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Releasing Angels

A sermon by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky.

January 19, 2014

John 1:29-42

Our attention today is drawn to the first chapter of John where Jesus has begun his public ministry and is in the process of calling his disciples. John the Baptist plays a key role in this drama because the gospel writer uses this last Old Testament prophet to introduce his readers to Jesus.

The first thing John the Baptist had to do was convince people he was not the Messiah. A delegation of religious leaders from Jerusalem went to the Jordan River to quiz John the Baptist about who he was in light of the fact many people were coming to him to be baptized.

Repeatedly, John told this delegation he was not the Messiah, but the one who was sent to prepare the way for him. It is clear the writer of this portion of the fourth gospel felt John’s identity had to be settled before Jesus arrived on the scene, and this was the best way to do it.

The day after Jesus was baptized John the Baptist sees Jesus and boldly declares him to be God’s anointed one who has come to take away the sin of the world. John leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about who the main character in this drama is.

The following day, John was standing with two of his disciples when Jesus passed by them. “Look, the Lamb of God,” John declares.

When those two disciples heard John say this, they began following Jesus. Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted. “Where are you staying?” they replied, implying they would prefer to talk in private where they would not be interrupted.

“Come and see,” Jesus told them. The three of them talked until late into the afternoon. Around four o’clock, one of the men by the name of Andrew left to find his brother, Simon. “We have found the Messiah,” Andrew told Simon and convinced Simon to go with him to meet Jesus.

When Jesus saw Simon, he called him to be one of his disciples and said something quite interesting to him. “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas.” We know Simon by his more common Greek name, Peter, the leader of the disciples and one of Jesus’ closest confidants.

Let me tell you how God spoke to me through this passage last week. Everybody in this story needed someone’s help to discover their gifts, find their voice, fulfill their calling and achieve their potential.

John the Baptist needed God to help him see his role in this mission so there would be no confusion as to Jesus’ identity and purpose. John could have easily sabotaged Jesus’ ministry by usurping his authority and refusing to release his disciples. Only God could give him this spirit of humility and enable him to keep his ego and pride in check.

Jesus needed John to affirm his calling by giving witness to Jesus’ unique relationship with God, which John certainly did. “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God,” John said to all who would listen. Without this testimony, the first two disciples Jesus called would never have switched their allegiance from John to Jesus.

Peter would not have become one of Jesus’ disciples had it not been for Andrew’s testimony of who Jesus was and his insistence that Simon meet Jesus. Without a doubt, Simon would not have left his fishing nets, grown in his faith and been transformed into a strong and courageous leader without Andrew’s encouragement. 

The more I pondered this passage, the more I realized everybody in this story needed someone’s help to discover their gifts, find their voice, fulfill their calling and achieve their potential. All of us need help along our journey, too.

Legend has it that someone came upon Michelangelo while he had a chisel in hand chipping away at a huge, shapeless rock. “What are you doing?” the person asked. “I am releasing the angel trapped inside,” he responded.

Isn’t this our task, too? Of course it is. Each of us needs to identify our passions and pursue them, and then inspire others to do the same. This is especially true for those of us who follow Jesus. 

Who released the angel inside you? Was it your parents, a teacher, a coach, a minister or a friend? What did they say or do which made a difference in your self-awareness, your self-esteem and the decisions you made about your future. Did they open a world of possibilities to you and encourage you to embark on a new course?

Some of you may be familiar with Leslie Brown, the motivational speaker. He is the author of several books and has been a regular speaker on PBS. He has had a distinguished career in radio broadcasting and was at one time the broadcast manager for a radio station in Ohio. In addition, he served three terms in the Ohio House of Representatives.

“Don’t live your fears but your dreams,” he is fond of saying, “and never become content with your discontent.”

Mr. Brown’s life was turned around by a high school teacher, Mr. Washington. Mr. Washington released the angel inside him.

Les was born into poverty in Miami, Florida. His mother gave away Les and his twin brother, Wes, when they were three weeks old. Three weeks later they were adopted by Maime Brown, a 38 year-old single cafeteria worker. Mrs. Brown provided as loving a home as she possibly could for these two boys, and they dearly loved her for it.

In spite of this, Les got the reputation in elementary school as a bad student with little to no potential. Word spread from one teacher to another not to expect much from him because he could not learn. 

One day in high school, Les stepped inside Mr. Washington’s speech and drama class to wait for a friend. Mr. Washington looked at him and asked him to go to the board to answer a question.

“I’m not in this class,” Les told Mr. Washington. “Doesn’t matter,” the teacher replied. “Go ahead and try.”

“I can’t,” Les mumbled, “I can’t learn.”

Mr. Washington stopped what he was doing and walked over to Les. “Don’t ever say that again. Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”

From that point on, Mr. Washington took an interest in Les and went to work on releasing the angel trapped inside him. He worked on Les’ self-esteem while teaching him how to read and speak, which turned Les’ life around. Now Les is doing the same for people all over this country.

Who needs your help releasing an angel inside them? Who is struggling to recognize their talents and underestimating their ability to make their life and the world around them better?

I am drawn to the word the evangelist used when describing the way Jesus looked at Simon when they met for the first time. The word, look, means to pause and gaze intently into another’s soul.

I wonder if Simon became uncomfortable when Jesus stared at him. I wish I knew how Simon reacted when Jesus told him the day would come when his name would change to reflect his new role in life.

One of the greatest gifts you can give those you love is to share with them the potential you see in them. Let those around you know of the talents, skills, abilities and gifts you believe they possess, and offer your help as they develop them.

Every person needs a support group, a loving, encouraging community where their dreams can be planted and grow. Shouldn’t the church be one of these places?

I am convinced this story was written not only to introduce us to Jesus, but also to help us understand that faith is relational. It is highly personal. It calls us to spend time with God in search of our own identity, purpose and potential and compels us to spend time with others, listening to them as they tell us what they see in our lives and sharing with them the gifts we feel they possess.

This passage is nothing less than a metaphor for discipleship. Invest your life in people. Help them release the angels trapped inside them.

This is clearly seen throughout the entire Gospel of John. In this gospel, the emphasis is not so much on the disciples as the people Jesus meets and helps along his journeys, inviting each of them to become his disciple. As a matter of fact, there is no formal catalogue of disciples like you find in the other three gospels. John’s attention is drawn to the encounters and conversations Jesus had with people from all walks of life.

Follow Jesus’ example. Invest your life in people. Release angels. As Christians, we have no higher calling.