Here is the sermon I preached this past Sunday on John 1:35-42. It is about the need for us, as Christians to not only seek out those places in our world where Jesus dwells, but to lead others to those places as well. The text and sermon follows:
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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?” 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 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).
Have you ever had that person that everyone has told you, “Oh, you just gotta meet ‘em!”? Like, stories abound – legends, really – and they keep saying things like, “Oh, you would just love Frank, he’s super down-to-earth and witty; you two would get along so great!” And you smile and nod because you’re not really into meeting new people and it sounds like kind of a lot, but then more than one person comes up to you and says, “Have you met Frank, yet?” and you just kind of say, “No, but I hear great things…” And they keep on piling on and building this person up in your mind until you’re pretty sure that this is some kind of super-human, God-like being, and you’re like, “hey, you know what? I should really meet Frank…”
Maybe you haven’t had somebody in your immediate life like that, but certainly we all have people we would love to meet if we could, don’t we? Like, we’ve heard really good things about some celebrity, like Tom Hanks – who wouldn’t love to hang out with Tom Hanks? Or maybe we’ve read about a historical figure, and thought, “man, I would’ve really loved to kick back with Ben Franklin – I mean, what a guy, right?!” At the very least, having heard and read all about this Jesus fellow – probably most of us for our entire lives – who here can honestly say they wouldn’t absolutely relish the opportunity to meet Jesus? I hear he’s, like, really nice in person.
So, maybe you can imagine the joy and excitement and anticipation when these two disciples of John – and John, by the way, is the guy who has been talking up Jesus this whole time. He’s the “man, you really need to meet Frank!” guy, except instead of Frank it’s Jesus. In fact, John’s whole purpose in life, so we read, is to point the way to Jesus. He has spent his entire ministry preparing his followers to follow someone else. And so these two people, who have been following John this whole time and hearing about Jesus – and they are ACTUALLY being told that Jesus is the Messiah, by the way, so I’m really not sure how much more of a pedestal you could put someone on – all of the sudden, they’re out and about one day, and John stops and points and says, “Oh, hey, there he is!”
I mean, it doesn’t get more exciting than that! If, all of the sudden, someone tapped you on the shoulder and said, “hey, look, it’s Jesus!”, and it really was, how would you react? Would you be freaking out? I’d be freaking out. I wouldn’t know what to say. Apparently, the disciples didn’t either, because they just kind of start walking behind him. Like, they don’t even ask, “hey, mind if we follow you?”. Jesus walks by, and they just start following him. So you can kind of read Jesus’ next question with a bit of annoyance, if you will. He turns around and sees these two guys following him, and in the NIV translation he says “what do you want?”
And the disciples clearly don’t know! I wouldn’t know, would you know? Do you have a list of things you want from Jesus? Maybe you do, I don’t know. But if Jesus came back today and started walking around Grandview, I’d probably do the same thing as these two disciples. Just start following him. Because he’s Jesus – I’d want to be around the guy! When he asks them what they want – they don’t know! All they do is simply ask, “where are you staying?”
Folks, never in the history of the universe has a better question been asked. Rabbi, where are you staying? Where is it that I can come and experience the fullness of life that you have to offer? Where is it that I can sit next to you and drink deeply of your teachings? Where, when I have lost my way and feel about as far from God as I have ever been, where is it that I can find you?
This is the question that we, as Christians, ought to continually be asking, because Jesus never stays in one place for long. And notice that it is not an open-ended, despairing sort of question, like “Where are you, Jesus? In the midst of all my brokenness and loneliness and spiritual dissatisfaction…” It’s not, “Why aren’t you here?”. It’s specific – it has a destination attached to it. It’s “Where do I need to go to get to you?”. It is the question the Magi asked of the star all those years ago, and it is the question the disciples ask even now. “Where are you staying?”
Of course, in true Jesus-like fashion, Jesus doesn’t respond like a normal person. “Oh I’m staying at the Bethany inn on 1st and Main, if you take this road all the way into town, hang a left at the second intersection, it’s three blocks down, you can’t miss it.” Jesus doesn’t give us directions. “Come and see,” is the response. Come and see for yourself. And for the disciples, who don’t have anything better to do – they’ve just spent several years of their lives following this one guy, John, whom they’re no longer following, who told them to follow Jesus – well, it’s easy. Their day’s just been freed up, so they go with Jesus, and see where he is staying. And they stay with him.
But perhaps it’s not so easy for us, is it? To just drop everything and go and see where it is that Jesus is staying. Perhaps we would rather be given directions, so we can go later, at our own time, right? “Hey, Jesus, I can’t make it to the prison tonight to worship with the inmates, I just have too much going on. Can we reschedule?… Jesus, I see that homeless person over there, but I’m in a bit of a hurry right now. I’ll give him some money tomorrow, I promise.” But by then he likely won’t be there anymore. And in any case, you can’t be told where Jesus is. You just can’t. You have to go and see for yourself.
This was the particular genius of Andrew, one of the disciples who went to see where Jesus was staying. After waiting and waiting and waiting and finally finding Jesus, the first thing he does is run to his brother, Simon, and tell him “We have found the Messiah!” And after telling him this news, it says that he led Simon to Jesus; he brought him to see where Jesus was. And this Simon, who, according to John, was led to Jesus by another disciple, of course became the most well-known disciple to this day, the one from whom the Pope himself traces his apostolic lineage. This is the one whom Jesus calls Peter.
There are two very important things we need to get out of this story today. The first is that in order to find Jesus we must first actively seek out the places where he stays. It’s true that Jesus is someone who has come to us in a general sense – that is, Jesus came into the world though not of the world – but Jesus, as the incarnate representation of God, has come to particular times and particular places on this earth, and we have to go there if we want to find him. We have to go into the “bad” neighborhoods, the prisons, the homeless shelters, the recovery houses, the street corners, all those places where you would think Jesus would be least likely to be found, and yet, I guarantee you, there he stays. We are called to come and see with our own eyes the face of Jesus Christ in others and in the random acts of kindness that make those places a little more like the Kindom of God.
That is the first lesson. That we must go and seek out the places where Jesus stays. The second is this. To go back to our earlier metaphor, those who have met Frank are the ones who can speak to his impeccable character, his wit, and how great he and I would get along. But until I meet Frank for myself, I may not believe it. I must be introduced. I need to see for myself how great he is, because words will never do him justice. If I am a “non-believer”, I must be led to where Jesus stays, or else we might not ever get a chance to meet. Indeed, though he walks right past me, if I have never seen his face before, I will not know him. Those of us who have encountered and experienced Christ now have a responsibility to be like John. To recognize Jesus when he appears and to boldly and loudly proclaim, “Behold! The Lamb of God!” We have the responsibility to be like Andrew. To go to our brothers and sisters and to tell them we have seen the Messiah, and to grab them by the hand and take them there! If all we ever do is talk, we will have succeeded in nothing more than gaining followers for ourselves. But if we lead, if we show instead of tell, that is when we can introduce people to the incarnate face of God, and we let Jesus take over the relationship. It is out of our hands entirely.
Look, I don’t care if people don’t join the church. I mean, yes, I think the church is important, and I think it’s great when people join, otherwise I wouldn’t be serving in it. But what I desire more than membership for folks is that they discover Jesus. I want people to seek out the places where Jesus shines through the darkness in this world, and to go there. I want people to discover honesty, integrity, kindness, mercy, respect, humility, and most of all love. All those wonderful things that sometimes remain hidden within our hearts, until something from the outside breaks through. And I want to be someone who leads people to that something, that Jesus moment that awakens an ever-present love deep within the soul.
This is the reason that we call ourselves Christians – literally, “followers of Christ”. It is because we are not content with staying put when the Lamb of God walks by. It is because we do not seek to serve ourselves by building up our own following, but rather point the way to the One who ought to be followed. It is because we believe that the incarnate presence of the God of all that is, was, and ever shall be continues to dwell in the sacred messiness of human life here on earth, and that this incarnate presence is worth seeking out and reverently beholding. We call ourselves Christians because we follow Jesus; everywhere he goes.
And so as we once again begin a new week, I pray that we would leave this place emboldened to seek out those places where Jesus dwells, even if they may not be comfortable for us. I pray that we might make time, having found Jesus, to follow him to where he stays, instead of waiting to arrive later to an empty house. And most of all I pray that we would all be those who lead people, truly and without agenda, to the Messiah, so that they, too, might join us in daily asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Amen.