2 Sunday A: John Baptist: Behold the Lamb of God

 
World Day of Migrants and Refugees
Gospel reading: John 1:29-34
Jesus lamb of God
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:
jesus takes sin
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):
Way of the Cross– “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.

Prayer reflection
Jesus forgives“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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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
aspergesGiven 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.
 
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!
Jesus and ecology2. 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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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).
man-before-crossThe 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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Donal Neary SJ
Human beings on a spiritual journey

John the Baptist ha been told to watch out for the Spirit of God. Somehow now he recognised the Spirit of Jesus. Somehow he knows that new person, Jesus, will give this spirit to all. We call it the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus
We talk of team spirit, the spirit of generosity in a family. We have a spiritual life. We are more than we seem, more than a body. We are made for an eternal relationship with God, which begins now.
migrantsOn Migrant Sunday, we think of the situations of asylum seekers and refugees. Many different kinds of asylum seekers have come to our country. These are people who are often treated badly in Ireland in a system that seems not to be changing. These are people who for reasons of great danger cannot go back to their own country. They show us the spirit of courage in the decision a parent  has yo make to bring their family to another country for a better life, or the spirit of sacrifice that people make in detention centres and refugee camps.
We pay tribute also to volunteers and statutory workers who do their best for our refugees.
The Spirit is freely given to all of us. John recognised that in Jesus, and at Pentecost the new community of followers welcomed the outpourings of the Spirit. With God’s help we can do the same: we can recognise tjhe spirit in us ll, on our human journey of life.
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From the Connections:
 
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.

Behold God in your midst . . .
An eight-year old boy is facing surgery.  He asks his doctor, “What’s it like to die?”  Neither the doctor nor anyone else on the medical staff can answer his question directly — but one hospital employee can.  She isn’t a doctor or nurse or child psychologist.  She cleans the floors.  One night the boy asks her, “Are you afraid of dying?”  She puts down her mop, looks up from the floor and replies, “Yes, I am, but I do something about it.”  She talks to the boy as an equal, not as a superior.  She tells him that she believes in God and finds comfort in the words of Jesus.  The two talk for a long time.  She has put the boy at peace simply by listening to him. [1]  Behold, the Lamb of God . . .
A high school student is struggling with his algebra homework.  The frustration builds and the teenager slams the book shut.  His father comes into the kitchen and asks if he can help, but the teenager says, “They didn’t even have algebra in your day.”  Defeated and angry, the boy goes off to bed.  At 4 A.M., his dad shakes his son awake and sits him back down at the kitchen table.  The father, who works two jobs as a janitor and a chauffeur, sat up all night to read the algebra book from cover to cover.  He worked the problems through until he understood them enough to be able to explain them to his son.  With his dad tutoring him, the student finally grasps the equations and completes his homework.  That night, a father taught his son much more than algebra. [2]  Behold, the Lamb of God . . . 
    
Within a month, she had lost both her father and her mother.  It was something neither she nor her husband knew how to deal with.  She was devastated; getting through the days was often more than she could handle.  He thought he might be able to lessen the blow by being a more attentive spouse or more romantic husband.  He felt more and more inadequate at not being able to do something to alleviate her grief.  Then the night came for them to see the musical Wicked.  The tickets had been bought months before. The two leads sang a song that always reminded her of her mother.  That’s when he realized his role: to be there to hold her hand, to have Kleenex at the ready, to let her know he would be there when the music ended and the lights came back on. [3]  Behold, the Lamb of God . . .
[SOURCES:  [1] Guideposts, December 1990; [2] NPR’s StoryCorps; [3]
 
The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, November 25, 2007.]
In every act of selfless generosity and humble compassion, the Lamb of God walks in our midst.  Everyone of us — of every profession and age group, possessing every talent, skill and ability — has been called, as the Baptizer was called, to point to the Christ, the Lamb of God, dwelling among us and walking with us in our doubts, our hurts, our fears.  John declared his witness in preaching and baptizing at the Jordan; our witness can be declared in less vocal but no less effective vehicles: in our unfailing compassion for others, in our uncompromising moral and ethical convictions, in our everyday sense of joy and purpose.  
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ILLUSTRATIONS:

Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading is part of the well-known Servant Songs. In it the servant himself speaks and tells of God’s message to him. Before his birth itself he was set apart and chosen by God to bring Israel, God’s people, back to him, to lead them from sin and infidelity to a life worthy of their vocation. But even this did not exhaust the Servant’s vocation. He was to bring the light of salvation to the pagans and bring redemption to all men, to the very ends of the earth. The exile of the Israelites among the pagans of Babylon brought the realization that God was not only for the Jews but also for all men.

Best Service
A father and his young daughter were great friends, and much in each other’s company. Then the father noted a change in his daughter. If he went for a walk, she excused herself from going. He grieved about it, but could not understand. When his birthday came, she presented him with a pair of exquisitely worked slippers, saying, “I have made them for you with my own hands, Dad!” Then he understood what had been the matter for the past three months. He said, “My darling, I like these slippers very much, but next time, buy the slippers and let me have you with me every day. I would rather have YOU with me than anything that you can make for me! –What we are is more important than what we do!
- Adapted from G. Campbell Morgan
In the second reading from Paul to the Corinthians he speaks to the Corinthians about how faith has to be lived and practiced amidst the pagan culture that engulfs them. They should be God’s Church in Corinth not the Church of Corinth. He reminds them that they have been made holy in Christ. The Christian’s source of strength is their union with Christ. Paul’s wish for his readers is that they would enjoy the grace and peace that comes only from God. Grace is God’s favour to mankind in redeeming him, while peace is the result of living united with God and with one’s neighbour. The challenge and invitation to the people of Corinth and to us is to live in fidelity to God and to his Church.

Willing To Sacrifice
Sarojini, a nurse at Beach Hospital was taking her morning shower when she heard screams coming from the street. Quickly changing, she saw to her horror a little girl being dragged across the street by two stray dogs. The child was covered with blood. Sarojini rushed out and managed to snatch the girl from the dogs. But the dogs would not give up. Suddenly jumping up they managed to get a good hold of the girl and jerked her from Sarojini’s hands. As soon as she fell to the ground, the dogs began to bite her on the head, hands, and stomach. Sarojini jumped on top of the girl and lay flat on her, protecting the girl from the dogs, using her body as a shield. Now the dogs began attacking Sarojini. She was in agony as they dug their teeth into her hip and thighs. But Sarojini did not move, all the while attempting valiantly to kick the dogs with both her legs. Meanwhile two people came running from nearby houses with heavy sticks in their hands and managed to beat the dogs and chase them away. A passing van was stopped and picking Sarojini and the little girl, sped away to Beach Hospital where the girl underwent six hours of surgery and Sarojini four. It took six months for their wounds to heal. “I never regretted what I did,” said Sarojini. “I’ll do it again if needed!”
- C.P. Varkey in ‘If He and She Can….’

John wrote his gospel to give his community a deeper faith in Jesus and a deeper understanding of the kind of Messiah Jesus was. Today’s Gospel gives us the witness of John the Baptist to Jesus. As John sees Jesus coming towards him, he points out to Jesus as the Lamb of God. This expression, which John uses, combines many different conceptions from the Old Testament. Surely the allusion to the Lamb reminded the Israelites of the many lambs that were sacrificed daily in the temple and the lamb of the paschal sacrifice. There is the reference that was made by Isaiah to the Suffering Servant led like a lamb to the slaughter as a sacrifice for sin. One could recall the sacrifice of Abraham where God provided the lamb for sacrifice. The Lamb of God challenges us to make sacrifices similar to his for love of our neighbour. In referring to Jesus as the Lamb he is also being designated as the Servant of Yahweh, who became the servant of all. Besides being pointed out as the Lamb of God and the suffering servant, Jesus is also designated as Lord. As the Lord he is the goal of human history and the centre of the human race. John the Baptist would say of him: A man coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. He witnesses to Jesus as the Chosen one of God. We too are called to witness and profess our faith in Jesus by our words and by our deeds. But our witness will ring true if we have experienced Jesus as our Lord and if we follow his example of service to the point of sacrifice.

Lamb Of God
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. -That expresses a tiny bit of what it means when John says "Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" The sense indicated by Isaiah with his promise of one "who will bring salvation to the ends of the earth". And with it's visible symbol, the carving on the bell tower that gives testimony to what happened, it expresses a tiny bit of another important part of the gospel reading today - that of John calling out to his own disciples - and to all those who would hear his voice: "Look - the Lamb of God."
- Richard Fairchild in ‘Sermon and Liturgy’

“To take our baptismal vows seriously we are to follow Jesus as sacrificial lambs. We Christians must make all kinds of sacrifices. We sacrifice an easy logical and scientific view of the world and life. We cannot prove our faith; we make a leap of faith. It is based on reason but logic cannot take us there. Belief in God and Jesus means we sacrifice the popular and all too easy way of simple logic. Many call us fools. We are fools for Christ's sake. We sacrifice conventional wisdom and believe that power comes from weakness. We Christians are called to be advocates for the poor and homeless in a society that cherishes lavish lunches and luxurious living. We support legislation that brings food to the hungry and changes the system so that no one goes hungry. But Christian lambs are called to do some other painful and difficult things. We are to love our enemies. We need to get our political leaders to sit down and talk with so-called terrorists. There are as many different kinds of terrorists as there are American citizens. They are not all extremists. They differ widely about proper tactics and means to carry out their agendas. Our government apparently treats all so-called terrorists as if they are all the same.”
– Rev. Robert Warren Cromey

Nathan’s story- From the Second Book of Samuel
Two men were citizens of the same town. The one man was rich and powerful, the other poor and helpless. The rich man had great flocks of sheep. He had so many sheep that he lost count of them. The poor man, on the other hand, had only one tiny sheep. But the poor man’s children loved the lamb. They played with it all day long. They even brought it to table to share the little food they had. Nathan says they even taught the lamb to drink from a cup. The lamb was like a member of the family. One day an important visitor came to the rich man’s house. But the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own lambs to feed the guest. So he had his servant go over to the poor man’s house, take the poor man’s lamb, and slaughter it to feed his guest. – This moving story of the rich man’s cruelty and callousness was one of the images John the Baptist had in mind when he pointed a bony finger at Jesus and said to his disciples, “there is the lamb of God.” Nathan’s story of the poor man’s pet lamb certainly fitted Jesus. Jesus, too, was deeply loved. He too was to be cruelly slain by evil men.
- Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

The Sacrifice
A gardener had a cluster of tall bamboos in one corner of his park. One day the gardener looked over the group of bamboos, stood before the tallest and said, “My dear friend, I need you.” “Sir’ said the bamboo, “use me in any way you want. I am ready.” “But”, said the gardener, “in order to use you, I’ve got to split you in half.” “Split me?” reacted the bamboo. “Why? I’m the nicest bamboo in this garden. No please! Use me as you like but don’t split me in half.” “Well it’s like this: If I can’t split you in half, I can’t use you.” The stately bamboo bowed its head and whispered. “Sir, if the only way to use me is to split me in half, do it.” “But”, said the gardener, “that’s only part of it.” “I’m going to cut off all your branches and leaves too. What’ worse I will have to take away even your heart and your insides, otherwise, I cannot use you.” The bamboo bent all the way to the ground and said, “Sir, cut and prune me as you wish.” So the gardener cut down the bamboo, lopped off the branches, and leaves, split it down the middle, and then hollowed out its insides. Then he carried it out through the parched fields and brought it to a spring of water. He connected the bamboo with the spring and let it carry the water to the fields and make them fruitful. And so it was that when the bamboo had been cut down, dismembered and split right down the middle it became a source of great blessing to the people.
- Willi Hoffsuemmer in ‘Tonic for the heart’
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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.

************
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.