Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for January 15, 2017

January 15, 2017
John 1:29-42a

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The sermon text for this morning is the Gospel Lesson previously read.

I was on Facebook this week and saw a post from someone who made a comment about the church, which is worth consideration.  The comment was to say that as the church, or as theologians even, we should not be working to answer questions that people aren’t asking.  So, is that fair?  Should we as the Church be working to answer only the questions that people are asking?  Well, I would argue there are a number of questions that theologians wrestle with that seem unimportant, but actually have some rather serious implications.  For example, one of the things we talk about in seminary is whether the divine nature takes on human characteristics in the same way that we say that the human nature takes on divine characteristics in the person of Jesus.  Now if I were to pose that question to you in a sermon, my guess is that there would be about 5 of you who would hear that question and think, “Hmm, that sounds like something I’d like to consider more.”  However, as uninteresting as it might seem to most of you, though, this actually has some serious implications for us understanding how the two natures relate in Jesus, and in fact what this even means for the fact that God became man in Jesus and saved you from your sin.  So, it’s an important question that we pastors should talk about at seminary.  But, if I go to Hillgrove Tap and offer for someone there to have that conversation, they don’t care.

So, what is the point of this?  Well, as we hear the words of Jesus, we could argue that in a sense that’s what He’s doing: He’s finding out what questions people are asking.  Look at what He said.  Here these two disciples of John the Baptist see John point to Jesus and the determine that it is fitting for them to follow Him.  And as they follow Jesus, he turns and He asks them that question.  “What are you seeking?”  What do you want?  In fact, this word could even be translated as desire.  What do you desire?

Now, about fifteen years ago, it was very common for churches who noticed that people were leaving the Church in droves to argue that we should be asking what people’s “felt needs” are.  In fact, I think that passage may have even been used as a defense for doing that.  The argument was that if we could ask people what they felt like they needed, and then provide that need for them in Church they would want to come.  If we could just make ourselves as the Church into a place where the things people wanted were given to them, then people would really like us and would come knocking down our door.  Well, what do you think most people would say that they are seeking?  Or perhaps you should even ask yourself:  what are you seeking?  What do you want?  What do you desire?

Are you seeking comfort?  Are you seeking wealth?  Are you seeking earthly gratification?  Are you seeking to feast your senses on that which is pleasurable?  To feast your stomach on the most delectable of foods?  To feast your ears on the most harmonious of sounds?  Are you seeking to feast your eyes on the most exquisite of sights?  Or are you seeking something lower on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  Are you seeking just to feel that you have people around you who value you and love you?  Of course, we can go further and ask if you are seeking even more foundational things?  Are you seeking security?  Safety?  Assurance that you will have all that you need in terms of protection, or even bodily needs?  Relief from the pain of aching joints?  Or are you even just seeking to make sure that you can have your next meal and your next breath?

As we look at what we often seek, what can we say about it?  Often it is focused on the here and now, isn’t it?  Often our “felt needs,” often what we are seeking, is focused on making sure I get mine and I get it now.  Isn’t it?  Is this what we as the Church should be focused on?  That’s a question we need to ask, isn’t it?

As we consider that, though, look at how the disciples answered Jesus.  When Jesus asked them what they were seeking, what they desired, what did they say?  How did they respond?  It’s quite an interesting response, isn’t it?  They say, “Where are you staying?”  “Where are you staying?”  “Where are you living?”  Perhaps they were even thinking, “where is your house?”  In fact, as I was reading for this sermon, I found a writing from an author who grew up in India.  He made the point that in Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures, apparently where someone lives is a big deal.  Of course, to some extent we can relate to this.  I mean, if we were to go over to someone’s house that lived in some of the mansions in Burr Ridge, there would be in most of us some degree of impression that would be made.  Those are quite stunning homes in their size and in their ornamentation.  We would likely be impressed to some degree or another – now whether that impression would be positive or negative that’s another story, but I digress; the point being we can relate to how where someone lives is a big deal.  Now that being said, this author said that this house was all the more important because it isn’t just where you live, the kind of “digs” that you have, but the household as a whole, the household, the line from which you come.  Who is your father?  What does he do?  If he’s well accomplished, that’s a big deal.  If he has a curriculum vitae that is remarkable, then take note.

So, this author was arguing that’s what the disciples wanted to know.  He was saying, these disciples wanted to the low down on this Messiah.  They wanted to know where He lived, what the pedigree looked like.

Now, put yourself in that position.  If you don’t know anything about the Messiah, except that He will be an eternal King, that He will rule, that He will redeem God’s people, what are you expecting for the place that He will live?  You’re likely expecting a palatial mansion, aren’t you?  You’re likely expecting a palace, a grand and ritzy abode, aren’t you?

Now, as I say all of this, as I have taken you down this rabbit hole a bit, it’s worth telling you, that when the disciples ask this question, the word for staying is the same as abiding.  As in, the One baptizing with the Holy Spirit is the One on whom the Holy Spirit descends and remains or abides.  As in, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  Or as in “The slave does not remain [or abide] in the house forever; the son remains [or abides] forever.”  So, in other words, the disciple are asking Lord, “where are you abiding?”

To be clear, I don’t think we should shed more light on the disciples in the gospels than Jesus often does.  By that I mean that often the disciples are humiliated in relation to the teaching of the Lord, as all of us should be too.  And with that in mind, I don’t think we should necessarily assume that the disciples are asking the question properly, but John, by the work of the Holy Spirit, does include this question for us to hear for a reason.  As he says at the end of the gospel, this is all written that we would believe, so we should take that question and ask it to.  Lord, where are you abiding?

I ask you, then, is this the question you are asking?  Is this what you are seeking?  Are you seeking to know where Jesus abides?  All the more, are you desiring to know where Jesus abides that you would also abide with Him?  As a Christian, this should be our greatest desire.  Above absolutely every other desire of thought, of word and of deed we should want to abide with Jesus.  Where Jesus is, there we should want to be.  So where is Jesus?  Where does Jesus abide?

Well, on the one hand He is in heaven, isn’t He?  He has risen and is ascended, so that’s where He is.  But we can’t get there just yet, can we?  So where does Jesus abide that we can abide with Him?  Where is Jesus?  I often make this point, don’t I?  Well, He’s everywhere, right?  But when something is everywhere, it becomes something that to a degree becomes in accessible.  So where is Jesus so that we can abide with Him?  In other words, where is heaven on earth?

Look at where He promises to be that we can find Him.  Look at what He promises.  He promises that as His pastors, His sent men, proclaim His Word, “He who hears you hears me.”  He abides in His Word as it is preached.  He abides in His Word.  You want to be with Jesus live, abide in His Word.  His Word says, “whoever has been baptized into Christ has been clothed in Christ.”  Abide in baptism and you will abide with Christ.  And hopefully you know where I am going next.  He says, “This is my body, given for you, this is my blood shed for you.”  His very body broken for you on the cross, broken for your sins, this blood shed for your life, and raised again, this is given to you here, in, with and under bread and wine.  You want to abide with Jesus?  Abide where He comes in His Supper.  Christians, this is why we have this supper week in and week out, He promises to abide here in a particular way.  And as Christians that’s exactly what we should want.  That’s what faith leans on.  It doesn’t lean on its own ability, no it leans on this One who died for us, and who was raised for our new life.  It leans on abiding with Him.

So then, should we only be answering the questions that people are asking?  Well, simply no. But we should definitely look at what questions they are asking.  And, we should understand that as we answer the questions being asked, as we look at our “felt needs,” as we ask the world and ourselves what we seek, what we “desire,” what direction all of this should take.  It should take us in the direction of being led away from all of our focus on the here and now, and should be turned toward that which is eternal.  We should direct ourselves in that fashion, and as we live in this world, just like John pointed to this Lamb of God, just like Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, we should do the exact thing.  Because the reality is that the things that we seek might be short-sighted, but the answer is eternal.

Sure, we by our sinful nature want instant gratification, but if we restrain that nature and abide with Jesus we have the promise of His eternal feast which will satisfy us forever, His eternal riches which won’t spoil and moth and rust won’t destroy, the promise of His eternal pleasures, His eternal righteousness.  In fact, we have the promise of receiving that which we should seek most of all: His eternal love, acceptance, and His eternal breath of Life forever.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler