Shish Kabob or Lamb of God
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on John 1: 29 – 41. Focus on what the term Lamb of God meant to the people of Jesus’ time and how Jesus changed the meaning of it. Check out Kelly Crandell and the Choir following the sermon.
John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God and the text tells us that immediately two of John’s disciples upon hearing this immediately leave John and go and follow Jesus. But when I think of lamb, the phrase that comes to mind is, “Like a lamb being led to the slaughter.” Maybe that’s just me, but I bet it’s the same for a lot of us. Why? because lambs are meek and mild creatures who go their fate unaware that they are about to become shish kabobs.
That’s how a lot of folks are going to hear this text today. But that’s not how John’s audience would have heard this. For example, John’s disciples are not going to say to themselves – “Gosh that fellow Jesus looks like someone who will happily go to his death. Hey I’ve got an idea let’s follow him!” Not!
So, what did this phrase mean? How did John understand it, and what was so appealing about it that, according to our text, men like Andrew and his companion would have immediately left John to go and follow Jesus?
What I have to say about this relies heavily on Bruce Malina’s and Richard Rohrbaugh’s Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John. They are not Biblical scholars as much as they are social science professors looking into the cultural and historical period in which the Gospels were written to see what phrases like this would have meant to ancient near eastern peoples.
Bruce Malina is fond of pointing out that in the ancient world, watching the night sky would have been the equivalent of us watching television. It was entertainment, and it was also news, as the stars were seen as having profound and divine influence over human affairs. Think of the star guiding the wise men to Bethlehem. So, to understand what the phrase “Lamb of God” refers to we need to look to the night sky.
Specifically, we need to look to the constellation of stars called Aries, which the Jews of this period as well as the Greeks saw as a male lamb. And across numerous traditions in the ancient world, it was a kickass, can I say that in church? Lamb. According to the first century astronomer Nigidius Figulus, Aries was the leader and prince of the constellations. (Malina & Rohrbaugh, pg. 51). Aries was the divine lamb who ruled over all the other constellations and was the starting point from which all other constellations were mapped.
To understand just how big this was think of the way humans changed how we date time – B. C. Before Christ to A. D. after Christ.
So, when John the Baptist says, “Look the Lamb of God,” he is articulating a hope that spanned multiple cultures, Jewish, Greek and Roman. He was saying that in Jesus there was power, a power that would rise above the other powers in the sky, power that was present when Creation began and power that would bring Creation to its intended fulfillment.
So, when Andrew and his companion leave John to follow Jesus it’s because they believe he is the one who will bring all of God’s power to bear on the world, but with a catch.
And here’s the catch as John himself tells us in chapter 12: 32 where Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” The author of John’s Gospel knows something that John the Baptist, Andrew and his companion do not know. Namely, that Jesus’ power as the Lamb of God is shown most fully not in huge displays of power over others, but in his humble service and willing sacrifice for others.
And we see this in Jesus’s place of ministry and to whom he ministered. Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, a small agricultural and fishing village on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He doesn’t move to the larger cities, Tiberius, built to honor emperor Tiberius, or Sepphoris, the centers of imperial political, economic, social and cultural power in Galilee.
Jesus sets his home base down in Roman controlled territory but he lives and works among the marginal and poor, not among the wealthy and urban elite. He locates his ministry among the ruled not among the rulers, with the powerless not the powerful, with those who are resisting both the financial exploitations of the Temple elite in Jerusalem and the Roman outpost located there. In other words, he is locating himself and ministering to those who are being oppressed by powerful interests who have power and control over their lives.
And as I write this I think about the many marginal church members I’ve met over the years. The people who are often overlooked because they are quiet, lowly and meek. The people on the sidelines of the church so to speak.
A few years back I attended a workshop offered by Bill Easum on “stuck” congregations and I think this speaks even more so to our Presbytery. Anyway, Easum says – congregations that are stagnate or declining – are congregations where the dominant passion is “Who’s in control.” And he said those congregations have three to four groups of people in them.
They are the Deciders who make all the decisions. Then they find Doers to do what they want done. The third group is the Ignored. They may not be asked by the Deciders to do anything, because the Deciders know nothing about them. They may also be the ones who told the Deciders, “No” by refusing to help the deciders implement their plan and so they are not asked to serve again. Easum also referred to this third group as “Pew Potatoes.” In time, the Deciders will have troubles finding enough Doers to maintain the institution.
These types of churches and our Presbytery will become “unstuck” only when the Doers stop doing and become Dreamers. When the Doers realize that something isn’t right. They know that there must be more to church than mere institutional survival. They begin to question and refuse to serve on committees that only serve the needs of the institution – and thus become part of those Ignored by the Deciders. The more the Dreamers dream the more confusion is experienced. And that’s when the Deciders become the Controllers. Why? Because they don’t want chaos and confusion. They want order and control. Now most dreamers will never take on the Controllers. The doers who have become dreamers simple move on or drop out.
I present this little scenario of congregational and Presbytery life and ask, “With whom would Jesus locate himself?” I would expect to find him with the ignored, the marginalized with the dreamers as he proclaimed something entirely new that would upset the status quo. The people whom Jesus reached out to were not the ones in the synagogue though he was often in their synagogues. The people whom Jesus reached out to were the ones whom the synagogue people thought were the dirty people of the land. Just like the Jews thought of the Gentiles. It is also true for Christians in terms of how they think of non-believers.
More often than not the people who are not us are the ones church members don’t want to reach out to. We want people like us. But is that in line with Jesus’ great commission to go and make disciples of all nations and all peoples? What this means is that our mission field is no different from Jesus’ day and that means we must get out of the institutions we hold sacred if we want to be with those who are not with us. Simple put our words and deeds need to be addressed to more than just church people. So, my final question is what implications might this have for us here and for our Presbytery? Amen