“Look! That’s God!”

Scripture – John 1:29-42

Sermon preached by Sudie Niesen Thompson

Sunday, January 15, 2023


My mom remembers a moment that happened when I was three years old. The two of us were standing in a hallway at church when one of the pastors walked by — a scholarly-looking man in his 60s, with graying hair and a neatly-trimmed beard. Upon seeing Dr. Kaller dressed for worship in a robe and stole, I was overwhelmed with wonder and exclaimed, “Look, Mommy! That’s God!”

Now, I’m not sure how my three-year-old brain identified God as a middle-aged white man in clerical garb. Although, given the ways our society has typically imagined God, I’m not entirely surprised. That’s not the point of this story. The point is that — at three years old — I was on the look-out for God. It seems my community — my Sunday School teachers, my pastors, my parents — had already instilled in me a belief that the Holy is present among us. And, so — with the innocence and imagination of a child — I concluded that God was standing in front of me … dwelling (in the flesh!) within the walls of God’s house, close enough to see with my own eyes …


“Look,” John pronounces, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (NIV).

The first time John the Baptist announces the Lamb of God, he speaks to an unknown audience. Is he still talking with the priests and Levites who came down from Jerusalem to ascertain if John is the long-awaited Messiah? Is he introducing Jesus to an unspecified crowd gathered at the Jordan? Or is John the Baptist announcing the entrance of the true Messiah for our benefit? … The benefit of those who would come to this Gospel years or decades or centuries later.

We do not know the answer. But those who hear the testimony of John the Baptist do know who Jesus is: He is the Son of God, the One on whom the Spirit rests. The One who will baptize others with the same Spirit.

The second time John the Baptist declares, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God!” he is standing with two of his own disciples. And without question or hesitation, Andrew and the other disciple follow Jesus. Perhaps they were there to hear John’s testimony the day before and know that the man passing by has been anointed with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they just trust their teacher enough that they drop everything and go with another. Again, we do not know. We do not know what compels them to follow Jesus. We just know that they take off after the Lamb of God.

And when Jesus notices the two men behind him, he utters the first words he will speak in the entire Gospel. “What are you looking for?”

Jesus’ ministry begins not with a mighty roar to silence a demon, as it does in Mark’s Gospel. Nor with a lengthy sermon on the mount, as in Matthew. Nor with a reading from the prophet Isaiah, as in Luke. No, in John’s Gospel, the ministry of Jesus begins with a question: “What are you looking for?” “What are you seeking?”

The disciples’ answer is a bit puzzling to us; they respond with another question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” It sounds like they’re looking for a place to bunk for the night and want Jesus’ recommendation. But, in the language of John, their question makes perfect sense. Because they use a word that appears over 40 times in the Gospel — a word that, more than any other, captures John’s sense of the Messiah’s mission. In Greek, it is meno, which means: to stay, to dwell, to continue, to remain, to abide.[1] For the Gospel writer, meno is not a geographical term. It’s a relational term. It’s about having access to Jesus; it’s about having access to God.

The disciples don’t care about the Rabbi’s lodgings. They want to know where — and how — they can abide with Jesus. They want to know where and how they can be in relationship with Jesus. So they respond, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Where are you abiding?

The Gospel of John has already answered the disciples’ question. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” the Evangelist declares in the opening verse. Later in chapter one, we learn that this divine Word “became flesh and lived among us” (1:14). In his re-telling of Scripture Pastor and Professor Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”[2] In other words: Jesus — the One who is God and who has dwelled with God since the foundation of the world — now dwells with humankind. The divine Word has become a human being and moved in next door. Which means that the first disciples need not look far to find what they’re seeking. God is right there … dwelling in the world, close enough to see with their own eyes. To be in relationship with Jesus, they need only do as he commands: “Come and see.” Come and see.


I wonder how you would respond if Jesus posed the same question to you that he posed to his first followers: “What are you looking for?” Maybe you have a ready answer: I’m looking for hope. I’m looking for healing. I’m looking for belonging. Perhaps you would need to ponder the question a little longer before you could find the words to respond.

But I wonder if — at some level — we all share the longing of those first disciples: a longing to encounter God. To experience God. To abide with God. I wonder if — like my three-year-old self — we are all on the look-out for God, hoping to discover the holy in our midst.

Unlike the first followers of Jesus, we do not have John the Baptist standing before us, saying: “Look! Here is the Lamb of God!” Instead we number among the countless disciples whom John the Evangelist addresses at the end of the Gospel, when Jesus says to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (20:29). We have not seen the Messiah with our own eyes. But the promise of the incarnation is that God still comes to us in ways we can perceive, at least with the eyes of our hearts.


In his memoir Love is the Way, Bishop Michael Curry tells a story about finding God.[3] Bishop Curry was just 10-years-old when his mother suddenly fell into a coma while they were visiting his grandmother out-of-town. Even when the family returned to Buffalo, his mother remained in a hospital in Yonkers. She was there for months. “This period could have made an indelible and traumatic mark on me …” Curry writes, “… I could have lost my childhood. But that’s not what happened.”[4]

Michael’s father was an Episcopal priest and — at the time — was pastoring a parish in Buffalo. That congregation rose up to care for the Curry family during this challenging time. There were Dr. and Mrs. Bullock, who’d look after Michael and his sister when their father spent days at the hospital. And there was Erna Clark, the Sunday-school superintendent, who’d pick up the kids and drive them to school. And, then, there was Josie Robbins. Josie was not a member of his father’s church. But she’d heard about the family’s plight and wanted to help. So Josie would take Michael and his sister on the bus to the W.T. Grant store downtown to visit the parakeets and hamsters … just like they’d done time and again with their mom.

Michael’s mother never did wake up from that coma. Eventually, her body shut down and she passed into the world to come. The community that had come around them as they’d waited and hoped for a miracle surrounded them again for her funeral. His grandmother was there, too. Now, Michael’s grandmother was Baptist and accustomed to more spirited worship than is typical of Episcopalians. As Michael tells it, she’d rib his father, saying: “How do you know when the Holy Spirit comes in your church? … Nobody gets the spirit and gets up and shouts!” But, as she looked around that room and saw the Bullocks and Erna Clark and Josie Robbins and everyone else gathered, she said to Michael: “[You know where the spirit of the Lord is] … You know where the spirit of the Lord is when you see people love.”[5]

It’s the promise of the incarnation: God still comes to us in ways we can perceive, at least with the eyes of our hearts. And, though, some of us may be more accustomed to looking for God within the walls of God’s house, the Holy One continues to dwell in the world.


I see this truth reflected in a community that Heather McGhee lifts up in her book, The Sum of Us.[6] While conducting her research McGhee visited the dying mill town of Lewiston, Maine. Like many towns across our nation, it had emptied out after major employers shipped jobs overseas. Now, vacant homes and storefronts are being filled by newcomers — mostly by refugees from Africa.

The influx of immigrants has transformed the life of one of Lewiston’s long-time residents. Cecile Thornton is the descendant of French Canadians who came to Maine a century ago to work the cotton mills. She grew up speaking French around the dinner table, but — in an effort to assimilate — lost her native tongue. A few years ago, Cecile retired to an empty home in Lewiston. Her entire family had either died or moved away, and she felt isolated and alone. In desperate need of community, Cecile decided to reclaim her heritage. So she went to the Franco Center downtown and found a room full of elderly white Mainers like herself, all speaking … English. “You need to go to the French Club at Hillview,” someone told her. “That’s the place to learn French.”

When Cecile arrived at the French Club, she was shocked to see she was the only white person in the room. A man who’d recently arrived from Congo came to greet her. And, after a timid, ‘Bonjour,’ Cecile launched into the longest French conversation she’d had since childhood. By the end of the first session, she was exhausted and thrilled. “I felt like I belonged with them!” she remembers.[7]

Soon, that community of French-speaking immigrants became the center of Cecile’s life. When she realized it was hard for her friends to attend French Club once they enrolled in community college or got a job downtown, she encouraged them to come to the Franco Center instead. Soon the two groups were mixing; elderly white Mainers with halting vocabularies were learning French from new Black Mainers who spoke fluently. “Today, Cecile volunteers to help asylum seekers, doing winter coat drives and connecting new arrivals to services, but she’d be the first to say that what she gives pales in comparison to what she has received,” McGhee writes.[8]

As I see it, this gathering of old and new, of black and white is taking steps toward what Martin Luther King called “The Beloved Community” — a community in which “love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.” A community in which peace and justice prevail.[9] Even though it’s not the body of Christ defined as “church,” it is the kind of community in which we see the Spirit of God at work. For, as Michael Curry’s grandmother reminds us, “You know where the spirit of the Lord is when you see people love.”

Yes, God still comes to us in ways we can perceive, at least with the eyes of our hearts. And — if we let the eyes of the heart lead us — we, too, can witness to the ways the holy still dwells among us. We, too, can find ourselves grasped by wonder, exclaiming: “Look! That’s God! That’s God at work.” And, turning to follow, we can say to another: come and see.


Prayers of the People

Gregory Knox Jones


Source of all that is, we give you thanks for your gift of life – the precious, sometimes daunting gift of breath and being. Whether we are seized by the beauty that surrounds us or perceive little beyond the gloom that menaces us; whether we feel within our chest surges of delight or struggle to keep our head above waves of sadness; whether we feel satisfaction in our soul or emptiness in our bones, may we still express our gratitude for the gift of life.

We give thanks for friends, for family, and for faith.
We give thanks for challenges that prod us to evolve into our better selves.
We give thanks for new awakenings that broaden the expanse of our horizon.
We give thanks for chances to demolish barriers and to offer a healing touch.
We give thanks for quieter moments when we can extend compassion and give generously.

Loving God, when faced with disappointment, may we not despair.
When the challenges of life conspire to drag us down, may we not lose our sense of joy.
When storms threaten, may we remain steadfast.
When darkness envelopes us, may we trust your presence to sustain us.

Eternal God, may we discover ways to overcome our fears.
May we sift out our shortcomings and find forgiveness for our failings.
And may we perceive and hold fast the glimmers of light that pierce the bleak darkness.

Gracious God, you know the magnitude of longing in our hearts and the intense thirst in our souls for a truly good life, may we step free from the treadmill of repetition and stride forward on a new path and the adventure that awaits us.

Now, we join our voices in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, saying: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.



[1] Karoline M. Lewis, John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 11.

[2] Eugene Peterson, The Message, biblegateway.com

[3] The following illustration includes both paraphrase and direct quotes from: Bishop Michael Curry with Sara Grace, Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times (New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2020).

[4] ibid, 31.

[5] ibid, 36-37.

[6] The following illustration includes both paraphrase and direct quotes from: Heather McGhee, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (New York: One World, 2021).

[7] ibid, 262.

[8] ibid, 262-263.

[9] https://thekingcenter.org/about-tkc/the-king-philosophy/