It’s one thing to know where a story ends and what the whole point is. It’s another to experience it.
I marvel every time I travel. I know where our final destination is — I study the maps, look at road conditions and read about the area. I just did this two weeks ago as our family drove all the way up to beautiful Oregon to an area we had never seen before…I love seeing the map of the area before we go, and now you can even see fancy Google earth images, not just a 2D beige-colored screen. But nothing can substitute for the real thing — being there. Smelling the pine. Seeing your breath in the freezing air. Talking to locals after getting a bit disoriented by the roundabouts in the neighborhood. Embracing my parents and brothers and sisters and little after we had all traveled many miles to this place, slipping on the snow a bit as it crunches under your feet on the way to the door of the warm cabin… Ah, welcome to Bend, Oregon!
You can grasp a place intellectually or on a screen, you can have some idea of where you’re going. But it’s absolutely no substitute for actually being there.
Ah, welcome to the Gospel of John, the first Chapter 1. On December 24, I laid out a bunch of themes and shared that everything we need to know (as one professor put it) about John’s Gospel is in the first few verses. We should keep referring back to that map. But now, at the end of Chapter 1 the journey begins. Let’s move now to that light that John describes, the light of life, the light of the world, the light that shines in the darkness, in the winter of this world.
Our text for today — appropriately at the beginning of a brand new year, 2018 — is Jesus inviting us into the journey: into the rich scent of grace and beauty, into the embrace of family members in the faith, into the cold of the world and whose who opt out of this sacred community and meal, even into the disorientation that happens when we follow Jesus, when we “come and see”.
You can grasp John intellectually or in 2D, you can have some idea of where it’s all going. But it’s absolutely no substitute for actually being there yourself. Jesus today is inviting us to move, to move to a new place, which requires a journey. We are invited to re-locate, to transfer, to move into God’s very heart.
“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. That’s a great question. Are you open to exploring that? New year, envisioning a clean slate — lot of us have been out of our regular routine because of the holidays, so maybe it’s a great time to ask this question...
In this moment we stand at the trailhead and ask ourselves, what Jesus asks: what are you looking for? What do you want, really? What’s the whole purpose here? [pause] The world tries to tells us what we should be looking for, right? Money. Power, safety, material things, fancy clothes, rugged independence, cars, jewelry, success, successful children to be proud of, winning, winning, winning. But we know all too well that we can’t take all those things with us when we die.
It’s really the death bed that we have to imagine in order to get at the big question that Jesus is asking here: “What are you looking for?” What do you want out of this life? What’s the point? [pause] New year: trailhead.
The great thing for Christians, trust-ers in Jesus — when we play out the deathbed scene — is that we believe/trust we have eternal life coming to us, right? Because of Christ, not because of my good works or my earning this glorious heaven! Simply and profoundly, only because of Christ! “This is most certainly true,” right?! So in faith, our answer to Jesus’ big question here “what are you looking for” doesn’t have to be about the life hereafter. The great thing for us trust-ers in Jesus is that we get to answer that question for this life, here and now. So what are you looking for...here on earth, now that you’re ok, now that you’ve already been saved, now that life eternal has been freely given to you through Jesus?
And I love that the disciples don’t have an answer for him: Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” and what do they say? They answer with a question: “Teacher, where are you abiding?” It’s like they’re lost in a roundabout. They have know idea how to answer Jesus’ question. Maybe that’s like us right now too. “Uhhhh….”
All they know is that they want to be close to Jesus. “Teacher, Rabbi, where are you staying?” And that’s when Jesus invites them, like they’re standing at the trailhead, “Come and see,” Jesus says. Come and see where I’m staying, where I abide.
Friends in Christ, God’s got great things in store for us this 2018! Things that might disorient us, or freeze us, make us slip perhaps...Jesus never promised that the journey would be easy. But at the same time, in this journey and life of faith, in this abiding in Christ’s gracious and loving presence, we enter into the very heart of God! We come to know and feel God’s love wrapped around us, comforting us, inspiring us, challenging us, moving us always outward into new places and new ideas and new positions and new experiences…
(Another remarkable feature of John’s Gospel is how much Jesus and his disciples move! I once tried to track their movement on a map as I read through the Gospel, and I gave up — they moved so much, almost like they were being teleported!)
Journeying into God’s heart changes us, fills us with grace and mercy...and then sends us out to find and share with others, just like Philip finds and shares with Nathaniel, even at the beginning of the journey, we can find others and share with them this same invitation to come and see, to enter into the journey with Christ, to abide with him, to meet God.
This is a good day, and a good year. Standing at the trail head. God’s gonna see us through! AMEN.