Monday, November 25, 2013

Preaching Lab: Sin as the space in between

Another sermon for preaching lab, based on the Lamb of God text in John.

John 1:29-41

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I 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.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

When 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?”

He 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.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).

This is the word of the Lord.

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I want to talk to you today about sin.

…A killer opening, right?  But I do.  I want to talk to you about sin, because it’s important that we talk about it.  Because we live in a time and a place and a culture where we don’t.  We want to be fine.  We tell everyone we are fine.  Work is fine, school is fine, the house is fine, the kids are fine, we are fine.

This is what we have to do, right?  Because I know I need that space.  I need a little separation between me and others.  I need a protective barrier.  People don’t need to know about my problems.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s shameful.  It’s scary.  It’s not that big a deal -- lots of other people are going through worse.

This isn’t a bad thing.  We do need space.  We need self-protection.  We are allowed to make space between ourselves and what hurts us.  The danger is when we are so afraid of pain that we make space between us and everything.  Because space is never just empty.  It fills with things, or it collapses.  So we fill up that space in between.  We look for something to keep the space wide - to protect ourselves and our truth.  To get between us and pain.  And the deeper our fear is, the bigger we make that space, and the more we need to fill it with.  With perfectionism and success, with self-indulgence and pleasure, with clinging violently to whatever we can or shoving others away, to immersing ourselves in a project or shutting out the world, to helping others so they’ll need us and we’ll never be alone.

Take a moment.  Imagine that space.  Imagine your space.

Maybe one of the ways we can define sin is as what we put in that space in between.  Where we fill up this void with brokenness and anger and distrust and whatever else we can stack up in there to keep other people away.  And into all that mess, all that clutter, all that heart-wrenching stomach-twisting fear, comes a voice:

“What are you looking for?”

Someone is knocking on the door of your heart.  Someone is peering around the boxes and into the dusty corners of that sin, that space in between.  Someone is asking, “What, in all of this, are you really looking for?”

When you stack your space full of things.  When you invest your time and your love in money or a relationship or a house or a job.  When you show up for church.  When you follow this man called the Lamb of God.

What are you looking for?

Then we have a rush of words.

To be whole.
To be loved.
To be valuable.
To be true to ourselves.
To be competent.
To be secure.
To be happy.
To be safe.
To be at peace.

To have this fear, this need for separation, this sin, that space in between to be closed -- our sin to be taken away.

When John says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he does not mean that Jesus only came to cleanse us of our guilt.  Jesus came to take away that space in between.

When Jesus asks the disciples “What are you looking for?”, they don’t know what to answer.  Jesus has been called the Lamb of God, the son of God, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, the one who ranks ahead of John -- and all the disciples can say is “Teacher?  Where are you staying?”

And maybe it is so with us.  Maybe what we are looking for, maybe what we are longing to put in this space in between, is just too big for words.  Maybe Jesus says “What are you looking for?” and we say “I don’t know.  It's too much for one word, or even many.  But can I go with you?”

This is how close God comes, to take away our sin -- so close that we can touch him.  “Teacher, where are you staying?” we ask, and Jesus says, “Here.  With you.  In the midst of humanity, in the face of all your spaces in between, into the place where you store up your fear and self-protection, everything that separates you from each other.  This is where I have come to be.”

And having seen this, the only possible response for the disciples is to say, “We’ve found the Messiah.  We’ve found the one who will save us.”

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away all the spaces in between of the world.

Come and see.

Amen.

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