First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
March 31, 2019
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
John 1:35-39 (NRSV)
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
The first leg of the journey took us most of a day to accomplish. Car rides, then a bus, then airplanes first to El Salvador then Honduras.
Bodies and minds that should be exhausted from the travel were alert and eager to get to our destination: a small town in one of the rural areas of Honduras: Monterrey. It was there we were to build two homes for a couple of families. We were eager to settle into what would be our home for the next ten days. We were eager to begin the labor we had dedicated ourselves to do.
On the bus, Dave, our leader began to tell us where we would be staying. It was a unusually large house for Honduras. It had, in better times, served as a bed and breakfast. It was now empty. We were lucky because it had three indoor bathrooms and two of them had showers. Most houses in the area didn’t even have indoor plumbing. He explained how he had spent the better part of two days working with the local water master to make sure we had water in the evenings when we returned, hot and sweaty and really dirty from a day of mixing concrete and laying brick. He said something about giving extra money to the water master, or someone who claimed to be the water master. And, it worked… for a few days. Until someone else paid the water master a little more to send the water their way.
We learned to call our multi-bathroom, no-water-when-we-really-needed-it, bed-and-breakfast-with-no furniture-but-the-cots-we-slept-on, “home.” It was where we ate and slept and gathered outside on plastic lawn chairs in the evening to share the stories of the day.
Even though we ate and slept and rubbed the grit from our hair and the ache from our bodies at the vacated bed and breakfast, we soon learned it’s not where were staying. Even though we physically abided there next to the humble home of a woman who watched us from her window (and I’m pretty sure she was highly entertained), we soon realized that we were abiding somewhere else, spiritually.
We discovered that even though we had gone to Honduras to build homes, what was really happening was that God was building something altogether different in us. We learned that, even years after we made the return trip to own our homes which not only had plenty of water at any time of day and that water was hot, even though we came home, a part of us “stayed” somewhere else.
“Where are you staying?” is the question the disciples asked Jesus as they began the journey with him that would change their lives and the world. They had expected someone to come. Maybe even someone like him. They had heard of him from John. And when John told them, “This…. this is the one,” as Jesus walked by, they followed. After a little while, a conversation starts up with a question. Jesus turns to them and asked them what were they looking for. Their response was another question, “Where are you staying.”
Where are you staying?
It’s a question that can be answered on two levels.
It can be a physical location of, where you spend the night, where you take a shower and eat your meals.
But it can also be figurative. Where’s your head? Where’s your soul? Where’s your heart?
The disciples wanted to know, not just where it was that Jesus was calling “home” in the physical sense. They wanted to know more. If this was the one who John said it was, they needed to know where Jesus was calling home in the spiritual sense. They wanted to know if this guy stayed with God and how. He never really told them. He showed them that answer to their question. The rest of John’s gospel is about answering that question, “Where are you staying?”
It could be a question we could ask ourselves. “Where am I staying?” Where does my soul abide? Where is my heart? As followers of Jesus, as disciples of the one who later would reveal that he did indeed abide in God as God abides in him, how do we reveal God abiding in us and we abiding in God?
As a church, a community of faith called and blessed and somehow held together by the Holy Spirit, where are we staying? How do we reveal God abiding in us? As a congregation, a church, how do we abide in God?
This sense of “staying” that John’s gospel talks about is, at it’s heart about dwelling. It’s about that deep sense of rootedness and connection. It’s more than just a sense of hanging out somewhere or with someone. It’s about where you place yourself for well-being, for sustenance, for strength, for direction, for definition. It should be at the core and heart of everything we do as a church.
How is it that we abide in the One who abided in God so deeply that when the hungry came before him, there was no question that there would be bread enough to feed them?
How is it that we dwell with the One that when the sick and the lame came before him there would be nothing he wouldn’t do to love them into wellness?
How is it that we stay with the one that when the outcast and oppressed came before him there would be nothing that would keep him from welcoming them into his presence?
All because he was dwelling with God. It’s where he abided. It’s where he stayed. No matter wherever else he went, even into death, in God was where he stayed.
When our ten days in Honduras had come to an end and our part of the work on the two houses was done, many of us realized that, as we came and went to where we were staying, we realized that we were no longer dwelling in an abandoned bed and breakfast in a small town in a rural area of Honduras. We had come to realize that we abided in the depths of God’s grace that week. That was where we stayed. It continues to be where many of us dwell even many years later.
I often have to remind myself of that. Sometimes I let the water run cold in the shower so as I physically go back to a reminder of that place where we stayed, my soul can return to the way I learned to dwell more deeply with God. I’m grateful for the season of Lent that calls us all to move back to some of those early questions asked between Jesus and the disciples: What are you looking for and where are you staying?
May this leg of our journey of faith bless us with the grace to know that there will always be a place for us to abide in God.