Who Are Your John the Baptists?

A Sermon Shared with the People of St. Matthew’s, St. Paul, January 19, 2014
Phillip Boelter

Google the phrase "John the Baptist"  and press "images"

and you get some pretty interesting results.

Prominent among them

are  portraits by European artists

like Leonardo Da Vinci.


A young  curly haired

animal skin clad prophet

stares you straight in the eye

with his slender hand is pointing straight up in the air,

like this.


Here in the our gospel reading

from the very first chapter of John's gospel,

before Jesus' name  becomes a household word in Palestine,

the Baptist's function is simple:

he points to Jesus.


John goes around saying

like he's discovered a clue

and is solving a case,

"look- here is the Lamb of God!"



this cryptic message gets immediate results-

several young men begin to follow Christ.


Listen again to the brief but important interaction

between those young newbie disciples

and their guru.

Jesus says to them  What are you looking for?"

They say to him, "Rabbi" (or  Teacher), "where are you staying?"

He answers  "Come and see."


In this brief and puzzling three sentence exchange

we see and hear

what we need to know today.


Jesus first asks them

"What are you looking for?"

Maybe I'm too cynical

but when I listen to this sentence I am tempted to hear:

"Why are you guys following me around?"


Seriously, though,

I marvel at those ancient disciples

who seem to abandon everything they held dear

at the drop of a hat

to follow this man from Galilee.


No doubt part of the reason

was because Jesus had an attractive personality.

How else can we explain Christ's' rise

from local handyman to national religious and political figure

in three short years?


But there is more here than meets the eye.

In the gospels

and especially in John,

we see and hear snippets of many "call to discipleship" stories-


the woman at the well,


Mary Magdalene,


they all come to Jesus in their own way.

Little vignettes about those experiences

made their way into the gospels.


But sometimes we fail to realize

that these folk

in all likelihood knew each other

for years, sometimes for decades,

before they became Jesus' disciples.


Today might not be the first time these young disciples

have encountered Christ.

Galilee isn't that big,

after all.

They all lived in the same villages with Jesus,

some were even his blood relatives.


There is a context and a familiarity here.

And so it is also for some of us.

Some of us grew up in traditional Christian households.

We piled into the family car,

sometimes pushed and pulled

under duress to church services

on Sunday mornings.


If it weren't bad enough for me,

being forced to go to church,

MY dad also taught Sunday School for decades.

About every third or fourth year

in our small congregation,

he came around again,

ending up as MY Sunday School teacher.

Waaaay too close for comfort!


I know my father meant well.

But because this faith was so close to home

it took a long time for THE faith

to become MY faith.

I got early and frequent inoculations

against the Way of Jesus.


But still God managed to

use my experiences to call me,

or rather,

Let's say

God asked me

"what are you looking for?"

and politely waited

days, weeks, sometimes years

for me to answer.


Like these young disciples in John's gospel

I had my own John the Baptists

all along the way

pointing the path for me

toward answering God's question.


One pointer was a love of learning-

a gift given me by both my father and my mother.

Books were everything in our house-

not just decorations on a shelf,

or doorstops,

Books of all kinds were living companions along our way in life,

pointing the way ahead.


By seventh grade

I had absorbed our entire home library

and my favorite field trip

was when my dad would take me

 to the main downtown branch of the Dallas Public Library

every other Thursday night.

Just think what life would've been like if I'd had a Kindle!


Eventually, in high school and later

I found other John the Baptists,

besides my books.


my family and my teachers,

and my pastor,

also encouraged me to get out and meet new people

to volunteer for groups,

to get involved in bettering the world,

to ask people questions,

to listen carefully to their answers

and to lend a helping hand.


Here also I met my John the Baptists

and through them,

began to know God' presence,

to hear and answer a call.


Now I know

not all of us,

indeed fewer and fewer of us,

each  passing year,

grew up with Jesus around us

in a religious household.


Some of us spent Sunday mornings on the beach

or at brunch,

or  maybe

worshipping with Reverend Bedsheets and the pillowcase choir,

instead of sitting on a cold hard wooden pew.



in a profound way

wherever we have been,

whatever we have done,

each one of us has been prepared

for  this day,

for our own encounter with Christ.


Who or what 

are YOUR John the Baptists,

pointing the way for you to God?


Is it your parents?

your siblings?

a teacher,

your coworkers?

drinking buddies?

your friends?

A particular author?

A favorite website?


Maybe these folk around us

are too polite to point.


Maybe they don't look like prophets,

dressed in animal skins.


Although depending on who you hang around with

maybe they do.


But it will be good for us

this morning

(or evening)

to ask ourselves,

who or what is attracting my interest today?


What message might they be giving me

to lead me to answer and follow God?


Those John the Baptists

might be as close as our own home

sitting at a table nearby.


Remember what the young disciples asked Jesus:

"where are you staying?"


In that Mediterranean culture,

for that time,

asking that question

could mean only one thing.


It wasn't a request for Jesus' street address

or his email,

or even to be his friend on Facebook.


"Where are you staying?"

For those young disciples

that question meant

"Jesus, I want to share a meal with you.

I want to sit down and dine with you,

to get to know you a little better."



 in the final lines of our gospel reading,

John the Baptist,

John the pointer,

fades ever so politely into the background.


 In the gospel story


the Lamb of God,

 will eventually

three years later

become both host and food

and also dining companion

at God's Passover table,

on a stony hill outside far away Jerusalem.


But that is a story for another season,

another day,

a Lenten time.


Today in Galilee,

the light of Epiphany

still shines brightly in the late afternoon

as souls hunger,

however unknowingly

to be with  this Christ.


We await his answer today,

to know where He stays.

And Jesus

as yet unknown to them in so many ways,

turns ever so slightly,

and says to those young followers of his Way,

"Come and see."

Here He comes to us

with a subtle beckoning of the hand,

a quiet invitation to the Eucharistic Table.


The table is here in this holy place,

but it's also the table of fellowship

to which God beckons us

each and every day of our lives

to enjoy and share with others.


In a few minutes we will hear

these words which

for many of us have become so dear:


So, come to this table,

you who have much faith and you who would like to have more;

you who have been to this table often, and you who have never been;

you who have tried to follow Jesus and you who have failed.

It is Christ who invites you.

So Christ continues to invite us

each day

and especially today:


Come and see.

Come and see.