A week ago Saturday, Susan and I and our family heading over to our son’s fiancée’s family’s house for dinner. They moved in to a new place 8 months ago and we had not been there since so there was a bit of preparation that we needed to do. We made sure that we had their new address, then we printed off a Google Map with directions from our place to theirs, and then we headed out. Because we knew where we were going, and we knew how to get there, it was a straightforward journey to get from our place to theirs.
So where are you going with your life? In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith says that all of us have a vision of the good life that we are headed towards. We have a picture in our minds of what we want our life to be like and that picture is shaped by our desires. We like to think that we human beings are led by our thoughts, so if we give them a better education or we teach them the right things, we can shift the trajectory of their lives to a more noble path. But the reality is that we are led by what we love, for we always steer our lives towards the things that we love.
But that can lead to problems for we human beings do not tend to love the best things, or we love good things, but not in the right way. For example, I love food. And my love for food gets me into trouble because I eat more than I should. I also eat for the wrong reasons. I eat not only when I am hungry, but also when I am nervous, anxious or afraid. I use food as a sedative, as a source of comfort and a way to celebrate. But my love for food is likely shortening my life and could kill me one day. My vision of the good life would involve comfort and lots and lots of food. But my vision of the good life will result in my death unless I change what I love.
So what is your vision of the good life that you are headed towards? What are the things that you love?
If you are here today and find yourself thinking that there has to be more to life than what you are experiencing right now, you are not alone. Whether you believe in God or not, whether you know about this person named Jesus or not, all of us go through times where the good life seems to be nothing more than an elusive dream.
But the Good News is that our lives are not only shaped by what we love. Our lives are also shaped by the love that others have for us. And there is someone whose love for you is so great and so pure that it will knock you and I off of our trajectory of self-centredness and onto a new path where unconditional love becomes both the engine and the attraction of our lives. That someone is Jesus. And the future that Jesus has in mind for you leads to goodness, rightness, healing and hope, where your life becomes part of the Great Story where Jesus is redeeming, restoring and recreating the world for eternity.
So if you only remember one thing from today, let it be this: Jesus will recalibrate and fulfill your deepest desires.
To find out more about Jesus we continue to work our way through a biography about Jesus written by one of his followers, whose name was John. And John not only wrote about the life events of Jesus, he also captured the themes that were important in the life of Jesus, things like light and darkness, love and hatred, and we see these themes pop up repeatedly in this biography. Today, we are looking at John, chapter 1, starting with verse 35, and the first person we will encounter is another person named John, who is also known as John the Baptist.
35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples.36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.
38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them. (John 1:35-38a)
“What do you want?” is the question that Jesus asks. Jesus understands that our desires determine our direction. And he knows that nothing significant will change in our lives until there is change at the level of our desires. This is often why significant trauma is necessary before people make significant changes in their lives. Unfortunately, something big and painful needs to happen before we become open to changing our desires so that they align more closely with God’s desires. In the life of an addict, this is called “hitting bottom” and, in our own way, we are all addicts. Each of us has some area of our lives in which we intensely crave something but it never really satisfies, even when we get it.
The reason for that craving is that every human being was created to have a relationship with God. Billy Graham use to say that each of us has a God-sized hole in our heart. St. Augustine, writing more than 1500 years before Billy Graham, said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” Even though every human being was designed for a relationship with God, we all tend to try to fill that God-sized hole with other things. And even though these other things will promise us the moon, they will never really satisfy our heart’s desire for a loving relationship with the living God. What we need is for Jesus to re-calibrate our desires. And Jesus does that through the relationship with him that he is offering to us.
Continuing with our passage, we read: They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. (John 1:38b-39)
What these two disciples wanted was to be with Jesus. They knew Jesus personally because Jesus used to be a follower of John the Baptist just like they were. They probably saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain on Jesus when he was baptized, which was a special sign from God given to indicate that Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One that God promised centuries before to send to save his people. So they knew that there was something very special about Jesus. What did they want? They wanted Jesus, and that desire would make an eternal difference in their lives. He would be their great one, their teacher, who would show them how to re-calibrate their desires. And Jesus did that by spending time with them changing the habits that they had in their lives.
Habits have the power to re-channel what we love. Just as a canal can change the course of a river, so also a habit can change the course of our desires. For example, a father begins watching the news at 10 o’clock because he is curious about what is going on in the world. He likes watching the news, so he builds into his life each day. He does not intend to let it take over his life, but soon, his wife goes to bed without him. He ignores and eventually gets angry at his children when they interpret the news to ask him a question. Eventually the news has taken over his life and he is left all alone in the living room. But he is okay with that, he is blind to the damage his habit has caused, because now the habit has done its job and he loves watching the news.
What we need is different habits that propel our desires in a different direction. Building a habit takes hard work because one must overcome a huge amount of resistance in the beginning. That is why we need to have a compelling vision for our lives that motivate us to overcome that resistance. Generally speaking, people don’t like to get up extra early and engage in activities that result in sore muscles and fatigue. But someone who is training for a marathon will get up at 5 am and run for an hour each day to train. After a while of doing that, the runner will find that their desires begin to change and they actually want to get up early and get dressed in their running gear. They want to go out and run in the early morning darkness and get soaked by the November rain because they can feel the difference that the training is making in their lives. They feel a smoothness to their stride and a nimbleness in their body. They are able to quicken their pace and it feels natural, even normal. Even when they are not running they notice positive changes in their lives. They have more energy and they feel more in touch with their body. They know that all of this is because of their training, so they are even more motivated to run. The habit has done its job, and now they love to run. But this is a life-giving love, because they use the extra energy and vitality that they have in their lives to love and serve the people around them with the grace and the joy that God has poured into their lives through this habit.
So what, or rather, who do you want to love?
The Good News of the Bible is that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit loves you and is for you. God the Father loved you so much that he gave his one and only Son, whom he loved, for you. Jesus loved you so much that he willingly went to the cross and gave up his life for you. On the third day that followed, he rose from the dead for you. Jesus now sits enthroned in heaven at the right hand of the Father and he intercedes with the Father for you. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to be a comforter and encourager for you. The Holy Spirit lives in your heart and provides ongoing direction for you. He continually brings to your mind the many good things that God has done, is doing and will do for you.
When you breathe your last breath, Jesus will come back for you. He will take you to the place in heaven that he has prepared for you. One day in the future, he will come and make all things right for you. He will restore, recreate and resurrect your body for you. He will wipe every tear from your eyes for you. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for you. You will see Jesus face to face and then you will know with certainty that he always has been and always will be for you.
So who do you want to love? The best possible life you could ever live is one in which you love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and you love your neighbour as yourself. That is God’s vision of the good life for you. And when you allow Jesus to re-calibrate your desires, you will find that all of your deepest desires will be fully satisfied in Jesus. He is the One who loves you like you have always wanted to be loved. He is the One who accepts you like you have always wanted to be accepted. He is the One who brings meaning and purpose and significance to your life because, with Jesus, the things that happen in your life now can make a difference in someone else’s life for all eternity. You will be able to say with Andrew, “I have found the Messiah!” You will be able to hear Jesus say, as he did with Peter, “I have given you a new identity and a new name. You are my beloved and I delight in you.”
Near the end of the movie Wonder Woman, the main character, Diana, battles with the god of war, Ares, and, as they fight with each other, Ares tries to convince Diana to destroy humanity because human beings do not deserve her protection. She responds by saying, “It is not about what you deserve. It is about what you believe. And I believe in love.”
Do you believe in love? Do you believe that Jesus loves you? Will you rest in Jesus’ love and let him believe in love for you? Because Jesus’ love for you will transform you love so that it draws you towards him. And it is in Jesus that you will find what you are looking for. Because Jesus will recalibrate and fulfill all of your deepest desires. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on September 10, 2017. It is based on John 1:35-42 and is part of our series on the Gospel of John.)