Isaiah 49:1-7, John 1:29-42
January 16, 2011
Here we are in the New Year! It’s barely two weeks old now. How’s it been? Is it a good year so far? Bad? Not sure? I had a rather difficult year once and I remember toasting the New Year saying, “Here’s to the New Year. I hope it’s a heck of a lot better than the old. (Only I didn’t say “heck!”)
What do you expect out of the new year? What are you hoping for? Are you hoping for an easier year economically? A lot of people are hoping for that! Are you hoping for a healthier life? Less problems? Less debt? More time with family and friends?
Last week, I walked into one of the Sunday School classrooms looking for some strong kids to help me move a desk. And when I got there, they were in the middle of trying to guess the top ten New Years Resolutions, as compiled by some polling group. And they were talking about these kinds of things. What do you want in the New Year. And by the way, that last one I just suggested was the number one answer. “Spend more time with family and friends.” Did any of you make that resolution? That’s one thing we might all agree on here. Spending time with family and friends is one of the most important things in life. But how many people remember that? No one ever said on their death bed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
Last week, I asked you to think about the spiritual side of things. I asked you to think about your commitment to the kingdom of God in the New Year. I asked you to renew your Baptism Vows. That started for me a few years ago as a fun thing to do. And it still is. But the more I think about it, the more I see it as an important tradition. And I hope you took it seriously. I hope you made a recommitment of your life to Jesus Christ. (And by the way, if you’ve never made such a commitment before, I’d be glad to talk to you about that! We don’t ask that question enough in the Presbyterian tradition.)
As we start a New Year, it’s important to think about your spiritual life! In a month or so, we’ll be starting Lent. And Lent comes very late this year!! And Lent is a time to ask yourself similar questions, and to dig even deeper into those kinds of things. But as we start the year, it’s good to take a moment in time, take a stand, and make a commitment – or renew a commitment. And I’m glad that’s now our tradition here at Eddington.
So what are your hopes for the new year? What do you seek? That was the question Jesus asked these two men by the sea. I don’t know if they even knew. And I know a big part of that question was just the simple question. It was a conversation starter. “Why are you following me?” “What are you looking for?” But I also think Jesus rarely asked a simple question! I’ll bet there was at least a touch there of “where is your life headed?” “What do you seek?”
I’d like us to take that as a question for ourselves. I’d like you to let that question bounce around in your head today – maybe like a song that runs through your mind and you can’t stop it! “What do you seek?” Too many people in this world live their lives with no clear answer to that question. They live without any real direction. Many are focused solely on earning a living so that some day they can retire and then “enjoy life.” But far too few actually enjoy life very much in the now! And frighteningly few are actually preparing for that day!!! (We are headed toward a “retirement crisis” in 15 or 20 years!)
More than that, if you asked people today, “What do you seek?” in other words, “What do you think is the most important to you,” or “What is your purpose here?” many wouldn’t have a clue how to answer that. Purpose and meaning have always been that most elusive part of life.
I’ve told the story before about how Tony Campolo once asked a student “How long have you lived?” And he wasn’t asking how long his heart had been beating. He was asking how long and how often he had really lived! How often had he felt the vibrancy of life in meaningful significant moments. How often had he experienced what St. Irenaeus said in the second century – one of my favorite quotes – that “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Let me remind you of his answer. The student responded, “Well, when you put it that way, I’ve probably only lived a few minutes… Most of my life has been the meaningless passage of time, between all to few moments of ‘genuine aliveness’.” How long have you lived? What do you seek?
And I’m not talking about “happiness” here. Certainly that’s part of being “fully alive.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus used a word that we translate “Blessed,” and that word contains the idea of happiness – which some translators have used. But it’s a word that means so much more! It’s a word that talks about fulfillment and meaning. It touches on this idea of being “fully alive.”
What do you seek each day that gives meaning and purpose to your life? Even you retired folks. What do you seek? Sometimes I think you are in a better position to see the meaning and purpose in life, because you’ve gotten past the whole “working for retirement” stage. Now you’re in the “free to be enjoying life” stage. So are you? What do you seek? Do you know the answer to that?
These disciples of John were curious. They heard what John – their teacher – had just said about this man Jesus, and they wanted to find out more. Maybe it was just curiosity. Maybe it was more. But they followed. And Jesus asked them, “What do you seek?” The more I think about it, the more that becomes such an important question!
I still remember back in around the ‘70’s when I first saw one of those bumper stickers that said “Wise men still seek him.” I remember thinking that was very clever wording. It was saying that we are “being wise” when we seek God and his kingdom – represented in that child of Bethlehem. So like those original Wise Men, like the disciples of John that day, do we seek Jesus?
Years later, that same Jesus would say, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.” He knew that the things of this earth were important to people – and I think that’s even more the case today. He asked them to consider how important those “things” really are. He reminded them that the things of earth are “consumed” by “moth and rust.” They can be stolen by thieves. “Seek that which is permanent,” he told them. “Seek God’s kingdom!”
We worry about so many things. We’re concerned with paying the bills – perhaps more so in the current economic climate! (And not just as individuals, but as Churches, too!) Jesus says to us too, seek his kingdom. And mind you, this is not a “Give to God and you’ll get back,” kind of thing. This is about the focus of our lives. Jesus knew that seeking God’s kingdom, focusing on the “things unseen,” as Paul would later write, was what would give us the best perspective on everything else. When we understand what is truly important, life takes on new meaning! And so does everything else! Jesus didn’t say, “Seek only God’s kingdom, and forget about all that other stuff.” He said “seek ye first, the kingdom of God… and all those things will be added to you!”
So, how do we do that? How do we get that perspective? Let me make one suggestion today. As you started the New Year thinking about your commitment to God’s kingdom, start each day with that thought! Seek ye first… Take that literally! Seek ye the kingdom of God – first thing each day. Start out that way, and you’ll have a better perspective for the day! No one ever went to be at night thinking “I wish I had spent less time thinking about God’s kingdom today!”
I’m not talking necessarily about a full blown biblical study. Just time with God. You might not have the energy too early in the morning. Not everyone is a “morning person.” My dad was a morning person. He whistled getting ready to go to work. It was disgusting! But morning person or no, there’s something about seeking God’s kingdom at the start of a day. When we meet God at the start of a day, it changes the entire course of the day.
I don’t know why that seems to be such a good time. I only know it works. Maybe it’s simply a time when the mind is not yet so cluttered with the tasks of the day. I can’t tell you how much of my writing takes place before 7:30. That has come to be a special time for me to think about God’s kingdom. And I now it’s a totally different day if I miss it. So I highly recommend it!
I hope the New Year is a good one for all of you. I hope you’ll ask yourself, “What do you seek?” I hope in 2011 that you grow in your ability to seek God’s kingdom. I hope that you know that “blessedness” that “happiness” Jesus told the people they would have when they did so. I hope this year you become more “fully alive” than ever before.
Eternal God, we thank you that you have sent your son that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Help us to seek your kingdom each day. When we’ve forgotten that, break into our lives and remind us. Show us your glory and the life you want for us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom in our midst, Amen!