A Sermon Preached for the 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday based on John 1:29-42
“What are you looking for?” Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of John begins with a question—not an exorcism as in Mark, not a sermon as in Matthew, not in the Temple quoting Isaiah, as in Luke. Today we get a question that Jesus asks two of John’s disciples who have heard that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “What are you looking for? Perhaps John wants us to be clear about our deepest needs before we encounter the Jesus he proclaims.
Our culture will try to tell us that we need more stuff, a bigger house, more status at work, certainly more likes on Facebook, and more separation from those who are different from us. But Jesus confronts us with the deeper questions that get us beyond the superficialities of a consumer culture and an image of God as a cosmic Santa Claus and asks us, “what motivates you—not on the surface, but deep down in the core of your being?” If Jesus sat down next to you and asked you, as his disciple, “What are you looking for? What do you need?” What would you say?
Perhaps for some of us, it’s a larger sense of meaning, a bigger purpose or a deeper sense of being loved. Perhaps for others, it is strength sufficient for a difficult situation, healing from pain, comfort in our grief, relief in our loneliness, or guidance in a decision.
The two disciples, however, answer Jesus’ question with another question! “Where are you staying?” It sounds like they’re asking for Jesus’ hotel, or guest house.
But for John, their question is not just about directions and lodging. The disciples are really asking, “Where are you abiding? Where will you remain, where will you endure, where will you continue to be?” The Greek word that can be translated all of these ways (meno), is used no less than 44 times in the Gospel in the John. It’s a central theme that John introduces right away. Where can we dwell with you? How can we be with you, to receive what you have to offer? Where can we abide in the very presence of God? To the question, “what are you looking for?” the disciples answer, “to dwell with God by abiding with you, Jesus.”
And isn’t that what we all want? To dwell in God, to live in God through Jesus’ presence, in every breath, in every cell of our body, in our words, in our action in our hopes and in our dreams? So Jesus said to them, “Come and See. Come and be with me. Come and abide with me.” For to abide with Jesus is to belong God. To abide with Jesus is to be saved. To abide with Jesus is to be forgiven by the Lamb of God. To abide with Jesus is to experience a real and committed relationship that lasts for eternity.
When we abide in Jesus, we receive the meaning and purpose we desire. We can hear the guidance we need, receive the strength we seek, the comfort that we crave, and the love that nourishes our soul. For Jesus abides with God and God abides with him. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth--to bring us into that same intimate relationship Jesus shares with God. For John, Jesus came to remove all barriers from us having a deep, abiding relationship with God.
And like any relationship the more time we spend in that relationship, the deeper it becomes, the more intimate the conversation, the more revealing the love, the deeper the bond. In my devotional reading this week, I read this passage:"When you go to your place of prayer, don’t try to think too much or manufacture feelings or sensations. Don’t worry about what words you should say or what posture you should take. It’s not about you or what you do. Simply allow Love to look at you—and trust what God sees! God just keeps looking at you and loving you center to center." This is what John calls abiding in Jesus.
But our faith and relationship with Jesus doesn’t end there, with our own personal relationship with God in Christ—it’s where it begins. Abiding with Jesus is a relationship that also gets lived out in the world. For to abide in Jesus is to abide with all beings that God has created. John’s Gospel begins with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
That means everyone belongs, every person, every nation, every ethnic group. We all belong to God, even our enemies, which is why Jesus told us to love them. In First John, it says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them… Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”
Tomorrow we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spent his life and ministry holding us accountable to this truth, that everyone belongs. In a country founded on Christian principles, we have treated some of our citizens as if they don’t belong—as if they don’t belong to God and don’t belong to us, as fellow human beings, and sisters and brothers in Christ.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail and The Struggle that Changed a Nation, King wrote: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All [humanity is] caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Or we could say this is the inter-related structure of being created by the same God, abiding in relationship with God through the same Jesus Christ.
Today, Jesus also asks those who are oppressed, or disenfranchised the same question he asks us, “What are you looking for?” We could ask refugees and immigrants, people in the Black Lives Matter movement, poor rural whites and everyone who feels they don’t belong, “what are you seeking?” Like us, they are seeking meaning and purpose, love and comfort, strength and guidance; and they hope for what we assume: to be treated with justice and fairness by our institutions, to have equal opportunity, to belong as a full citizen. In an environment where divisions between us are exploited and used as the basis for hateful rhetoric and actions, how much more are we called by God to embody in our daily life, the unity we share with all people who have been created by the Word in the beginning, and are one with us abiding in Christ.
When we ground our identity, our well-being, our very life, in abiding with God in Christ Jesus, we do not need to over-identify with our own cultural group or class to feel safe and valued. On the contrary, we live from the security of our relationship with God and follow Jesus in embracing all people, and in advocating for policies that bring freedom and inclusion for all of God’s children.
As ones who abide with Christ, we attend to our individual relationship with God (the visual with this is that my right arm points straight up) and we live out this unity in just, open and equal relationships with all people whom God created (and my left arm moves horizontally across my right arm to form a cross). + This is the life Christ is looking for in us.