Jesus Goes Viral

Today’s sermon from First Pres, Boonville.

The text is John 1:29-42.

Click here to see the famous video mentioned in the sermon.

At the end of 2004, an 18 year old named Gary Brolsma in Saddle Brook, New Jersey was goofing around on his computer one night.  He came across a catchy pop song sung by an eastern European boy band.  As a joke, he used his webcam to record himself lip-synching and dancing along to the tune.  He posted the video online for his friends to chuckle at.

Within a few months, Gary’s video had been viewed by millions of people all over the world.  People everywhere started imitating Gary’s improvised dance and posting their own videos online.  The song was re-recorded by artists in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North & South America, and Africa.  Gary himself became an overnight celebrity.  Today, most people under the age of thirty will smile and nod their heads if you ask them about “the Numa Numa Guy”.

If you watch the video yourself (it can still be found on Google and You Tube), it’s easy to see why people took such an instant liking to it.  Here is an average-looking, young person throwing all self-consciousness and inhibition to the wind.  He’s just going for it, dancing and singing along in a language he doesn’t even know: “Nu ma, nu ma iei!”  He is totally “in the moment”, relishing the joy of being alive and silly.

Sociologists and pop culture enthusiasts have coined the phrase “going viral” to describe people, ideas, and products like this one, that rise to fame without the aid of professional publicists or corporate marketing campaigns.  Advertising executives are extremely jealous of the Numa Numa Guy and the dance that he inspired.  They desperately want to figure out what causes videos like this to “go viral” (i.e. attain overnight recognition through word-of-mouth).   Personally, I think people watch and imitate the Numa Numa dance because they want to share in the experience of that kind of joy and freedom.  I think people’s desire to live life to its fullest is what has caused the Numa Numa dance to “go viral”.

In today’s gospel reading, we can see another instance of an experience “going viral”.  But this time, it’s not the experience of a video but of a person, Jesus Christ.  John, Andrew, and Simon all experience something in Jesus that they then pass on to the next person.  As we read about their experiences, we learn about who Jesus is and what we can expect from our experiences with him.

First, we learn from John that his experience with Jesus is surprising and unexpected.  We know from other parts of Scripture that John was a prophet and a revival preacher who was not afraid to say what was on his mind and in his heart.  He was expecting the arrival of a judge who would come “with the Holy Spirit and fire”.  When Jesus finally shows up, what John sees is a “lamb” and not a judge.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit comes “as a dove” and not “with fire”.  The reality of Jesus is so far off from John’s expectations that John himself is forced to admit that he would have missed the experience entirely had it not been for the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.  He says, “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.’”

John’s experience with Jesus begins to go viral as he shares it with his friend Andrew and one other person.  Shortly thereafter, Andrew has his own experience with Jesus.  He experiences Jesus as an inviting and hospitable person.  During their first encounter, Andrew and his friend express an interest in getting to know Jesus better.  Jesus invites them both to “Come and see.”  He opens his home to them and (literally and figuratively) lets them in.

The viral spread of this Jesus experience continues as Andrew shares his experience with his brother Simon.  More than anything else, Simon’s experience with Jesus can be described as “revealing”.  Jesus looks at Simon and gives him a new name (“Cephas” or “Peter”).  This is not just a nickname that Jesus came up with.  Jesus is making a statement about who Simon is.  The name “Peter” means “Rock”.  This statement of Christ’s became significant as Simon Peter went on to become a leader in the early Church.  He would be a “rock” that others could lean on for support.  Already, in this early moment, Jesus is revealing to Simon something about his true self and his true calling in the world.

Like John, Andrew, and Simon, I too have experienced Jesus as surprising, inviting, and revealing.  Growing up in the Bible belt of the American south, I came to think of Jesus as a fiery judge.  I was afraid of him.  But as I grew to know him better through the Scriptures, I heard his stories of the lost sheep and the prodigal son.  I saw him forgiving sinners and befriending the outcast.  Like John the Baptist, I was surprised at who Jesus turned out to be.  Like Andrew, I found him to be a warm and welcoming person who wants to be close to us.  In time, I came to think of Jesus as my friend.  Instead of fearing him, I grew to love him.

This change in the way I think about Jesus sparked a corresponding change in the way I think about myself.  Because Jesus loves and accepts me as I am, I can love and accept myself.  If there is one miracle that Christ has worked in my life, it has been the slow but steady melting away of my self-consciousness and inhibitions when it comes to life and relationships.  Like Simon Peter, I feel like Jesus is helping me to gradually discover my true self and my true calling in the world.  In Christ, I am beginning to experience the joy and freedom in life that people are reaching for when they do the Numa Numa dance.

That’s the story of my experience with Jesus.  Yours will undoubtedly be different.  Each one of us experiences Christ in a way that is unique to us.  No two people experiences are identical.  John, Andrew, and Simon all met the same Jesus, yet each one of them had an experience that was different from the others.  John experienced Christ as “surprising”, Andrew experienced him as “Inviting”, while Simon experienced him as “Revealing”.  Likewise, some of us here might have come to faith in Christ through a radical moment of conversion.  Others of us have gradually grown in faith without a dramatic “before” and “after” story.  Some of us have come to understand Christ as a teacher or healer.  Others primarily think of him as the One who forgives our sins.

Whatever your experience of Jesus is, whatever Christ means to you, I want to encourage you to tell your story.  Tell it to yourself.  Tell it to someone else.  Let your individual experience of Jesus inform and inspire those around you.  That’s what “going viral” means.  One person has an experience and shares that experience with another person.

I pray that our individual experiences of Jesus will “go viral” in our church and our community.  I pray that others will be inspired by our witness to “come and see” for themselves what life with Christ is all about.  And I pray that their subsequent experience of Christ’s love will lead them to dance and sing with the same uninhibited exuberance that inspired Gary Brolsma and the millions of others who sang his song: “Nu ma, nu ma iei!”

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