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Confessions of a Small Church Pastor

Sermon for Sunday, Jan 20, “Invite Others”


This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow. My apologies for posting so late in the week, but it’s been an interesting week here. Maybe I’ll tell you about it later. Until then, have a great day on Sunday!
Invite Others
John 1:29-42
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

What Kind of Inviting Are We Going To Do?

For the past two Sundays, we have been talking about our theme for the year –

  • Tell the story.
  • Invite others.
  • Bless the world.

On both the first and second Sundays in this month we focused our attention on “Tell the story.” We said that the story we are to tell this year is –

  • God’s story.
  • God’s story found in the Bible.
  • God’s story found in the Bible which will be accepted by some and rejected by others.

Then, last week we talked about this story being our story, too. We said that we are not just actors on a stage, but when we find ourselves in this story of God that has been going on since before creation, we become what God intended for us to be. Our story is found in the story of God and among the people of God.

So, today we come to the second part of our theme — “Invite others.” Now, you may think you already know what I am going to say about this simple and obvious phrase — invite others. Baptists have been doing this for about 400-years now. We’ve been inviting others to our churches, and to our socials, and to our Sunday School classes, and to our church activities for as long as we can remember. And, we’re good at it. Southern Baptists are almost 16-million strong now, although Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention says himself that we couldn’t find more than about 5-million of us on any given Sunday. That may be optimistic.

When we started our church in Greensboro in 1986, we knew we had to invite others because there weren’t many of us. So, we did. Before the days of the “do not call” list, we conducted the first church telephone campaign in the state of North Carolina to introduce folks to our church. I will tell you that after calling over 10,000 homes, all those phone calls didn’t produce a single new member for us. Lots of work, and not much to show for it.

We also mailed thousands of direct mail pieces, did door-to-door flyers, neighborhood surveys, and advertised in the Greensboro paper when we had the money to do it. We were serious about inviting others. And, we were successful by church growth standards. After three years of meeting in the convention center at the Greensboro Airport Marriott Hotel, we bought property, built a beautiful worship center, and had over 400 in attendance on the Sunday we moved in. Amy, our youngest daughter, told me this week that she found the video tape of our first service in the new building at Cornerstone.

But, that’s not the kind of inviting I’m going to talk about today. It’s not that we don’t need to do that kind of inviting, because we do. We do need to invite folks to come to Chatham Baptist Church. We do need to reach out to our friends and neighbors more than we do, and in more effective ways than we do. But that kind of inviting is like “Phase 2″ to the kind of inviting I want to talk to you about today.

The Story of John and Jesus

To understand what I mean, we have to look back at the story in our scripture reading today. Last week we looked at the baptism of Jesus from Matthew’s perspective, but John has a little different take on things. John the Gospel-writer mentions John the Baptist early in his account of the life of Jesus — verse 6 of chapter 1 to be exact.

There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.

Pretty well sums it up, but John goes on to mention that John the Baptist was not the light himself, he just came to testify of the Light that “gives light to every” one….

You might think that after that introduction, John the Gospel-writer would then shift his focus to Jesus, but he doesn’t. He’s not through with John the Baptist yet. In the next scene in Chapter 1, John the Baptist is asked by the religious leaders who he is. Is he Elijah? Is he The Prophet?

Now why are they asking him that? Because in every Jewish home, at sabbath and at Passover, a seat was reserved at the table for the Prophet Elijah, who was expected to return before the Messiah. The same thing is true about this unnamed Prophet from the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses says –

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

So, even though the Jewish religious leaders of the first century don’t get many points for flexibility, they at least wanted to find out if John the Baptist was somebody they should listen to. And, of course, John the Baptist tells them that he is neither Elijah or The Prophet. But then he quotes another prophet, Isaiah, to say that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness to make straight the highway for our God. Pretty significant stuff, I am sure they realized.

And then the big question from the religious leaders — “Well, if you’re not Elijah, and you’re not The Prophet, why are you baptizing?”

John then has the opportunity to talk about Jesus. He says “there is one among you, you do not know.”

Then, the next day, Jesus appears again, and John cries out –

Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And, John goes on to tell those gathered around that Jesus was greater than John because he came before John. Which, if you realize that John is really about 6-months or so older than Jesus doesn’t make any sense. Except that John was speaking in theological sense.

Then John says something here that no other Gospel writer records. John gives the reason for his baptizing. John says that he baptizes, not because he is Elijah, and not because he is The Prophet, but so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel. We saw that story last week. Jesus came to John to be baptized. John does so, and the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God says, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Jesus is revealed to Israel because John was baptizing in the wilderness. And, John tells that part of the story, too. He says, “I didn’t know this about Jesus except that the One who sent me to baptize told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”

John then says, “I have seen and I testify that this is the son of God.”

Jesus Is The Lamb of God

Back to our story. So, when John the Baptist sees Jesus that day, and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” those who heard him, knew what he meant.

It’s interesting that John the Gospel-writer says that “Jews from Jerusalem” came to question John the Baptist. These religious leaders were from the Temple priests, no doubt. For in Jerusalem stood this magnificent edifice, covering an immense hillside in the city. The gold grape vine and cluster of grapes that adorned the entrance to the Temple dazzled all who saw it. The white marble and stone of the temple complex appeared to those approaching the city from a distance as though the sun were rising in the sky again. The Temple was a magnificent structure.

And, each year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter alone into the most sacred room of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, in which had rested the Ark of the Covenant, long since lost, but, still contained the Mercy Seat.
On the top of the Mercy Seat, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb, a lamb without spot or blemish — as perfect as a lamb could be — to atone for the sins of the people for one more year.

In another ritual, the Scapegoat would have the sins of the people pronounced on its head, and it would be led off into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people away from the presence of God. In these two symbolic acts involving animals, the nation of Israel hoped that its sins would be forgiven and removed from the sight of God.

John proclaims that here, in their midst, is The Lamb of God, not a lamb, but The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not just the nation of Israel, but of the entire world. This is big news, bigger than anything they had ever heard before. And, so they paid attention.

Jesus Invites His First Followers

Two who heard John that day ran after Jesus, and when Jesus heard them behind him, he stopped and asked, “What do you want?” Later in his ministry, Jesus would ask that same question of James and John, who asked then for a seat for each of them at his right and left hands. Jesus, of course, corrects them, but then turns around and asks a blind man the same thing, who replies “I want to see, again.” Jesus heals him instantly.

So, Jesus was always probing people to find out what they wanted from him. Maybe he asked these two what they wanted because they were really John’s disciples and now had run after Jesus. Maybe he wanted them to question their own motives for following him. Kind of like the religious celebrities of today, who draw crowds to their conferences. As soon as they fall out of favor, or something new comes along, the crowds run to the next celebrity of the day.

Debbie and I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, which is called Music City USA. Quite embarassing when we were teenagers, I must admit. But now we have a new appreciation for the whole country music industry. Not too long before his death, Johnny Cash took on the big record companies and high-powered country radio stations, accusing them of not playing his newest album, which would go on to win a Grammy award. So, it wasn’t that the music wasn’t good, or his name wasn’t known Cash said. They didn’t play his records because he wasn’t new.

Maybe Jesus wanted these two to think about why they were following him. We don’t know, but they reply rather weakly, “Where are you staying?”

Jesus says, “Come and you will see.” Later, he would tell his disciples that the birds had nests and the foxes had dens, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. But this time he’s staying with friends or family, so they follow him. John says they spent the day with Jesus.

Now, here’s where we have to fill in the gaps, with a kind of holy imagination. What do you think they did that day? Did Jesus tell them things about God they had never heard from their priests. We don’t know. Or maybe Jesus told them the entire story of God, and what God was really up to in this world, and the role that he was playing. We don’t know. Or maybe they just walked together, and these two saw Jesus put his hand gently on the head of little child playing along the roadside. Or heal a person with a life-long illness, or speak a kind word to someone who needed one. We don’t know. But we do know that after that day was over, at least one of them, Andrew, runs home to get his brother, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” And he brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus also.

And Jesus welcomes Simon by saying, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas (meaning Peter).” The Rock. Jesus invites Simon to join him, by giving him a new name, The Rock. Which is not what Peter is, but is what he will become.

Invite Others Into The Story of God

And, that my friends, is what we invite others to. Not to church, although we should do more of that. Not to Sunday School, although I could stop right now and invite some of you, but I won’t put you on the spot. No, what we’re inviting others to is to become what God knows they can be. In Peter’s case, it was a Rock. What is it in your life? Did Jesus give you a new name like Joy or Hope or Peace or Servant? Because that’s what he does. He calls out our true selves, not just our potential, but our real identity, the reason for which he made us.

We are inviting Jesus, just like Andrew did, to come and see because we believe we’ve found the One for whom we have been searching, the Anointed One.

You see, we are not inviting others to a set of doctrines. We’re not inviting others to a denomination. We’re not inviting others just to our church. We’re first of all, and most importantly, inviting others to “come and see” Jesus. Himself. In person. Live. Now. Here. Today. Because we have found him. Of course, Andrew will understand later that Jesus found him, and so do we. But for now, we are inviting others to meet our new best friend Jesus.

Now, this year we could launch a witnessing program. I’ve been in some of those. I’ve taken Evangelism Explosion, and a bunch of other courses that I can’t remember the names of now. But, as useful as those can be in some settings, that’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to do what Andrew did before he invited Simon to meet Jesus. We’re going to “spend the day” with Jesus ourselves. Get to know him. Find out what name he has for us. Listen to him. Talk to him. Watch him work. Follow in his footsteps. Be his disciples.

Because you can’t invite others if you don’t know the story yourself. And you can’t know the story without knowing Jesus. Not the Jesus of doctrine, but the Jesus of daily living. The Jesus who asks, “What do you want?” And our answer will be, “Where are you staying, because we want to be there with you.”

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Categories: invite others, John, Lectionary Yr A, sermon, Sermon Illustrations, Sermons, Worship

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1 reply

  1. Great post, People need to read this.

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