2014-01-19 NBW HFASS Podcast – 1_21_14, 7.07 PM<—-click here to listen along
One Saturday last month over a 12 hour period a group of us gathered to listen to the Gospels read aloud. We sat in sofas in a warm renovated barn, busied our hands with eating, and knitting and whittling, and we took turns reading aloud Mark, then Matthew, then Luke and finally John. Folks came and went and some diehards were there the whole time. It was one of my favorite things about Advent this year. What is amazing about hearing the Gospels read in their entirety and to hear them alongside each other is you can really hear how different they are in a way you may not notice when you hear little chunks of them here and there on Sundays.
I mention this because last week on Baptism of our Lord Sunday, we heard Jesus’ first words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the Jordon, John protests and Jesus’ first words are “Let it be so”. And today we hear Jesus’ first words in John’s Gospel. Now, just to set the scene, we are just 29 verses into the Gospel of John and what we heard already is that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, that all things came into being through him, that he is the light that shines in the darkness, that he is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, that he is God the son.
And the first words that this guy says are “what are you seeking” or in some translations, “what do you want?”
I don’t know about you, but that feels like a super direct and personal question for the son of God to ask, like, right off the bat. I mean, at least warm up with some small talk.
What are you seeking? He asks – or in some translations, What do you want?
This week I realized that What do you want? And what are you seeking… seem to be very different yet related questions to me.
I mean, when I was in my twenties I thought what I wanted was to marry my guitar player boyfriend. But what I was seeking – what I was really seeking, was being loved for who I was and a connection to another human being. And sometimes I was so distracted by not getting what I wanted, that I was unaware in the moment when my friends were consoling me and being present to me, and loving me, that in their love I actually was receiving what I was really seeking. Love and connection. And I missed it.
When this church started I thought I wanted for it to be small and “alternative” but what I was really seeking was authentic community and an expression of the Gospel untethered to church-y convention. My error in this is well documented, so I won’t belabor it, only to say that I was so distracted by things that had not gone how I had wanted them to and my fear about them not looking they way I wanted them to in the future that I was unaware of how the thing I was really seeking – authentic community and the Gospel was unfolding around me. I missed it.
What I am getting at is that I think we would do well, when we desire something specific to be as honest as possible about what it is we are really seeking. And to notice how the specifics of what we think we want can distract us from how what we are seeking might actually be right in front of us.
So Jesus’ first words are “What are you seeking?” and they answer where are you staying?
I’ve always thought that John’s disciples, the ones who Jesus asked this question of, must have been kind of caught off guard and so they came up with a really dumb question. Because why, if Jesus the Christ asks what you are looking for would you then basically blurt out “so, what hotel are you staying at?” I always thought that was a dumb question. But in Greek it’s not just whose house are you crashing at – it’s where do you abide?
Where does your spirit remain Jesus? Where does your heart dwell? That’s a lot closer than, what hotel are you at. And Jesus’ answer is simply “come and see”
He doesn’t say what are you looking for and then tell us to grab a pencil because he’s about to give us a lecture on theology.
He gives an invitation. Come and see.
But, be warned, because there is something implicit in Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” and that is presence. Meaning, yes, he is the light of the world, he makes known the heart of the Father, from him we receive grace upon grace…there is a lot to offer here…but, you know, must be present to win.
There’s a really basic expectation to the invitation to come and see.
You have to use your senses. You have to be present in the actual moment.
Don’t be so lost in what it is you think you want that you miss what it is you are really seeking. Because Jesus is not about escapism. This isn’t about theology. It doesn’t happen in theory. You can not go and see where Jesus is by reading it in a book. You have to move. And you have to experience it like those first disciples did. But that can take practice.
My friend Heather posted something on Facebook this week that I loved.
She had just read a statement that the Church is losing its “particularity”, meaning, people can experience God EVERYWHERE, not just AT church. She said she totally believes that. That she is all in. Christ is everywhere.
What she wondered is…would we notice God’s presence EVERYwhere if we didn’t practice noticing it SOMEwhere? Going to a particular building on a particular day at a particular time helps her practice noticing God’s everywhere-ness. So she invited her Facebook friends to Stop and notice today. And if it’s in their tradition, to go to Church. Church is not perfect, she said. It’s practice.
When this church was first getting going we were deciding what to put on our website. We realized that most church have a “What we believe” tab at the top. We toyed with having a what we believe tab but when you click on it it was just the Nicene Creed but it ends up that I was the only one who liked that idea. Finally Mark said why don’t we just have it say “if you want to know what we believe, come and see what we do”
What do we do? We practice seeing Jesus. We practice abiding in him, we receive forgiveness of sins and we hear the promises of God not because what happens here in this room is the point…but so that we can see Christ when we are not here. So that we can be disciples out there in a world that needs some forgiveness and promise and grace and beauty.
Some of you think that you struggle with your faith and I really don’t want to take that away from you. But guess what? If you are here, then on some level, God has taken that desire within you to seek for something deeper, that desire to find meaning, that desire to be loved and has made you to come here to see so that you, like those first disciples, can abide in Christ.
It may sound like theological speak that doesn’t really mean anything real…but Abiding in Christ is disarmingly real because of how it demands our presence and our attention.
Abiding in Christ means living in the fullness of joy when every other voice calls us to live in despair. Abiding in Christ means loving the other precisely when they are least loveable, so that we can stay there with them and Jesus until something gives in the relationship.
Abiding in Christ means allowing ourselves to love this broken world so much that we desire to see it made whole. Abiding in Christ means that we find holiness in the ordinary, the common and the forgotten. It means being in our bodies and in the moment. It means forgiving people and praying for those who persecute us. It means feeling the sting of real grace the kind we could never deserve and can never actually live without. Abiding in Christ means going and seeing and being surprised by what it all means.
Abiding in Christ is like this very moment. The light in the room, the sound of Children, the presence of strangers, the promise of bread and wine, the longing in you for that which is real and beautiful and of God. What else are you looking for?