January 19, 2020, Lamb of God?…or T-Rex? (John 1:29-42) – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000173
Every week, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we consecrate the bread and the wine with the words Jesus gave us at his Last Supper, asking the Holy Spirit to transform the elements into the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We pray the Lord’s Prayer together, and I break the host as a symbol of Christ’s death, remembering his body broken for us and shared with us in the Sacrament. And after that we sing or we say the very words that John the Baptist called out, when he pointed Jesus out to his disciples. “Behold!” John said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”
But if we are really paying attention to the words we use, I think we might want to stop and ask: what did John mean, and what do we mean, when we say that Jesus takes away the sin of the world? Because from what I can see, more than 2000 years after Jesus came and went, the world is at least as sinful a place now as it ever was. Things were bad back in John’s day, what with murderous King Herod and the Roman occupation and tax collectors and prostitutes and poverty and sickness. But all you have to do is read the Watertown Times in the morning, or turn on the Channel 10 news in the evening, and it’s pretty obvious that Jesus hasn’t taken away the sin of the world around here either. Actually, most days it seems like the world just keeps getting worse.
We might say that Jesus has only taken away the sin of the people who believe in him – if we didn’t look at ourselves too closely. Because try as we might, there are very few, if any, nights when we can look back on the day that has just gone by and feel entirely satisfied with every thing we did or said or thought, every attitude and action toward our friends and neighbors, every choice that we made. I suspect if I ever do feel one hundred percent satisfied with myself at the end of the day I am either lying to myself, or forgetting something, or I am setting my standards really, really low. Most of us have been Christians for quite a long time, I think. I have been a Christian my whole life, and a conscious Christian for 48 years at least, and I can safely say that Jesus hasn’t taken all my sin away yet.
Not only did Jesus not make it so that we don’t do bad things anymore, he made it clear that it is pretty much impossible for anyone of us ever to claim be without sin, because he taught that sin is so much more than just the outward things we do. Sin, he taught, is first of all a matter of the heart; sin starts with our intentions and our attitudes. Here’s what Jesus had to say about the ten commandments: “You’ve heard the commandment ‘Do not kill.’” he said. “But I tell you, don’t even hate, don’t even call your brother a fool: because when you do, you are already committing murder in your heart.” “And you’ve heard the commandment ‘Do not commit adultery.’” he said. “Listen, if you look at another person for your own personal gratification you’ve already committed adultery in your heart.” You thought the commandments were hard to obey? Well, Jesus made it harder, not easier.
But John didn’t mean that Jesus is the one who came to make us all behave, like a really strict Sunday School teacher. The truth of what John said, and the truth of what we proclaim every Sunday, is much better than that – thank goodness. Jesus didn’t come to whip us into shape so we could earn our way back into God’s favor. He came to rescue us, to set us free from our sins. And the first step, the first thing he had to accomplish, was to destroy forever the shame that kept us separate from God.
The first thing that happened when Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit in the garden, was that they were suddenly filled with shame. Suddenly they looked at themselves with loathing, and they ran to hide so that no one else could see them. They especially couldn’t bear that God should see them, naked and exposed as they were, and when he came walking in the garden like he did every day they hid themselves from him. The most destructive power of sin is to make us ashamed, because then we hide ourselves from the only one who can make us well again.
I have known people who were so afraid to go to a doctor who would reveal what was wrong within their own body that they waited and suffered all alone, until their illness killed them. That’s what shame loves to do to us; that is the power of sin.
But Jesus did something much better than make us behave; he destroyed the power that sin had over us. The shame that lay over the world like a killing frost was lifted forever when God came to live with his people. The voice of condemnation that pronounced every single one of us guilty, and worthy of nothing better than death, that voice was silenced forever when Jesus took our sin upon himself, nailing it all to the cross.
When we put our trust in him, we are set free, once and for all, from the power of sin. We have the right to come to the Father in complete honesty, as we do altogether every week, to tell him we have not loved him as we ought to have done; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We can tell our Father that we have done the very things we hate, that we have not done the very things we know we should have done. We come to him with sorrow, maybe with frustration, but we never need to come with fear or shame. We can repent, turn our hearts back to him for the thousandth time, with absolute confidence that he will receive us with open arms, as his beloved children, because the power of sin to separate us from God’s love is broken forever, as Paul wrote:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that we never feel shame, or that we never feel condemned, because I am pretty sure that all of us find ourselves feeling those things at one time or another. There are things we have done, things that keep coming back to us, haunting us, things that we said or did that we deeply regret, things we can never UNdo or UNsay. So many of us have wasted days or months or years hiding from God in our shame and regret, hating ourselves, trying to put the blame on somebody else or make excuses for ourselves, instead of just bringing all our garbage into the light, making an honest confession to God, and simply asking him to forgive us and begin his work of healing in us. The good news is that all those feelings of hopeless shame are a lie, because the only power sin still holds over us is the power to deceive us.
And it can seem very powerful to us, but the truth is that is has no real substance. When our kids were little they liked to go to the Museum of Science and Natural History in St. Louis. Part of the dinosaur exhibit was a hologram of a T-Rex. It looked very real and scary; it was life size, and its mouth was wide open, of course, showing all those teeth. You could walk around it and see it from every angle. But if you reached out to touch it your hand went right through. You could walk right through it – because there wasn’t anything there, really. The lie of shame and condemnation is like that T-Rex. Because Jesus came into the world, sin and death no longer have any power to destroy us, shame no longer has any teeth: but they can look and feel very real and very scary. And they can and they do trick us into forgetting the joy and peace that belong to us in Jesus Christ. They can – and too often they do – deceive us so that we run and hide from the very one who is waiting for us with open arms, ready to forgive and heal us as soon as we turn to him.
Sometimes shame seems to have its mouth wide open, ready to devour us. But the truth is that we can come honestly before God, bringing our hatefulness and our unkindness and our greed and our bitterness to him like the dirtiest and stinkiest laundry, without fear and without shame. We never need to be afraid that God will be shocked or disgusted with us. That is well worth repeating to ourselves regularly: we never need to be afraid that God will be shocked or disgusted with us. He will never condemn us – not because he has decided to look the other way, like a permissive parent who doesn’t really care, but because he knows us better than we know ourselves. And because, knowing us, he loves us so much that he has pledged his very life to make us well and whole and completely clean.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.