Faith Happens to Us: a sermon on John 1:35-39

So I was not around the last couple weeks. My family and I were on vacation in St. Louis where we got to spend a lot of time with family and our parents got to spend a lot of time with the kids, my parents got to meet my daughter, Oakley, for the first time. It was really wonderful And, you know, the last time my parents saw the kids, my son, Boston, was a newborn. So this was really the first time I was going to get to show them who I am as a parent, especially as a parent of two, one being a toddler.

This was kind of intimidating, but I was excited about it. I mean, I'm like... a responsible adult now. I've been living on my own for several years. I'm successfully keeping two humans alive. And my wife and I have both worked really hard at instilling good habits and manners in our kids thus far. I felt ready for this. However, my kids apparently had other plans. You know what, it's easier if I just give you some examples.

So one night we were over at my parents house and Boston was playing with these little toy dinosaurs he had got for Christmas. And, right in front of my mother, Boston picks a booger out of his nose and wipes it in the dinosaur's open mouth. Or there was one time when they walked into the living room to find Oakley chewing on one of the dog's rawhide chips. Ummm...Oh! Boston actually sat down and watched football for the first time on this trip. And I don't know how many times we heard Oakley start crying and, when we turned around, saw that Boston had tackled her. It just...it didn't go the way I thought it was going to go. But then we went over to my in-laws' house, and Boston was like a perfect angel. He listened to everything we said. He did what he was told. Amy's mom was all like "Oh my gosh, he listens so well!" And I just couldn't help but kind of shake my head and laugh.

But sometimes, that's just the way it is, right? Sometimes my kids heed our every word, and sometimes they do their own thing. Sometimes they respond to us with obedience and sometimes they don't. And it's easy to write this off as just kids-being-kids but are we really so different? We're fickle people! Sometimes we respond to God with obedience and sometimes we don't. This is the exact dilemma we have today in our passage. The two disciples are faced with a choice in response to something that has prompted them. And figuring out what it was that prompted them and why they did what they did is our task.

Now, I love this passage. It only shows up in John's gospels. There are variations of this in the other 3 gospels, the so-called "synoptics," but this passage in John stands out from them. My favorite gospel character, besides Jesus of course, is John the Baptist, or JB as I like to call him. Now, historically, we know JB to be Jesus' mentor and teacher. They were both apocalyptic prophets. They both advocated baptism. In two of the gospels, Matthew and Mark, Jesus' ministry only begins after JB was arrested so we can probably assume that Jesus would have continued learning from him had he not been taken away.

Now, let me start off by saying that I don't think this episode happened, at least as described. And this isn't necessarily a surprise. I mean, there's so much that's in common among the first 3 gospels that aren't in common with John that there is likely little in John which is historically accurate. John's gospel is typically thought of to be a theological exposition of what took place during Jesus' life and death rather than being a straightforward historical account. And the first clue which leads us to this conclusion is in v. 37.

We see John, who believes Jesus to be the messiah, proclaim to his two disciples "Here is the lamb of God!" And all we see from the text is that the disciples heard this and automatically started following Jesus without saying anything to their former teacher and mentor. Nothing. No goodbye, thank you, drop dead. Nothing! That's super weird. That's not how reality works. When you've spent your life or part of your life under the tutelage of a specific individual, you don't just get up and walk away without saying anything. So I don't think this really happened the way John is setting it up to sound. But then again, maybe we should question whether or not that even matters.

I don't think John cares about what really happened. Again, he's not doing straightforward history. Let Matthew and Mark and Luke be the historians. John isn't a historian; he's a theologian. I don't think the point he's making here is historical; it's theological. Every other parallel to this in the synoptics shows Jesus as saying something to the first disciples. He either goes with the classic "come and follow me" or he tries to hijack a fishing boat like he does to Peter. But here, he doesn't say anything. John says that Jesus is the Lamb of God and the disciples don't question; they don't fuss; they don't argue. They simply follow.

And notice the obvious points on the other side of this. The disciples aren't convinced by arguments for the existence of God. No one is there trying to convince them of anything. There's nothing being peddled or sold. They're not coerced into believing anything. The only piece of information exchanged is that this man is the Lamb of God, that God was in this individual, over against any other. It's true that following Jesus requires action on our end but there's a difference between faith and how we respond to it. The two disciples in this story are prime examples of the fact that faith is not our own. Faith is created in us. Faith happens to us. And the God that raised Jesus from the dead and raised Israel out of Egypt is the God that creates faith in you. We can never lay a claim to this faith, as if it's something we could generate out of thin air, or as if we could will its existence in our lives. The only thing we could ever lay claim to is how we respond to this faith that happens to us.

Are we going to let it fall on deaf ears or are we going to follow Jesus? Are we going to be moved to action by experiencing this faith anew or are we going to return to the fleshpots in Egypt and die there? This is the question all of us who have been grasped by faith in this first-century Jew must answer and it's the question these two disciples answer when they follow him.

Now, apparently Jesus didn't know they were following him because his response is hilarious. When he realizes that these two guys are following him, Jesus snaps into Lionel Richie mode and turns around and asks "What are you looking for?" That's legitimately where my mind went when I was preparing this week. I had a mental image of Jesus turning on his heel and being all "Hello...Is it me you're looking for...?" You know, when you think about it, a lot of that song is relevant here. I mean, think about these lyrics: "You're all I've ever wanted and my arms are wide open," "I want to tell you so much, I love you." There are some strong, theological parallels in Lionel's work. Alright, somebody make a note. Sermon series idea: Lionel Richie and the Gospels...

But it's an interesting question, isn't it? What are you looking for? Jesus wasn't dumb. He knew what people were saying about him. But he's mining the disciples for their motivation, for their intention. Are they looking for the messiah or are they just looking for the next "thing"? Are they looking for the one who upends all expectations and ideologies or are they merely looking for someone to reaffirm them? It's an interesting question for the disciples and it's an interesting question for us, especially as we get a new year under way.

As we begin anew and turn over new leaves in our lives, I want you to ponder the question of what you're looking for. Are you looking for sanctuary from all the noise of the world? Are you looking for forgiveness from someone in your life? Are you looking for hope in the hopelessness? You know, we often seek the things that only God can give without seeking God. And when we do this, when we go looking for the things that only God can give without looking for God, that's when we start making idols. That's when we start glorifying ideology or nationalism or ourselves and not the God who came to us in Jesus Christ.

It's easy to fall into this trap because it's easy to desire the things that God gives without desiring all the baggage that comes along with it. It's easy to desire hope and love and community without wanting to deal with all the sacrifice and pain and difficulty that comes with following this God. But its clear that these disciples have no mind for these things. They don't even answer Jesus' question. They just want to be with him, wherever he goes. That's why the next thing that's said in the dialogue isn't an answer to the question, but the question of where Jesus is staying. Because these disciples have already made the decision that they want to go wherever Jesus goes; they want to stay wherever Jesus stays and they want to die wherever Jesus dies.

It is my hope and prayer for each and every one of you that, when faith comes, you all respond with the same reckless abandon as these disciples, willing to leave everything and everyone behind to follow this God. And I hope that the thing that you're looking for is this God who creates faith in you, who raised Jesus from the dead and raised Israel from Egypt. If this is who you're seeking with your whole life, in everything you say and do, then you will always find what you're looking for.

Amen.

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