Epiphany 2a, January 15, 2017

January 16, 2017

Finding Jesus

John 1:29-42


29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).


Last week I mentioned the unusual pacing that Matthew employed in the beginning of his account of Jesus. He covers about 2000 years of Jesus’ genealogy in the first few verses of his gospel then slams on the brakes and talks about what went on during the months prior to Jesus’ birth in the next few verses. The gospel of John begins with an even more dramatic time shift. Within his first chapter he goes from talking about what was going on at the beginning of time to explaining what happened around 4pm one afternoon. It’s like going from looking at the moon with a naked eye to looking at it through a telescope with the power to focus in on a grain of moon dust.


I’m not exactly sure what to make of these powerful time shifts, but I suspect John was wanting us to see how God’s love and intention for the entire universe can actually become a very personal experience. By going from talking about what God was doing in the very beginning to what was going on at 4oclock one afternoon I believe John was pointing out that this same power that called the world in to being can provide light and life for us as individuals.


There’s some good information in this text, but Jesus doesn’t provide an extensive amount of instruction in this passage. He asks the men who began to follow him what they were looking for, and they answer by asking him where he was staying, and he answers them by telling them to come and see.


This is a pertinent conversation for us to have as well. Jesus asks: What are you looking for? And while the response of these potential followers seems a bit out of conversational order, their question is a good one for us to ask of Jesus as well: Where are you staying? To which he responds: Come and see.


This is good information and it provides some clarity about what we are up to and what we are up against. We aren’t unlike these first disciples. Jesus knows we are looking for something. In fact I believe he knows we are looking for him. We have the good fortune of being in this faith community that recognizes the value of following Jesus, but we don’t have that optimum experience of seeing him first hand in the flesh. We don’t have direct access to the charisma that somehow exuded from his being. I find myself somewhat envious of these men who saw him walking by and were compelled to follow him. Of course Jesus was pointed out to them by someone they already trusted, and maybe Jesus didn’t give them the immediate impression that they were looking for because you might say they had to be told twice before they left John and followed Jesus.


I’m inclined to think it would have been easier to be close to Jesus if I had seen him walking down the road and followed him to where he was staying, but as I’ve said before, I think Jesus always challenged people’s expectations. Who he is is not generally who we think he’s going to be, because what he offers surpasses what we think we need. I don’t guess it’s ever been easy for someone to find their way to Jesus, but it’s no less available to us than it was to those first generation followers. They had their obstacles and we have ours.


In some ways there’s an element of randomness to the way these disciples came to Jesus, and I’m thinking this is probably true for anyone who finds their way Christ. These first disciples happened to be out with John the Baptist when they saw Jesus walking by. Being with John the Baptist put them in a good place to encounter God’s saving grace, but they could have been in some other good place that day.


I don’t think anyone ever knows exactly where they need to be in order to discover God’s transforming power. Those opportunities seem to find us, and they often arise in unsuspecting ways. Of course we live in a part of the world where Christianity is the dominant faith, and we who grow up in the church are conditioned to be seekers of Christ, but I don’t believe people become passionate followers Jesus Christ because of familiarity with our faith tradition. It’s a good thing to grow up in a church and to be exposed to all the means of grace that are extended by the church, but familiarity with the church doesn’t always translate in to passion for Jesus. There are a good number of people who feel pushed to church on Sunday mornings by parents, spouses, or peer pressure, and we all know the love of Christ isn’t the only thing you can experience in church. There are a lot of people who consider themselves to be in recovery from what they experienced in church, but even bad church experiences don’t prevent people from encountering the true living Christ. Nor do model churches touch everyone in powerful ways.


I’m inclined to think that there’s always some form of miracle that occurs that leads us to that spot where we encounter Jesus Christ in a compelling way, and we almost always come to that place in a circuitous manner. Maybe it’s something the preacher or the Sunday School teacher says, but it might also be the voice of silent desperation that opens your eyes to presence of Christ in the room. It happens in such a variety of ways. Maybe we followed the advice of a friend or a respected elder. Maybe we fled from such advice and then ran in to Jesus in the words of a stranger at a bar. There’s no single path to the place where Jesus stays, but you can bet it’s more of a path than a freeway. I’m sure there were more than two people on the road that day who encountered Jesus and chose not to go see where he stayed.


There’s some mystery to the way in which God touches our lives and provides us with opportunities for spiritual transformation. It’s interesting for me to think about the path I’ve been on in my search to find where Jesus stays. I don’t want to portray myself as someone who has always taken the right fork on the path. I can be as dispassionate and lost as anyone, but I don’t stay dispassionate and lost. I don’t hold myself up as a model disciple, but I’m not always stuck in the ditch. I believe I have encountered the grace of Jesus Christ in my life, and in my heart of hearts I know I want to follow him. I believe he is the source of truth and abundant life and when I’m at my best I know that’s what I want. I also know that I’m the beneficiary of good people who have pointed me in the right direction.


Most of you know I grew up in the Wynne First United Methodist Church, and I was well nurtured by that church. I was given a good impression of God by that church, but I wasn’t an easy customer when I got to be college age. I grew to be pretty critical of the institution, but I wasn’t hostile, so I went up to the church one summer day when the pastor invited a few of us to his office between our freshman and sophomore years of college. The pastor wanted to know what we were all doing and said I was about to transfer from Hendrix to Fayetteville. He told me I should drop by the Wesley Foundation, which was the United Methodist campus ministry because he thought I would like the director, Lewis Chesser. His advice was confirmed by the church Education Director, Emily Cockrill – who some of you may have known in the past, and so when I got to Fayetteville I looked him up.


It turns out that the Wesley Foundation became my home away from home. It wasn’t a very churchy place, and I was very stimulated by the conversations that went on around there. Lewis had a Sunday morning worship service, and that became my favorite event of the week. Lewis would preach a sermon, but he invited feedback from the small group that gathered each Sunday. That turned out to be a form of reintroduction to Jesus that really spoke to me.


I spent the next two and a half years hanging around the Wesley Foundation. It was my primary community, but it got disrupted when I went home for Thanksgiving during what should have been my senior year and I got invited to go live and work in Vail, CO for a winter. I wasn’t exactly focused on what I wanted to do professionally, so that kind of break made good sense to me. Against my parents advice I took off for Vail in January of 1980, and I spent that winter and spring in the Rocky Mountains. I got a job working in a Chinese food restaurant called the Hong Kong Café that was at the base of the main mountain. It was a great job. I learned the whole system. I prepped a few days a week cutting vegetables and meat and making egg rolls and won-tons, and I worked cooking and washing dishes a few evenings a week. Sometimes I did double shifts. I genuinely loved working at that restaurant. I also enjoyed the skiing atmosphere.


I was having a lovely time, but I clearly remember thinking it was time to go when the mountaintop Easter sunrise service got cancelled because of a blizzard. I hadn’t been to church while I was out there, and that was probably the longest stretch of time that I had ever been away from church. I was looking forward to going to that service, and there was just something in my Arkansas soul that felt violated by a blizzard on Easter. I think that was the day I knew I would be moving back to Arkansas when the ski-season ended.


The owner of the restaurant invited me to move to San Diego, where he intended to open a similar restaurant. I think he valued my work ethic and cooking interest, but his offer wasn’t very compelling. It might have provided an interesting career path, but there were some people that I missed. And I missed my church.


I went back to Fayetteville that next fall with clear resolve to graduate. In addition to that, two other significant things happened over the course of that next year. I decided I needed to convince Sharla to marry me, and I decided that I would seek admission to the Divinity School at Duke. Neither one of those things were easy, but I was really clear about it. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t give up on either endeavor unless I got a letter from a lawyer threatening legal consequences to my continued pursuit.


I’m still trying to figure out how to be a good husband and a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, but I’m pretty convinced that my time in Vail helped me understand more about who I was, who I wanted to be with, and what I wanted to do. You can’t really predict how a path that seems to be going in one direction will deliver you to a destination in a far different place, but that’s part of the mystery of life. And I also believe that the Holy Spirit is always providing us an avenue to the source of true life. It’s often a very circuitous path, and it’s always an ongoing journey, but I believe we do have periods of clarity about who we are and what we need to do.


It’s not easy to define what it means to find Jesus. Finding Jesus isn’t like discovering a motivational speaker who can provide all the answers to life’s perpetual quandaries. But I believe if we are paying attention and seeking the truth we will get some good instruction in one way or another. Some of those messages and instructions will come from some of the most unlikely people. The preacher who told me to go meet Lewis Chesser was one of the least gifted preachers I’ve ever witnessed, but he gave me some transformational advice. I will always be grateful for the impact he had on my life. God doesn’t just work in mysterious ways, God works in unlikely ways!


Finding Jesus isn’t like finding a magic potion that you can keep in the medicine cabinet until you need to make a problem disappear. But I do believe Jesus can provide the deepest form of comfort when we encounter deep wounds. In fact it’s not unusual to discover something new about Jesus when we are facing our most challenging circumstances.


It would be nice if we could figure out exactly where Jesus stays and never leave his side, but that doesn’t seem to be the way it works. I don’t believe we are ever apart from the love and concern of God, but it’s hard to hear the clear voice of Jesus telling us what to do at every turn. But the living Christ is in our midst, and it’s a worthy undertaking to continually seek to discover where he’s staying.


Jesus is alive, and we can find him. He doesn’t just show up at church, but I believe it helps to join with others who are seeking him. In fact I believe we can help others find their way to Jesus. Others have certainly helped me, and as surely as you have been helped I would encourage you to help others. Maybe you know someone who needs an invitation to come to church. Nobody likes to get hounded about anything, but I don’t think anyone has ever been offended by a simple invitation to come to worship. This is a good place to come if you’re looking for Jesus.


I can testify that God can speak through anyone – even you and I!

Thanks be to God!







One Response to “Epiphany 2a, January 15, 2017”

  1. Jack Williams Says:

    Good. Sermon.

    Sent from my iPhone


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