Monday, February 13, 2012

God Speaking: Like a Lamb

Preached on Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scripture readings: Isaiah 53:1-12; John 1:19-39

John the apostle begins his gospel by telling us about someone called the Word of God. He tells us that this Word enables us to know who God is. The Word of God would be God speaking. Enabling us to know who he is means God speaking himself; God expressing himself. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

This Word of God, as we are told, became human: became flesh; real flesh and blood. We know this Word of God as Jesus. Read about this in the first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John.

As soon as John has told us this, he begins to tell us the actual story of this Word made flesh. John sets the stage by the banks of a river in the desert where crowds of people are being baptized. The man doing the baptisms is another John: John the Baptist.

This other John was famous in his day. There was a lot of speculation about him. They said that this John was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One; the King of the Kingdom of God. But John the Baptist completely denied that he was anything of the kind.

In fact John the Baptist seems to deny that he is anything at all, and that is kind of scary, but it is also not exactly true. He does say that, compared to the one who was coming, he was less than a slave. In the Jewish world, the Rabbis said that a disciple might do any job for his master but fasten or unfasten his sandals, or washing his master’s feet. Taking care of sandals and feet were a slave’s job, and a disciple was not supposed to act like a slave.

John said he was not worthy to untie the sandals of the one who was coming. That meant he was claiming to be lower than a slave, but there was no one lower than a slave.

So John presents us with a scary version of humility, but I can’t let you misunderstand this. John the apostle tells us only a little about John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke tells us that lots of people, coming to John the Baptist to be baptized, asked him what they should do when they went home. He told them to live generously. He told them not to be greedy. He told them not to push other people around. He told them to be content. (Luke 3:10-14) He told them to live the good life, and the good life was the full life because it was the humble life. It was full because it was empty of the things that people choose in place of real life. It was empty of pretence, and pride, and the love of power.

John’s job was to be a voice in the desert telling people to prepare themselves to see the Lord. “Make straight the way for the Lord.”(John 1:23) Get rid of the meanderings. John was wise enough to know what the prepared life was about.

His almost scary humility taught this important and very simple lesson in two parts. He would want you to know this: first, there is a God; and, second, you are not him. Live accordingly. But it is surprising how easy it is for us to forget this lesson.

John’s life was definitely not about himself. This is another scary side of him. And, yet, it doesn’t have to be scary. The life that is not about your self can be the most attractive life of all.

One of the Washtucna saints was Violetta Hille, whose life was not about her self. She seldom spoke about her self. She lived in the faith and presence of God, and she loved others, and she loved the world of God that surrounded her. Her life was as rich as it was humble.

She was a profoundly quiet person and, if you listened to that quietness, you could hear her witness to the love of God in Christ. She was a powerful example of the concept of “being blessed by God to be a blessing”. (Genesis 12:2)

This points us to the odd quietness of Jesus, through whom we see God himself. Jesus actually does a lot of talking in the Gospel of John which (I think) is the chattiest of the four gospels. But the odd thing is that our first glimpse of Jesus, in this gospel, is a Jesus who doesn’t say anything at all. Even at our second glimpse, Jesus says very little.

If there is someone who is the Word of God we expect to hear him speak. The Gospel of John sets us up, right from the start to be ready to hear the Word of God, but the Word seems to take his time about it. He just walks around. People talk about him and he doesn’t say anything back. People follow him and he only asks them what they want. People ask him silly questions and he barely answers them; not to put them off, but because their questions need very little for an answer.

His first conversation, in this gospel, is where he asks two guys, who are walking behind him, “What do you want?” (If you noticed that there were two guys deliberately following you, would you ask anything different?) And they say, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus says, “Come and see.” And that’s it. There is the Word of God.

“Look, the Lamb of God!” The prophet Isaiah tells us about the quietness of the Lamb of God. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Now this is about the willingness of Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. The four gospels, taken together, give us the picture of a Jesus who is a man of few words while he was being arrested, and beaten, and questioned, and put on trial, and nailed to the cross. The thieves who were crucified on either side of him seem to have been much more talkative. (Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:39-43)

Yes, the silence of Jesus is around the cross, but Isaiah also speaks of the whole life of Jesus, in his growing up and his adulthood. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)

The scriptures reveal Jesus, and the fact that they say so little about most of his life is not for the purpose of hiding the truth about him. The scriptures exist for the sake of revealing the truth about Jesus. They reveal a life that was quiet: not much there to write about!

This is not a bad thing. It is not an insufficient life, when there is not a whole lot you need to say about it. Jesus shared our life, which (for most of us) will not go down in the history books. The value of a human life is found in a different place than the history books.

The quietness of the Lamb of God surely reveals the quietness of the glory of God. In the life of the prophet Elijah, when Elijah was running for his life and running through the depths of despair, the Lord spoke to him. At first Elijah was surrounded by the noise of things that God often used to show his presence: earthquake, wind, and fire.

But this time God was not present in those noisy ways. God spoke to Elijah in what the Bible calls “a still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:9-18)

In that quiet, Elijah could hear the sound of his own voice speaking to God, and so he heard his own need. He heard his own pain, and anger and brokenness. He heard the sound of his own heart. The quiet helped him to hear himself. Then the quiet helped him hear God’s strength and God’s faithfulness. God used the quiet to create faith within Elijah’s heart.

I have a good friend in the ministry who excels at being quiet at exactly the right times. It is one of his great gifts as a servant of God. It is a blessing to have someone we can talk to who doesn’t have to always talk back to us. I wish I were better at that. Some ministers think they have to answer everything.

We think we are alone and forsaken when we do not hear God speaking to us, but Jesus, the Lamb of God and the Word of God, reveals the quietness of God. There is a short psalm about this that is worth learning by heart. It is Psalm 131.

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for evermore!” (Revised Standard Version)

The Lord’s Supper is an example of the Lord’s quietness; a bit of bread, a sip of wine. What is that? That is the presence of the Lamb of God, the Lord of quietness. How humble the Lord is, to come to us in this way.

And what about us?

Are we much more than a bit of bread and a sip of wine, ourselves? And yet Jesus died for us to give us a new life and to come to us in such simple, quiet ways: a cloud, a look in someone’s eyes, the touch of someone’s hand, the knowledge that there are eyes like those eyes that see us from the throne of the universe, the knowledge that there is a hand like the hand that touches us that was pierced by a nail for us and for our salvation.

These are quiet things. There is life in such things; a passionate life that comes from God. This is how we hear God speaking like a lamb.

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