It's in the questions

We don't need to hide our questions.  We can use our questions to deepen our faith.  That's what Jesus did.

Full Text: 

It’s in the questions

January 5, 2014 – John 1:35-51

 

We tend to think that Christianity is about answers.  And Christianity certainly provides – or at least tries to provide – lots of answers – about God and the universe, about Jesus and salvation, about life in the world.  We try to provide lots of answers because sometimes a lack of answers breeds doubt and confusion.  That can keep people from feeling close to God. So, we provide answers.

The problem is that, well, sometimes the answers can be the problem.  Answers can get in the way.  They stop us from seeking, stop us from searching, stop us from digging deeper into our faith in a way that will bring us closer to Jesus.  Sometimes it is the seeking, it is the searching, that bring us closer to Jesus.  It’s not in the answers.  It’s in the questions.

 

The gospel of John is a gospel for seekers.  It is chock-full of questions. 

It begins with a cosmic view of Jesus – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known.”

Then we get a ground-level view of Jesus.  It comes from John the Baptist.  There are seekers who come out to John the Baptist.  Are you the one?  Are you the Messiah?  Are you Elijah?  Are you one of the great prophets?

No, John the Baptist says.  I am a voice.  I am a witness.  I am a pointer.  And that’s what he does.  When John the Baptist first sees Jesus, he declares, “Look!  It’s the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Then, one day, John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples.  Jesus walks by and he says, “Look!  It’s the Lamb of God!”  So, they began to follow Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t call these two to follow him as he does in the other gospels.  They start following and then he notices them following.

What’s the first thing Jesus says to them?  It’s a question – “What are you looking for?”  It isn’t, Why are you following me?  Or what do you believe? Or even who do you say that I am?  It is, “What are you looking for?”

Jesus doesn’t immediately assume that he has what they are looking for or that he is what they are looking for.  Or perhaps he does but he knows that is not the right place to start.  The right place to start is with the question, “What are you looking for?”

Curiously, the disciples don’t say, “We’re looking for more inner peace,” or “We want to be happy,” or “We just want to stop yelling our kids,” or even “We want to find the Messiah.”  They answer with a question – “Where are you staying?”  John the Baptist, their teacher up to this point, has pointed them to him.  And maybe they see something in Jesus for themselves.  So, they say, “Jesus, can we hang out with you for a while?”

But it may be more than that.

The word for “stay” is one of John’s favorite words.  In Greek, it is “meno,” which means “to abide.”  He uses it 46 times, including four times in today’s gospel lesson.   John the Baptist says, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

But it occurs most frequently in chapter 15 – “I am the vine and you are the branches…Abide in me as I abide in you…Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

            For the Gospel of John, faith in Jesus is not so much a matter of believing as it is of abiding.  It is a matter of relationship.  There is doing.  There is following.  But the heart of faith is abiding, remaining in relationship with Jesus.

            To their question, “Where are you staying?” Jesus answers, “Come and see.”  Jesus does not spoon feed them answers.  He does not tell them what he wants them to believe.  He invites them to come and witness for themselves. 

            And in the coming chapters, they will get quite an eye-full.  There is the miracle of changing water into wine.  There is the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.  There is the healing of the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus after four days. 

            Even more there is the sight of the Son of Man lifted on the cross.   John says enigmatically, “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.”  According to John, Jesus died at three in the afternoon.  We can imagine that abiding with Jesus means staying all the way to the end.  It means staying when we want to run.  It means staying when we want to hide.  It means staying through all the tough stuff, staying through all the ugly stuff, staying until his suffering and death is complete.  Because that is where the glory of God – full of grace and truth – is to be seen.

This journey is not for sight-seers.  It is not for dabblers.  It’s not for people who want to feel a little better or improve their life.  It is a journey that will ask much from us.

Maybe that’s why Jesus welcomes Nathaniel’s question. 

Jesus calls Philip in the way we expect – “Follow me.”  Then Philip runs off to tell Nathaniel – “We’ve found him!  We find the guy!  He’s the real deal!”

Nathaniel is skeptical.  “Nazareth?  As if! Nothing good has ever come out of Nazareth!”  But Nathaniel goes to see with Philip anyway.

Before Nathaniel even gets up close to Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is someone who is not easily fooled.  He’s completely honest!”  (Again, Jesus does not dismiss his question. He takes the question – and Nathaniel – seriously.)

Nathaniel says, “Where did you get that idea?  You don’t know me?”

Jesus replies, “Even before Philip talked to you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

Nathaniel confesses, “Rabbi!  You are the Son of God!  You are the king of Israel!”

These are traditional Jewish titles.  Jesus does not deny them.  But then he gives them something even more to think about. 

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  You will see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man!”

Which would be totally cool!  But it probably also leaves the disciples with more questions.  Are you talking about Jacob’s ladder?  Are you the promise of God to be with us wherever we go?  Are you the way to God?  Are you the place where true worship of God happens?

 

There are a variety of ways in which people come to Jesus, a variety of ways in which people hear the call of faith.  Questions are often an important part of it.  Through the gospel of John, we will continue to hear questions – How is it possible to be born again?  How is it that you are asking a drink from me?  Rabbi, when did you come here?  Lord, to whom shall we go?

What are your questions?  Maybe you have questions about God – Who is God anyway?  Did God create the universe, or was it evolution?  If God is so good and so powerful, why is there so much trouble in the world? 

Maybe you have questions about Jesus – Who is Jesus?  Is he really God’s Son?  He seems like a great guy, a wonderful teacher, someone worth emulating, but what about his death and resurrection?

Maybe you have questions about your life – How can I be a better Christian?  How can I be a better mother or father or husband or wife or son or daughter?  How do I do this in my daily life – at home and at work and at school?

Or maybe it’s just – What do I really want?  What am I looking for?

Whatever your questions are, don’t check them at the door.  Don’t expect quick and easy answers.  Don’t be surprised if Jesus asks you questions.

 

Bring your questions.  And come and see.