Who are you? What Good News do you have to share?

New Year’s Eve Sermon: John 1:19-34: Who are you? What Good News do you have to share?

Have you seen the Christian tshirts that seem to scream at you about your salvation? Turn or burn and the like. The message is often surrounded by flames and HUGE print, so that the point can’t be missed. And I imagine, the way many of us are wired, we would avoid talking with that person wearing the tshirt, because certainly they would be ready to scream at us and try and convince us that our faith was wrong, that our lives were wrong, that we were doing it wrong. Many folks who have this kind of faith see it as their duty to convert people. Salvation is on the line and so they are convicted that they must communicate this message to people at every turn. Their faith depends on it.

Now compare that to a tshirt I’ll always regret not buying. Lost and Found is a Christian duo. They are witty and they love words and they love Jesus. But they know the reputation of Christianity is often known for the yelling-in-your-face-message-of-salvation-or-damnation. They didn’t think those tshirts were helping.

So they created a tshirt that had the smallest circle in the middle of the tshirt. It was small enough that you’d have to get real close to the person wearing it in order to even see it was there. And in that circle it had a quote from Romans 8: “nothing can separate you from the love of God through Christ Jesus.”

John the Baptist has the loud tshirt reputation. But in the gospel of John? He’s a little more “what does that say on your tshirt” kinda guy. More understated. Approachable, even.

So today we get to witness this conversation he has with the local religious leaders who just can’t quite figure him out.  They ask him, who are you?  he says, I am not the Messiah.

That’s probably not what they were looking for. So they try again. What then? Are you Elijah? And he, once again, says, I am not. They do not give up but I imagine their frustration growing: Are you the prophet? And, true to form, John says only, No.

Now they’ve reached their breaking point. They finally ask him plainly, Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?

And instead of saying, “I am John, the Baptist, not the one who wrote the Gospel of John” or “I’m the one drawing great crowds and I know the way to salvation” or “by the authority of the temple, I’ve been ordained and called to be here, in the Jordan River, and will stay here 3-5 years until I am called to a new river.” He doesn’t give them the credentials they’re looking for. No, instead he says, I am the voice of one crying out, ‘In the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord,’  as the prophet Isaiah said.

And would you believe they are not satisfied with that answer!? He even quotes the prophet Isaiah. You think that would have satisfied them! They want to know who has authorized this behavior. Under whose authority is he operating anyway?

It is here that he then begins to tell them about Jesus. But in the “small-circle-on-my-tshirt” kind of way. He says: I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

In the next sentence of today’s reading, there’s a scene change, the interrogation is over, and Jesus and John are together. And John confesses to Jesus who he believes Jesus to be: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John answered this question of identity only in relationship to who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Who are you? I follow Jesus, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Anytime we come to the cusp of a new year, the question of identity always seems to come up. For many it takes the form of new year’s resolutions to make myself into the person I want to be… quit sugar, save money, get to the gym. But I wonder if we follow John’s lead, we might think about this new year differently, without the pressure of writing new year’s resolutions. Instead what if we simply asked ourselves: who do you say that you are? And what good news do you have to share?  Or “Who am I? What Good News do I have to share?”

Now before you get worried and start thinking like the yellers at the beginning that it is your job to convert people and salvation is on the line, remember what we hear from John is that we can’t save ourselves. Jesus is the only one who can do that. So take a breath and relax… and just answer the questions: who do you say that you are? And what good news do you have to share?

I’ll go first: I am Laura, an awkward, joyful human who tries to be in awe of God’s world around me.  The Good News that I have to share is I believe there is hope for everyone.

Now, how about you. What do you think about what you might say? The sky is the limit. Who are you? What Good news do you have to share? You have a little bit of time to think about it. At the end of the worship we’re going to toast in the new year together with sparkling grape juice and celebrate Christ’s coming into the world. We will also share our answers with one another so that as a community we might further become who God has called us to be.

For this is who I believe River of Hope to be: we are people of radical welcome and we don’t just wait here for people to show up for us to share the Good News. The Good News we have to share is that it’s Jesus that is the one who transforms lives. Sometimes we get to point to it. Sometimes we get to witness it. What a gift it is to enter the coming year with you.

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