of the preservation of human dignity and racial justice. He saw the Promised Land even before his actual death. His gift of seeing the invisible is a rare gift. No wonder when Jesus extended his invitation for prospective disciples, he simply said: Come and see.
Now Andrew, on seeing Jesus and having been attracted by his words and the living situation, felt the need to rush home and meet his brother Simon Peter. Andrew in his encounter with Jesus must have experienced something miraculous that created an exuberance and excitement, so he shouted at the top of his voice: “Pete! WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH, THE ANNOINTED ONE”. Now we have added another name for Jesus, The Messiah. My sermon today is a call to examine our ability to listen to a voice. A call to name whatever that is unnamable. It is a call to discern our own giftedness and to see something extra ordinary amidst the ordinary and the mundane.
Do we know Jesus? One of the leading Jesus scholars in our country by the name Marcus Borg who has written many books and the one I want to lift up today is: Meeting Jesus again for the first time. In this book he writes about growing up in a small town in North Dakota attending the church regularly as a small boy and later became disinterested in church. He writes about being a closet agnostic some time, but his desire to know Jesus never ceased. He writes about his college days and his days of study and research in the University of Oxford in England. Today he is in great demand as a speaker worldwide. In this book he brings about a distinction between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus. His new images of Jesus are fascinating. He presents Jesus to us as a Spirit person and as the wisdom of God.
I am asking us today to continue with our search for who Jesus is? Let us make every effort to meet Jesus whether in the sanctuary or in the celebration of the sacraments, whether listening to the preached word or walking outside in the market square, whether during the reading of scripture or in our involvement in the struggles of human liberation and justice. Keep asking the question: Who is Jesus today? Amen!