Dusty Discipleship: Seeking, Staying, Seeing

Dusty Discipleship: Seeking, Staying, Seeing

Jesus’ encounter with Andrew, John and Peter give us a model for following Jesus and being a disciple.  They sought Jesus out, they stayed with him, and they acquired a new way to see the world and themselves.  The questions for us today are: What are you seeking and looking for?  Where are you staying, who are you being shaped by?   How are you responding to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see?” 

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: John 1:35-42


Back in the 1980’s before Karen and I went to serve in Bolivia, our mission agency sent us to Costa Rica to study Spanish for a whole year, so we’d be ready to hit the ground running when we got to Bolivia.

We lived in a small apartment complex in San Jose, just down the street from the language school.  There were about five units in the complex, and we were the only gringos—everyone else were refugees from Cuba who were waiting to get visas to go to the United States.

During that year we lived in close contact with Costa Ricans and also with our Cuban neighbors. We learned about their cultures, practiced our Spanish with them, and even learned how to cook one of Cuba’s specialties, Arroz con Pollo.

Do you know what the secret ingredient to that Arroz con Pollo dish is?  A can of beer!  You replace 12 oz. water with a can of cerveza, and that gives it the special flavor!

In Costa Rica we learned firsthand that the best way to learn a culture and language is through immersion.  A transformation had begun to take place in our lives.

In our story today from the book of John we encounter the first followers or disciples of Jesus, and we get a glimpse of the transformation that happened to them as they decided to follow Jesus, spent time with him, and learned from him.

Like what happened to Karen and I in Costa Rica, as these guys immersed themselves in Jesus’ way of living, they saw the world more like he did, and learned to live more like he did.

A little context here about John’s gospel.   John wrote this account of Jesus’ life near the end of John’s life.  He lived to be close to 100, so he wrote it about 70 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This was a time when the early Christian communities were being persecuted by the Roman Empire they lived under.  John is writing to these fledging churches.   What John knows they need is a close experience with Jesus – they need to “see” Jesus, and they need to feel near to Jesus, abide in him, depend upon him so they will not lose heart and be able to persevere in their faith.

So the early church’s need to see Jesus and their need to abide in Jesus are two themes that run through the book of John.

First, there’s a theme of seeing in John’s gospel.  One way this is  expressed is through the image of light that occurs at the beginning of the book and in several other places.  Light helps people to see better, especially when they’re in the dark and can’t find their way.  Light also is a symbol of hope.

The theme of seeing is also fleshed out in the story of the healing of the blind man in chapter 9.  “I was blind but now I see” he proclaims.

And here in our passage today, Jesus says to two of John the Baptist’s disciples, “Come and see”.  Come, and see, follow and discover who Jesus is.

The second theme, of abiding, also runs throughout the gospel of John.

In John 15, Jesus compares himself to a vine, and his followers as the branches, and he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”  Other versions use the word “remain”, or “stay”, or “dwell”.

These words are an invitation to stay connected to Jesus, who is like a lifeline.

And that’s what we see happening in our scripture story today.  We see these young men moving toward a closer relationship with Jesus.  We see them go from seeking out Jesus, to staying with him, to seeing him in a new way, a way that transforms the way that they see the world and how to live in the world.

I believe that this story can be a blueprint for what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus.

This three step process of seeking Jesus and staying with Jesus and seeing with the eyes of Jesus leads to Jesus rubbing off on you like what happens when you get covered by the dust of the person who’s walking in front of you.

Jesus was seen as a Jewish rabbi, and in the Jewish world a common blessing that people would say to a disciple of a rabbi was “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.”     

Let’s look at each of these three steps a little more closely.  First, seeking Jesus. 

Here we see John the Baptist with two of his disciples.  One we learn is Andrew, and the other is thought to have been John the author of this gospel, even though he doesn’t reveal that here.

Jesus walks by, and John the Baptist says “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”.

And these two guys start following Jesus.  Maybe they thought of the sacrificial lamb used in their Jewish traditions, and they were curious as to what this might mean in reference to Jesus.

And they no doubt had been influenced by John the Baptist’s work of calling people to repentance to prepare for the coming of someone even greater than himself.

So the seeds have been sown and these guys are ready to take the plunge and seek after Jesus.  And then when they start following Jesus, Jesus turns around and asks them “What are you looking for?”

This question, “What are you looking for?” can be superficial and practical like what Karen often says to me when she sees me roaming around the house looking for something.  At my age, it happens a lot!, whether it’s my glasses or phone or car keys that I’ve misplaced. 

But on a deeper level “What are you looking for?” can be a profoundly spiritual question that many people ask themselves, probably including all of us at times, as we go through life. 

It’s this feeling like “I know that there’s something deeper and more satisfying in life that I haven’t discovered yet, I just don’t know what it is, but I want to look for it, and I want to find it.”

St. Augustine was addressing this universal longing when he famously said “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.”

The band U2 has written a lot of songs with spiritual depth, as lead singer Bono and others in the band identify as Christians.  One of U2’s most overtly spiritual songs is called “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, and it deals with this seeking, this longing for meaning and purpose and joy in life.  It says:

I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields
Only to be with you…but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

I believe in the Kingdom Come then all the colours will bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.  You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame You know I believe it…But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

Now this might seem confusing, because the song talks about having faith in God and finding salvation in Jesus, but the refrain says “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”?   Like, isn’t Jesus enough?

You’d probably have to talk to Bono to know the answer to this question, but one thing that I would say is that even after we “find” God and even after we start down the road as a disciple of Jesus, there’s still more to discover.

There are still unanswered questions, and mysteries, as Jerome pointed out last Sunday.  There are still ways that we can grow deeper in our faith and grow closer to the God who created us for relationship with him.  There are still longings.

Knowing that we still haven’t found what we’re looking for could be discouraging, but I like to think of it as an attitude that keeps us humble, and keeps us seeking, and keeps us desiring God more, keeps us wanting to live more like Jesus.

Now let’s get to the second step on the journey of discipleship: STAYING.  After Jesus asks Andrew and John “what are you looking for?” their response is a bit odd.  They come back to Jesus with the question: “Where are you staying?” 

In other words, they want to be with Jesus, go where he is going and stay with him. Here’s that theme of abiding that we looked at earlier.

The story says that it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. And other clues from the text show us that it happened to be the beginning of the Sabbath, which meant that they would need to stay with Jesus until the end of the next day.

So these new disciples, Andrew and John, had an extended opportunity to hang out with Jesus, to get to know him better and learn from him.  That’s what happens when you spend quality time with people, right?  You rub off on each other.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a time to remember the legacy of the pastor and activist who led a nonviolent movement for racial justice in our country.

Dr. King had spent time with Jesus in the gospels and through prayer, and through Jesus he learned about God’s desire for social justice, and also about Jesus’radical way of loving and living.

King had learned about Jesus’ way of peace, which included loving one’s enemies.  He had also been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy called Satyagraha which he used in the Indian struggle against British imperialism.

So Dr. King brought people together into a community that spent a lot of time practicing the strategy of peaceful protest for bus boycotts, sit-ins and marches.  In the end it worked, because people had become disciples of Martin Luther King and his vision.

I’ve put King’s six principles of nonviolence in the bulletin as well as a link to an article about them if you’d like to reflect more on them as we remember Martin Luther King’s life and legacy this week.

When we commit ourselves to let Jesus be our model for life, we learn more of what it means to be his disciple,  and catch  a clearer vision for how to live like Jesus lived.

When we “stay” with Jesus through spending time with him in prayer, we can grow closer to him, and our hearts and minds and desires will become more conformed to his.

And this leads us to our third step, SEEING Jesus, and learning to see how Jesus sees the world.  Again, this is a theme throughout the gospel of John.

When Jesus says, “Come and See”, he’s giving an invitation to believe in him, wholeheartedly. To Jesus, “faith” and “belief” is not just about believing facts about Jesus, but involve trusting Jesus with our lives, and being transformed by him.

For a disciple of Jesus, seeing means being willing to see the world, and see other people, the way that God sees them. We see a great example of this in the last few verses of our passage today.  Andrew was the brother of Simon, whom we know as Peter.

Andrew was so excited about his encounter with Jesus that he went and found  Simon, and brought him to Jesus, so Simon could experience what Andrew had experienced.  Together, they came to see Jesus not only as a rabbi, but as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

When Jesus saw Simon, he saw him not only as a fisherman, but also as a person with great potential to be a leader in this new Jesus movement.  Jesus gave him the name Cephas, which means Peter, and which also means “rock”.  We know in hindsight that Peter would become the rock on which the early church was built.

Just like Peter, I believe that Jesus sees each one of us in ways that we don’t always see ourselves.  We are usually our own worst critics, right?

But where we see faults, Jesus sees potential.  Where we see weakness, Jesus sees strength. Where we see judgment, Jesus sees grace.  Where we see ugliness, Jesus sees beauty.

Seeing like Jesus means seeing ourselves and seeing others as Jesus sees us.

I want to close with a story that I heard this past week at a conference at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg.  The conference was called “Appreciating EveryBody: Creating Communities of Belonging”, and it focused on how we see   people with disabilities.

One of the keynote speakers was Amy Julia Becker, who’s an author and who has a podcast called “Love is stronger than Fear”.  Amy’s first keynote talk was called “Perfectly Human: Understanding God’s logic of disability”.

She tells the story of the birth of her first child, Penny. Like most people, Amy and her husband wanted a “perfect” baby, meaning without any disabilities.  And when the doctors told them that Penny had Down’s Syndrome, they were disappointed and scared.  Their first thought was “she’s not perfect”.

But as they shared with God their fears and their questions, and journeyed with other people who had children with disabilities, God changed their hearts and the way they saw Penny and others with disabilities.

They came to embrace Penny as a gift from God, beautiful and perfect in her own special way.  Amy said that she realized that “Penny is no more broken or needy than I am”. 

Through this journey, Amy’s family has learned so much about vulnerability, and interdependence.  They’ve learned so much about God’s unconditional love, and how each one of us is seen and known as a beloved child of God.

Amy said that one practice that has helped her see more clearly has been sitting for 5 minutes every day in the presence of God, contemplating God’s unconditional love for her, and receiving her own belovedness as a gift to be cherished each day.

Maybe this is something you might want to practice, as a simple way to seek God, stay and dwell in God’s presence, and see God, yourself and others with new eyes.

Where are you at in your journey as a disciple of Jesus? 

What are you seeking and looking for?  Where are you staying, who are you being shaped by?   How are you responding to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see?”

Prayer.  Jesus, in a world where there are so many voices vying for our attention and our allegiance, help us to hear your voice above all the others, calling us to “come and see”.  Thank you for being willing to walk with us and stay with us, wherever we’re at on our journey with you, whether we feel close to you or far away from you, you are there with us.  Give us the courage and the strength to take the next step of faithfulness with you, so that we may be covered with the dust from your sandals. AMEN.

Response questions:

  • What are people in your circles and in our society looking for?
  • What is a way that you have learned to see yourself or other people as Jesus sees you/others?
  • How can our church be a place that helps people grow as disciples of Jesus?