Who do you follow?” That was the question I was asked while on vacation this past week down in Austin, Texas. I’m not a huge fan of Texas in general but I love Austin. I served there as an interim pastor in 2007/2008. You’ve got to love a place where the slogan is “keep Austin weird.” Austin is a bohemian mix of high tech, hippies, musicians, government types, and mystics.
It was during dinner one night that I was asked the question. At the dinner table were people who identified as Christian, spiritual, metaphysical, as well as a Christian woman who now practices Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. She was who wanted to know which spiritual leaders I follow, along with what preachers I listen to.
As curious as she was about me, I became curious about what this woman was looking for that she hadn’t found in Christianity. Was something missing? Had she grown tired of Jesus? Had she never found the growing edge of the faith she grew up with? Personally, the more I have studied Christianity, the more I find right under my nose. I want to add that I applaud anyone drawing from multiple spiritual disciplines, however, I also hope they continue to excavate the treasures of them all.
The encounter was on my mind when I got home and opened my bible to see what the gospel passage was going to be for today. John 1. Perfect. In all of the gospels, one of the first things Jesus does is call disciples-dedicated followers.
But in John 1 the first question Jesus asks those followers is: “What are you looking for?” At one level, the question asks why they are walking after him. Fundamentally, this is the existential question asked of any potential disciple: “What do you seek when you come to follow Jesus?” Both questions are worth pondering. Did you notice that they answer his question with another question? They ask him where he is staying. The Greek word translated as “stay” is menô, a term that signifies a permanent remaining or abiding. Their question asks for more than location. They want to know where Jesus permanently abides, reflecting the innate desire of any disciple is to be in Jesus’ presence always.
That simple encounter conveys a desire for sincere relationship. Relationship is key. Without mutual relationship, the encounter with Jesus would not have taken. It would have remained a meeting and nothing more.
Then Jesus says something else. He says, “Come and see,” taking it a step further with Nathanael. In this short passage of sacred text, Jesus lets Nathanael know that he has seen him under the fig tree. In other words, this man Jesus KNOWS him, knows of him, and has SEEN him. When we come right down to it, isn’t that what we all seek? That God knows and sees us?
So, what are YOU looking for? What is it that you seek? Have you answered Jesus’ call to “come and see?” To “come and see,” is to risk genuine relationship. By saying “come and see” Jesus is inviting us to experience relationship, and to pay attention to what Jesus is up to in your life and in our world. Through this invitation we learn that faith is not a series of answers to be mastered and memorized. Relationship with Jesus is an experiential way of life. And…it cannot be phoned in.
Not long after my son passed, I was introduced to a prayer site on the internet. I was in my first call and at the time didn’t realize that my own relationship with God had been harmed by Jeremiah’s death. I logged on to www.sacredspace.ie and was surprised by what I found. The site is run by Irish Jesuits and every day holds a different devotional experience. Each begins with an opening thought, which moves you through a prayer, a scripture, and then a time of conversation with Jesus. Today’s devotion used part of the same scripture as our gospel text. It began with:
A year of grace is ending, and a new one is beginning. Before I ponder what the new year may bring, let me light my lamp and look back on the past year. There I can discover the deft touches of God, and this will give me confidence that the year now unfolding will be equally rich. (And then it moved to the day’s prayer)
Dear Jesus, today I call on you in a special way. Mostly I come asking for favors. Today I’d like just to be in Your presence. Let my heart respond to Your Love.
And then after reading the day’s scripture, you are invited to imagine yourself talking to Jesus. Imagine Jesus himself standing or sitting at your side. You’re told to “Share your feelings with him.”
It was then that I realized how angry I was with God–not for taking Jeremiah (because I don’t believe that) but rather for the access I no longer had to my child . Relationships stall when we’re angry. So I imagined that Jesus was sitting next to me and, well, I blasted him! “Where is my son? Why can’t I talk to him? Even a prisoner gets one phone call!” I yelled.
It was in that moment, while sitting in front of my computer, that I felt the presence and heard the voice of Jesus. And Jesus said, “Jeremiah is fine. He is here, here with me.” The anger drained from me. It was all I needed to restore my relationship. I knew in that moment that I was seen, I was known, and I was understood. Thanks be to God.
As we begin a new year, I invite us to begin a new relationship with God. God came down for relationship! This year, let us come to a place of knowing that God sees us. And with deep heart knowledge, let us share that good news with a world that needs the peace of that knowing. May it be so.