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  • Rev. Caroline Barnett

I Have Some Questions


John 1:29-42

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


And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.


When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?"


He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.


He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

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I have a question for you: Who is Jesus?


That’s the underlying question being asked in this passage, isn’t it?


Who is this guy?


In the Gospel of John, we meet Jesus for the first time here, at the start of his ministry, and he’s a bit of a wildcard. There has been no nativity story like in Luke where an angel to tell us who Jesus is. And there’s no genealogy like in Matthew to tell us how Jesus is descendant of King David and why that’s important. Instead, the Gospel of John has provided us with a somewhat ambiguous rumination about light and darkness and Word becoming flesh, and then we are introduced to Jesus as an adult, and it seems like everyone wants to know: Who exactly is this guy?


John the Baptist tries to clear things up:


He is the Lamb of God! Son of God! The man who ranks ahead of me! The one with the spirit like a dove!


You know… that guy.


And the new disciples offer up their own ideas. They call Jesus a rabbi— he’s their teacher. They say: We have found the Messiah— the anointed one.


All of these are correct answers, but they’re certainly not the only ones.


Pulling from scripture, we could say: Jesus is the son of man; the way, truth and life; the true vine; a savior; a thorn in the Roman Empire’s side; a descendant of David; a child of Mary and Joseph; a friend to Lazarus; and the list goes on and on.


Who is Jesus?


And it’s not just the disciples who are curious about this question.


It’s a foundational question for Christianity. People have long debated it. In the fourth century, Christians were at each others throats about what it means for Christ to be made of the same stuff as God. Who is Jesus? They asked. Human or divine? People kept asking this question, debating, fighting, challenging each other, until Emperor Constantine called for a meeting to discuss this very question. Out of it came the Nicene Creed, written to quell the contentious factions— though the question didn’t go away.


In a more contemporary setting, our newest Presbyterian confession— the Belhar Confession— was written in Apartheid South Africa, where the church had to respond to another question: How do we follow a Jesus who never cared for social hierarchy when we live in a racially stratified system?

Every confession, creed, or declaration we have as a Church first started off as a question someone asked. Schisms and reformations happened over these questions, unfortunately wars have been fought because of it, but art has been created, poetry inspired by these persistent questions about who God is.


And today, go to any religion section of a Barnes and Noble or on Amazon, and you will find plenty of books about who Jesus is.


We’re still curious about this question.


We’re still curious about Jesus.


There is something about this Jesus character that won’t let us go.


Now, it might-or-might-not be comforting to remember, that though the disciples literally stand in the presence of Jesus, they get to travel and talk and live with him, they don’t always get it right.

Throughout the Gospels they answer the question, they get it wrong, they misunderstand, they still follow Jesus.


All the while they have a lot of questions for him.


I also have some questions.


I have some of questions about this Jesus person. About who God and the Holy Spirit are. And about who we as Christians are supposed to be because of who Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit are. There’s a reason I went to seminary: I have some questions.


I’ve chosen to use the word “question” here, but I think in our larger Christian culture, the word “doubt” might be used to describe the same thing—though that word comes with some baggage. To doubt is considered a detriment to faith. It is seen as a sign of weakness or insecurity. A lack of commitment to Jesus. Sometimes it seems like the Church says question marks have no place in our conversations about faith.


But our text for today is not only filled with answers to an unspoken question. It has a couple of explicit ones as well.


In fact, Jesus’ first words to the disciples, his first words in all of the Gospel of John, are this:

What are you looking for?


Jesus asks questions. He starts out his ministry, not by telling the disciples what to think, but to ask them what they are searching for. And when they ask him a question in return: Where are you staying? He responds, not by telling them the exact street address, but by inviting them to witness and experience it for themselves. And so they visit where we was, and stay with him, and if I had to guess, they probably had some questions.


Jesus is not afraid of questions—even questions that sound like doubts. Which is a good thing, because I have a lot of questions.


And I think you might have some too.


Because y’all showed up to church today. And maybe you showed up for the coffee or because its just what you’ve always done or because this is your community (which is a good and valid reason to come to church), but I think there’s something else going on. Something else draws us to come and see.


Dorothy Fortenberry doesn’t have to go to church, but she does. A screenwriter in L.A., she lives in a world where there is almost no external pressure to go to church. She lives a very busy life filled with work and family responsibilities. Every Sunday she wakes her kids up, and they groan and complain and she is reminded of when she was a kid and would groan and complain about going to church, confident she would never go back.


But she goes to church every week.


In an essay about faith, she writes that sometimes she wishes she had the certainty of an atheist that— as she puts it— “there was no God and that Sundays were for brunch. That dead people stayed dead and that prayer was useless and Jesus was nothing more than a really great teacher.


“But I believe too much,” she says, “at least sometimes, to be certain of that. Sometimes I feel like I believe almost everything the church teaches and sometimes I feel like I believe almost nothing, but if I’m anywhere from one to 99 percent on the belief scale, my response is the same. If it’s more than zero, I should go to church.”


She shows up to church, doubts in tow, willing to believe something happens when we bring our questions with us.


I have a confession for you: I am not all that interested in answers.


Actually that’s not quite true. I am very interested in your answers to the questions of faith. I want to know why you show up here every week. And what about the Gospel intrigues you even if you haven’t decided how you feel about it yet? I would love to hear who is Jesus to you. But I am uninterested in coming to quick answers if it means we shut down the line of questioning altogether. Because something happens when we ask, and respond, and ask again.


We find that the questions we ask aren’t merely theoretical inquiries. The question: Who is Jesus? isn’t just an abstract idea. It’s a question that takes on flesh and bone, it seeps into our hearts, challenging us to expand our imagination of what is possible, and comforting us when the world feels a little too harsh.


When we ask these sorts of questions without knowing the answers right away, we find ourselves changed by the process.


Like Simon who Jesus renames as Peter, an encounter with Jesus, even if there are lingering questions, has the capacity to transform us.


Simon Peter asks “Who is Jesus” over and over again. He gets confused often, doubts sometimes, denies occasionally, and none of it disqualifies him for service to God. Instead he learns and grows with every question. He goes from a fisherman known only by his family tree to a disciple, the rock of the early church, a man who came to believe that there was something special enough about Jesus to follow him into an unknown future.


It may not have happened all at once, it may not be easily seen, it may be hard to describe, but grappling with this question, caring to take the time and energy to respond, it changes things.


It changes us.


Jesus doesn’t eliminate our questions, doesn’t guarantee many certainties in this life, but he asks good questions and encourages us to ask some of our own.


Amen.

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