2 Sunday A -Lamb of God -2014 - Homilies

Fr Bill Grimm's Video at the bottom: Ordinary Times
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Starters......

1) Lamb at the roof:

In the city of Werden, in Germany, there stands a Catholic Church with a lamb carved out of stone and placed on its roof. Centuries ago a worker was once up on the roof of that church in order to repair it. His safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large-size rocks. As luck would have it, a lamb was having its lunch on grass growing between the rocks. The craftsman fell on the poor lamb. The lamb was slain… but the man lived. So the craftsman did the decent thing. He sculpted a lamb and, in gratitude, situated it on the roof. Today we come together at this Liturgy to remember and salute another Lamb. Each of us owes Him much. As a matter of fact, we owe Him our spiritual lives because he saved us from the eternally fatal fall from grace. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne).

Today we come together at this Liturgy to remember and salute another Lamb. Each of us likewise owes Him much. He too gave His life for us. But with one substantial difference. Jesus  voluntarily surrendered His life to save ours.
This Gospel opens just after Jesus had finished His forty day fast. He was probably bivouacing in a farmer's reed hut near the Jordan River and near John the Baptist's camp. He would soon head north into Galilee to begin His life's work. One hopes He took the time to put some pounds back on His lean frame after His fast. He had to be just skin and bones.
He had come once again to check out John the Baptist whom He would always admire. He had a premonition He would never see him again. We know He was correct.
What did John have in mind when He excitedly pointed at Jesus and shouted for all to hear, "Behold, the Lamb of God..." (Fr. James Gilhooley)

2) Pastor joke:  

My neighboring pastor put sanitary hot air hand dryers in the rest rooms at his church and after two weeks took them out. I asked him why and he confessed that they worked fine but when he went in there he saw a sign that read, "For a sample of this week's sermon, push the button." (Bret Blair)

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration


We gather here each Sunday to encounter one another and to encounter the Chosen One of the Father. We are, as St Paul tells us, ‘the holy people of Jesus Christ, who are called to take their place among all the saints everywhere who pray to our Lord Jesus Christ’. So let us reflect on who we are as a group and on how we have become this holy people through our baptism.
Rite of Penance
Given the baptismal story in today’s gospel, this is a day when the Asperges option is particularly appropriate.
Lord Jesus, you are the Chosen One of God. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus, you are the man on whom the Spirit has come down and rests. Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Lord have mercy.
 

Michel de Verteuil
General notes

As happens each year, the lectionary remains with Christmas themes (and with St John’s gospel) for one more week. It is as if the church is still enjoying Christmas and is reluctant to move on to Ordinary Time and St Matthew.

The passage has a double focus: Jesus and John the Baptist. John invites us to “look” at Jesus;  he reflects on his mission to proclaim Jesus to the world.

We are free to identify with either:
- to celebrate times when some John the Baptist (a person, a word or an event) invites us to take a fresh look at Jesus “coming towards us”;
- to celebrate our mission as parents, teachers, friends, community leaders, spiritual guides to “proclaim” to the world ( and often to ourselves) that those in our care are sacred.

Firstly, John points to two aspects of Jesus:
 a) He is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (verse 29). We say these words at every Mass, and we have become so accustomed to them that they no longer strike us. We can take the opportunity of this Sunday’s reading to let them come alive for us. We do this in the lectio divina way
– linking text and experience and letting each throw light on the other:

- the words help us to appreciate those who have been for us “lambs of God” who “took away” the sin of our community;
- people who have touched our lives help us to understand the words.

The second part of the saying – “he takes away the sin of the world” – states the purpose of the first, so we start with it. It tells us that Jesus is an activist; he does not merely oppose sin in theory, he “takes it away”. He does not accept sin as inevitable, he wages war against it. As individuals and as a church we have tended to water down this aspect of Jesus’ – and our – mission:
- we resign ourselves to accepting evil on the grounds that it is inevitable and in any case we are powerless to do anything about it; we say to ourselves – and to others – that this is how life is and we must accept it;

- we “spiritualise” sin, saying things like “we must hate sin but love the sinner”, “we pray for sinners”, “we are all sinners in our own way”, etc. These are all important (and Christian) sentiments, but in  practice they are used all too often to cover up the fact that we are not “taking away” some evil in our community.

We celebrate the times when some John the Baptist (a person, an event, a scripture passage) challenged us to “look again” at Jesus “taking away” the sin of the world.

By using the singular – “the sin of the world” – the text invites us to identify one particular “sin” which marks our community or culture, e.g. individualism, racism, elitism. Once we have given it a name, we can celebrate the “lamb of God” who “takes it away”.
Jesus has a distinctive way of “taking away sin”. He does it by being a “lamb of God”. This is another image which we are accustomed to and find difficult to bring to life. We can identify two problems (aside from familiarity):

- “Lamb” gives an impression of someone who is passive, someone “meek and mild”. Jesus was not that kind of person, however, and so we need to imagine (from experience) a “lamb” who is powerful and energetic and effectively “takes away” sin from our community. It is a biblical image, not one we are accustomed to using; we may have to turn to other bible texts in order to enter into it.

The biblical tradition stresses two aspects of the lamb. First, his blood is shed as a source of life to others. The model is the lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the door posts on the night of the Exodus. Leaders are “lambs” to the extent that they are ready to accept the sufferings involved in leadership. This is not to say that suffering is a value in itself (as Christians have often done); what it tells us is that true leaders do not stand aloof and are not afraid to make themselves vulnerable. They accept the suffering that goes with leadership: being criticised unfairly; being disappointed in people; the occasional failure.

- Secondly, the lamb is not violent. This is well expressed in Isaiah 53:7, “Harshly dealt with he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers, never opening his mouth”. Leaders who are “lambs” are prepared to suffer violence against themselves, but refuse to inflict violence on anyone, certainly on those whom they lead.

We must also focus on the words “of God”. Jesus knows himself to be “God’s lamb”; he is self-confident, therefore, not self-pitying, he knows he is secure in the hands of God.

 b) The second thing we notice when we “look” at Jesus is that God’s Spirit “comes down on him from heaven and rests on him” so that he can “baptise with the Spirit” (verses 32 and 33b).

The coming of the Spirit on Jesus (and on his followers) has two effects:
- he has a sense of himself; he does not get his identity from being a leader;
- he knows he is loved; he does not depend on the love of the people he leads.

2. John shares some reflections on his mission to proclaim Jesus.
We can identify four sayings which help us to understand our own mission to “proclaim” those in our care (see above):

a) “He comes after me but he ranks before me because he existed before me.” There are times when we feel awe before the people we minister to. Even if they “come after us” in the sense that they depend on our assistance, we know that in another sense they “existed before us”, i.e. that there is  divine spark within them.

b) “I did not know him and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.” We understand only gradually the greatness of the people in our care. We do not “know” them and yet God send them into our lives so that we can “reveal” their greatness.

c) “He who sent me to baptise with water said: the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” We are not ready to minister to people until the voice of God (conscience) tells us that we will see the Spirit come down on them and realise that they will “baptise with the Holy Spirit”, i.e. complete what we have done for them. We think of the moment when parents realise that their children will do greater things than themselves.

d) “I have seen and I am the witness, he is the chosen one of God.” It is not enough to say with our lips that someone is sacred; we must “see and bear witness” that this is the chosen one of God.

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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection


Two central characters, Jesus and John the Baptist, dominate the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. (The gospel was written by John the Apostle and Evangelist, not to be confused with John the Baptist who features in the gospel.) The chapter reveals the essential aspects of Jesus’ identity. He is the Word made flesh and the Lamb of God. Both are crucial for an understanding of who he is and what he does.

The first of the characters is Jesus. In the chapter, John the Baptist is quoted as having made one of the most remarkable professions of faith that is recorded in the New Testament. During his preaching, on seeing Jesus in the distance, he said to his listeners: ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29). But John’s profession of faith did not stop with that affirmation of Jesus. He elaborated further and then concluded: ‘Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God’ (Jn 1:24).

The Baptist’s reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God brings to mind several images. Like other people of that time, the Baptist would have been familiar with the prophecies about the future Messiah, so he could have been referring to the servant of the Lord in chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah, where the servant was presented as the one who would bring salvation to God’s people by bearing their sufferings and sorrows.

In addition, there the servant was compared to a lamb being led to the slaughter house. So Jesus’ identity could be understood in that context. The first chapter of John’s Gospel focuses on the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, all of which prepare for the Incarnation: the Word of God made flesh in Jesus.
The Baptist undoubtedly would also have been referring to the paschal lamb in chapter 12 of the Book of Exodus, who had effectively saved the Israelites from annihilation at the time of their escape from slavery in Egypt.

And the Baptist would have been referring too to the story of Abraham’s binding of his son, Isaac, in chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis, where God provided the sacrificial lamb thereby saving Isaac from death. The Baptist, who had long been preparing to announce the Messiah’s arrival, would have had all these scripture passages in mind when referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God.

It is clear that John the Baptist had a definite understanding of Jesus’ identity by using the image of the lamb. Jesus would be the one to destroy sin and thus bring salvation to the world. The Baptist wanted to make clear the distinction between the Saviour and himself, whose task was to prepare the people for the great saving work of Jesus.

In that context, we are reminded of the words spoken by the priest before the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass: ‘This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.’ We remember the details of the apparition of Our Lady at Knock in Ireland, where the central figure in the apparition was the Lamb of God, the innocent victim suffering for our sins, at the altar surrounded by angels, with Mary, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist prayerfully looking on.


Thus the second character in chapter 1 of John’s Gospel is John the Baptist. He described himself as a ‘witness that he [Jesusi is the Chosen One of God’ (Jn 1:34). The Baptist played a unique role in preparing the way for Jesus the Messiah to come into people’s lives. He did this by his faithful witnessing and his penitential lifestyle.
We too are called to be witnesses to the Lamb of God and, by our convictions and lifestyle, to facilitate his arrival in the hearts and souls of those we meet and know. But to do that, we need to recognise Jesus as the Lamb of God. Let us pray that, like John the Baptist, we will always do so.

For meditation

A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water. (Jn 1:30-31)
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Homily notes

1. Every day we hear of further research into global warming and of new symptoms of the ecological crisis of the planet. This often provokes a cry that religion has little to offer on this problem or that it is a matter that little interests the churches. It is as well to acknowledge this criticism in that there has been a tradition of exploitation of the planet in the industry-driven west – the slash and burn mentality – that has taken Gen 1:28 (‘fill the earth and subdue it’) literally. Eqally, many traditions of Christianity have been so centered on the spiritual life of the human being that they have neglected the creation, the environment, and even our bodily material natures. There are plenty at examples at dualist spiritualities that saw humans as souls trapped and held down by matter. And, there are indeed many forms of Evangelical Christianity that sees the message of Jesus so restrictedly in terms ot the salvation of individuals or the rescuing of an elect prior to an apocalyptic crunch that they think care for the planet is a waste of time. This produced a certain kind of mechanistic providence: if God wants us to survive, we’ll survive!
2. However, a healthy theology of the incarnation and a healthy ecology should go hand in hand. If God is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, and has entered the creation as a creature, the man Jesus of Nazareth, then his love for the creation can know no bounds and should set the standard for our properly ordered interaction with all creatures: visible and invisible, rational or non-rational, animate or inanimate. But the challenge is to have both a healthy christology and a healthy ecology, and have the two interfacing one another.

3. In the second reading and gospel today – and it is worth pointing out that such occasional overlaps are accidental ­we have a theology of incarnation which presents the holiness of God entering the creation and then being contagious, spreading out to all nations, out to the very ends of the earth. We tend to think of the earth as just there, raw earth, and then there are distinct special holy places and holy people. But to those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God who comes from the Father and upon whom the Spirit remains, such limited notions of holiness are now inadequate. Jesus challenges us to a have a whole new way of looking at the world: holiness is now contagious, and everywhere can be a sacred place and everyone can be a saint. We have encoun­tered the Christ, and this challenges us to transform all our relationships. Everyone who is in Christ is a holy person and can spread holiness, everywhere can be a place where we can encounter the presence of God.

4. We must respect each other and the environment as a gift from God and react appropriately to its God-given nature. We cannot see it as just something that we can selfishly hijack as if it were just there. We tend to live in dualist universes: there is the sacred and the secular; the spiritual and the material; the holy and the unholy; the pure and the impure; the saints and the sinners. The love and holiness of God that became part of the creation in Jesus overcame all these dualisms and division. Holiness is contagious, goodness is diffu­sive, and care for the planet, care for the poor and oppressed, and care for self cannot be separated.

John the Baptist had the task of bearing witness to the incarn­ate Son among humanity; we have the task of bearing wit­ness to its implications for how we treat the environment.

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Prayer reflection

“The death of a single human being is too heavy a price to pay for the vindication of any principle, however sacred.  Dan Berrigan

Lord, forgive us for thinking that you want us to destroy people
in order to take away some evil from our community.
Send us John the Baptists who will tell us to focus on the Jesus among us
who takes away the sin of the world not through violence
but as your precious lamb.

“I find it troubling that we say so readily, ‘Well, there aren’t any alternatives, we have to do it the way we’re doing it.”    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, commenting on the US bombing of Afghanistan 

Lord, we thank you for church leaders
who affirm the message of Jesus with conviction
so that people can have the experience of John the Baptist,
see Jesus coming into their community and say,
“Look, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of our world.”

The Word of God is red-hot iron. And you who preach it, you’d go picking it up with a pair of tongs lest you burn yourself.”   George Bernanos, ‘Diary of a Country Priest” 

Lord, forgive us that we are afraid of being like Jesus,
lambs led to the slaughter house as we take away the sins of the world.
Lord, forgive us that as leaders we look to the members of our community
to give us our identity
so that we cannot risk being unpopular by telling the truth.
Send us John the Baptist to remind us of the day
when your Spirit came down from heaven and rested on us.

A time will come when we will once again be called so to utter the Word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lord, we pray that your church will be truly John the Baptist
saying to the world, “Look, there is the Lamb of God
who transforms the world by taking away its sins.”

“The old man repeats the prayers he recited as a child, but now with the experience of a lifetime.” Hegel
Lord, we thank you that today we can look back on our lives
and say like John the Baptist, “Yes, I have seen,
and I am the witness that Jesus is your Chosen One.”

He is the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the unknown knower. There is no other seer than he, no other hearer than he, no other thinker than he, no other knower than he.” The Upanishads

Lord, fill us with a spirit of awe in our ministry.
When we minister to others help us to remember
that though they come after us they rank before us
because there is something within them which existed before us.

To understand the Scriptures we must stop acting like mere spectators.”    Karl Barth 

Lord, send us John the Baptist to remind us that we must see and be witnesses that your Spirit came down from heaven and rested on the sacred Writers and that the Bible is your Chosen Book.

“I don’t like that man; I have to get to know him better.”    Abraham Lincoln

Lord, teach us to wait for one another.
When we don’t know people, say to us as you said to John the Baptist, That we will see the Spirit come down from heaven and rest on them And discover in them the capacity to complete what we have done, Baptising with the Holy Spirit where we only baptise with water.

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Homilies: 

1.     Andrew Greeley 

Background:

The scene in today’s Gospel is not quite as spectacular as the one in the first reading, but in a sense it is much more dramatic when it is read from our perspective. Jesus is laying down a claim to be the sign of the messianic age.

 Though later he would on occasion dodge the question of whether he was the messiah because the role of that person was so badly misunderstood (as a military and political leader), he made clear at the beginning of his ministry that the messianic age, properly understood as a new age of creation, was also beginning.  

 The people in the synagogue must have been thunderstruck. They knew Jesus and liked him, but how could anyone claim to be fulfilling personally the prophecy of Isaiah? 

Story:
Once there was a truly great high school basketball team that everyone said would win the city championship without even trying. So they swept through the season without even trying. Why work hard to beat a time that was no big deal. That year there were no big deal teams in the whole city, except our friends. So they won all their games by fifteen points or more and were hailed as the best ever. That came the championship match against a team they’d already beaten twice. However, the other team was all pumped up, the refs were manifestly unfair, and crowd was for the other team. The coach, who had warned them all season about being flat on the wrong day, screamed at them to know avail. 

Then at the beginning of the second half he screamed at the refs for a blatantly unfair call. The refs threw him out and then the assistant coach who screamed and the refs through him out too. So the only adult on the bench was the second assistant who was just out of college and who had played on the team a couple of years ago (and wasn’t truly great) took over. He called time out and said, look, guys, we may be down by ten but we can beat these clumsy oaf and I’m going to tell you how. They’re rotten ball handlers. We’ll put on a full course press and steal the ball from them every time they try to bring it down.
What does he know a couple of guys said as they returned to the court?

 Who does he think he is?  

 But they put on the press and caught up almost at once and were ten points ahead when the final quarter started. We’ve got them on the road, guys, the acting coach said, keep up the press. But the guys were fed up with this punks enthusiasm and decided to ease up. What happened. The score was tied with only three minutes left and they were five points down with two minutes left. Let’s do the press, someone said. Only by now they were too tired. So they lost by ten points. Moral: You take your prophets wherever you can find them. 

2.     Connections: 


Things will never be the same . . .
Late one night, he and his father took the telescope to a field far away from the lights of the city.  His dad carefully set up and positioned the lens.  Then Dad had him look down into the eye piece.  What he saw filled him with awe.  He could see the rings of Saturn, the red craters of Mars, the Sea of Tranquility on Earth’s moon.  His dad pointed out Polaris, Sirius and the stars of the Big Dipper, Orion and Andromeda.  That particular night they could also see the lights of the Space Shuttle fly overhead.  So began one boy’s love of astronomy and fascination with the reaches of outer space.  After that night with his dad, he never looked at the stars the same way again.
For years she had listened to the Metropolitan Opera on her radio and phonograph.  Then, for her birthday, her children gave her a trip to New York City, and tickets for the Metropolitan’s production of Puccini’s Tosca.  With excitement and a little disbelief, she found herself sitting in the majestic hall at Lincoln Center; she was soon transported by the magnificent music and spectacle.  Since that wonderful night at the Met, she now hears music with a joy and insight she never knew before.
He always loved to draw.  His sketchbook was a kind of retreat, a place that was his alone to enjoy his art.  One day an artist friend happened to see his sketches.  She recognized a talent in those pages and encouraged him to develop it.  She offered suggestions on technique and style -- and he soaked it up like a sponge.  He enrolled in a watercolor course at the local art institute.  His artist friend continued to encourage him and suggested books and exhibits he should see.  With a new understanding of form and color, of light and perspective, he sees the world these days with very different eyes.
Today John the Baptizer invites us to “behold” the Christ, Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.  After meeting the Jesus of the Gospels, we will never see the world the same way again; after hearing Jesus’ Gospel, peace, forgiveness and justice are possible in ways we couldn’t imagine; after seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes, our perspectives and attitudes are transformed in his light.  Christ is forever in our midst -- and to behold that presence changes everything.  Throughout this New Year, may we continue to “behold” the Lamb of God in our midst, transforming our vision, our perspective, our expectations for this life and the life to come.  

THE WORD:

The Fourth Gospel emphasizes John the Baptizer’s role as the bridge between the First and New Testaments; he is the last great prophet who identifies Jesus as the Messiah.  In his vision of the Spirit of God “resting” upon and within Jesus, the Baptizer realizes that this is the chosen Servant of God who has come to inaugurate the Messianic era of forgiveness and reconciliation (today’s first reading, the second of Isaiah's “servant” songs, describes the mission of the servant: to bring Israel back to the Lord and, through her, extend the Lord's salvation to every nation and people on earth).

HOMILY POINTS:

By our baptisms, we are called to be witnesses and prophets of the ‘Lamb of God’ along the Jordan Rivers of our homes, schools and work places.

Christ’s presence among us is a time for new beginnings: an invitation to walk from the shadows of hatred and mistrust to the light of understanding and peace, a chance for healing our brokenness and mending our relationships with one another, a call to be seekers of hope and enablers of reconciliation in our own time and place.

Through our own acts of compassion and generosity, of justice and forgiveness, we proclaim that “the Lamb of God” walks in our midst, that the love and mercy of God has dawned upon us. 

3.     Deacon David Rider 

Purpose: Everything about John the Baptist’s words and actions in this passage reveals that his entire existence revolves around his mission of leading others to Jesus Christ.  John declares that the very reason for which he came was that Jesus “might be made known.”  We could say that John the Baptist existed in order to evangelize. By our Baptism, we, too, are called to evangelize. 

In December of 2007, I spent my Christmas break in the West African country of Ghana.  Among the many adventures and interesting experiences I had there, one of the most beautiful was a Mass I attended for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of one of the parishes in the southern part of the country.  All the members of the parish were united in a tremendous spirit of joy, wearing bright blue shirts and dresses, and jubilantly dancing out their thanks to God for all of the graces he had shed on them in their 75 years as a community.  After the Gospel was proclaimed, the bishop of the diocese gave a homily which I will never forget.  He began by reminding all the parishioners gathered there of the sacrifices of the first missionaries who had brought the Christian faith to Ghana.  In the course of three years, three missionaries had arrived from Europe, each of whom died within one year of his arrival.  According to the bishop, each had come expecting that such would be his fate.  The fruit of their brief but intense work as missionaries, and the sacrifice of their lives, was the flourishing of the Christian faith in Ghana.  Having called to their memory the heroic efforts of the first people to evangelize their country, the bishop then exhorted the members of the parish not to sit back and enjoy the results of their forefathers’ work, but to get to work evangelizing their family members and friends who had yet to experience the joy of life with Christ.  He finished his homily with a challenge that I have never forgotten, and which has “bothered” me at the end of every year since that Christmas break of 2007.  “At the end of each year” he said, “you should be able to count at least four people whom you have helped to bring into, or bring back into, the Church.  If you can’t count at least four people, you are probably not doing enough to contribute to the Church’s work of evangelization.”

Now, let me say right away that I would not actually recommend setting such a precise goal.  The bishop in this account was saying something at a particular moment to the particular Church of which he was the head, and his point was more to emphasize the urgency of the mission than to actually provide a criterion by which to measure the authenticity of his people’s missionary labors.  He would certainly admit that it is not we, but the Holy Spirit who converts, and often the Lord keeps us from seeing the fruit of our labor in order to keep us from pride. However, it is clear from his provocative challenge that this fine bishop understood something fundamental about what it means to be a Catholic: to be a Catholic means to have a heart for evangelization.  In the words of Pope Paul VI, the “task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church … Evangelizing is, in fact, the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.  She exists in order to evangelize….”

In the Gospel, we have just heard, we see the figure of John the Baptist doing just this, evangelizing, which means helping others to come to Jesus.  The Baptist, seeing the Lord coming toward him, cries out for all to hear, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  He tells us that he has “seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”  Everything about John’s words and actions in this passage reveals that his entire existence revolves around his mission of leading others to Jesus Christ.  John declares that the very reason for which he came was that Jesus “might be made known.”  We could say that John the Baptist existed in order to evangelize.

Thinking back to that experience on Christmas break, it struck me that the audience to whom the African bishop was speaking about being contemporary imitators of John the Baptist was not comprised of priests, nor of sisters from a missionary order, but lay people.  He was telling people who had families, jobs, and busy lives that they too were called to evangelize.  He was telling them that, by the very fact of their baptism, they could say about themselves exactly what Paul says about himself in today’s reading from the Letter to the Corinthians when he declares that he is “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, strongly insisted on this point in his recent apostolic exhortation.  His conviction that all Christians are called to contribute to the Church’s missionary effort could not be clearer as he writes:

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19).  All the baptized, what­ever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evan­gelization, and it would be insufficient to envis­age a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangeli­zation calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.  Every Christian is chal­lenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization.

If we accept this vocation to be “agents of evangelization,” how is it that we are supposed to go about living out such a mission?  Well, the first thing we must do is pray. There’s an old saying that goes, “You have to talk to Jesus about your friends before you talk to your friends about Jesus.”  Praying – part of which includes offering up our pains and crosses to God for other people – is the most important step in evangelization, and it helps us to stay mindful of the fact that conversion is always a work of the Holy Spirit.  Secondly, we must strive to live lives that are consistent with the Gospel, especially lives permeated by joy and love for others.  How many people have been attracted to Christian faith after an encounter with someone who radiated a happiness that was obviously not of this world, or after having been loved by a Christian at a time when they were really down on life.  As Ralph Waldo Emmerson put it, “Your actions scream so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  Before we speak about Christ, we must proclaim him with every action and gesture of every day, and eventually people will be compelled to ask, “Why are you the way you are?”  When this question arises, it’s time to make what is known as the “explicit proclamation” of our faith.  Naturally and calmly, we explain what our friendship with Jesus means to us, and how our lives have been definitively changed by this relationship.  This explicit proclamation will often require courage, and might not always be well-received, but someday in heaven, we will see what the Holy Spirit has done with all of the seeds planted by our well-timed words of witness.  Through prayer, and the testimony of our lives and words, God can truly work miracles of conversion, in even the most hardened of hearts, and in those people who seem least likely to embrace Jesus and his Church.

We are still at the beginning of the new year, and there are many weeks and months to come before December 31st arrives.  Whether or not you aim for the specific number of converts recommended by our African bishop, it would be worth asking yourself what you will do this year to try to bring your family and friends closer to Jesus. We belong to a Church that “exists in order to evangelize,” and that effort involves every single one of us.If we decide today to take Pope Francis’s words seriously, and open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit as agents of evangelization like John the Baptist and Paul, we will be able to hear the words of the Lord in today’s first reading addressed directly to us: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

One of the great celebrative anthems that comes to us from the African-American culture is the powerful spiritual "Ain't Got Time To Die." It was written by Hall Johnson and it has these joyfully dramatic words: 

"Been so busy praising my Jesus,
Been so busy working for the Kingdom,
Been so busy serving my Master
Ain't got time to die.
If I don't praise him,
If I don't serve him,
The rocks gonna cry out
Glory and honor, glory and honor
Ain't got time to die." 

In this inspiring and wonderful spiritual, the composer is underscoring and celebrating the joy and excitement of being a Christian, the joy and excitement of serving our Lord in gratitude for what he has done for us. The point that this spiritual is trying to drive home to us with great enthusiasm is that when we really become Christians, when we really commit our lives to Christ; then, we can't sit still. We become so excited, so thrilled, so grateful for our new life in Christ that we can't help but love Him, praise Him, serve Him, and share Him with others. 

This is precisely what happened to Andrew. He found the Messiah, he encountered Jesus - and he was so excited he couldn't sit still. Immediately, gratefully, excitedly, he ran to share the good news with his brother Simon. It reads like this in the first chapter of John's Gospel... 
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 "Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word."  

Can you identify where that's from? Or should I say, can anyone under 35 identify where that's from?  

The dream of a new start, a fresh beginning, a blank slate is a big part of something known around the world as the "American dream." The opportunity to take a new path, to get off old roads and out of deep ruts has brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to this country. 

By the mid-nineteenth century, starting over in America meant moving west. The opening of the rich farming and grazing lands in the prairie, the vast expanse of wilderness beyond the Rocky Mountains, the lure of the Pacific coast, enticed multiple generations of new immigrants to start a new life in a new place. They moved away from the familiar and into the unknown with optimism and hope.

In 1873 Dr. Brewster Higley published a poem entitled "My Home on the Range," which a few years later was set to music and became the state song of Kansas: "Home, Home, on the Range." It is a "cowboy song," a ballad to be belted out beneath the stars while watching over the herds and smelling the smoke of campfire. But Higley's song about the wildlife and wide-open spaces includes one very human-oriented note.

Home, home, on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day. 

Plopped in the middle of Higley's description of a beautiful, natural setting, he thought it was important to proclaim "seldom is heard a discouraging word." That is a human thing. Deer and antelope don't "discourage" one another. But for those early settlers, no "discouraging word" for miles and miles meant that there was no honking hierarchy, no toxic turbo tongues, no nit-picking establishment measuring your every move, no clucking tongues looking over your shoulder and registering their disapproval. No discouraging word meant freedom from a culture of complaint and criticism, and people with a nonjudgmental spirit. No discouraging word meant the opportunity to live day to day doing the best one could without being measured against others and found wanting...  

God's Kind of Revenge  

A young soldier was utterly humiliated by his senior officer. The officer had gone beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior in disciplining the young soldier and knew it, so he said nothing as the younger man said through clenched teeth, "I'll make you regret this if it is the last thing I ever do." A few days later their company was under heavy fire and the officer was wounded and cut off from his troops. Through the haze of the battlefield he saw a figure coming to his rescue. It was the young soldier. At the risk of his own life, the young soldier dragged the officer to safety. The officer said, apologetically, "Son, I owe you my life." The young man laughed and said, "I told you that I would make you regret humiliating me if it was the last thing I ever did."

That is God's kind of revenge. "Behold the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world..." Something happened on Calvary that bridged the gap between a holy God and unholy humanity. We see Christ in his majesty but also in his mercy.
 
King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Cheap Talk about an All Powerful God 

One Christian writer has said, "All cheap and easy talk about a God of sovereign power who is in control of a world in which there is so much poverty, suffering, and injustice is obscene. All self-confident talk about a powerful church that has the mandate and the ability to change society with this or that conservative or liberal social/political agenda or with this or that evangelistic program is increasingly absurd in a disintegrating church that cannot solve its own problems, much less the problems of the world. The only gospel that makes sense and can help... is the good news of a God who loves enough to suffer with and for a suffering humanity. And the only believable church is one that is willing to bear witness to such a God by its willingness to do the same thing" (Shirley Guthrie, "Human Suffering, Human Liberation, and the Sovereignty of God," Theology Today, April 1996, p. 32). 

Johnny Dean
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Don't Ever Say That Again
 

In A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, there is a story about a student who was unlike most students. One day in the 11th grade he went into a classroom to wait for a friend. The teacher appeared and asked him to go to the blackboard. He replied, "I'm not one of your students." The teacher said, "Doesn't matter. Go to the board anyhow." The student told him he couldn't do that and when the teacher asked "why not?" the student told him he was mentally retarded. The teacher came over to the student and said, "Don't ever say that again. Someone's opinion of you does not have to be become your reality."

It became a liberating moment for the student, a time of great learning. The teacher, Mr. Washington, became the student's mentor. Later that school year Mr. Washington addressed the graduating seniors. And in his speech he said, "You have greatness within you ..... You can touch millions of people's lives." After the speech the student went up to Mr. Washington and asked him if he had greatness within him. The teacher replied, "Yes, Mr. Brown, you do." The student thanked him and told him that one day he would make the teacher proud. 

In his senior year it happened that Brown was placed in Mr. Washington's speech and drama class. Although Brown was a special education student, the principal realized that this would be a good match up. Mr. Washington gave Brown a larger vision of himself. While other teachers passed Brown from class to class, Mr. Washington made more demands of him. He made him accountable. He enabled him to believe in himself. Years later the famous, Les Brown, produced five specials on public television. Mr. Washington saw the program and called Les Brown to tell him how proud he was of his achievement. 

When others believe in us we gain confidence in ourselves and are able to do great things. Naturally, we still have to apply ourselves. Les Brown had to work hard to finish high school. But, he was now motivated to learn. Our children need to hear from us that we believe in them. Our students, who could be our friends, relatives, or co-workers will be motivated to aspire to greater things when we believe in them.

 Keith Wagner, St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Sidney, Ohio
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Martin Luther King, Jr. - Captured by the Spirit of Christ

Two months before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta about his death in what would oddly enough become his eulogy.

"Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral," Dr. King told his congregation. "If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that's not important. I'd like someone to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like someone to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to be able to say that I did try to visit those in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity." Dr. King concluded with these words: "I won't have any money left behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind."

Did Martin King have that level of commitment when he first began his ministry? It's doubtful. He had youthful enthusiasm to be sure. He had strong convictions. He was well brought up, with an outstanding Baptist preacher as a father. But people who are truly captured by the spirit of Christ do so generally after years of walking in Christ's footsteps. Our faith is validated and grows as we "come and see."

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
www.Sermons.com

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 Epiphany Moments 

Working in a small town in Latin America, a woman felt despair. She was experiencing marital problems, as well as conflicts with people she worked with. Without warning, an earthquake struck one day. In those moments of panic and fear she ran with other people to the relative safety of a garden plaza as buildings shattered and dust billowed. 

"For those moments I saw everything so clearly," she recalls, "how I could become so much kinder to my husband, how other relationships could work out. In an instant--and with such gratitude--I saw how it would be so easy for me to turn things around." In that dramatic moment this woman had glimpsed how the brokenness in her life could be mended. At that moment she saw clearly how she could bring about healing in her life. At that moment it was as if God had spoken to her in a most dramatic way.

God had told John in a personal epiphany, "He on whom you see the spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." When John saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove, he knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. John believed that day because of a personal act of revelation.

Sometimes that happens to people. 

The truth of God comes into their lives in such a dramatic fashion that they can scarcely deny that they have been in His presence. That's one way of finding Jesus.

Arthur G. Ferry, Jr., Finding Jesus
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Jesus Calls the Common Man 

In May 1855, an eighteen-year-old boy went to the deacons of the church in

Boston. He had been raised in a Unitarian church, in almost total ignorance of the gospel, but when he had moved to Boston to make his fortune, he began to attend a Bible-preaching church. Then, in April of 1855, his Sunday school teacher had come into the store where he was working and simply and persuasively shared the Gospel and urged the young man to trust in the Lord Jesus. He did, and now he was applying to join the church. One fact quickly became obvious. This young man was almost totally ignorant of biblical truth. One of the deacons asked him, "Son, what has Christ done for us all--for you--which entitles him to our love?" His response was, "I don't know. I think Christ has done a great deal for us, but I don't think of anything in particular that I know of." 

Hardly an impressive start. Years later his Sunday school teacher said of him: "I can truly say that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday school class. I think the committee of the church seldom met an applicant for membership who seemed more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any space of public or extended usefulness." Nothing happened very quickly to change their minds. The deacons decided to put him on a year-long instruction program to teach him basic Christian truths. Perhaps they wanted to work on some of his other rough spots as well. Not only was he ignorant of spiritual truths, he was only barely literate, and his spoken grammar was atrocious. The year-long probation did not help very much. At his second interview, there was only a minimal improvement in the quality of his answers, but since it was obvious that he was a sincere and committed (if ignorant) Christian, they accepted him as a church member. 

Over the next years, many people looked at that young man and were convinced that God would never use a person like that. And in doing so they wrote off Dwight L. Moody. But God did not. By God's infinite grace and persevering love, Moody was transformed into one of the most effective servants of God in church history, a man whose impact is still with us today. 

Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay.

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 Landed on Top of a Lamb 

A tourist visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church's tower. 

He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. 

His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. 

How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved.

To commemorate that miraculous escape, someone carved a lamb on the tower at the exact height from which the workman fell. 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com, Original Source Unknown.

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Daily Discipline  

The importance of the counter-intelligence engendered by self-discipline and daily disciplines of life is reflected in this "inside" story of the great African-American theologian Howard Thurman. 

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder and spiritual leader of the Jewish Renewal Movement, tells this personal account about his meeting with the African-American theologian and writer Howard Thurman:  

"Howard Thurman once came to visit me in Winnipeg. I asked whether he wanted to visit the Trappists, and he did. I asked, 'Do you want to see the abbot?' he said, 'No, the abbot is just a manager. I'd like to talk with the master of novices.'

So we see the master of novices and Howard asks him, 'What's the novices' biggest complaint?' The master says, 'they have to be up at 2:30 in the morning to attend matins and lauds. They aren't too happy about it. They tell me that it's so much better when they're out in the fields and they feel ecstasy and love for God and hallelujah and so on. So I say to them, 'I forbid you to come to any services now except for the obligatory masses.' Well, after a while they came back and said, ‘We didn’t come here to be farmhands.’”  

“’ What happened to your ecstasies?’ the master asked. ‘They dried up,’ said the novices. So the master told them, ‘Of course, now you realize that what you are doing at 2:30 in the morning is what gives you the ecstasy in the fields.’” 

It’s not as simple as sending people into the fields to find the presence of the “divine,” the “sacred,” the “numinous.” It’s true, but it’s only half the truth. The other half, the one (like the novices) we don’t want to hear, is that we need some discipline that keep us listening to the ancient story in Scripture, singing, chanting the Psalms, praying hundred- and thousand-year old prayers. These rituals are what slowly, like water wearing a channel in a rock, slowly changes our minds, our hearts, unstops our ears, pulls the scales from our eyes so that when we go out into the fields we are ready for ecstasy.

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From Father Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1) "Eureka! Eureka!"

According to the legend, the ruler Hiero II asked Archimedes to find a method for determining whether a crown was pure gold or mixed with silver. One day when Archimedes stepped into his bath and noticed that the water rose as he sat down, he ran out of the house naked shouting, "Eureka! Eureka!" (= "I have found). The method to determine whether or not a crown was pure gold, discovered by Archimedes in his bath tub, was to compare its weight to its volume. If one had 1 pound of gold and 1 pound of silver and submerged them in water, the silver would make the water rise higher than the gold, because it is less dense than gold. Archimedes compared the volume of water displaced by the suspected crown with that displaced by pure gold crown of equal weight, to clear the doubt of his emperor. Archimedes did not "find" this truth by searching after it -- although he might have spent days thinking about a solution to the problem. His "find" came as an unexpected surprise. He might have noticed the water in the bathtub rising hundreds of times before, but its significance didn't "click" in his brain until that "eureka" moment. Today’s gospel describes how John discovered Jesus as the Lamb of God and how Andrew, Simon, and Nathaniel discovered him as the “Promised Messiah” quite unexpectedly.  

2) Lamb at the roof:

In the city of Werden, in Germany, there stands a Catholic Church with a lamb carved out of stone and placed on its roof. Centuries ago a worker was once up on the roof of that church in order to repair it. His safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large-size rocks. As luck would have it, a lamb was having its lunch on grass growing between the rocks. The craftsman fell on the poor lamb. The lamb was slain… but the man lived. So the craftsman did the decent thing. He sculpted a lamb and, in gratitude, situated it on the roof. Today we come together at this Liturgy to remember and salute another Lamb. Each of us owes Him much. As a matter of fact, we owe Him our spiritual lives because he saved us from the eternally fatal fall from grace. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne). 

3) Pastor joke:  

My neighboring pastor put sanitary hot air hand dryers in the rest rooms at his church and after two weeks took them out. I asked him why and he confessed that they worked fine but when he went in there he saw a sign that read, "For a sample of this week's sermon, push the button." 

4) The future son-in-law:  

The rich business man Raymond goes to meet his new son-in-law to be, Ben. He says to Ben, "So, tell me, Ben my boy, what you do?" "I study Theology," he replies. "But Ben, you are going to marry my daughter, how are going to feed and house her?" "No problem," says Ben, "I study Theology and it says God will provide." "But you will have children, how will you educate them?" asks Raymond. "No problem," says Ben, "I study Theology and it says God will provide." When Raymond returns home, his wife anxiously asks him what Ben is like. "Well," says Raymond, "he's a lovely boy. I only just met him and he already thinks I'm God and I will provide for his future family. 

5) "Come Unto Me:"

In a cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark there is a magnificent statue of Jesus by the noted sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. When Thorvaldsen first completed the sculpture he gazed upon the finished product with great satisfaction. It was a sculpture of Christ with face looking upward and arms extended upward. It was a statue of a majestic, conquering Christ. Later that night, however, after the sculptor had left his fine new work in clay to dry and harden, something unexpected occurred. Sea mist seeped into the studio in the night. The clay did not harden as quickly as anticipated. The upraised arms and head of the sculpture began to drop. The majestic Christ with arms lifted up and head thrown back was transformed into a Christ with head bent forward and arms stretched downward as if in a pose of gentle invitation. At first Thorvaldsen was bitterly disappointed. As he studied the transformed sculpture, however, he came to see a dimension of Christ that had not been real to him before. It was the Christ who is a gently, merciful Savior. Thorvaldsen inscribed on the base of the completed statue, "Come Unto Me," and that picture of the Lamb of God in his mercy has inspired millions. 

6) “Will not my example inspire you to do your best?"  

Leonardo da Vinci had started a work on canvas in his studio. He chose a subject, sketched its outer lines, shaded here and lightened there. About half way through his work, however, he halted his sketching. He turned to a student of his and said, "I want you to finish the work that I have started." The student protested. He surely was not worthy of such an honor. Da Vinci reassured him, "Will not my example inspire you to do your best?" he said. And besides I am right here beside you if you should need any help." "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." See him in his majesty. See him in his mercy. See him in his ministry to the world, a ministry to which he calls you and me to complete. May his example inspire us and his presence empower us until all the world knows that the victory has been won. 

7) Our faith is validated and grows as we "come and see."  

Two months before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta about his death in what would oddly enough become his eulogy. "Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral," Dr. King told his congregation. "If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that is not important. I’d like someone to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like someone to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to be able to say that I did try to visit those in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity." Dr. King concluded with these words: "I won’t have any money left behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind." (Voices of Freedom, Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer with Sarah Flynn, (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), pp. 470-471) Did Martin King have that level of commitment when he first began his ministry? It is doubtful. He had youthful enthusiasm to be sure. He had strong convictions. He was well brought up, with an outstanding Baptist preacher as a father. But people who are truly captured by the spirit of Christ do so generally after years of walking in Christ’s footsteps. Our faith is validated and grows as we "come and see." 

8) 'Thank God for the little old ladies.”

William Willimon, professor at Duke Divinity School, remembers when a friend of his visited the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Upon his return he announced that the church behind the Iron Curtain was mostly "irrelevant because the only people there are little old ladies." Dr. Willimon writes, "Looking back now at the collapse of communism, the difficulties of rebuilding the Soviet Union after a long period of spiritual bankruptcy, I hope my friend would now say, 'Thank God for the little old ladies. Their existence provided a continuing, visible, political rebuke to the Soviets." (William H. Willimon). It would be wonderful if our witness was as effective as that of those little old ladies. It would be wonderful if our witness, like Andrew’s, was effective enough to challenge another Simon Peter. That is our task, and what a joyous, challenging task it is. Having found Christ, or more correctly having been found by Christ, we find others " that they, too, may come and see.  

9) Apple computers acknowledging IBM:

John Sculley, former head of Apple Computer tells about his first encounter with Tom Watson, the man who made IBM into one of the world's great corporations. Sculley left Pepsi Cola to take the presidency of Apple. It was not an easy transition. During a time of tremendous pressure Sculley received an invitation from Watson to come to Watson's home. During the weekend Sculley was most impressed by Watson on many levels but particularly by his modesty and by how genuinely interested he was in Apple. Watson seemed confident that Sculley's company would get over their problems. "As long as Apple can continue to innovate and hold together the things it believes in, it will pull through," Watson told Sculley. Sculley said it was the word of encouragement he needed coming from a man he greatly admired. John the Baptist did it centuries ago by projecting Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” 

10) Matrix movies:

The Wachowski Brothers are great story tellers. Their universe is very Christian, even if it doesn't claim to be. They took all the best parts of Scripture: stories of faith, faithfulness, temptation, the fall, of prophecy and a savior and wove them all together in a universe of technology and despair that is both engaging, moving and theologically thought provoking. There's a really brief scene in the Matrix, where Morpheus, the John the Baptist or Elijah kind of character, has freed Neo from the Matrix. He's convinced that Neo is the One. The one who will save them and set them free. He tells another character, Trinity: "We've done it Trinity. We've found him." Trinity says, "I hope you're right." And Morpheus responds, "You don't have to hope. I know it." That's basically the Message Andrew had for his brother. Andrew Pointed out Jesus to his brother Simon in a very simple way. He said: "We've found the Messiah." That's all. He could have quoted Morpheus and said the same thing. "We've done it Simon. We've found him." Andrew was pointing the way. And by Pointing the way, Simon's life and name were changed.

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