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January 20, 2002
What Do You Want?
If you're planning a road trip with the family and the dog, you probably want to know where you're staying down the line, and if that trip involves Nashville, Tennessee, the first question you have to ask is: "Do we, or do we not, want to experience the Opryland Hotel?"
To call the Opryland Hotel "a hotel" is somewhat of an understatement, kind of like calling St. Peter's Basilica in Rome "a church." Inside the Orpyland Hotel you can explore nine acres (600,000 square feet) of lush indoor gardens, winding pathways and sparkling waterfalls.
The Magnolia area features a dramatic staircase, a fireplace to warm your spirits and elegant appointments that make you feel like you've stepped back in time.
The Garden Conservatory contains greenery-lined walkways, secluded park benches, a waterfall, fountains, restaurants and shops.
The Cascade Conservatory: an area containing a four-story cascading waterfall, as well as a revolving lounge, a seafood restaurant and a laser-enhanced fountain show.
The Delta area is a glass-domed environment with a waterfall that flows into an indoor river. The Delta River is home to flatboats that wind around a New Orleans-themed island, and the Delta Island itself offers shops, restaurants and meeting rooms, as well as an 85-foot-high fountain. When the day is over, you can get some sleep in one of the hotel's 3,104 guest rooms. This is the largest combined hotel and convention center under one roof on the face of the earth.
We may not opt for the Opryland Hotel, but when we travel, we are going to book a reservation somewhere, and it better not be a dive with paper-thin walls, peeling wallpaper and a lumpy bed.
Where are you staying? That is an important question if we are going on a trip. That is the question that these would-be disciples asked Jesus. Of course the first thing we note about this passage from John chapter 1 is that they did not answer the question that asked. He asked, "What are you looking for?" They answer in effect: "Uh, well, depends. Where are you staying?" (1:38).
To give the disciples their due, if you are going to undertake a spiritual journey, you need to know about accomodations. But they missed and important question. Jesus asks, "What do you want of me?"
Why didn't they tell Jesus what they wanted? They could have been honest and said, "Uh, we're wondering if you knew where to find the nearest fast food resturant," or whether to sell our tech stocks"
Why do we not tell Jesus what we want? What do we want? To retire and live on a golf course. Sounds great, but there could be problems, as the following account illustrates:
"How was your golf game, dear?" asked Jack's wife, Edna.
"Well, I was hitting pretty well, but my eyesight's gotten so bad I couldn't see where the ball went."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. You're 75-years-old, Jack!" admonished his wife. "Why don't you take my brother Ronald along?"
"But he's 85, doesn't play golf, and his mind is failing," Jack protested.
"Yeah, but he's got perfect eyesight. He could watch your ball," Edna pointed out.
The next day, Jack teed off with Ronald looking on. Jack swung, and the ball disappeared down the right side of the fairway.
"Do you see it?" Jack asked.
"Yup," Ronald answered.
"Well, where is it?" yelled Jack, peering off into the distance.
Returning to those two disciples. It is quite possible they - like many of us - did not know what they wanted. Perhaps they had a vague sense that they wanted what most people want: a comfortable lifestyle, good health, some fun. And oh, yes, to help our fellow man.
Maybe we want nothing at all - nothing from Jesus, anyway. Perhaps we want Jesus simply to leave us alone. No challenges, Lord. No calls to a spiritual life. No talk about taking up the cross, thank you very much.
Perhaps the disciples, considering a commitment to Jesus, were wise to be cautious. So they deflect Jesus' question with a question. This is an old technique for avoiding a question. We have all used it. Someone asks you something you do not want to answer, so you ask them something in return.
"Rabbi, where are you staying?" they asked. By that I suppose they meant, "Where are you making your home in the world?" Which was a bad question, because Jesus was never much at home in this world.
Jesus said to them, as he says to us, "Come and see," and he took them to where he was staying. They stayed with him for a whole day, and, as it turned out, stayed with him the rest of their lives (vv. 38-39).
Our gospel text this week could be called the testimony of John the Baptist. One of the challenges confronting the early Christian community involved the cult of John the Baptist. Some steadfast followers of John failed to shift their allegiance from the proclaimer, John the Baptist, to the proclaimed one, Jesus the Christ. They continued to celebrate the ministry of the Baptist. John's gospel takes great care in presenting the Baptist - emphasizing his highly calling yet establishing a clear hierarchy between Jesus and John.
In verses 32-34, John recalls the astounding events following Jesus' baptism. The descending Spirit and the miraculous spoken message (heard apparently only by John) clearly define Jesus and his mission. Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit; Jesus is the "Son of God."
Beginning with v35, we have the further development of disciples of John coming to Jesus. John the Baptist had his own following of disciples. They were set apart by special rules of discipline, fasting, and styles of prayers. It is to this special group that John witnessed about Jesus' true identity. The Baptist brought his own disciples to Christ.
By verse 40, John's former disciples have shifted their allegiance to Jesus. The Baptist has succeeded. So convinced are these new followers that Jesus is "the Chosen One" that they already begin to act like apostles, excitedly bringing others to Jesus as John had brought them. Andrew runs to find his brother Simon Peter and brings him to Jesus by announcing that he has found "the Messiah" (v. 41). Thus John adds another title to Jesus' expanding resume: He is Logos, Lamb, Son, Chosen One, Rabbi and now Messiah--or Anointed One. He is the Christ.
Life With Jesus
And the think that marked out people as his disciples was that they wanted to stay with Jesus, wherever that stay may be and wherever it may take them. They want to live with Jesus.
Let us talk about what that means. Life with Jesus is life in Christ. It is a life in which Christ does his work in us and through us. It is a life in which everything contrary to God is keenly felt and disliked. I have seen this often in disciples who have followed the Lord for a long time. They have tender consciences that are easily shocked by the things of the world or the manners of the world. Would that we were all more easily shocked when we encounter that which is contrary to God.
Life in Christ is the best, noblest, and most valuable life we can have.. Better that we should die a thousand deaths and be afflicted with all the misfortunes of this world than that we should ever abandon Christ. If we are living in Christ, and we have the opportunity to change our life for the life of an angel, we should refuse--because that is a bad deal. Life in Christ is better than life as an angel.
But we must say that life in Christ is not chosen because of what we derive from it. I know that most people do chose Christ because of what they hope to get from him. They want heaven; they want power in their lives now; that is their motivation for choosing Christ. The major love that motivation expresses is love for themselves.
I love myself.
I want to survive death.
So I believe on Jesus.
No love of Jesus is expressed in that formula. But God accepts us even when we come to God because we are frightened for our precious self. God accepts us and leads us on to a better understanding and a better love. The real reason to believe on Jesus is not because of what Jesus can do for us, but simply because we love Jesus. That is what the whole Christian life is aboutloving Jesus.
It is a life that we can never give up. Whoever says that she has had enough of Jesus, whoever says that he is going to put Jesus aside for awhile, has never loved Jesus and has never actually come to know Jesus in their soul. For a person who has in truth felt and tasted Christ, can never give him up, for he is life itself, and sweeter than this earthly life.
But we understand that life in Christ is not necessarily life at the Opryland Hotel. of Christ demands commitment. The Lord might not be as indulgent as the parents of a difficult boy whose birthday was approaching. The parents were discussing what to give him for his birthday present. The mother said, "Let's buy him a bicycle."
"Well," said the father, "Maybe, but do you think it will improve his behavior?"
"Probably not," said the mother, "but it will spread it over a wider area."
Those parents were not very effectual when it came to dealing with a difficult child. God is not like that.
Christ comes to us when we least expect him, and he interferes, saying, "Come, follow me." Yet if we follow him, he never promises us a comfortable life, or success, or prosperity. He says, "Leave behind your old way of life. Seek first the kingdom of God.."
Our response is to say, "Thank you, Lord, for not promising us empty rewards. Thank you Lord for inviting us to walk alongside you and learn from you."
But then what happens? Just when we think we have got it; just when we think we are doing all the right things, the Holy Spirit prods us to change. This prodding of the Spirit is not always pleasant, but we should say, "Thank you, Lord, for coming to us again and again. Thank you for showing us that you love us.
But the fact is when we hit the road with Jesus and we are not likely to be staying in the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. We will probably be picking pebbles out of our sandals on the road from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and we will see the shadow of a cross on a hill called Calvary, and Jesus will invite us to take up that cross.
Yet, in John 10:10 Jesus strangely calls this cross-life the "abundant life." Jesus knows what we want and what we are looking for. We are not necessarily looking for a comfortable life. We are looking for a spiritual life which Jesus calls the "abundant life."
So when Jesus calls us "Come and see," this is what he's talking about. Come and see what abundant life is all about. Come and see what a life of meaning and purpose and nearness to God looks like.
When Jesus asked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to "come and see," King had no idea that what Jesus wanted him to see was the inside of a Birmingham jail. During April of 1963. King was part of civil rights protests staged in that city, that were inciting the wrath of police commissioner "Bull" Connor, who pledged to incarcerate every African American who challenged segregation. On Good Friday afternoon, King was among 54 marchers who were arrested and thrown in jail for violating an injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing."
King received no first-class treatment in jail. He was singled out for isolation and denied the chance to make phone calls or talk to his lawyers. He had no mattress or linen, and was sleeping on metal slats. Yet, over that Easter weekend, deep in solitary confinement, down in what was called "the hole," sealed off from his fellow prisoners and the outside world, Martin Luther King was staying with Jesus.
It was while he was locked up that King wrote one of the most significant Christian documents of the civil rights movement: his "Letter from Birmingham Jail." The letter was addressed not to abusive police officers or racist politicians, but to a group of white clergymen who were urging people to withdraw from the demonstrations, which they called "unwise and untimely."
King responded saying that "we must use time creatively and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right." He pointed out that "it is easy for those who have never felt the oppression of segregation to say, 'Wait.'"
King rebuked his colleagues with these words:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action," who paternalistically believes that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom.
Back in 1963, who was really staying with Jesus? The white moderate who was devoted to order, or the black radical who was pushing for justice? Was it the majority who preferred a negative peace, one marked by the absence of tension? Or was it the minority who worked for a positive peace, one known by the presence of justice?
And how about today, almost forty years later? Are we staying with Jesus, or staying with the status quo?
The Opryland Hotel offers us the very best in charm and comfort, and if we stay with them, we will have an unforgettable experience. Nothing wrong with that; but let's not forget about a far more important place to stay: with Jesus. Jesus invites us to "come and see" what he is up to, and he promises that if we stay with him, we will have an even more awesome and life-changing experience.
Jesus may take us to the Birmingham jail. Or to church every Sunday. Jesus may take us on a new adventure in prayer and turn us into prayer warriors, or he may send us on a mission trip to a neighbor's house. But Jesus will take us somewhere. He will take us down a spiritual road. Wherever he takes us though, it will be the place for us to be. It will be the best place for us to be. Amen.
Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 727-40. Opryland Hotel Nashville. Oprylandhotelnashville.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 2/27/02