When Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened and the Voice of God said, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
That was the beginning; soon after, Jesus started forming His community of disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story differently from what we heard today in John. In those other gospels, Jesus sees Andrew and Peter in a boat tending their nets, and He calls out to them to follow. The gospel of John tells it differently.
On the day after Jesus’ baptism, according to John, Jesus passes by John the Baptist and a group of His disciples, and John the Baptist cries out, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36).
Two of the disciples take note of this, and they run after Jesus. They have been faithful followers of John the Baptist, but John has been acting strangely lately- pointing to this man Jesus and saying things like, “I am not worthy to untie Your sandals”, and “This is the Son of God,” as if to say, “Jesus is the reason I was sent; follow Him.”
And so the two disciples leave their old teacher and run after Jesus. Jesus turns around and asks them, “What do you want?”
What do you want? John records that the first words out of Jesus mouth after starting his ministry in Galilee is “What do you want?”
Jesus is teaching us something very important here. We may sense God calling us to give witness, to make a different in this world in God’s Name, and that’s good. But we don’t just jump out on a street corner and start hollering. We don’t just start shipping food to some third world country. We don’t just drop the alcoholic off at the AA meeting.
If we want to transform a heart, transform a world, we start by listening. “What do you want? What is it you long for?”
Jesus asks us the same question. What is it we want? What is it we long for? A sense of wholeness? Purpose? A sense that it makes a difference in this world that God made us? Maybe we long for security, or some control over our world. What is it we want more than anything else- what do our heart yearn for?
It’s a tough question. I couldn’t answer it. I know things that I would like… to win the lottery, for example! But what is it at my very core that I want more than anything? What do I yearn for?
Andrew and his fishing buddy don’t know what they’re looking for, although as they begin to follow Jesus, that will become more and more clear. So they respond instead with, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
What! The living Christ stands before us and asks, “What do you want?” and we respond, “Where are You hanging out these days?” We don’t answer His question, but Jesus takes us where we are and says, “Come and see.”
Come and you will see. That’s the beginning of discipleship. First, God comes and starts to probe our hearts, urging us to ask the big questions like, “What do we want?” “What’s the point of our life?” And then, when we run up against the brick wall, Jesus gently says, “Come, and see.”
There’s no rigid standard of faith, no religious hoop, no “first you must be a good person.” Just “come walk with me”- an invitation to relationship. Come and we’ll see. Jesus doesn’t ask any more of us than to follow Him the next step. There is no such thing as a pre-revealed five-year plan of discipleship!
We don’t know what God has planned for us in the next few years. We can’t know. But in those years, God will be tempering us, molding us, strengthening us, so we shall be able to handle the new situations God puts us in. We shall not be the same people in 3 to 5 years that we are today.
Who were you three years ago? Six years ago? Looking back, how has God lead you? What is it you want? Come, Jesus says, Follow Me and you will see. We want to say, “How can we follow?” because we want to figure it out, have it all down on paper. But the appropriate answer to Jesus is not How, but Yes.
In the first book of Samuel, we read of the call of another disciple of God, Samuel. Tradition (Josephus) says that Samuel is twelve years old when he first hears the call of God. Samuel has grown up in the Temple as a servant of God. He sleeps by the ark of the covenant where God lives.
But Samuel has never seen God, or heard God… until one night Samuel heard a voice say, “Samuel! Samuel!” The boy jumps up, not realizing that it was God speaking. He runs over to his mentor, to the old priest Eli, and says, “Here I am!” Eli sends him back to bed, for he hadn’t called the boy. It’s the middle of the night! Cut the old man a break!
Well this happens three times, and after the third time, old Eli catches on that it might be God speaking. So Eli tells young Samuel that the next time he hears his name called, he should just stay where he is and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” What is it You want, Lord? It is our turn to listen: What is it you want?
Sometimes we disciples don’t know how to follow any more than we know how to answer when Jesus asks “What do you want?” We hear a voice and we jump up and say “Here I am” to the first thing that comes along, when what we need to do is to stop where we are, and listen to what God has to say. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
When God makes us disciples, there are basically only two things we have to do: listen and follow. Listening and following are the heart of discipleship; everything else is just commentary. And that doesn’t require a five-year plan or foreknowledge of what God expects. It just requires faithfulness to the moment. Sounds basic, right?
Martin Luther King would have been 89 years old this year. Hard to believe. I remember what the race riots were like- at least, I remember as a child remembers. I was a little girl- 5, 6, 7 years old, watching TV and seeing mobs of angry people hurting other people. It was very frightening. But Dr. King’s words rang out above the din of the mob: “We will not resort to violence; we will not degrade ourselves with hatred. Love will be returned for hate.”
What footsteps was Dr. King following? What Voice was he listening to? “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be heirs of your Father who is in heaven.”(Matthew 5:38-45a)
When Martin Luther King Jr. was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1954, he had no idea that one year later he would be leading the citywide boycott on the Montgomery bus system. But Jesus said, “Come, and you will see.”
Ten years later, 1965, I doubt that King suspected the tragedy of Bloody Sunday during the Voter Registration campaigns. But Jesus said, “Come, and you will see.”
Three years after that, 1968, King was killed by an assassin’s bulletin as he organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” which would stand up for the rights of all poor people, of all races. Hear King’s own words as he followed, and see what he saw:
“The first twenty-four years of my life were years packed with fulfillment. I had no basic problems or burdens. Because of concerned and loving parents who provided for my every need, I sallied through high school, college, theological school and graduate school without interruption. It was not until I became a part of the leadership of the Montgomery bus protest that I was actually confronted with the trials of life. Almost immediately after the protest had been undertaken, we began to receive threatening phone calls and letters in our home. Sporadic in the beginning, they increased day after day. At first I took them in stride, feeling that they were the work of a few hot-heads who would become discouraged after they discovered that we would not fight back. But as the weeks passed, I realized that many of the threats were in earnest. I felt myself faltering and growing in fear. After a particularly strenuous day, I settled in bed at a late hour. My wife had already fallen asleep and I was about to doze off when the telephone rang. An angry voice said, ‘Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you. Before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.’ I hung up, but I could not sleep. It seemed that all my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally, I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had almost gone, I determined to take my problem to God. My head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced Him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.”
Had he known where following the Lord’s footsteps would take him, would Martin Luther King Jr have had the strength or courage to start the pilgrim journey? But Jesus had asked, “What do you want?”,and Martin answered, “Your Kingdom come, Lord, on earth as it is in heaven.” And Jesus said, “Come, follow me and you will see.”
Follow Jesus and we shall see- see what? We’ll see the truth, for that’s what Jesus is. We’ll see the life, for that’s what Jesus is. We’ll see the way, for that’s what Jesus is. We’ll see the Kingdom of justice and compassion, for that’s what Jesus brings. And we will finally see ourselves, and we’ll be able to answer that question Jesus first asked us.
“What do you want?” And the answer will be said in full knowledge and understanding: “I want You, Lord. Just You and Your Kingdom.” “What do you want?” Jesus asks us; “come and you will see.” And the answer is not How, but Yes.
In the Name of the One who calls us to follow, and will never let us go. Even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: Our God Is Able” from Martin Luther King Jr’s Strength To Love, published in the anthology, A Testament of Hope, edited by James Melvin Washington, Harper & Row Publishers, San Francisco, copyright 1986
SCRIPTURE FOR JAN. 28, 2018
The day after Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples. He saw Jesus walking by and exclaimed, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, He said, “What are you looking for?” They said to Him, “Rabbi, where are You staying?” Jesus said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and they remained with Him that day. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon. One of the two who were John’s disciples was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. From now on you will be called Peter, the Rock.”
1 SAMUEL 3:1-10
When Samuel- the first prophet of the Hebrew Scripture- was just a boy, he was a temple helper to the old priest Eli. This was at a time when God’s voice was rarely heard. One night, well before dawn, Eli was sound asleep. Samuel was sleeping next door, in the room that held the Ark of God. And God called out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel, thinking it was old Eli who had called him, ran in to Eli’s room and said, “Yes? Here I am. I heard you call.” Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” And so he did. God called again, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli: “I heard you call. Here I am.” Again, Eli said, “Son, I didn’t call you! Go back to bed!” (Remember, all this happened before Samuel knew God for himself- before God’s revelation had been given to him personally.) God called again, “Samuel!”- the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.” That’s when it dawned on Eli that it was God who was calling the boy. So Eli said, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, and I’m ready to listen.’” So Samuel returned to his bed. And then God came and stood before Samuel, exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, God. I’m your servant, and I’m ready to listen.” And it was then that God spoke, and made young Samuel the voice of God to his people.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.