How well do you remember sermons? Are they forgotten before they’re even finished or do they last as far as the church door but no further? If you do recall any, what made them memorable? Perhaps there was a dramatic new way of thinking about something that hadn’t struck you before – or there was a personal challenge that nagged away at you afterwards.
Where are you?
I remember one from over 20 years ago. It was about half an hour long and it was at the induction service for a new Baptist minister. Unlike the Anglican Church, where the local Bishop may give some words for the new minister and their congregation to think about, in the Baptist Church it’s the occasion where the new minister sets their stall out. Or at least it was in this particular church.
The minister had 3 points to his sermon, which came in the form of questions from the Bible. ‘Where are you? Where is your brother? Who do you say that I am?’ ‘Where are you’ is the question God asks Adam and Eve when they’re hiding in the garden of Eden. ‘Where is your brother’ is the question God asks Cain about Abel. ‘Who do you say that I am’ is the question Jesus asks his disciples.
The minister used these questions to challenge his new congregation on what the point was of their church in the community, what their relationships were like with each other – and what the individual state of their faith and belief was like.
I met the minister some years later and shared with him that I still remembered what he’d said. I thought he’d be pleased, but instead he looked at me with panic in his eyes and started to back away slowly. He had no recollection of what he’d said. He’d come up with a message for that time and that place – and had probably delivered hundreds of sermons since. I’ve no idea if anyone else in the congregation remembered. Perhaps that sermon was meant just for me to be used for a sermon just like this.
What are you looking for?
‘Where are you? Where is your brother? Who do you say that I am?’ Don’t worry. I’m not going to repeat all 30 minutes of that sermon. But they’re good questions to ask ourselves.
In our Gospel today, we have another question that could just as easily have been included: ‘What are you looking for?’
The first words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are to a crowd who have gathered on a mountain. In Mark, his first words are a powerful command to silence a demon. In Luke, Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah in his local synagogue and proclaims that he is the anointed one.
Here in John, his first words are this question. Seemingly, a very ordinary question. “What are you looking for?”
It’s better translated: “What are you seeking?”
Still haven’t found
It’s a question worth wrestling with – as individuals and as a congregation. “What are we seeking?” What are we looking for? Where do we find meaning? What motivates us? What are we really here for?…
The rock band U2 have a song called ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ ‘I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ And the problem for a lot of us is that we don’t know what we’re looking for. We’re fairly sure we haven’t found it yet. But we don’t know what ‘it’ is.
At this time of interregnum, we need to ask those kind of questions of ourselves. If we don’t first answer those questions, then we’ll have a hard job describing the kind of person that we want to minister with us on the next step of our journey – and then recognizing them when we see them.
In our reading, Jesus asks this question to two of John’s disciples. John had just told them that Jesus was the Lamb of God. So, they promptly left John and followed Jesus! You’d think John would be a little upset, but I bet he was thrilled! Because John knew exactly what he was looking for – and that was the Messiah.
In John’s Gospel we soon learn that other people were also looking for Jesus for all sorts of reasons. The religious authorities were looking for reasons to kill him and the crowd were looking for their bellies to be filled with more bread. One sought death, the other life. Our two disciples are different. They had no agenda, other than they just wanted to be with Jesus.
‘What are you seeking?’ Jesus asks. The two disciples seemingly side-step his question. Instead of answering, they ask a question of their own: ‘Where are you staying?’ But the English word ‘staying’ doesn’t do their question justice. The Greek verb here is meno, meaning to abide, remain, endure or dwell. It has a sense of permanence about it.
John had recognised Jesus as the Lamb of God when the Holy Spirit remained (meno) upon him. After Jesus did one of his feeding miracles, he cautions the people to work not for food that perishes, but for food that endures (meno) for eternal life. Jesus promises to abide (meno) in those who abide (meno) in him.
Rather than an avoidance, the disciples’ response was profound. They weren’t asking for Jesus’ home postcode or the address of the B&B he was stopping that night. They were asking where could they dwell with him eternally to be in the very presence of God.
Come and see
Are we ready with that sort of question when asked ‘What are you seeking’? Are we prepared to ask God where he would have us dwell to be with him?
Jesus’ reply to the two disciples was ‘Come and see’. It’s a theme in John. If you want to know the Word made flesh, then come and see. If you want to know what love really looks like, then come and see. And if you want living water, to behold the light, to eat bread that doesn’t perish… then come and see.
Where is God at work in our town, our community, our benefice, our church? Where is God at work in you and in me?
Rather than staying in the safety of our pews, we need to be prepared to ‘go and see’ if we are looking for God and want to abide with him. And even if we still haven’t found what we’re looking for, if we haven’t quite figured it out yet, then Jesus is patient with our uncertainty. Come and see, he says. Let’s work it out together. Amen