The Park Bench

park-bench-resized-600John 1:29-42

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).

I would like to begin this morning by asking you to shut your eyes and imagine something for a few moments.

Just sit back in your pew, close your eyes, take a breath and imagine you are sitting on a park bench, outside on a warm spring day.

Imagine that someone comes and sits beside you.  You look over and you see that this person is Jesus.

What does he look like to you? There are no right answers.

How do you know it’s him?

Do you feel nervous sitting next him?

Do you reach over and hug him, like you are greeting an old friend?

Do you feel angry sitting next to him and start asking him questions, like, “how could you let that happen?”

Do you see that it’s him, feel so uncomfortable that you get up and walk away? – Hoping that he did not recognize you?

Do you sit in silence next to each other, knowing that you know each other, but choose to sit in comfortable silence?

How do you approach Jesus? 

O.k. you can open your eyes.

If you did this exercise every day, or once a month, or every now and then, or even every morning and night, you would find that every time Jesus comes and sits next to you on that bench, that you would respond differently.  Sometimes you may know him well, sometimes you may not know him at all, sometimes all you will want to do is weep and ask him to take away the hurt, and sometimes you will feel so much doubt, you will want to get up and walk away.  While you may change your behavior when you go through this guided meditation, what does not change is that Jesus always comes and sits on the bench.  He faithfully comes and sits and waits and we respond.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus comes and John the Baptist introduces him, not only to the disciples, but to the readers in the Book of John and indeed to the world. This is how Jesus comes on stage in the Gospel of John – John the Baptizer sees him coming down the road and says, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of this world.”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, my cousin, Jesus!”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, the Messiah!”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, the King of Kings and Lord of All!”

He introduces Jesus to the world as “the lamb of God.”  First observation: Jesus is not of this world. He is the lamb of God. So the first thing people are asked to see when he comes and sits on their park bench is that he is from God, that he is of God, that he is God.

Now, what is even more difficult to get our heads around is the second part of the sentence. After John says, he is “the lamb of God,” he says why he is here. John the Baptist says,  “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He did not say, “behold the lamb of God, who will make you happy, rich, or successful.”  He said, he is the one takes away the sin of the world.  The sin of the world.  Now just think about that.

There has been a critique, and I think it’s a fair one, that churches don’t like talking about sin any more. It’s not a good way to fill a church. It’s not good for PR.  And if we are going to talk about sin, well, we should talk about the sin of others and not our own.  And yet, every week as Presbyterians we begin faithfully with a prayer of confession acknowledging both our individual and corporate sin.   But I think we often leave that confession tightly in that place and then move on with our lives.

Think for a few minutes about the enormity of the sin in the world. Think about all of the cruel things people have said to each other just these past months either on social media or directly.  Think about the way we have been treating our brothers and sisters.  Think about the atrocities of the human race around the world. Think about the pillage of our earth.   The weight of sin is so heavy upon us, it’s almost suffocating.  It’s enormous.  Now, this is our time and place, but make no mistake sin and evil was just as powerful 2000 years ago, and in that moment Jesus appears and John says, “Here is the one who will take away the sin of the world.” 

Why didn’t John say,  “Behold, the Lion of God, who takes away the sin of the world?”

Wouldn’t a lion be a better animal to take on sin and mangle it to bits?  Wouldn’t it have been smarter to describe Jesus as aggressive and sort of like a vigil anti.  – Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but making Jesus a lamb – doesn’t that sound…. weak and powerless? –  I mean; this is the sin of the world we are talking about.  Do we really think that a lamb can take on ISIS?  Could a lamb take on the Nazis?  Could a lamb take on the KKK?  Well sure, a lamb could take them on, but he’s going to get himself killed!!

The next day, the would be disciples are curious about John the Baptist’s introduction and they come to Jesus and he turns to them and asks, “what are you looking for?”  and they say, “Rabbi” which means teacher.  He then asks, “where are you staying?”  and he invites them to “come and see.”

Now if people of don’t like talking about sin, the only thing they dislike more than that is talking about evangelism.  We really worry about offending people by “pushing our faith on others.”  Put it this way, we are sitting on a park bench with Jesus and a friend comes by and sits next to us  and instead of introducing our friend to Jesus, we choose not introduce them to each other.  Jesus, whispers in our ear, “I think I could help out here…” and we choose to ignore him.

Out of fear of offending our friend, we offend and pretend like we don’t know Jesus.

Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Now Jesus gives us three actions for how to introduce people to him safely. He asks the question, what are you looking for, and the disciples answer “a teacher,” and then they ask,  “where are you staying?  And Jesus replies, “come and see.”

If you know someone who is lost in their faith, or lost in sin, or lost in the world, and you think that if they knew Jesus or had a measure of faith, they might be less lost, but you don’t know how to invite them, ask them this question, “what are you looking for?” It’s a safe, open ended question.  Take the time to listen to their answer.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our stuff, that we don’t stop and really ask the question of ourselves, “what am I looking for?” and then once you identify need, stay with Jesus, the lamb of God,  follow him to find the answers.

Recognize friends, that the way you answer that question, is your deepest prayer.  It’s your soul’s deepest desire to ask and its Jesus’ deepest desire to know.

Take a minute to try to answer that question – What is it you are looking for?

Is it peace?

Is it hope?

Is it justice?

Is it forgiveness.?.

The truth is, we have enough lions in our world. We have enough roaring and aggression and violence.  We don’t have enough lambs.  We don’t have enough gentleness, compassion, empathy and kindness. And if we believe in the lamb of God, we must believe that he can overtake the sins of the world, and he does so through the scandal of grace. We don’t have enough people willing to sit on a bench. willing to listen, and not judge, willing to stay with us, and help us find what it is we are looking for.

Evangelism is as easy as sitting on a park bench with someone you love or don’t know and letting them tell you what it is they are truly looking for, and loving them enough to help them find the way.  Little did you know, that you were being Jesus on the bench.  You sacrificed your time, yourself, your energy, your love for the sake of another person.  It’s that easy to be an evangelist.

Close your eyes, one last time. Imagine that you are sitting on a park bench on warm spring day, and someone comes and sits beside you.  You look over and recognize that it is Jesus.  What does he look like?  You turn to him and he recognizes you.  He asks you, “what is it you are looking for?”  Take some time this morning to sit in a quiet space, stay with him, and tell him what you are looking for….

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
grant us peace, grant us peace. 

Amen.

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